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Whether you're a solo consultant or part of a bigger agency, chances are good that you'll eventually be faced with this situation: the opportunity to provide consulting for two companies that are in competition with one another. In our "Discussion of the Week," we'd like to hear your advice for handling that situation. Should SEOs accept clients that compete against one another? If so, what are the best ways to deal with potential risks of doing so? The floor is open!
Comments13 Comments  

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Avatar Moderator
from incrediblehelp 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

There are 10 text links per page, but I generally wouldn’t personally.  I would prefer to be completely transparent from the beginning and that usually means the clients would prefer not to have compete with a possible new one.  Just imagine the situation you could get into with one doing 10 times better than another.  Or one gets dinged by Panda and the other doesn’t.  Too much hassle for me explaining that.



Avatar Moderator
from JulieJoyce 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Theoretically I think it's a bad idea in many ways but at the same time, without a noncompete in place, if you have a client paying you $500 to do something and one in the same niche wants to pay you $5000, that's a tempting offer. We actually have an unspoken noncompete in place for everyone but as I need to point out, that's kind of a luxury.



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from AlanBleiweiss 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 2

wow. tough call !  I've always felt flattered when I'd get a company in a niche high quality results, then get solicited by their competitors, and my ego likes to run with the concept of playing the field.  Then I pause and actually consider what giving up my integrity would cost.  The temptation can be, and has been almost-overwhelming at times.  I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror when I go home though.  So every time it's come up, I've ended up nervously laughing about it as I've informed the current client in whatever particular market the issue has come up in.

What's really interesting though is how many of these situations have occurred where I have an NDA with a client, so nobody knows I'm the one behind the scenes.  And the competitor finds me through a recruiter or head-hunter most of the time, though in one case, the competitor's in-house VP of marketing actually reached out directly to my on LinkedIn.

I call these moments "SEO Twilight Zone" moments.



Avatar Moderator
from Jill 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 1

The age old SEO question!

I think if you have a current client in a space, you probably shouldn't compete with them via another client. That said, there would be nothing wrong with charging your client more for this exclusivity.




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from Realicity 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I think Julie's point about having a client with a small budget (maybe too small) with a non-compete and then another comes along with a higher and maybe more realistic budget becomes interested in how you can help them, is a valid and real scenario.  I've been through it.

That being said, we do not have an official stance, but in general, we do not take multiple clients in the same vertical and market.  The service we provide to our clients is too personal to cross over that line.






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from netmeg 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 1

No no no no not ever nohow no way.  And believe me, I've been asked. In fact, none of my partners are allowed to take on a client that directly competes with one of my existing clients. That's the way we've operated since 1996, and that's the way we will continue to operate (as long as I'm calling the shots here).

There are some people who prefer someone with experience in the niche.  But I can't see how it can fail to be a conflict; particularly since I'm not limited to just SEO, but also general marketing and business consulting as well.



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from hugoguzman 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

What Jill said



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from seoseattle 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I am the Senior SEO for SEO Seattle LLC and we have wrestled with this question of representing client competition from the very beginning. We find representing an exclusive for related keywords is the way to go. The most important formula for keeping a month to month NO LONG TERM CONTRACT with exclusive representation by industry is to set expectation with a client. Let's face it... If you are offering superior SEO services nothing else really works when there continues to be only ONE number one on the SERP.



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from ClicProject 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

We would never do this for directly competing companies. Aside from the obvious ethical implications you would be competing against yourself.

Also, it is useful to keep your clients paying every month. Once you have shown good results, they do not want you to go and work for the competition, so keep paying you.



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from Ammon 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I have had several clients that pay for an extra 'exclusivity contract' which allows me to offer them that security if they feel they need it.  But I have far more clients who are happy that I work with other companies in their field too.  Partly because they know I am devoted to their best intersts and pushing for the USP that differentiates them.

The one thing I don't ever take are 'Me too' clients.  Clients who think SEO is a USP, or that being first is enough.  It never is.  Being first may be an edge against other companies offering the exact same thing in the exact same way, but those work-alikes all go bust the moment a company who does it better comes along.

I generally help companies to be the 'better and different' that can kill off their competitors, and use SEO to position their difference, blowing the other companies out of the game by making their pitch look outdated and out of touch.

Sadly, it is rarely that difficult.



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from jennyhalasz 1061 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I think it depends on what you are doing for the clients. If you are providing each with an architectural review, or usability or conversion recommendations, then it's probably fine to work with competing companies, because ultimately all the work will be custom and you'll likely be able to help both of them. Of course I would never do it without getting permission from both of my clients - it's just good business to be honest.

But if you're doing something like link building or (God forbid) black hat SEO techniques, then you shouldn't take competing clients, in my opinion.

And if a client pays extra for exclusivity, or if they have a non-compete clause in their contract, obviously there's no way I would work for a competitor.

But I work on a contract basis, not on retainer, so most of my projects are pretty short term.



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from St0n3y 1060 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I found it's not always cut and dried. We've had two clients in similar industries but didn't compete on the same products or keywords. Then suddenly one client ventured into the space of another. Without an exclusivity in place for either client we had to make a decision. Ultimately we let the clients decide. We told the one that we have another client in that space and will need to talk with them before optimizing for their new product offerings. The transparency allowed us to be loyal to both clients and they both appreciated that we were. We ended up not optimizing for the client that expanded their product base, but by standing by our other client, they both know how we handle such situations.

As far as taking on new clients when you already have one that is a direct competitor, I would weigh the situation and then likely go to the current client for permission.



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from dunivan 1059 Days ago #
Votes: 0

No, I would not.

I currently provided a great multitude of Legal SEO for one client. I have been approached by others in the same area and have turned them down almost instantly. I pride myself on doing ethical SEO. And in order to maintain that position it does require me turning down jobs. This is the nature of the client - business relationship.

If you are thinking about it though, i would alert both clients to the conflict of interest, get them to sign off to it, and then work for both of them - it could get very hairy though. I dont agree with the notion that you alert both clients then say your not going to help on one aspect of the site - its SEO, your not paid to fix half the problems.

I like the idea of paid exclusivity brought up by ammon. I let all clients be exclusive in their given state, and warn potential new clients of where I cannot do SEO.

Site Audits are another story, and I will do these for anyone, regardless of competition.



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