#SEO Ponies, Absurd Goals, Myopic Strategy, & the Wrong Way to Hire an Agency

A happy pinky-purple unicorn pooping rainbow dung.

In our 15 years as a marketing agency, AIMCLEAR has undertaken intake for prospective clients ranging from genius to dumb ass, usually much more the former.

Recently we had a prospective client approach us presenting as so ridiculous, we decided to share the story as a caricature of all-things-SEO-absurd. This blog post illustrates the following learnings from a week of head-scratching exchanges with the prospect.

First, some things to consider when looking for SEO services from a top integrated agency:

  • Provide evidence of seriousness and knowledge in the first approach. The agency needs to believe your inquiry is credible. We get cool leads. Make sure to be one of them.
  • Be open-minded to setting realistic KPIs. Don’t pre-set insane goals prior to consulting with professionals who know what’s what. Yeah, I’d like a pony that poops ice cream- not real! Buy a nice children’s book instead, go to a dock, let your feet dangle, and think hard about the dividing line between optimism and fantasy land.
  • Provide data. If you don’t have data, then say you don’t have data and be willing to invest in getting great help.
  • Don’t be pushy, extra-demanding, or unreasonably impatient. The way a prospect behaves during the intake process usually clues agencies into what type of client you’ll become. Great agencies turn down clients as needed to protect themselves and gravitate towards pleasant, informed people eager for shared success.
  • Be professional in your correspondence. Get your schtick right or at least be consistent.
  • SEO does not exist in a vacuum so expressing zero willingness to expand into integrated spaces as part of an integrated SEO job makes no sense.
  • SEO alone is not enough, much of the time, especially as pertains to branding and sales.
  • Be respectful. We agency folk are people with heart, feelings, commitment, and drive.

Here is the progression of the thread. Don’t eat it all at once. 🙂

Step 1, July 13:

We received this lead via our web contact form. We did not respond because there was nothing to the inquiry and so much sparser than normal. We believed it to be spam.

A screencap of a client intake form that looks like spam due to the lack of information

With zero actual insight into a project, proposals or quotes area really meaningless to begin with!

Step 2, July 19:

A week later, Our CEO and I received this email, in response to our contact form email autoresponder from the previous week. The prospect took the time to research our business email addresses and reach out personally. OK, we were listening.

From Prospect

Marty | Laura,

I sent a request for a proposal for global SEO last week 7/13/21. Tomorrow 7/20/21 will be 7 calendar days without a response except for the automated response below.

We have 2 other quotes for global SEO and am looking for a 3rd. We will be making an SEO vendor decision late Wednesday afternoon 7/21/21. Can you please provide your formal proposal with 2-3 options/quotes by Wednesday 7/21/21?


[Job Title] | Digital Marketing

We thought the prospect might be motivated and perhaps real, just needing a bit of guidance in how to approach an agency at AIMCLEAR‘s level. The business is real. We knew the prospect was rather demanding and we still did not have much information. So, I shot back this email, trying to validate, lead, and teach.

From Me to Prospect

Hey [Prospect],

Thanks for your email. [prospect.c o m] looks like a neat business. It is impressive that you researched our CEO’s email address as well as mine. I appreciate you reaching out again and realize you are trying to hire- a priceless commodity. 

It makes sense that you were disappointed when we did not follow your inquiry after the auto-responder email indicated we would get back to you. We’re going to change the auto-responder messaging, so it is less a promise and more confirmation the inquiry was received. I’m surprised we made it 15 years without doing so. We believe your request is serious. As such, I’m sorry we did not follow.

And please know, as a rule, we don’t respond to blind RFPs as our process is bespoke for each client. When an inquiry is devoid of any data other than please send us a proposal, we can’t tell if it’s one of the many spam inquiries we receive- or real at first glance.

Also, we don’t do cattle-call written RFPs anyway. You did not request to speak with us. You did not offer to sign a mutual NDA and give us access to analytics, webmaster tools, etc.

Honestly, we would have had to look way into your inquiry to ascertain its authenticity. We dismissed your inquiry as spam from the pile of casual shoppers. It is a red flag that a client prospect would make such an important decision based on casually requested written proposals. I’d be careful about that. The horror stories you read are real. We’ve cleaned up a lot of messes. 

“Global SEO” means a lot of things, a little like saying, “What color is a house.”

    • English only? Mandarin Chinese? Italian? Is it truly global? Are you looking to rev up your Australian revenue or finally score some bread from China?
    • What resources do you have internally? Content? Localization? Translation? Dev? Tech? Design?
    • What about content? You blog once a month.
    • Dev? The site has technical problems. What resources do you have available to implement recommendations we make? Or, do you need us to do it?
    • What tools do you use?
    • What are your business priorities and what problems do you perceive? Or do you need us to tell you your priorities? 
    • Has the site ever been audited? When? By who? What were the results?
    • What are your goals? What paid programs are running that may dovetail into SEO effectiveness from a CRO data perspective?

Anyway, history has taught us that to follow an inquiry such as yours responsibly is an important commitment we don’t take lightly. We spend a lot of time following new business inquiries as a cost of sales and share a lot of information.

AIMCLEAR has a history of turning small and mid-sized clients into large ones. AIMCLEAR has won Best Integrated Agency for the last 5 years straight at the US Search Awards for good reasons, and among the best. Our business process amounts to deep, free, consulting. You would have had to have seemed more serious and exhibited a bit more depth in the initial reach-out than we perceived when you contacted us a week ago. It seemed so casual. 

We realize that, had we asked, you may have provided access to data. In a serious RFP environment, we should not have to ask. You’ll find a million firms, hungry for work, that will respond to such a casual inquiry with a multi-tiered cookie-cutter proposal, option A, B, or C. They may not be among the best agencies in the world for “Global SEO.” 🙂 Be careful. 

Finally, it is possible we are a good fit for prospect.c o m. We are a mind-farkingly good integrated digital agency. AIMCLEAR can handle much more than your SEO. You seem like a cool and experienced businessperson from your LinkedIn profile.

If you are interested in following a process that takes about a week, I’d be happy to send you our intake questions. Another option would be to hire us straight away to do an SEO audit and plan. Such a course makes a lot of sense in this case. If you must decide tomorrow, wishing you the very best of luck and Godspeed in the agency choice. 

Thanks for your time.


An embarrassed Jack Russel Terroir dog wears a banana peel as a hat.

Step 3, July 20:

The client wrote back, within a couple of hours.

From Prospect


Thanks for your quick response and for your serious intentions. We too are serious and had we known you wanted read access to data we would gladly have provided it. You are correct, you should not have to ask for access but then again, we won’t just provide access to anyone or any company and would need some dialogue first plus signing of our NDA.

Regardless, we would love to move forward with your proposal so please send the intake form and email addresses for GA and GSC access. I will also send you our mutual NDA via [online legal form service]. Both of the other agencies from whom we received proposals signed our NDA.

We are specifically looking for an integrated agency and are well aware of the horror stories as we have been a victim thus the reason for doing thorough research on the best agencies in the world. I have responded to your initial set of questions below inline in green.

We have decided to start with our new SEO vendor on August 2, 2021 so receiving your proposal(s) in 7 days is not an issue.

Best regards,

From Prospect continued (The Rainbow Emails Begin)

By global SEO I meant we want to be ranked high (page 1 top 3) in all search engines and all versions worldwide. For example, those at the link below. We don’t at the present time have anyone that speaks languages other then English and Spanish but would consider having the website translated in to German, French and Portuguese in the future. That is not an immediate need.

Quote for SEO should include content text/copy as we don’t have copywriters in house. Translation is not needed at the present time. We use an excellent subcontractor for our Python custom coding and development of our custom made [platform] CMS. See the attached pdf for a screenshot of our custom made, alphabetized CMS. Pretty much anything can be changed on the site and if it currently can’t be changed our dev. can custom code to make the changes needed. Regarding design, we have had the site designed and it will be custom coded in [platform] after [business] season ends. [business] season runs +-February to +-September. We are always looking to improve to CRO is something we want to do in the future but have not in the past due to the high cost. For the new design, please see the link below. Existing pages are on the left side and new pages are on the right side. Anything can be changed as we have yet to “sign off” on the newly designed pages.

SEO items like title descriptions, blog copy, product and general website copy, meta tags, alt tags, H tags, 301 redirects etc. can be done in the CMS as is. If something is needed in the CMS that is currently not available our Python dev. will custom code for it.

I assume you are referring to SEO tools. If so, we don’t use any as we focus on product sales, researching/adding new products, trade shows and many other items relating to the [business] industry and not on SEO. We will rely on our new SEO vendor to use whatever tools are appropriate (Screaming Frog, AHrefs, Moz, Majestic, Conductor etc. etc.) as well as their own proprietary SEO scientific research and experimentation tools.

If you are referring to tools for [business category] we have proprietary technology that allows us to provide 3D renderings of all of our products. See attached for examples

Yes, audited several times by prior SEO’s as we have been doing SEO since +-2010. Results can be provided (if needed) after receipt of our signed NDA.

Side note: The NDA they provided was an obvious online form. Some of the terms were frightening, which the prospect removed upon our request. We promised the client a proposal in 7 days.

Step 4, July 22:

We received credentials access and intake answers.

AIMCLEAR asks for paid and other data prior to taking on an SEO assignment. We want to know what data is on hand to advise SEO, the client’s commitment to integrated marketing. The concept of using paid data to support integrated SEO is basic, as old as dirt. Following is our credentials request for this prospect and a summary of intake answers.

AIMCLEAR's list of credentials for data that

The prospect returned only Google Analytics, Tag Manager, and Search Console. In other words, we received precious little data to run with. The intake document gave very little germane data, other than competitors. The prospect has:

  • No business intelligence tools
  • No paid campaigns in any channel
  • No desire multilingual expansion at this time, funny given their goal of position 1-3 globally in “every” search engine
  • No funnel strategy
  • No agencies
  • No in house content creation
  • No understanding of cultural differences between US and global markets

On the evening of Day 6, we received this annoying email, to which I responded.

From Prospect

Hi Laura P,

Please provide an ETA as to when we will receive the SEO proposals/options/quotes.

Thank you

[Prospect Name]

[Different Job Title, Grammar Mistakes] | Digital Marketing

From Me

[Prospect Name],

We promised it for Weds. Nothing has changed.

Yeah, by this time we wanted to pass on the client. We followed through because we had promised to do so – at this point hoping we would not get the account.

Step 5, July 23:

We sent the prospect proposal.

We knew this client would require greater study and that there are basics to fix. We sent a modestly priced one-off proposal to get started. We proposed an SEO Audit, ADA compliance evaluation and recommendations, and an integrated marketing analysis. It was a reasonable start to what would be a huge job for a bonehead of a prospect.

A screenshot of how <em data-lazy-srcset=AIMCLEAR defines integrated brand and performance marketing” width=”936″ height=”1047″ />

A duck with its head under water and fanny exposed. The client isn't paying attention.

This was the prospect’s response. 🙂


Thanks for the email……

 Just to be sure I understand the quote…….

 The quote includes: SEO Audit, ADA compliance as described, and marketing analysis as described.

 The quote does not include Backlinks, page optimization, blogs, content writing, or any other SEO tasks.

 Please confirm if the above is correct or not.

 How many hours are included in the $X,000 quote?

Two sheep, one looking away from the camera and one looking right at it.

Step 6, The Unicorn in the Room:

Marty Unloads on the Prospect.



[Prospect Name]

Thanks for your note. We expect you will find our proposal expensive for what it is, and light doing the work you believe needs to be done now. We understand that perspective. Here’s ours, with additional answers inline below:

Generally speaking, your goals are 2-dimensional, meaning you are after blanket high rankings that we call unicorns, audacious goals, big dreams, some unattainable, some not. We are much more surgical than that.

You’re after heavy hitter monster keywords against some of the largest brands on earth who invest hundreds of millions in their brand identity. Good news is that those other players do not have perfect websites AND, your site is somewhat successful with SEO already, good stuff to build on. The right plan, the right investment, content, links etc. can help you reach the realistic parts of your goals.

As such we need to invest more time than we can on new client intake, fix the obvious issues and do a plan for how we may attain your SEO goals.

It’s easy to say you want rank 1-3 in every search engine worldwide, whilst at the same time not having a plan to translate to German or have competitive backlink GAP analysis for how you are going to compete with [Huge Brand].

In our world, we steal SEO KW real estate from competitors- several keywords at a time and track them into our portfolio. [We then directed to a specific case study to illustrate the point.]

We’ve studied the [business] space. The fact that you were not successful ROI wise with PAID does not mean you can’t be successful in the future. In fact, some of your competitors are vulnerable. You plan on competing with ONLY SEO in a world where competitors are much more integrated which is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. This concerns us for lack of willingness to invest in brand identity in a world where branding during paid acquisition super helps SEO.

There is a branding halo, all which result in sales, which can occur from paid acquisition in addition to sales from paid:

    • Direct traffic
    • Higher SEO conversion rate on page
    • Influencer propagation and sales therefrom
    • Links and other SEO candy
    • More brand KW search frequency and conversion, the holy grail of branding. The more people know and search for your brand, the more you will sell because it’s super easy to rank for your own brand terms via SEO.

 The fact that you are completely ruling out paid portends a tougher slog in organic because you have little commitment to brand saturation. In other words, sometimes it’s worth losing a bit of money on paid to make your organic go BANG. The money comes back via attribution. That’s part of what INTEGRATED marketing means.

There are a ton of SEO agencies that will be glad to quote SEO to you in a more expensive, comprehensive package to start now, longer commitment, etc. If one of them strikes your fancy and you believe their monthly fee and plan will actually get you monster keywords against Amazon in LA or [competitor] in Spain, we suggest you go with that SEO firm. We’re not prepared to promise we can get you to your blanket top three for major keywords globally against all comers until there is a believable brand-wide plan. SEO alone will not get you where you want to be.

For AIMCLEAR to take on your business, we need to start with eval and basics, then go from there. The reality is that we need to do a good amount of work involved with the site to make a credible plan to approach your goals and/or believe they are possible.

See below for more please.

Step 7, Fin:

We never hear from the prospect again. Thank goodness.

Our intent with this post isn’t to rip on anyone who clearly had the best of intentions for improving their business. The interactions were very telling, however, of the importance of having reasonably serious and introspective time up front when embarking on any sort of marketing initiative. Every brand wants to land in the top spots in the SERPs. Every brand wants to convert all audiences on one-touch. Marketers are often pushed by company founders, CMOs, investors and other stakeholders to deliver against wholly unrealistic expectations.

The journey leading up to the agency search is a critical time. Balance the need to dream big and push boundaries with some soul-searching and (sometimes soul-crushing) reality checks. The aspirations shared in this exchange were admirable. And with time and strategic investment – who knows?

Also, consider the agency proposal request processes of old. We’ll write about this topic very soon, but will multiple blind proposals created off of scant knowledge of your business get you what you REALLY need? Agency-client relationships are just that…relationships. Starting off on the right foot and being up front and collaborative are so important to a prosperous and mutually beneficial business alliance.

Or…get three bids and go with the cheapest one that promises everything. That always works well! (sarcasm…if that wasn’t already clear enough)


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Stay Connected