We’re in it together! (Image credit: freshnetworks)

We SEMs know all too well how many hours we pour into our accounts. How we chew on ROI and breathe client performance, how we go blind from testing things to keep the metrics moving in the right direction.

Do we care about our clients‘ businesses? Does a bear…well, you know. The answer is yes a thousand times over.

But sometimes it’s not so apparent to the client, strange as that may sound. Not because they don’t see the numbers or the all-hours availability or the attentiveness — that stuff might all say that you’re good at your job, sure. But it doesn’t necessarily say you’re particularly committed to being good at your job with that client’s business specifically in mind.

Here are a few ways you can change that perception:

1. Internalize all their propriety company names. If they call their back-end “Mr. Puffinstuff,” you call it that too. Don’t call it the back end or the SQL database or anything else. Same thing with all company specific acronyms, systems and processes; internalize and use the names as soon and as much as possible.

2. Always use their “words” for things. There are a million different ways to talk about this industry alone, for instance: SEM, search marketing, paid search, PPC, CPC, etc. Always call it what they call it. Same for all metrics. Make sure you know what the client means, and then use what they call it — even if they are wrong. If they are wrong, just caveat it the first few times you use it (for instance: “AdWords, meaning all SEM channels”). Most of our clients are somewhere in the middle of an organization – they have both bosses and subordinates. If the client calls something “x,” it is probably called that up and down the organization, and nobody should have to re-educate a subordinate or especially a boss because the paid search person said so.

lost in translation

Don’t leave anything for translation. (Image credit: informationteachingblog.com)

3. Don’t use “your” language or acronyms unless you are 100% sure the client understand them. Always say or write out the full name of everything (CTR, ROI, ROAS, LP, CTA, etc.) until you are 100% sure the client knows what it means. You don’t want them to have to feel stupid — which makes them think you are an arrogant know-it-all who can’t be bothered to spell anything out.

4. In your reporting and emails, add little “business-specific” stuff. For instance, all my clients are optimized on a CPA goal. For one client, I call it a “cost-per-reservation”; for another, I call it a “cost-per-lead”; and for another client I use both “cost-per-member” and “cost-per-rental.” This little detail takes the SEM-industry metric (CPA) and uses the language of the client’s business.


Ultimately the goal is to make the client feel no communication friction with you. Beyond that, he/she should be able to forward an email, report, etc., from you to anybody in their organization, even somebody with little SEM knowledge, without having to write translation. (“When she says ‘back end,’ she means Mr Puffinstuff, and when she says ‘CPA,’ she means the cost per booked reservation…”.)

Okay, that’s my 2 cents.

Anybody got anything else? Drop a comment!

Susan Waldes, Senior SEM Manager



  1. Jo Lilore April 13th, 2012

    Agree 100%. I think a lot of consultants like to use lingo to impress clients, but it just ends up confusing the client. Whether you're discussing PPC, web development, SEO, or anything else with its own lingo, it's best to use the plain language, and in passing you can mention the tech term for those who want more info. "We are now talking about your web address – what someone types in the browser to get to your site, what they call the URL."

  2. Susan Waldes April 13th, 2012

    @Jo – totally! We all have to stick together in this! Jargon-y stuff ends up not just making the individual look bad, but can taint a client’s whole perception of an industry.

  3. ServiceVantage June 28th, 2012

    To be a trusted advisor, one needs to integrate as closely as possible with the client’s organization. Speaking their language is one fantastic way of conveying that you understand the client’s business and their needs. Sometimes, we need to step back and ask ourselves whether anything is lost in translation when we communicate. We’re all specialists in some way, it takes a true professional to speak two or more business-specific languages.


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Susan Waldes
Susan Waldes has worked in the search engine marketing industry since 1999; she is currently the SVP of Client Services at Fivemill Marketing. Susan has handled a multitude of lead generation, branding, and eCommerce clients in her previous roles at ROI Revolution and Rockett Interactive and as an independent SEM consultant. Susan has a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. Susan has contributed insights about SEM and client relationships to other highly regarded outlets, including Techipedia.com.