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Is it worth the lawsuit?
The customer from hell - what would you do?
makemetop




msg:782221
 9:30 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

OK, I want to fight this down the line. A client (sticky me for the site) with a website which has for most of its pages an image ('we like the blending of azure into autumn gold - and the way it faded into the text') has decided to take legal action against us for the following reasons:

a) They do not appear on search engines for any of the phrases they wanted. (Reasoning behind this? 'You went for plurals - but Overture shows that the singular version is searched on. Why didn't you know that'). Fact is we researched with WordTracker and optimised for the words that are really searched on - but the last report I ran for their own interpretation, they had (from 32 keywords) on the top 10 search engines and their appropriate regional alternatives:

49 #1 positions
163 top 5 positions
286 top 10 positions
339 top 20 positions

and I left out Google!

b) We created an HTML version of their site content on a different URL (which has the bulk of the positions) but they don't want that! 'We want our site ranked - the XYZ Tourist Board ranks it - so get the search engines to.' They refuse to change the site.

c) They purchased our lowest cost plan and have decided they should come up for generic one and two word phrases - after the event!

d) We have delivered several thousand uniques, they are paying PPC engines 45 cents per click on average and we have cost them a lot less than that - plus we have paid for spidering, paid inclusion/review and PPC (on the site we constructed) - but they want their money back.

The owner of the site is wealthy, has insulted the female members of our staff with obscenities which (even in these days of liberation) are disgusting and have led them to tears. Has called my (very intelligent) staff 'cretins' - and has given us 48 hours to refund his money - or,

'I will put up a site optimised for search engine marketing...' to expose us as crooks.

Now, should I give the money back - or fight this to the end?

 

lawman




msg:782222
 9:43 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

I assume you've complied with all the terms of your employment agreement. If so, you should be on solid legal footing if you choose to fight.

Sometimes I have a client from hell. When there is a dispute as to fees, even when I am on solid legal footing, oftentimes it's worth it to refund a small portion of the fee to get rid of the rascal (make sure you have an attorney draft this termination/refund agreement).

However, I never refund ANYTHING when the varmint says I did a crappy job.

Hope this helps.

lawman

rcjordan




msg:782223
 9:47 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

>fight this to the end

MMT, take the time that you think you're going to have to devote to countering this suit and multiply it by a factor of 5 (conservative) or 10 (likely). What will that "time away" cost your company?

mivox




msg:782224
 9:52 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

I honestly don't see that it would be worth your time. If they chose your lowest priced 'plan', I'd refund their money.

Then "de-optimize" any website files you may have changed back to their original state, and otherwise "undo" as much of your own work as you can.

Consider it like a store return. They get their money back, and you get your "merchandise" back. Which leaves them with a the same totally un-optimized site they started with.

john316




msg:782225
 9:55 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

do nothing...the behavior exhibited by the client has all the hallmarks of a deadbeat, he'll probably just go away.

>>We created an HTML version of their site content on a different URL (which has the bulk of the positions) but they don't want that!<<

Launch it and sell it to someone else to cover any *potential* losses from mr. dunderhead.

Plural, schmural, the overture tool is "best guess" type of analytics, you are delivering real traffic.

DrCool




msg:782226
 9:55 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

"'I will put up a site optimised for search engine marketing...' to expose us as crooks"

If he could get a site optimised and listed for "search engine marketing" which is a very competitive term he would be able to optimise his own site and get it listed very well.

As long as your contract with him has everything spelled out as to what you were contracted to provide I wouldn't worry about it too much. I have dealt with a couple customers like that and their threats never became reality.

Depending on how much money you are talking about it might be just as easy to give him his money back though.

CHC




msg:782227
 10:00 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

"'I will put up a site optimised for search engine marketing...' to expose us as crooks"

There is no harder field to get a good ranking on than SEO because every single site is owned by SEO experts.

When an enemy makes threats that are obviously absurd like this one I would fight him to the end and I would use every single dirty trick in the book, and I know quite a few.

Take him down!

rcjordan




msg:782228
 10:05 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Part of what I do in my real life is "damage control"

>owner of the site is wealthy

That was the first big yellow flag. Wealthy persons (you didn't mention gender) that launch into obscenities with staff members are worth watching.

>A, B, C, D

I can see you explaining SEO in clear, concise terms to the court and still have them be in a total fog as to what services you were to provide.

[edited by: rcjordan at 10:06 pm (utc) on Aug. 28, 2002]

idiotgirl




msg:782229
 10:06 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

has insulted the female members of our staff with obscenities which (even in these days of liberation) are disgusting and have led them to tears

Additionally, I'd ask that any further communication is between Mr. Loudmouth and your attorney - not you and he - and not your employees and he. No one has to put up with that cr*p, and he should be accountable for what comes out of his mouth, whether obscene or not. You know he sure as heck is going to twist anything you say to his advantage, so why bait him? Attorneys have a way of making sure conversations stay on track. And they document them. It's often the easiest way to diffuse a hopeless situation and not waste your own time any longer.

nicebloke




msg:782230
 10:08 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

I hate the idea of giving this twod his money back.

We have overwhelming digital evidence that we did an outstanding job and kept our promises.

I say FIGHT. But I'm a bit biased. (And I wouldn't be paying the legal fees.)

rcjordan




msg:782231
 10:14 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Excellent suggestions, idiotgirl!

Absolutely, without fail, have your staff members sit down now and take time to individually document what has transpired between them and the client. Contemporaneous notes (or those reconstructed asap after the event starts to unfold) are great weapons of defense. Let it be in their own words --no prompting.

Longhaired Genius




msg:782232
 10:18 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

'You went for plurals - but Overture shows that the singular version is searched on. Why didn't you know that'

To show him he doesn't know what he's talking about, ask him to put "hells angels" into The Overture keyword tool.

bonzibuddy




msg:782233
 10:19 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

I agree. If he is able to get a listing for any SEO terms, he certainly wouldn’t have hired an SEO to promote his site. (and wouldn’t have a site in the first place that is just images)

In my experience, there is just no pleasing some people. Would he have been happy no matter what you delivered?

If it were me (any it has been me), if anyone spoke to any of my staff in a way that reduced them to tears, i certainly would NOT let it go - whilst you are filling out your defense, be sure to mention that.

If you work it out pound-for-pound in terms of how much time you would need to spend, it would defiantly be better to give him his wej back. I have had a client in court under similar circumstances and it was very time consuming indeed. There were 4 appearances for just 'directions' without the actual hearings. Not to mention 10's of hours on the defense.

But just think, if you refund - he would have all of those positions (difficult to do much about with Y! and Google unless you own the new domain) and all for free?!

Take to court or refund????

mmmmmmmm ... court, just make sure you dont loose, that would be even worse. Make an interesting thread though.

Keep us informed , Best of luck

bonz

nicebloke




msg:782234
 10:21 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

This guys been good enough to send his insults via email too.

'Cretin'

that's quite offensive isn't it?

makemetop




msg:782235
 10:42 pm on Aug 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the responses.

The business man in me says 'this isn't going to make me any money'!

However - I've been in this business long enough to want to stop rolling over when I KNOW I've done a better than average job. Now, I can take anyone attacking me (without taking it personally) - but when it is my staff, I do take offence.

>I never refund ANYTHING when the varmint says I did a crappy job.

Yep - that's what I think.

I feel strongly enough about this that I would like it to be a test case for all SEOs.

>I assume you've complied with all the terms of your employment agreement..

Of course, and I believe we have exceeded them.

So, it is the usual case of deciding that if I fight, I would be cutting of my nose etc. or really proving that we SEOs are not the crooks that this guy says I (we) are.

>What will that "time away" cost your company?

A lot. But if I did make this a 'cause-celebre' I may get my money back - plus a bit!

As I said, I am aware of the shortcomings of egotistical legal actions and what they can cost in term of time and money. This one, though, is one I feel should be fought - if only to ensure that my company (and our industry) are part of a profession which takes its contracts seriously.

Is that a bit too pedantic? :)

Filipe




msg:782236
 8:51 pm on Aug 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

The best person to ask would be your lawyer. True, it may cost a ton, but your lawyer may tell you "The returns will be greater than the costs, and I'm very certain I can win this case."

minnapple




msg:782237
 4:05 am on Aug 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

Be cool and keep a tight lip. Offering nothing in any form of writing.
Keep any conversations on the phone short and state "I believe we have met our obligations".

eboda




msg:782238
 1:25 am on Sep 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

I was always told. The first one to loose control has already lost.

Most the time conflict happens when there is a lack of understanding in this field. When a client goes off the deep end – Educate them, Find where the misunderstanding is if any or what they expected. Take the insults because you are going to win in the end anyway.
Don’t tell them they are wrong… show them through educating them where they are wrong. Perhaps this person is mad because of the lack of understanding? The best thing you can do (hard as it is) please them. Because it is a small world – I believe if he is truly upset he could hire another seo to dog you online (is that worth the risk?) Solve their problems and you will win – even if it means showing them they are wrong. Offer up some fixes for free because of their misunderstanding and work with them on the remaining work.

However, this is just another case where contracts are Gold!. Make sure everything is covered, and I mean everything. A contract protects both parties, you live up to your end and they live up their end period.

Eboda
(always looking for peace)

Ranger




msg:782239
 3:46 pm on Sep 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's maddening, isn't it? I had a client like that once early in my career, though not as bad as this guy. Luckily, *I* got rid of *him* before he really turned on me (*I* wouldn't renew his year-long contract with us!) ... I dumped him with another firm (hoping that he had something against me, but surprise surprise, he gave the other firm trouble, too. Some people are just @#$@'s.)

Frankly, I recommend sucking in your anger, handing him his site and his money, and moving on. Why?

1) Grief: You and your staff don't need the added GRIEF. He's already made your staff cry, do you really want to have them come to court and go through all this again?? And do YOU want to spend more weeks on end remembering and documenting and obsessing about all this?

2) Focus: how are you going to focus on growing your business with all this hanging over you? Or even running it smoothly?

3) What victory?: What are you REALLY going to win back in court? Are you going to get money from him for all this time and effort? At best you'll stop him but at a lot of expense at your effort. Some victory.

Realistically; every minute you spend in court is time STOLEN from you finding more business and making MORE MONEY. I'd say don't let this @#$@@#$@ bully cause you any more trouble.

Learn from this; learn to look out for clients like this, to turn them away. Put loopholes in your contracts to allow you to get out of them as well! (Either side may cancel w/ X days notice, etc.)

uk_dokey




msg:782240
 12:08 am on Sep 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi Makemetop,

Yes customers like this do exist the words 'anXlly' and 'retentative' come to mind..he he.

Our policy in the past is to humour them and be polite, however if what you're saying isn't getting through then just ignore him and when the contract ends say "bye bye"

Things like this can make your staff stressed but you can turn it around with a bit of humour..the old Chevvy Chase trick of stuttery microphone is a good one. I'm sorry Mr ..mer the phones are fa..ty.

Overture doesn't show plurals by the way in that tool..doh. Let him optimise the page about search engine optimisation and when he does it (it'll take him a year or so) simply copy his source code (minus derrogatory comments) and use it to promote your site, make sure you submit it to Google as his site will magically dissapear for mirroring reasons.

Peace

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