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SEO: If You Think The Best Are Expensive, Wait ‘Til You Hire a Bad One

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Search Engine Optimisation has gotten a bad name. It’s often called a Black Art, something I’m growing weary of because it’s too big and important to dismiss it as such. SEO professionals or agencies are often answerable to this, and in some cases rightfully so…

There are some very bad SEO practitioners out there, opportunists who saw it as an easy sell for something non-quantifiable.

How can even the most reputable SEOs convince someone that we’re not like the rest, especially when someone has already been ‘burned’ by one, sometimes more than once? SEO is not regulated or audited, so it’s difficult to find the best. Many will opt for the cheapest because, well, “they’re all the same”. Well, they’re not. Some are actually very, very good.

“Perhaps You Didn’t Ask The Right Questions”

A friend recently told me that she was about to engage with the services of a wedding planner and really wanted to work with her, but she was unsure as to how reputable or effective she is. Sure, there was positive word-of-mouth, even some good reviews on her website. But in an industry where excellent results are subjective, it can be easy to convince clients that you will do, and have done, the best job possible.

It’s relatively easy to use emotional or other triggers to convince them that what they got in return for their hard earned, (supposedly) well-invested money was to the best standard available. You take their word for it, after all what do you have to compare it to?

Most people only get one shot at a wedding, and in the wrong hands this can lead to a life-long regret. “Of course hiccups happen”, they may say, and then you’ll convince yourself that this is true and move on. Perhaps the problem was that you didn’t ask the right questions to begin with.

“So-Called SEO Experts Who Don’t Give a Shit”

Now let’s bring it back to SEO. If you’re thinking of engaging with an SEO professional or agency then there are some pertinent things to ask before doing so.

SEO has a bad name in some circles and if we’re honest with ourselves then it’s down to the bad practice of many so-called SEO experts who don’t give a shit about your business or its performance.

They want your money, plain and simple. They’ve seen the business opportunity that innately comes from offering a service for which results can be subjective and someone else might even be responsible: “But Google changes all the time!”.

Over the past few years, I’ve acquired new clients or pitched SEO services to potential clients who were very unaware of what SEO truly is or what an effective SEO strategy should be. They know they need it, but they don’t truly know what it is.

My job has been to cut through the bullshit, talk specifically about their business goals and what this channel (or channels) can do to increase their bottom line and visibility. I want to know that they’re comfortable they are seeing a return on their investment, even if it’s not always 100% measurable. Agencies and marketing professionals in general have their own reputation to think of, but it’s those who are also truly dedicated to yours that really stand out.

Also over the past few years I’ve taken on SEO for clients who had engaged in previous services and some of my findings were worrying, to put it politely. Having been given a ballpark figure as to how much was being paid on a monthly basis so that “SEO is taken care of”, clearly no attention had been paid to some of what we know to be core ranking factors.

In one client’s case there were sponsorships, charity initiatives, public speaking events, memberships, partnerships. conferences, and much more in the previous six months that could have very clearly lent themselves to relevant and effective links. None of this was ever even mentioned. The previous reports showed rankings for keywords that were mis-spelled, irrelevant, unachievable… and those that were relevant had no strategy in place in order to achieve higher ranking for them.

“In the Wrong Hands SEO is Not Just Done Badly – It Can Be Dangerous”

And then there’s the very bad…. clients who have worked with an agency who have built links of no value across multiple countries and platforms, and even links that are potentially damaging to their Google visibility. Let’s make one thing clear: if you are an online-only business then in the wrong hands SEO is not just done badly – it can be dangerous.

If you are not a well-established domain with some good historical links to counter-act spammy activity, then you can be removed from search results. It might only be temporary, but it means that for a period of time your largest online channel is gone, and that’s Google organic search.

If you think it’s expensive to hire the best, then wait until you’ve hired a bad one.

In some instances, I have contacted previous agencies and specifically asked for my client’s historical link building reports so that I can reverse the damage that was done. This can be rectified, but of course it’s best avoided.

Unlike Google AdWords Partner status, there is seemingly no way to make a complaint about an SEO professional or agency who have taken your money to knowingly employ tactics that have no impact or can seriously damage your businesses’ online visibility and reputation. When I say there’s ‘seemingly’ no way, I refer to the assumption that nobody cares, you’ve just got to move on and fix it.

However, if you look at Google’s own Webmasters content, they are subtly pointing you in the right direction here. The suggestion is that you report this wrongdoing to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. There’s even a specific journey for those who have been sold ad space or directory listings.

“They Are Knowingly Putting Your Business at Risk”

I’ve already done this on numerous occasions, in particular last year with regard to a Dublin-based digital agency (who shall be un-named) who have three different names, three different websites, all at the same address – who purposely, and perhaps still do, build harmful links.

Unless they have no internet access, they’ll be aware that these tactics are not just dangerous, but have been redundant for at least 10 years. Bottom line: they are knowingly putting your business at risk – and you’re paying them to do so.

My advice to those who are in doubt is to first speak to someone impartial so, in other words, someone who comes with strong recommendations. If they feel that you have been treated unethically then you should report it. With this, we can help.

So, it’s about asking the right questions. Not just if you are looking for SEO services, but you should also ask those of your current agency or provider. For example…

  • Can you show me some examples of strong relevant links that you have influenced for other clients?
  • How will your SEO strategy fit in with our business goals?
  • What do you report on? Note: If reporting amounts to just monthly rankings and traffic then forget it because finding valuable data can be even easier than hiding it.
  • How much have you learned about our business?
  • How will you audit our content and how do you propose coming up with a detailed approach to our content for the next 12 months?
  • How much will this cost?

There are so many more questions, and it’s important to note that it’s highly likely that choosing SEO services based on lowest cost alone will lead to the wrong decision. If you think it’s expensive to hire the best, then wait until you’ve hired a bad one.

SEO takes time, effort, creative thought, marketing know-how – it’s not just about keywords, meta tags, fixing broken links and making new shiny ones.

So if you ever need a wedding planner then feel free to use the cheapest provider. Just be sure that they understand your requirements and wishes, be sure that they won’t send invites to people in other countries who have never heard of you and have no interest in attending, do not let them build you a Wix ‘bride and groom’ website and promise you #1 on Google for “best wedding”… or better still, annoy the hell out of your venue owners so that the whole party is called off.

If you want it done right then you may not get the cheapest option, but it may turn out to be the best decision.

Treat it like you’ll only ever get one shot at it.