It’s been a little while since we’ve written a post about the differences between one SEO agency and the next, however this last week I had a two hour long call with a long time on and off client regarding the information he received from another SEO agency, and it got me fired up enough to write a post to try and help business owners better understand how SEO works and what to look for when choosing an SEO partner to work with.
Let me start by saying that the purpose of this article is by no means to persuade readers to hire us for their SEO campaigns. If by the end of the article you want to then that’s fantastic and we would love to work with you, however our main goal is to simply help educate business owners so they don’t end up in the same situation our client ended up in.
The Mess Our Client Got Into:
We have a client who first came to us about 15 months ago with an existing website that was getting about 5 visitors a day. He came to us looking for some help with getting more traffic to the site, so we ended up making the following recommendations for him:
- Add an e-commerce function to the site since all their competitors offer this and it would help accomplish two things: First it would make the purchase process smoother and easier and secondly it would give us a bunch of great pages with great content that will rank higher in search results.
- Setup a temporary pay per click campaign utilizing both Google Adwords ads as well as Google Product Listings to promote individual products via Google Merchant Center. This campaign accomplished it’s goal, but as we all know PPC in many industries only delivers so much traffic and is a much more costly alternative than organic traffic.
- We recommended some SEO options for him in which we would assist in content production of unique content for all the products on the site, build links to the main pages on the site and product categories, and make on-site adjustments so all the coding (which wasn’t done by us initially) was up to par for us to make SEO related changes
Our client opted for the first two options and we launched a great looking and functional online store which was getting about 30-50 visitors a day via the Adwords campaigns we setup. Our client reported that each month since the launch of the store, they’ve hit a new record in monthly revenues which is in part due to their improving online presence.
However our client was always very hesitant when it came to SEO. He thought the undertaking was going to be a lot of work (which it is, any SEO campaign is a lot of work) and he didn’t know that it was worth while to provide quality content on his site. So this client started looking around, and one day came to us with what he thought was a brilliant idea (and 4-5 years ago it very well may have been a brilliant idea) — an API or data feed from a 3rd party that would provide him with 10,000+ pages of information for his site.
We immediately informed him this was a bad idea specifically because all that content would be duplicate. We ran a search for one piece of that content and it came back having over 350 other websites using the exact same content. We had to turn this client down and tell him we wouldn’t work with him in that direction simply because we knew it was the wrong thing to do for his website.
Fast forward 3-4 months and I get a phone call from the same client, who informed me of the following:
- He found a competitor who was using a 3rd party API or data feed to provide technical information and 100 word descriptions for 10,000+ products, all of which he could easily promote on his online store and provide through his distribution channels
- He found an SEO/web development company, ironically one that is just down the street from our office, who was willing to build him a brand new website in a platform which is known for not being user friendly and incorporate that 3rd party data feed to import 10,000+ products into the site, all of which are duplicates from 350+ other sites on the web
- That same SEO company quoted him a few thousand dollars a month in which they would improve rankings for “500+ long tail terms each and every month”
Our client was so excited to have this new platform being developed and underway, yet still gave us a call to let us know about it. I’m not sure if it’s because he liked working with us so wanted to see if we would pick up and work within this API or I’m not sure if it was because all along he remembered what we said about doing this and was having doubts about the direction his online presence was going with this new firm.
I think the bottom line about this idea though was this: based on our initial research, we identified several sites utilizing this data feed, and none of them were outranking our client’s current site with a few products setup properly and unique content. And that is without doing any sort of SEO just through having quality content and a properly built website.
Long story short, we had a nearly 2 hour long discussion about this and informed him of all the downsides to going this route, which again include:
- Likely getting slapped by Google Panda for having 10,000+ pages of junk, duplicate content that adds no value to the web
- Likely getting slapped by Google Penguin for an SEO company building mass, automated links to optimize so many keywords for such a low monthly fee (or at the very least moving nowhere because that’s a lot of terms to manually work on)
- Likely causing either long term (6-12+ month) or permanent damage to his already new and weak domain name given what this SEO company was recommending (A new domain with low PageRank can easily be hurt by various SEO activities)
- Likely spending 5x his initial investment to clean up this mess once they realize it doesn’t work, and even then looking at the possibility of needing to buy a new domain name to ever be trusted by Google again
- Having a website in a new platform which is notorious for being costly to build, and extremely difficult to manage, when he already has a fantastic and user friendly site which we just cleaned up for him
While we don’t have all the answers, we’re one of the few SEO companies out there who will quickly pass up on new business if the client doesn’t want to do things the right way. That doesn’t mean our clients listen to everything we say, but when it comes down to the overall SEO strategy, our clients are hiring us for our expertise, experience, and the results we’ve been achieving over the last several years, and this strategy our client wanted to implement was a mess in nearly every way imaginable.
After the discussion with our client, he realized he was making a mistake, and wanted to see what he could do to get out of a 5-figure contract with the data provider and another contract with the SEO/web development company. He asked us “What would you do if you were in my shoes” and while we tried to explain to him that we’ve been recommending the proper direction from day 1, sometimes after that pen hits the paper it becomes too late to make dramatic changes to the direction something is going. Unfortunately, our client was going to need to get out of this mess on his own and find a way to get out of the contracts if he wanted to work with us in the direction we were recommending.
What To Look For When Picking An SEO Provider:
As a business owner, you often trust the professional advise of those around you to make the best decision for you. However when it comes to online marketing, there’s no professional licensing or regulation of the businesses that offer online marketing services, so it becomes even more important for business owners to be alert and cautious when they start working with a new partner.
As Google algorithms constantly change, what you should look for in an SEO provider is changing as well. However for the near future, when you choose an SEO provider for your business, you want to look for all of the following:
- A company that has case studies and results to back up everything they say. We gladly provide prospects with case studies and general information about clients who we actively work with and where they rank.
- A company that can actually explain what they’re going to do for you. “Improve 500+ long tail keywords” is something you would never find in one of our proposals; instead we would say something like “Work with ABC Inc. to develop backlinks from business partners, vendors, suppliers, and line up guest blogging opportunities to help optimize various long tail keywords for the site”. While this is just one small example of what we could do for a client, we are being detailed in how are are going to approach their unique situation.
- A company that is accessible and US based. It amazes me how many clients tell me they normally couldn’t reach their old SEO company for days or weeks at a time, and many of them come to find out that their SEO company is located overseas and hides behind having a US phone number.
- A company that offers more than just SEO. Today, putting all your eggs in one basket is dangerous and not cost effective, so it’s important to utilize other great tools like email marketing, remarketing, PPC campaigns, A/B testing, and smart web development to make sure you get the most out of your online marketing campaign
- A company who you think you can work well with. Remember, online marketing isn’t just hire someone and forget it anymore, you’re going to be working closely with that company over the next several months to improve your business’ online presence, so it’s important to find someone who you think you can work well with.
If you find a company who meets these requirements for you right out of the gate, there’s a good chance they might be a good partner to work with.
What To Watch Out For:
There’s thousands of red flags to watch out for when picking an SEO provider, a few of which are:
- Misleading case studies: I won’t provide the link, but just the other day I saw an SEO company with a case study that read “348% increase in traffic in just one week” and upon further investigation, I discovered they brought a site from having about 15 visitors a day to about 50 visitors a day. While this is a 348% increase, there’s really nothing impressive about those numbers for most businesses.
- Automated SEO: Using SEO software to automate link building and other off-site aspects of the campaign is like playing with fire. Just don’t do it.
- Outdated Techniques: It’s been a few years now since Penguin and Panda came out, make sure you ask your SEO provider what they do to stay compliant with these updates
- Bad Planning: An SEO company providing a silver, gold, and platinum package on their site isn’t planning an SEO campaign for you. Each business requires a uniquely crafted plan in order to succeed, make sure your SEO company is providing you with a customized proposal.
At the end of the day, much like any industry there’s about 9 bad providers for every 1 good one when it comes to SEO. Just be cautious in who you hire and make sure they can stand behind what they’re offering you. There’s no guarantees in the world of online marketing, but by picking a good provider out of the gate you can make sure your business has the best chances of succeeding online.