25 Jan Scam Alert – Not All SEO Companies Are Created Equal
Someone who pretends to be a lawyer without a law degree and without having passed the bar exam can be put in jail and fined. Someone who pretends to be a doctor without a medical degree and license can suffer the same consequences, and can also be required to compensate victims for the damage done by his malpractice.
Someone who pretends to be an SEO expert without qualifications or experience, unfortunately, can obliterate a website’s search engine rankings and then just move on to defraud more clients, without fear of legal repercussions or punishment. Real SEO requires a very high level of technical, analytical and tactical competencies as well as business acumen and industry-specific expertise. It’s not something that anyone – whether it’s your friend, family member, IT guy, web developer, or even any marketing agencies – can easily do.
That’s why any serious business needs to be able to distinguish between self-described “SEO gurus” and competent, effective digital marketing agencies with proven track records. It’s even more important if you’re going to have an outside firm work on a website you can’t afford to lose.
How do you choose the right SEO company when you aren’t even sure of the difference between Google AdWords and Google AdSense? Read on.
Why Are There So Many SEO Amateurs and Scammers Out There?
There are five major reasons why the search engine marketing and optimization fields are fertile ground for unqualified amateurs and scam artists, and treacherous ground for companies in search of professional SEO.
- No credentials are required: Anyone can call themselves an SEO expert. Maybe they’ve actually earned their stripes with successful campaigns for numerous clients. Perhaps they’ve spent some time working as a grunt for a digital marketing firm and have decided to hang out their own shingle. It could be that they’ve only read some SEO blogs and messageboards and learned to “speak the language” just enough to fool potential clients. It doesn’t really matter – the Internet makes everyone “equal” at first glance.
- The industry can be quite profitable: There is good money to be made in SEM and SEO, because every company needs search optimization but very few have their own in-house SEO teams. Reputable, qualified companies make their money by producing results for long-term, satisfied clients. Fly-by-night operators and wanna-be “experts” working from their one-bedroom apartments make theirs by fooling companies into hiring them, charging high prices for low-quality work, and simply finding new suckers when the old ones fire them.
- Cheap, substandard outsourcing is easy to find: You would be amazed at the number of people (and companies) in Asia which charge rock-bottom prices for poor-quality link building, content writing, social signals and other common SEO tasks. Some American companies do the same thing, charging low prices because they utilize interns or newbies without experience to do the real work. And there are countless “find a freelancer” websites where anyone can hire link builders, writers and designers, all charging low prices which befit their quality. A search engine optimization or marketing firm can easily outsource all of the actual work that goes into SEO while charging its clients top-of-the-market prices – and many do just that. It’s not only unqualified “gurus” which take this easy road, either; many big-name, multi-million dollar search optimization companies take the same short cut. Quite honestly, it’s how some of them became multi-million dollar companies.
- Automation and ignorance have proliferated: A number of automated tools have been developed which allow the rapid implementation of many standard SEO tasks. “Black hat” SEO mills and those posing as experts have jumped on these shortcuts as an easy way to build campaigns for their unsuspecting clients. Unfortunately, most of these tools are ticking time bombs; they create low quality links and content which violate Google’s rules, and will eventually destroy the client’s site when they explode. Real SEO pros know when – or if – any of these tools are appropriate to use in a campaign. “Gurus” don’t.
- One-size-fits-all SEO is the flavor of the day: Any professional digital marketing company will spent a great deal of time speaking with its clients to learn about their markets, their products, their competitors and their goals, and then design a strategically-sound SEO campaign for them. More and more self-styled “gurus” and scam artists just offer packages of “X links for Y dollars per month,” or even worse, promise to create a customized campaign along with their “secret sauce” – and then just build the same links they build for every other client.
How To Find A Legitimate SEO Agency
A company’s website may be its most important marketing asset in the 21st century, and many alleged “digital marketing professionals” can destroy a website with a single set of bad backlinks. That makes detailed due diligence, and commitments in writing, crucial for any firm searching for an SEO provider. Here are the steps to take.
- Ask for credentials: Many search engine optimization companies consist primarily of “project managers” who supervise a group of outsourcers and interns; the managers only produce reports and service clients. Insist on seeing a complete list of the in-house employees who will be conducting your campaign along with their resumes and credentials. Then check them out as thoroughly as possible on social networks like LinkedIn, and by doing a Google search to make sure their names don’t come up associated with black hat marketing. Ask to speak directly with the individuals who will be doing the work to make sure they’re not outsourced and that they’re able to explain what they’ll be doing. Don’t settle for only speaking with your project manager, unless he’s also the one who will actually be doing your SEO.
- Ask for references: A reputable search engine marketing firm will be able to show documented results that they’ve obtained for other clients, and provide references from satisfied customers.
- Require a detailed SEO strategy: A fly-by-nighter will try to get by with mumbo-jumbo and promises. Qualified professionals will build a strategy tailored specifically for your business, and will be able to explain each element of the strategy, the reason for its inclusion, and its intended/expected result. If an SEO firm won’t give you direct answers to your questions and hides behind jargon or “secret methods,” find a different firm.
- Get assurances in writing: Unless you don’t mind some of your SEO work being outsourced, require your provider to guarantee in writing that all work will be done in-house. If you’re OK with some supervised outsourcing, make sure your contract specifies what you will and won’t accept, and that you’re only charged for the project manager’s time and for the actual cost of the outsourcing work without upcharges. You should also require written assurances that no risky “black hat” practices will be used on your campaign.
How the “Wrong” SEO Choice Can Destroy Your Business
The number of companies which have been burned by amateur or dishonest SEO providers is enormous. There’s a good chance you know at least one victim; you may even have been victimized yourself. If not, though, here’s just one example of how a seemingly intelligent decision to save money on search engine optimization can destroy a business.
One of our employees who worked in our business development department (in other words, a salesman) decided he could cash in by starting his own SEO company – even though he had no practical SEO experience. He approached many of our clients and promised to do the same work for a fraction of our agency fees. Fortunately, most were happy with us and knew better.
Unfortunately one client, a large global online retailer in an extremely competitive market, made the wrong decision. They were paying quite a lot for our monthly digital marketing services, and let themselves be tempted by our former employee’s offer to do the same job at one-third of our fee.
Since he had no SEO experience or knowledge, our former employee outsourced the work to cheap linkbuilding services he found on an online forum. He paid less than $300 per month for the links and the client paid him thousands of dollars per month. But the client was still saving a lot of money by not paying our going rates. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Fast forward a few months: the outsourced garbage SEO service ended up earning the client’s website a Google manual penalty and a complete loss of rankings. Overnight, the client’s 6-figure monthly revenue from their website disappeared. It’s been over 8 months right now and the website hasn’t shown any signs of recovery yet. So the end result was that by hiring an amateur (that’s putting it kindly, since some would say “by hiring a scam artist”) the company saved thousands of dollars a month – and ended up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in revenue, as well as the website they’d paid a fortune to build.
SEO isn’t for amateurs. There’s way too much at stake, particularly for real businesses with real websites, to take chances on “gurus” and self-proclaimed “experts” who often turn out to be nothing but scammers.
Established, reputable digital marketing and SEO agencies not only understand how to craft a long-term ranking strategy specific to your business, but will also protect one of your most valuable long-term assets – your website.
Written by: Dieter S. Hsiao – Dieter is a tech entrepreneur, investor, brand strategist and marketing technologist with a knack for helping businesses and leading brands establish, capture, and deliver value from their digital consumer experiences. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of MezzoLogic, a digital marketing agency headquartered in Los Angeles, California.