5 reasons why SEO companies are to blame for the in-house SEO phenomenon

As I write this is am 38000 feet up, on my way to Pubcon, to meet with some old friends who I don't get to see often, learn some new tricks, and yes have a little fun. (OK this was a long time in the making!).

I was reading this month's search marketing standard and it had a big feature article on bringing SEO in house, and I posted a checklist on some things I thought about bringing SEO in house.

I personally have never been a big fan of full time in-house SEO for most sites, but since I run an SEO company I figure that people would say, well of course you would, so up until now I haven't written TOO much about it. I haven't been able to articulate the point, well now I can so prepare your rotten tomatoes to throw, because a lot of folks aren't going to like what I've got to say, oh well never stopped me before.

SEO companies are the reason why so much SEO has gone in house (and to be honest it doesn't make sense for MOST companies to bring it in house) but that is a separate blog post at a separate time.

Here are the 5 reasons why:

1. We are shady! Sure there are a ton of ethical companies out there, but with the plethora of:

  • submit your site to 500 web sites
  • guaranteed first page
  • get #1 rankings in 24 hours

Types of scams out there, people have grown concerned and they should be. But even for the “legit companies” many just aren't very good, yet because clients don't know enough to keep us honest in most cases they can't decipher who is good and who isn't. As a result many SEO firms throw out talk of patents, warn of penalties, bombard the client with scare tactics, making SEO seem like some kind of Voodoo, which it just simply isn't. After enough bad attempts, what would you do as a marketing director? Bring it in house? Sounds like an idea worth exploring to me.

How to overcome this issue: DON'T BE FREAKING SHADY!

2. We don't educate our clients on what we do Sure, in theory our clients don't need to know or really want to know every detail, that doesn't mean that they don't deserve transparency on the process and what you do to achieve the results you gain for them.

I recently got a call from a company who had top rankings for a very competitive industry. They got the great rankings, traffic, and sales from their SEO company! Great work. Unfortunately the SEO company had bought embedded links on free counter scripts that were placed all over the web, which is how they got their top rankings. Ultimately this KILLED the clients rankings and has really had a negative impact on their business in the long run. By trying an unethical workaround to exploit a hole in the Google algorithm, they ultimately did more damage then help, as they aren't thinking about the people who may be getting laid off, lose their jobs, and possibly not feed their families. Now if they honestly disclosed the pros and cons of this strategy to the client, and knowing those options the client decided to continue anyway, well then it would be a different story, but they didn't.

Stuffing acronyms down a clients throat is NOT the way to do it either, connect the dots for them. Trust me clients don't typically want to take the process in house, but by keeping them in the dark with “well that's a trade secret” or “that's proprietary” does not build trust.

Sometimes, it is hard, to be honest, most of the intricacies of search are over a lot of people's heads. Taking the time to educate the client on the general parts of the process, how it works, and why will save all SEO companies headaches later. We need to turn away opportunities with people who obsess over rankings or have unrealistic expectations. It will only lead to a horror story later.

3. We are secretive for NO GOOD REASON I have said it 1000 times: all SEO's use 80-90% of the same info to develop their strategies, we all read many of the same blogs, and read the same white papers, it is what you DO with that information that makes the difference.

I have seen more SEO companies refer to technologies and platforms as “proprietary” when in actuality they are using open source tools, free checkers, simulators, etc. I think to build trust you go ahead and tell your clients what tools you use, heck show em. Honestly they don't want to take it in house, and if they do, well you should be proud you took them up to that point and can help them build the team. Due to your openness, and willingness to help you'll likely see many more referrals coming.

For really GOOD SEO companies the value isn't in the tools, it is in the people interpreting the results. In the same way that owning a hammer doesn't make you a master carpenter, using a tool isn't what makes a great SEO!

4. SEO companies don't act like part of the team

I find that many SEO's take a kind of “take it or leave it” approach to prospects, sometimes I am shocked by how poor customer service is in many SEO companies. As this space gets more crowded good customer service (followed by RESULTS of course) is one great way to differentiate yourself and drive a wedge. This past week I had the misfortune of having a prospect come to us who thought that he wanted to take his SEO in house because he said everyone he talked to during the sales process, was very “this is how it works” in their attitude and wouldn't take the time to educate him. Many of my sales calls are an hour or more, and while most prospects don't end up being the right match, we try to educate people on SEO so they don't get ripped off, even if they don't work with us (yeah we believe in Karma). SEO companies often “high five” on top rankings, but don't do the due diligence to ensure that the traffic they drive results in traffic and leads / sales (assuming that is the goal), but you can see more of that below.

5. SEO companies have not been accountable to RESULTS

I am often still amazed by the lack of tracking for many SEO companies down to real hard results for their clients. I still see rankings and not revenues being used as the yardstick, for success. Eventually most marketing VPs that hire our companies will be asked how is this working down to real RESULTS, it is our job to arm them with that information. Performance Marketing matters more and more, don't take my word for it, IBM says it too.

In the past month I had the misfortune of having 3 leads that came in, all of which were being sold a bill of goods, here they are, with profiles:

The Ripoff artist

A potential client came to me with a LOCAL doctor who does a very specific type of surgery in the Philadelphia metro. He paid about $39,000 for optimization and did GREAT! The company got him top rankings. That isn't the total rip off, here's where the rip off occurs: They basically made up work for the next 2 years, saying they were getting links at about 4k / month to “maintain the rankings for a term that had about 300-500 searches / month). All told: SEO has cost them 100K+, when I checked out one of the links they were “renting” for 200 dollars a month, I found it was no-followed.

My favorite BS line:

We can't just broker links with a site like TLA because Google can find them too easily, so we have to call, mail, and negotiate each and every link. Then the client found out they use brokers: freaking liars!

The Short Term SEO / under educator

Another potential client came to me, way pissed off. He told me that he had an SEO company get him to the top of Google for a VERY competitive and lucrative term, and it is a very competitive term. Suddenly he vanished after having so much of his traffic and sales come from SEO. Some quick investigations showed me that the company bought links in free counter scripts that was not known to the client. When you are #1 maybe that is when you should be asking “how”. While we at SEER would not deploy such a tactic, I don't knock the SEO company for trying to do it, what they should have done is explain to their client the short term nature of this strategy with pros and cons so that the client can make a proper decision.

The funny part is that this person is jaded, and rightfully so. He was so jaded that even though I have worked with 2 of his colleagues for years on SEO projects in the past, he just doesn't trust SEO people, can you blame him?

Now of course if a client has unrealistic expectations, it is better for SEOs to not take on the job then deploy these tactics, or at least explain to the client the downside before they buy that mansion.

The Old School SEO

Another company I spoke with looks like they got a penalty right before their busy season. Why? Simple: they are a very popular site whose SEO firm in India told them to do reciprocal linking (They are a PR 6/7) as the main link strategy. Wha Wha What?

What's worse, is that this strategy was told to them in the past few months! This was their only linking strategy!? This client didn't need “insert SEO strategy here” their strategy will require equal parts Internet marketing strategy and SEO to get quality links!

Here are some of my favorite blog posts on how to spot a fake / bad SEO:

Tim Nash - How to spot a snake skin SEO Seller

BAD SEO - Bad SEO Blog [site no longer active]

HOBO SEO - Unethical SEO Handbook [site no longer active]

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Wil Reynolds
Wil Reynolds
CEO & Vice President