Two recent columns I wrote about organic search engine marketing have
generated a larger than normal amount of reader response. Two weeks ago
I wrote about how search advertisers, eager to see immediate results for
their investments, were turning to paid-search advertising while ignoring
optimization for organic placements. Earlier this week, I wrote about
a survey that showed almost 2/3 of search advertisers neglecting to implement
SEO recommendations made by third-party vendors (SEO firms). Judging by
some of the emails I received from folks who read the articles (some of
which were quite pointed but all of which were polite), there are a lot
of frustrated advertisers trying to work the Internet. Just to be clear
on this, the vast majority were NOT frustrated Viagra advertisers or affiliates
but regular business folk, the merchants and marketers we know from Main
The crux of the majority of the emails focused on the subject of trust.
Organic search engine optimization is understood to be a best-attempt service
and that “best-attempt” attitude has obviously been exploited
by the unscrupulous. I received a lot of email from folks who’ve been
burned by unethical or unskilled SEO firms. As a profession, it seems SEO
has a long way to go to earn the trust of consumers.
At the same time, search advertisers are becoming increasingly sophisticated
in their knowledge of the search medium, much of it driven by the massive
spike in interest surrounding paid-search advertising. Several smaller advertisers
wrote saying basically that paid-search offers guaranteed visibility for
their investment and SEO offers potential headaches without guaranteeing
anything at all.
Dalen from Dallas TX wrote a long letter in response to the first
article expressing issues he faced when trying to work with organic SEOs who were
less expert than they claimed to be. Here is a part of his email, (printed
“We (the little guys) are faced with scores of so-called SEO "experts" who
all claim to be able to get us there, but the truth is that too many of
them are just hype and bluster and we have no way to determine who knows
what they are doing and who does not. So we are faced with the daunting
gamble of dumping money into what can only be at best a good guess. That
can be economically unfeasible for most. I have wasted thousands on experts
who almost destroyed my rankings because they only looked like they knew
what they were doing, and would justify their lack of performance with the
worn-out excuse that you can't make any promises in the SEO game, and that
it always takes months to see results. By that time, they are gone with
your money looking for the next victim.” - Frustrated but still hopeful,
Another reader, Mike Bemis CEO of Voiceserv.net, wrote a short response
to the second
article (again, reprinted with permission).
“… I think you missed a point.
We are a young company and watch our pennies pretty carefully. We have
been hustled by a couple SEO firms recently. Give me $6000,5,4,3...Just
sign up with us today and we’ll do wonders for you. The pitch
always sets off alarms.
In addition, I worry (and I suspect others do) that an SEO will successfully
get my site blackballed and I’ll be worse off than ever.”
There’s really not much to say about unethical SEO firms ripping
off consumers. It is ugly. It is unprofessional. It stinks. Unfortunately,
it happens. More than one reader asked me why they should trust the services
of an SEO firm. En masse, here is my response.
Search sells stuff. Its medium is made for marketing. Marketing is the
sharing of information with consumers through one or more forms of media.
Information shared with consumers is generally jazzed up a bit to make it
more marketable, regardless of the media in or on which the information
is communicated. Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs), the geekier side of the
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) industry, have two unique types of consumer
to think of when jazzing up a client’s website; live visitors and
electronic spiders. In order to please both groups, SEOs need to be able
to write strong site copy that reads well for humans and spiders. They also
have to understand how to structure several different types of sites to
provide the most optimal paths for spiders to follow. Good SEOs are creative
technicians. Some lean more towards the creative site and others lean more
towards the technical side, both of which can be extremely interesting.
Great SEO firms staff themselves to create a strong balance of characters
and expertise working in a team environment.
SEO is a best attempt service. That means your SEO vendor will make their
best attempt. It also means that many attempts to achieve placements are
made if the first attempt does not work. Eventually, the vast majority of
clients will be satisfied though it might take a few months to get there.
Even for the best and most ethical SEO firm however, a small number of clients
won’t be. It works the same in other forms of advertising. A newspaper
ad for one store might draw lots of customers while an ad for a second draws
few. There’s lots of ways and reasons to explain it but the bottom
line is always the same. Some clients are left unsatisfied.
That, in a nutshell, is what ethical organic search engine optimizers can
and should do for their clients. There are literally dozens of little alterations
SEOs make on client sites and no end to advice a good SEO can provide his
or her clients. Quite often, many of these changes and much of the advice
might appear to be minor tweaks but when implemented collectively, they
should provide a significant boost in search engine placements.
The only way to know whom to trust is to do the research. Every business
has a history and for experienced SEO firms, that history is splayed across
the web in vivid colour, the good, the bad and the ugly. The easiest way
to do this is to go to the major search engines and type in a company name.
Everything from positive client testimonials to complaints in various discussion
forums will appear. If your potential SEO vendor has been in business for
a while and is notable in one way or another, you should find information
Any good marketing firm knows the best marketing comes from word-of-mouth
experience. Ethical SEO firms tend to be good marketers. Most have agreements
with current and previous clients to provide testimonials and most of those
clients are happy to share their experiences in a short email or phone conversation.
Your potential SEO vendor should be happy to share a list of confirmable
past clients to provide verification of their services.
Lastly, sites such as the SEO
Consultants Directory and guides such as
to Search Engine Optimization Agencies have gathered information on credible SEO firms. The SEOConsultants directory
is a free service that vets entries before listing them. MarketingSherpa’s
Buyer’s Guide surveys previous clients and monitors SEO firms from
year to year to provide consumers with invaluable information before investing
thousands in organic search marketing.
Organic search engine marketing does work though. Advertisers can avoid
getting ripped off by being diligent and learning about the search environment
before investing in an SEO firm’s services. As the basic sector of
the fastest growing facet of mainstream advertising, SEOs need to be more
professional, offering a much more accessible and open service to their
clients. The sector not only needs to act ethically, it really needs to
appear to be ethical. This, from what I gather, is the biggest obstacle
faced by professional SEOs.