In many small and medium sized businesses, even a few large ones, people are sometimes wary of SEO agencies and what they could mean to their company. They worry that SEO is a dead practice, that it doesn’t work or that it’s not even a real thing.
To some, SEO agencies and SEO consultants are seen as snake oil salesmen (and saleswomen of course!) who promise the earth, take your money and provide little or no positive benefit to your business. In the SEO industry we fight, sometimes on a daily basis, to prove ourselves as professionals offering a professional service to businesses. This is often made harder by the negative light SEO is put under by some of the skills and tactics less professional SEO’s employ in an effort to gain more clients and make more money. In this article I am going to show you a few of the warning signs to look out for as well as some tips on how you can distinguish between an ‘SEO Pro’ and an ‘SEO Joe’ with the hopeful aim that it helps people to;
A) Not spend money on poor work and risk a sites visibility
B) Better understand that there are professional legitimate SEO Agencies and Consultants out there willing to help.
So I’ll start with what I personally feel is a simple, fitting definition of what an SEO Pro is and an SEO Joe is (To avoid any confusion).
SEO Pro – Noun; Meaning an experienced, well versed and accountable person or agency, working to improve their clients visibility in a sustainable way. Always willing to discuss strategies and provide honest feedback on results.
SEO Joe – Noun; Meaning anyone with an email account, list of email addresses and basic understanding of SEO. Often seen offering blog comment links and article spinning as part of an SEO package. Also potentially referred to as ‘Asshat SEO’s’
Below are a few of the initial warning signs of an ‘SEO Joe’ to look out for when you are either looking for an SEO agency or consultant or are presented with a potential opportunity to increase your sites visibility. You’ll see the difference between a ‘Pro’ and a ‘Joe’ fairly clearly in each example.
Unsolicited Emails Okay, we all get emails on a daily basis selling things or promoting things, in many cases its from a business or service we have used or a list we have opted into. Unfortunately there are also those emails you receive that are completely unsolicited and are offering a service, in this case SEO. These emails often look like this: As you can see, and undoubtedly have seen something like it before, it is 100% spam. It isn’t personalised at all meaning it has been sent out en-masse to countless others with nothing to show any kind of credibility in the services they are trying to sell. If you get these and they made it through your spam filter, delete them. They can’t help you and would, in al likelihood do more harm than good! A Pro will most likely be referred to you by someone or you’ll find them yourself through your own searches.
Guaranteed #1 or 1st Page Rankings There are so many different elements that go into making a site rank in first position or on the first page. Things such as the domain history, competition, inbound links, the site structure and its content for example all work together to increase a sites visibility. If someone says they can guarantee first position or page 1, they are talking rubbish and should be avoided. It’s also worth mentioning at this stage that a professional, reputable SEO will talk in terms of visibility in search rather than rankings. Whilst individual keyword rankings are a good indicator of visibility they shouldn’t be the individual focus for an SEO strategy & reporting.
Selling Their Service By The Keyword As I touched on above, whilst keyword rankings form a good base for understanding a sites visibility they shouldn’t be the focus of the campaign. It’s true that quality keyword research still plays a part in targeting pages to relevant searches that users make but if someone offers their service based on a ‘Per Keyword’ model, they aren’t likely to be up to date with SEO best practice and knowledge. A Pro understands that SEO is a ‘Sum of all parts’ service whereby you focus on site and its authority overall and not only the one page or individual keywords.
They Claim A Special SEO Partnership With Google It’s true that there is a Google Partner program that consultants and agencies can become a part of….but it’s a partnership based on Google Adwords, through certification and meeting Adwords best practices and overall Ad spend. It’s nothing to do with SEO! There are plenty of very reputable digital marketing agencies and consultants out there (us included) offering Adwords services that are Google Partners (full details on how to become a partner are here). Where this can go wrong is when these agencies suggest that their partnership encompasses their SEO services to add further sales credibility and trick the unknowing prospective client. There isn’t an SEO partnership, the people at Google don’t have special SEO friends they help out, don’t fall for it!
They Offer Search Engine Submission Not sure too much needs to be said here other than it is totally unnecessary, other than submitting your XML sitemaps to the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, to submit your site to search engines. Search engines naturally find and crawl your site and its pages! If the SEO consultant or agency is providing a professional service then the site is optimised in such a way to ensure that the site is found and crawled naturally.
They Suggest That They Have A ‘System’ This one is pretty simple, if the agency or consultant is worth their salt they will be able to explain the steps they take to improve a sites visibility. Initially the explanation would be generalised to best practice SEO, but after further discussion (and understanding of the business & customer) you should feel like you are completely in the loop on the specific strategy and steps that will be taken to improve visibility. It’s true that a Pro will have their own processes and structures to how they do many parts of a clients SEO but this shouldn’t be misconstrued as a system to game the results. It’s simply an efficient and reliable way to ensure quality.
They ‘Understand Google’s Algorithm’ Again, very simple. Nobody (outside Google) understands the algorithm in such a way as to suggest that they are able to get you results that nobody else can. Sure, as professionals we know a lot about what does and doesn’t work on a site to improve its search visibility. We also know as much as Google tells us in the Webmaster Guidelines as well as other sources and are able to make informed opinions on elements of the algorithms. Don’t be tricked into falling for false knowledge tactics!
LOW LOW Prices Professional, sustainable and valuable SEO takes time and commitment as well as resource. Nobody can sell a full SEO service of any value for next to nothing because it just isn’t possible! Sure, there is an element of competitively on costs sometimes but you’ll not find an agency or consultant out there providing decent results for really low prices. The old saying rings true – “You pay Peanuts, you get Monkeys”.
They Call Themselves ‘Experts’ SEO is always changing and evolving. Some best practices come and go, some strategies develop over time. Nobody is an expert in SEO and if they say they are, it’s probably not true! An SEO Pro will agree that they are not experts in the industry but they are extremely knowledgable and understand how to get clients sustainable results. In SEO saying you’re an Expert implies you have nothing left to learn.
So I’ve given you some of the SEO Joe warning signs to watch for and illustrated some of the differences between them & the Pros as well as some reasons behind them. Now it’s time to hear what some SEO Pro’s think themselves. Prior to writing this article I reached out to some SEO Pro’s for their opinions on how site owners can differentiate between a Professional SEO agency or consultant and a potentially spammy outfit. Below are their opinions;
Guy Levine from Return On Digital “If they have an understanding of what the business is actually looking to achieve. We are in the marketing game, where we create results which impact businesses. We are part of a toolkit which achieves and end result. We also need collaboration with the client to win. A great question any digital marketer should ask is ‘who is your customer?!’ – A Pro will be working on getting this insight and understanding very early on!
Chris Green from StrategIQ Marketing “If they can let you speak to past clients, not only do you get a feel for expected results, but also quality of campaign management.” – A Pro will be readily able to accommodate this request!
Darren Moloney from All Things Web “You’re not just prepared but really keen to show your clients what you have done and why you took those steps, you send clients updates and news from rated SEO websites, you actively educate clients so that they take the right decisions.” – A Pro is proud of their work and happy to show what they can.
Dan Callis from Vertical Leap “They probably aren’t professionals if their biggest USP is to get you number one in Google. (for every keyword ever?!)” – As I mentioned this is a worrisome sales tactic!
Sam Osborne from Equilateral “Overly pushy sales people & Being able to drop prices considerably with no change in forecast or expected results” – You pay Peanuts!
Darren Sheffield from The Media Image “A big professional differentiator for me is on technical SEO, and work around big site migrations. It is quite easy to analyse as a 3rd party. Traffic drops, crawl errors over time etc.” – Test your potential Pro’s knowledge when possible!
Barry Adams from Polemic Digital “I always tell people to ask for examples of sites they’ve worked on, case studies of successful projects, and contact details for people who have worked with them. If an SEO provider says all of their clients are ‘confidential’, they’re cowboys. If there’s any sort of ‘page 1 guarantee’, they’re cowboys. If they sell an off-the-shelf monthly package, they’re (often) cowboys. If all they do is build links, they’re idiots. And cowboys.” – Enough said!
Jo Turnbull aka @SEOJoBloggs “It is so important for SEOs to show the work they have done in the past and the results. This is key to differentiating them from the spammy cowboys. The results will speak for themselves. I would also include SEO work completed eg SEO Audits and Content Reviews. Spammy Cowboys may not carry these out.” – In spite of the Twitter handle, Jo is most definitely NOT an SEO Joe. (Hopefully thats not confusing!)
Ben Barker aka @Ben_Barker1989 “I would 100% ask for examples of links they’ve built, I would also ask them how they have dealt with algo updates……….(also)….Link juice is the worst word to ever be related to SEO”
Seb Atkinson from Selesti “When the campaign’s objective is rankings for a specific keyword. Instead they should be talking about increasing visibility for the site as a whole, aligning with business objectives. A few people have mentioned asking them to reveal outreach methods,how they deal with updates, but not sure if all legit companies would want to reveal that, you sometimes get people fishing for information then hiring someone cheaper to do what the expensive agency put in their proposal”
Kristine Schachinger aka @schachin Not a quote but a great phrase coined “Asshats” in her entertaining and pretty accurate article ‘SEO 101: Meet the White Hats, Gray Hats, Black Hats & Asshats‘ Hopefully in this post I, and other SEO Pros have helped to provide you with a good idea on how to avoid an unprofessional SEO’s or ‘SEO Joe’ as well as given you some good ideas on what an SEO Pro looks like. If you have any other Pro or Joe comparisons feel free to add them in the comments below or get in touch if you’d like to know more.
Interested in getting more out of your website? Get in touch today!