Be Wary of Shady SEO Deals

suspicious22Let me tell you a story. Because my career finds its focus in the internet, I get asked a lot of questions about the internet in general, especially from family. Sometimes the questions are as simple as, “How can I create a family web site?” or “What’s this thing called ‘twitter’?” Others are more difficult, involving websites or promoting their latest business ventures. One relative, who went with another SEO firm for their website, asked me to review their rankings and reports (for the record, no one at this office understood computers, much less internet marketing). Being more than willing to help, I obliged. When I examined the “reports”, I was shocked. My own family was being ripped off.

Allow me to give you as much detail as possible without naming any of the involved parties. This particular SEO company operated by giving a large list of keywords to a client, and guaranteeing results on the first page of all major search engines (and even the forgotten search engines) for a certain percentage of those keywords. The SEO firm was so confident in their abilities that their contract required no payment until the client received first page rankings. Once this was achieved, the client was locked into paying fees for a full year. If you are familiar with the SEO industry, there should be a few red flags that jumped out at you with such a deal, particularly an SEO firm giving a guarantee of any sort. My relative had reached this threshhold and was now paying the fee as per the contract.

Nevertheless, I dove in to the keywords they selected for my relative’s site. At first glance, the list is rather substantial, and they all appeared to be relevant. I didn’t see any reports on traffic or searches, so I jumped onto Google’s keyword tool. Turns out the majority of the words were barely searched on at all. I researched further, looking into which keywords were actually ranking on the first page. No keyword with significant traffic was ranking. Not even one.

Just to be sure, I reviewed their analytics data. As expected, all of the keywords bringing in traffic were completely related to the name of the site. One or two other keywords brought in traffic, but it looked like a site with absolutely no SEO work completed. The frustrating part was this company claimed everything looked great, and the website optimization was showing success. Who would consider ranking for keywords that don’t bring in ANY traffic successful?

I kept researching. I asked who chose the keywords, thinking maybe the firm didn’t actually suggest the words. Nope. A few keywords were suggested, but the firm generated most of the list.

If you’re reading this post, wondering what the big deal is, let me refer to a post from Dave a few months back. His post brings to light the fact that ranking reports are losing their significance with search engine advances and that traffic should be the ultimate sign of progress. My relative’s website was receiving a grand total of approximately 10-20 visits daily. That is certainly not worth the cost of an SEO firm for a year.

To finish the story, my relative contacted the company with the information I had provided, and is now focusing on specific keywords that should be ranking. Even still, the sting of learning how their online marketing has been handled has caused my family member to consider switching firms, using SEO.com as their primary SEO company. However, with the year long contract in place, they are trapped between a rock and a hard place, with no traffic to show for it.

Be careful when you select an SEO firm. Google has some great tips and advice regarding what to look for. I would add to their recommendations by learning as much SEO as possible. Understand what your firm is doing, and why it’s effective in bringing you more traffic and business. Make sure you are receiving beneficial reports with real data and request access to all your own accounts and information, such as websites, analtyics, PPC, etc.

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8 Comments

  1. Dwayne Watts says

    First off sorry to here the raw deal your family member got. This is the second article/post I have read today about bad deals. The last one was about a link exchange website sending out letters that were tricking the PageRank plug-in to report a higher PageRank with some html code. The bad site had no links in any search engine. This goes back to know something about SEO. So do your homework before making a decision. Getting a second or 3rd opinion my not be a bad choice.

  2. Tim says

    I’ve found that one of the difficult things about SEO from a consultant point of view is coming to agreement with the client on terms that will be targeted in the SEO campaign.

    The client’s inclination is to say “Hey I’m a microbrewery, I want to target the keyword ‘Microbrew'”. Well for an up & coming brewery, that will be basically impossible, so starting local will be the logical solution. ‘San Diego Microbrewery’

    Managing the client’s expectations is so important, as in any industry, because its so easy to want to think globally when its just not within their immediate grasp.

  3. Dejan Petrovic says

    I believe most problems can be prevented if both parties are on the same wavelength in terms of goals and expectations. Transparency always helps build the trust. If you see that your SEO is withdrawing information or keeping things to themselves than you have reasons to worry.

  4. Jacob Stoops says

    I think there are two perspectives here, the lack of research and the ethical issue.

    The client most likely didn’t do their homework when selecting not just the SEO, but the keywords that they wanted to show up for.

    The SEO firm most likely gave them lip service and a bogus deal. From an ethical standpoint, this is as bad as you can get.

    However, do not forget that as a professional SEO sometimes the client WILL chose they keywords (whether they are the right ones or not) and you have to stick to what the client wants, for better or for worse!

  5. Hanley says

    I agree with SEO Jedi. I feel it is our duty as SEO’s to manage client expectations and be realistic and honest about results. That is why they hire us.

    Unfortunately I have lost potential clients who believe the-$50-a-month-you’ll-be-number-#1-for-whatever-keyterm-pitches.

    -In those case I do MY due diligence in explaining my process vs. theirs.
    -ALWAYS send them to Googles SEO Guidlines and hope they at least review.
    -Most importantly, if they insist on certain keyterm, I realistically charge them what it will cost and explain why.

    WE have to remember, they are not SEO’s, that is why they are coming to us. If they are stubborn, well at least you have good SEO karma for the effort.

  6. Josh says

    Man, that’s a nasty deal. I’ve been reading articles to better educate myself on when I work on my new site; this is something I hadn’t given much thought of before though, honestly. Thanks for posting though.

  7. Peter says

    First off sorry to here the raw deal your family member got. This is the second article/post I have read today about bad deals. The last one was about a link exchange website sending out letters that were tricking the PageRank plug-in to report a higher PageRank with some html code. The bad site had no links in any search engine. This goes back to know something about SEO. So do your homework before making a decision. Getting a second or 3rd opinion my not be a bad choice.

  8. Anita says

    Well shady seo deals are running rife at the moment wth more people with less knowledge about the internet get on board with websites etc. Knowing a little about the subject that you are looking at getting professional help in does help but there is just a big opportunity for scamming people and it will happen unfortunately. Sad but true, let’s just hope people do some research into the are before employing anyone.

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