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Let 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.