Here at the Smokehouse, I’ve talked a lot about the wrong things to do and really bad SEO ideas and I’ve even done an entire article on the most common SEO scams (or, as I like to call it, ‘Fiverr SEO’) and in keeping with that theme, this week we’re going to talk about how to tell if the SEO company you just hired is worth whatever it is you’re paying.
I mean, we all know (or at least we should by now!) to not hire random people who claim they can ‘Triple your Traffic, Guaranteed!’ and have ‘The Secret Formula to the First Position in Google that They Don’t Want you to Know!’ but what about the SEOs from a company that you actually know is legit company?
While you might get lucky and get the same great service that you’ve gotten for their other products, it’s also quite possible (and usually probable!) that you just signed up for what I like to call an ‘Afterthought SEO Service’.
What is an ‘Afterthought SEO Service’?
Well, the answer is that an ‘Afterthought SEO Service’ is exactly what it sounds like because I don’t have enough imagination to call it something else. It’s SEO services from a company or firm that really doesn’t specialize in SEO.
SEO is not the company’s bread and butter product. It’s not what they’re known for, it’s not something they specialize in and it’s not something that, nine times out of ten, that anyone outside of the three people they have working in the entire department even understand.
Basically, the only reason this company has an SEO program is because some executive in a board meeting one day went, “Oh, you know what else could make us some money?”
For example, maybe you signed up with ‘The Best Adwords Company in Town, LLC’ to handle your – you guessed it! – Google Adwords account and you’re super happy with them. Bids are low, CTR is high, people are converting and everything is fantastic. Then one day your account rep says to you, ‘Hey, you know what? Your organic traffic is low but we now have an SEO program here that you might be interested in! How about you talk to one of our sales reps about it?’
Well, this is great! They have amazing Adwords guys that are showing a good return on your investment so they must have an incredible SEO program over there too, right?
Oh, buddy, you could be so wrong.
Here’s a simple way to look at it: Would you go to McDonald’s for steak? I mean, they’re both beef, so they’ve gotta be a good place for a high quality Filet Mignon, right?
Yeah, I thought not.
The Problem with Afterthought SEO Programs
It isn’t hard to see where the problems arise for a service like this but I’ll bullet point them for easy reference:
- No one understands what SEO actually is or what it entails, therefore no one knows how to hire a good SEO to do the work and even if they did, they aren’t willing to invest in the tools necessary for the actual SEOs to do the work. This is just an extra revenue stream for the company, not a real investment.
- The salesmen have no idea what SEO is or how to sell it so they just make stuff up and basically guarantee potential clients the moon, leading to hardcore disappointment for clients and daily frustration for the poor schmucks they hire to be SEOs.
- The clients of paid search, paid social and other paid digital advertising efforts that are so used to immediate results, ‘high touch’ services (e.g: weekly phone meetings, etc.) and other ‘I make a call and they do all the work and I see results!’ types of services usually just aren’t ready to make the commitment to an actual SEO project plan on their side of the house so actually nothing gets done.
- You’re literally paying for a name. You see, the company is living off their reputation from their main product line so they have no idea how to properly charge for SEO services. Therefore, most likely you are getting completely gouged every month for your service in relation to what your SEO reps can actually do for you with their current skills and/or their available tools. Like, I personally knew this one place that will remain nameless that was charging people around 3k per month to literally just copy and paste Google Analytics reports into Excel spreadsheets because they refused to buy their SEO reps tools to work with. Good ol’ Spit & Toothpaste DM. Do you think that’s worth it?
Wait, What??? This is a Thing???
Yes, friends. This happens a lot out there. So you’d better do your homework before you sign up for the ‘new SEO services!’ your Social Media or Pay per Click or your Marketplace feed company is offering or you might end up paying through the nose for monthly Google Analytics reports copied and pasted to an Excel spreadsheet. You like pivot tables with useless information? You’re gonna see tons of ’em!
Even Jimmy Carter ain’t building no house without a hammer and even the best SEOs in the world can’t work without tools.
How to Tell If Your SEO Firm is an Afterthought
Don’t fret! There are, in fact, ways to know if this SEO service is an afterthought before you sign up and it won’t be by talking to the salesman or reading the ‘scope of work’ in your contract. Most of the time, companies selling ‘Afterthought SEO’ services will say anything to get you to sign and then try to ‘figure out how to technically give you what’s in the scope of work, somehow’ before your contract is over – especially if your brand is big enough for them to try to charge you a ridiculous amount of money because they’re hoping you’ll decide to get all your digital marketing services at the same place and sign up for their real bread and butter product line.
- Talk to a rep from the SEO team first. Don’t listen to sales. Don’t listen to your account rep. Don’t listen to your PPC guy. Before you sign anything, you want to talk to one of the actual SEOs there. Ask them what they do and what don’t they do. If they’re a legit SEO service, they’ll let you know straight up what they don’t, can’t or won’t do for a client as well. If anyone promises you that they’ll do anything you want, run. This is usually proof that the department is floundering and they’re just trying to get some cash in there before it goes poof.
- Ask them what tools they use. All SEOs are going to say they use Google Analytics and Search Console but if that’s where the list stops – run. That means this department has no corporate buy in and you can expect, at best, an excel spreadsheet with the same information you could pull yourself from GA and GWT for free. Also, on the flip-side of that, if they start giving you a huge, gigantic laundry list of tools from Moz to SEObook, run. This usually means that the company isn’t paying for anything and the SEOs themselves are signing up for free trials of tools out of sheer frustration. Don’t believe me? Think about it. What company is just going to buy a ‘side department’ like 50 tools that cost like $500 per month each? That’s not going to happen ANYWHERE. Why are tools important? As I said before, the SEOs themselves could be the greatest in the world but if you ain’t got a saw, you ain’t cuttin’ no wood. Also, no decent SEO representative will stay very long at a place with no buy-in so you might find yourself without any SEO reps in the middle your contract!
- Find out what can cause them to terminate your services. I know this may come as a bit of a shock to you, but almost every single legitimate SEO company can, will and have fired clients. SEO is a two way street and no reputable company worth its salt will deal with ‘problem clients’ for very long because it will make their company look bad. Whether it’s due to you calling and asking for an update every other day, not doing the recommended tasks they give you in a timely fashion or demanding to be ‘NUMBER ONE ACROSS THE WORLD FOR THE WORD ‘THE’!”, there has got to be a limit. Ask them flat out what would be grounds (aside from non-payment!) for them to terminate your contract with them and if they say ‘there aren’t any’ or ‘we don’t do that’ – run. Sure it might sound good to know that no matter what you do, you’ll be OK but the flipside to that is the company really doesn’t care what people think of their SEO program so long as that money is coming in.
- Ask the SEO reps what they focus on the most in terms of doing the work and what success means to them. If they lead with the words ‘meta’ anything, run. If they lead with the words ‘Keyword rankings’, run. If they lead with the word ‘conversions’, run. The reason why I say this is because meta data wont save you in 2017 and everyone should know this. Keyword rankings mean nothing in 2017 and everyone should know this. Conversion rate is CRO, not SEO and while yes, conversions are very good things, your SEO is not a real SEO if he leads with that and probably is either very inexperienced or is just telling you what they think you want to hear. What you want to listen for are things like ‘increasing relevant traffic to your site’, ‘cleaning up any and all technical/page speed issues’, and – the ultimate – ‘Making your site better for searchers and visitors.’ If the SEO rep you talk to starts blabbing on about ‘competition analysis’ and ‘Keyword rankings’, they are either stuck in that old school way of thinking that doesn’t work anymore or they’re saying what the company wants them to say.
The Bottom Line
While going with the names you know is usually a great idea, in some cases you can get burned.
With the rise in popularity of search engine optimization, a lot of companies that specialize in other forms of marketing are attempting to branch out and it can be very hard to know who to trust. If you follow the above tips, while I can’t promise you’ll never get burned by an ‘Afterthought SEO’ service, you’ll have a much better idea of when its time to look elsewhere.
Or you could just avoid the people trying to charge you like five grand a month for an Excel spreadsheet.