A common problem throughout time is the proclivity for the dregs of our society to capitalize on any new product or type of business in a dishonest, or flat out crooked, fashion.
Before attending “The SEO Reputation Problem” to cap off Day 3 at SES, I was blissfully unaware of the level of this problem in our industry.
The session, moderated by Exact Target’s VP of Agency & Search Marketing Jeffrey Rohrs included on its panel:
- Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO, Omni Marketing Interactive
- Kristopher B. Jones, President & CEO, Pepperjam
- Jennifer Laycock, Editor-In-Chief, Search Engine Guide
- Jonathan Hochman, Founder & President, JE Hochman & Associates
- Kathleen Fealy, KF Multimedia
Thurow & her panel had two things in common:
- Each is about as white hat, honest, or on the level as is possible
- Each has felt the residual sting of every dishonest act in our industry
The concerns described by the panel, affecting large and small firms alike as they kick of the search portion of their marketing campaigns, are as legitimate as the dangers of firms not including search as a part of their marketing campaigns.
As compared to longer standing elements of the marketing mix, SEO is a fairly new discipline. Many colleges have yet to include its study in any of their traditional degree programs. Organizations like the BBB, as explained by Hochman, are not yet outfitted with individuals knowledgeable enough from a technical standpoint to determine the legitimacy of each new search firm.
It is also a practice that seems far more simple than it actually is. After all, at its core, search is essentially about ensuring that we find what we are looking for when we’re looking for it. What could possibly be easier to determine than relevancy?
Therein lies the rub. As Fealy explained, a little knowledge in this industry can be a dangerous thing on both the client and the agency side.
Clients, sometimes knowing so little about search other than that they have to take advantage of it to be successful can enter into a campaign with, through no fault of their own, unrealistic expectations about what an SEO campaign should entail and how fast they should expect results.
Agencies through no fault of their own can jump into offering search services via clients who are demanding it as part of their overall campaigns.
When you combine a client who’s never been properly coached on the results they can expect with an agency that has no idea what to promise other than “as much traffic as possible”, a recipe is in place for at best poor results and at worst, the potential for a fraudulent business relationship.
What’s important to remember is that we SEMs are in a business that is not simply a technical discipline, but also a daily exercise in behavioral study. Each day, we strive to discover new aspects of humanity that we can use to predict future actions. Our hope is that we can infer a great deal through our research, and combine it with what we’ve ascertained through previous tactics, that we can reasonably predict the level of success our clients can hope to achieve. From there, of course, we hope to guide there success somewhere higher.
Throughout this entire structure, we realize that while the rules of SEO can change daily, they move like a glacier compared to potential changes in human behavior. As search becomes more and more personalized, our inferences must become more and more individualized ensuring only, like in any other industry, all we know is that we only know so much.
So how can a firm, when looking for a serach agency, guarantee they find the right one? Luckily, scammers worldwide share some common red flags (in fact, I just hinted at one moments ago):
- Red Flag: Never, under any circumstances, hire a firm who prominently mentions in their literature or sales presentation that they can “guarantee” top 10 rankings. There are a great deal of things we SEMs are uniquely qualified to do, but we simply cannot guarantee what a complex animal like a human being will do when given a choice, any more than those brave yahoos who propose on the jumbotron at sporting events can guarantee they won’t be a YouTube/SportsCenter laughingstock for years to come.
- Red Flag: “You will see results within the first 2 weeks of your campaign.” This industry moves quickly, but come on – we don’t sell Rogaine. At our firm, we spend the first several weeks of a clients campaign in deep research mode, ensuring that we find the right keywords to optimize for based on derivative and competitive analysis. Any firm that purports a shortcut to this step will take several other short cuts you’ll never even be aware of. I guarantee it :).
- Red Flag: A search firm supports your objective – to a tee. If your initial objective is so dead on, why are you hiring an SEO firm? (Here’s a secret – the actual physical implementation process of optimizing your site for search results is no harder than operating MS word if you have the right program. Granted, it takes time and creativity, and for this it should not be dismissed in any way.)
What a great SEO firm provides is a deep understanding of all there is to know about search marketing – from what rules are in place to what rules are subject to change. The best SEO firms will build on what you know about your industry by researching it from a viewpoint that simply isn’t possible from an insider’s view.
Going back to a previous post, if you were launching a candle business, wouldn’t you modify your intiital objective if you received new information stating that most consumers were interested in buyingsoy based candles? A top SEO firm would aquire this data in the research stage, not only helping you shape your objetive, but consulting you on the most powerful tactics to ensure you were optimized around these findings.
All in all, are there really more crooks in the SEO industry? I don’t think so. Certainly no more or less than there are lawyers, car salesman or travel agents. While this is a new and seemingly complex industry that most people have little understanding of, the red flags are the same as they were when the first slick talking caveman tried to sell a square shaped wheel.
In other words, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.