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E-Marketing Performance Blog

How to Turn a Negative SEO Experience Into Success

Over the last dozen plus years, unscrupulous SEO’s have given the entire search engine optimization industry a bad rep. It seems like every few months some high profile person in the Internet world says something about how SEO is snake oil, sending ripples throughout the SEO community.

To be fair, some of the complaints about SEOs are deserved. Not for the entire SEO community, but for a small segment of “SEO providers.” Unfortunately, like sleezy lawyers, it only takes one to ruin the whole batch, perceptively.

I’m sure many readers have either heard about, or know someone who has had (or have themselves had) an extremely negative SEO experience. I talk to many business owners who are skeptical about SEO because their last SEO didn’t perform as expected, either over-promised and under-delivered, dropped out of contact, or just wasn’t doing the job as promised.

Sometimes this is an accurate reflection of the SEO and their work, sometimes it’s just about misplaced expectations. Either way, something, somewhere went wrong, and the client walked away unhappy, which is never good for the rest of us SEOs looking to make an honest living.

Don’t Let One Bad SEO Ruin the Whole Batch

Every industry, I believe, has it’s Enrons and BPs. Sometimes they are good companies that make very bad mistakes. Other times they are bad companies out to make a quick buck at the expense of others. But anybody who has been burned by an SEO and has decided not to go that route again must consider what else they would be giving up if they followed the same precedent.

Several years ago I had a problem with my truck. Wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew it wasn’t running right. I took it to my local mechanic and paid $80 for a diagnostic. The mechanic wasn’t able to identify the problem and suggested I take the truck to the dealer. $80 lost.

Now I could swear off auto mechanics forever because of that one bad experience (and, lets be real… many others), or I could find a new mechanic that is more reputable and trustworthy. I’ll go with Plan B.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten burned by Best Buy. Several years ago, I bought a vacuum cleaner that crapped out on me in a few short months. I brought it back to the store, knowing the warranty had me covered.

Best Buy informed me that this model vacuum was no longer sold, so my only options were to accept a lower quality, less expensive vacuum for free, or pay an extra couple of hundred dollars for their next higher quality vacuum available. Neither of those options were suitable for me.

The warranty should have guaranteed us a vacuum of equal or greater value, not one of lesser value and quality. A full refund or in-store credit would have been sufficient, but Best Buy refused both options. I spent over an hour haggling with the sales clerk, then the assistant manager, until finally I got the store manager on the phone. Once I managered-up, I finally received an acceptable resolution (cheaper vacuum plus in-store credit for the difference).

I never should have had to haggle for an hour–or get the store manager on the phone–to get this resolution. However, this bad experience doesn’t scare me away from all electronic stores. I simply find a store that provides the customer service I expect, and, well, that tends to be Best Buy still.

We are all going to have bad experiences in life. And if you engage in SEO, there is a chance that you may have a bad experience with that as well. But, don’t let it burn you on SEO completely.

I know that the Best Buy sales clerk and assistant manager were bound by company policy. It wasn’t until I forced a call to the store manager that I got what I wanted, and only because the manager didn’t want to have to deal with such a petty situation. A bad experience with an SEO may have less to do with the skills and qualification of that SEO than it does with misplaced expectations or miscommunication in the sales and optimization processes.

Walk It Off

I can’t remember what movie it was, but I remember a teenage baseball player kept getting hit with the ball by the pitcher. The coach’s mantra was “walk it off”. The more times the kid got hit, the funnier the line “walk it off” became.

But, sometimes that’s what we have to do. You can’t quit baseball because you got hit by a rogue pitcher. Nor can you quite SEO because you had a bad experience. Sometimes you just gotta walk it off.

A while back, I signed a new client that had just ended a 12-month contract with another SEO firm. In our preliminary checks we found that a good majority of this client’s primary keywords were ranking poorly on virtually all the search engines.

I could easily paint this SEO firm as being inept; however, without knowing exact details of the contract, I’d just be talking out the side of my asshat. But, what matters is that the client wasn’t getting what they believed they were paying for. Regardless of contract, budget, and promises made, the client had very different expectations than what was provided.

Within just a couple of weeks, after rolling out our optimized version of their site, our client is seeing significant improvement in the rankings in Google and Bing.

Why was the other SEO firm not able to achieve, after 12 months, what we achieved in a shorter time? Truthfully, I don’t know. Fortunately for both us and the client, they didn’t take that bad experience and let it turn them off to SEO altogether. Now they are getting the results they were expecting a year ago.

Turn Your Bad Experience Into a Successful Experience

One of my favorite movie lines comes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The bad guy grabs what he thinks is the Holy Grail, but he won’t know for sure until he drinks from it. After he does, you see him take a sudden turn for the worse (he died). The knight guarding the grail says to Indy, “He chose poorly.”

This is followed by Indy selecting and drinking from another grail, to which the knight tells him, “You chose… wisely.”

So, you chose poorly on your first SEO and got burned. Fortunately, that doesn’t lead to near-instant old age, your face melting off, or girls laughing at you because you showed up at school naked (am I the only one that has that dream?). You get a second chance to choose a new SEO. Choose wisely.


Do your research before choosing your next SEO. Figure out what you want and what services will be required to get you there. Be willing to explore alternatives and varying options, but also have a basic handle on what it’s going to take to get you the success you want.

SEO plans and pricing differ widely, and it is often difficult to compare apples to apples. Do your best to understand what you’re getting for your money. If one SEO is expensive, find out why. If another is cheap, again, find out why. You often get what you pay for, and somebody charging more is often doing far more extensive work to ensure you’ll be successful.

Get Recommendations

Recommendations are great. Ask around to find out who others use and what their experience has been. If you find a company you are interested in, ask others if they have heard of them. Read lots of blogs. Choose someone that you know has the experience to get the job done.

Check References

Every SEO should be able to give you a list of references. Don’t settle for less than three, but five is a better number. Of course, every SEO will send you their very best references, those that will give the most glowing report, but you can’t discount this.

Talk to each reference to get more than just a thumbs up or down review. Find out if they are happy with the results they are getting. Ask what keywords are being optimized and verify rankings.

You should also ask about their specific SEO plan and if the reference feels as if they are getting their money’s worth. Find out how competitive their keywords and industry are. Get details about how the SEO works, how they communicate, and their overall work ethic. All of these things can weigh heavily in your decision.


Ask either the SEO or their references for stats and try to verify them as much as possible. If they spout numbers for success, ask who they can talk to get confirmation of these numbers.

Validate Communication

Don’t jump into a decision, but instead keep communicating with your SEO prospect. Call to ask questions about their experience, details about their proposal, expectations for results, expectations from you, how they work, etc. Look for anything that you think might cause a communication problem. If you see warning signs, make note of them. Ideally, you’ll be doing this with several companies at a time so you’ll get a good sense of who will be better to work with.

Being diligent isn’t foolproof, but it is a fool suppressant. By taking the time to look into each of these areas you’ll be far less likely to pick another lemon SEO. But, more than likely, you’ll actually pick a winner.

With your negative SEO experience behind you, you can now move forward in a better position to ensure a positive SEO experience and a chance to achieve the success you deserve.

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