Let’s face it, search engine optimization has a pretty bad rep. Some of it deserved, but much of it not. In fact, SEO is the recipient of some pretty serious negative stereotyping, causing many good companies to get lumped into the same piles as the bad ones.
Some of the bad rep comes from the search engines themselves, disapproving on anybody trying to manipulate the system. Some comes from businesses who have been burned by other SEOs in the past. Rightly or wrongly, the client just didn’t feel like they got what they should have. And a large portion of the negative rep comes from within the SEO community itself, those that deliberately spam the system taking advantage of every conceivable loop hole and filling it with junk pages that do very little other than “achieve top rankings”.
Moving Past the Bad Experiences
Every industry, I believe, has it’s Enron’s and Global Crossing’s. Unfortunately that is one of the negative side-effects of capitalism. 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.
A few months ago we had a problem with our truck and took it to our favorite shop to have them look at it. We paid $80 for a diagnostic only to be told that they didn’t know what the problem was. We had to take the truck to the dealer’s body shop to get a correct diagnosis. I don’t mind paying $80 for a diagnosis as long as they find the problem. Unfortunately, the mechanic did not see it the same way so we were out 80 bucks. Instead of swearing off auto mechanics altogether, I found another one that I can trust to treat me right.
We’ve been burned by Best Buy more than once after buying vacuum cleaners that crap out in a short time. We brought it back with the warranty to find that our model is no longer being sold. Our choice was to be given a much less expensive vacuum (and lesser in quality) for free, or paying an extra couple of hundred dollars for their next higher quality vacuum available. We didn’t want to pay any more for a vacuum than we already had and certainly didn’t want to walk away with a lesser vacuum for the same price as what we paid for the first one. A full refund or even in-store credit would have been sufficient and we would have gone and bought a new vacuum at a different store. My wife and I spent over an hour haggling with the sales clerk, then the assistant manager, until finally we got the store manager on the phone. Once we managered-up to the big-guy we finally received a decent resolution (we got the cheaper vacuum AND the in-store credit for the remaining amount). To this day I avoid making purchases at Best Buy, but I don’t give up on electronic stores altogether, I simply find another store with a better return policy.
I’ve got stories like this galore but I think the point is made. Unfortunately somewhere along the way you’re going to have a bad experience with an SEO. Don’t let it burn you. I know that the Best Buy sales clerk and assistant manager were bound by company policy. It wasn’t until we forced a call to the store manager that we got what we wanted because he didn’t want to have to deal with such a petty situation. (We were in it for the long haul!). Similarly, a bad experience with an SEO may have less to do with the skills and qualification of that SEO as it does the current goings on with the search engines.
Picking Up Where Others Fail
Recently we signed a client who’s contract had just ended with one of our major competitors. I’ll let that firm remain nameless as they are currently handing out cease and desist letters like Halloween candy! In our preliminary checks for this new client we found that a good majority of their keywords were ranking poorly on virtually all the search engines. And this after a fully year of SEO services. I would not go so far to say that the firm that handled this client is not a good SEO firm, it just happens that for whatever reason they did a fantastically poor job for the client. Within just a couple of weeks after rolling out with our optimization of their site the client is seeing significant improvement in the rankings for the top 4 search engines.
Why did the other SEO firm not achieve after 12 months what we have achieved in a short time? Truthfully I don’t know. Thankfully this client didn’t take a single bad experience and let it turn them off to SEO altogether. Thankfully for us and also for them, as they are already seeing the benefits of our services.
One of my favorite movie lines come from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy grabs what he thinks is the Holy Grail but won’t know for sure until he drinks from it. After he does so the knight tells him, “You have chosen… wisely.” (Actually, the better line is when the bad guy drinks from the wrong grail and he’s told, “You have chosen… poorly.” but that doesn’t make for a good conclusion!)
So how do you choose wisely? The only thing one can recommend is to do your due diligent research before selecting an SEO. SEO plans and pricing differ widely and it is often times difficult to compare apples to apples. Do you best. Know what you’re getting for your money. If it’s expensive, find out why. If it’s 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 your site is search engine friendly. On the other hand, they may just be over-inflating their prices. Knowing what they do precisely will tell you if they are doing more or just charging more.
You should also ask for statistics and try to verify them as much as possible. For instance, we let any potential clients we talk to that after a six-month campaign our optimization has generally provides clicks at a rate of less than $0.05 each. That’s not a conversion metric, but when comparing to the price of sponsored ads it turns out to be a great bargain. We also let potential clients know that we have established benchmarks of success and that currently over 60% of our clients are succeeding above projected benchmark levels.
But don’t take my, any SEO’s, word for it, verify. Talk to their clients and see if they are happy. Find out what keywords are being optimized and check the rankings. Find out what plans they purchases and if they feel they are getting their money’s worth. This will, at the very least, put you on the right track to choosing wisely the next time around.