Have you ever been in the business of selling something, be it a product or service, and you’ve had to compete against someone else to get a deal, and you lose the deal? Nobody wins all the time. But later you find out that you lost the deal because the person/company you were competing against fed the customer a load of blue sky and empty promises while you chose to be honest, frank, and realistic.
I’ve seen this in the web design/web development industry where my firm says a project will cost $20K and take four months and a competitor says they’ll do it for $10K in six weeks. In the end, the client spends $20K anyway, it takes five months, and it’s not what they wanted in the first place.
I’ve seen it in the investment realm where some slick wannabe entrepreneur cons old people out of millions, telling them they’re investing in the next big thing, only to run off and spend it in Vegas. I look at this and think “Man, I could have taken that money and done something that would have returned at least 10-20% per year, but they wouldn’t have taken my offer because I’m not as slick and I wasn’t willing to promise 200% per year like the other guy, but now they have nothing.”
And finally, I’m seeing this in the search engine optimization world, where companies and individuals who provide SEO services promise top rankings in little or no time, charge exhorbitant fees, but deliver little in the way of real benefit to their clients. Here are some of the tricks I’ve seen in the SEO industry that are used to milk clients:
1. The Long-Term Committment. Why does an SEO firm need a long-term commitment? Sure, it can legitimately be argued that a lot of work is going to be invested, and the SEO firm would go out of business if all their clients just signed up for the first two months when the most work is done and then left. But more frequently I think the truth is that SEO firms just want to get clients locked into long-term commitments so that it’s easier to get a lot of money. There are other ways around the long-term commitment. An SEO firm can have a one-time set up fee to cover the extra work at the beginning. They could even have phased payments that go down each month as the amount of work required goes down. That way, if the client cuts out early, the SEO firm has been fairly compensated for the work they’ve done, and the client has received a fair amount of services for the amount they’ve paid. Maybe the phased payment idea is a little complex to sell to clients, but the setup fee isn’t. The point is there are ways SEO firms could get around selling clients a long-term commitment if they wanted to.
The benefit to the client of paying month to month for services is that they’ve got a carrot to hang in front of the SEO firm at all times. All the client has to say is “You’re not making me happy” and the SEO firm knows they better step up or next month they won’t get a check from that client. It does make life a little bit more stressful for the SEO firm, but hey, if they’re not doing a good job why should the client keep paying them for six more months until the contract is up?
Sure, there are clients who won’t be happy no matter what the SEO firm does, but these clients are the exception. My advice, don’t get into long-term commitments for SEO services. Find a firm that bills month to month.
2. Keywords That Don’t Matter. “We’re going to optimize your website for over 1,000 keywords!” Great, but is that really a good thing? “We’re going to get you tons of traffic for these ten keywords that will get you tons of business!” Oh really? People, wise up. If you don’t understand what someone is talking about, they can tell you anything they want and how will you know whether what they’re saying is true or not? An SEO firm can optimize your site for 1,000 keywords, but what if nobody searches for 95% of those keywords, who cares? Some firms will do the same thing but with a smaller number of keywords, say 10. They’ll tell you that there are really ten keywords that matter to you, and they’re going to focus on those 10. This is all well and good perhaps, except how do you know those are the keywords that really matter? Maybe they chose 10 keywords that sound like they would be the right keywords, but in reality they’re not going to increase sales, only traffic.
3. Focus on Rankings and Traffic. Here’s where a lot of SEO firms lead clients astray with a red herring. They focus on rankings and traffic rather than sales. Sure, the higher the ranking and the more traffic the better, generally speaking. But if that’s all your SEO firm is doing then you’ve only got half the equation solved. But let me add a disclaimer here–if an SEO firm is only focusing on rankings and traffic that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ripping you off, as long as that’s what you hired them to do. But if that’s all you hired them to do, that means only half the work is being done unless you’re doing it yourself or you have another firm focused on it. The other half of the equation is conversion, or turning traffic into sales.
It’s one thing to drive traffic to a website, it’s another thing to derive a benefit from that traffic. Traffic in and of itself doesn’t mean anything if the traffic doesn’t convert. Most people would think of a conversion as being a sale such as you would have on an ecommerce site, but it might be getting a visitor to fill out a form, sign up for a newsletter, send an email, or make a phone call. Whatever the case, if you’re not making more money from SEO, why are you doing it?
Unless you’ve got a sophisticated Internet marketing plan that involves in-house resources and/or multiple outside firms, you should probably hire an SEO firm that doesn’t just focus on rankings and traffic, but on conversion as well.
To sum up, when you’re searching for an SEO firm find one that doesn’t make you sign a long-term contract, educate yourself so that you at least have an idea of which keywords really matter for your website, and make sure the firm’s focus is on making you more money, not just increasing rankings and traffic, and you’ll have a better experience and hopefully SEO will provide a positive ROI for you.