I’ve started reading Andy Beal’s SEO blog dubbed MarketingPilgrim lately and the guy seems to be on top of things. The latest good reading from his site was a piece titled “Signs You Need to Switch SEO Providers“. There are several things I agree with Andy on. Allow me to share one and why I agree emphatically with it: “Insist the company explain the methods behind the madness.”
What possible reasons can an SEO firm have for not sharing their tactics?
1. They aren’t doing anything, and having to explain what they’re doing will reveal this.
2. They aren’t doing much.
3. They’re unsure about what they’re doing.
4. They’re worried what they do is so easy the client will do it themselves.
5. They think they have secrets nobody else knows, and telling them to their clients will let the cat out of the bag and then everyone will know.
#1-3 are ridiculous reasons for which the SEO firm should be fired, of course. #4 is an understandable concern, but only if the SEO firm is not very good. As Andy points out, if an SEO firm or SEO consultant is someone who can actually get results that means they have substantial experience and knowledge that is a barrier to the client doing the work on their own.
Now, I’ve often told clients that they can do SEO themselves. I tell them it’s easy, and it is easy. At least it seems easy to me. Writing HTML code also seems pretty easy, as does using an FTP client. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy for everyone else. I do believe clients can learn how to do their own SEO, but I doubt whether many clients are willing to take the time to learn, or whether it’s worth their time to learn. I know how to change my own oil but I still pay someone else to do it for me for a variety of reasons.
In other words, I’m not worried about telling my clients about what we do. First, because I want them to understand how much we’re doing (because we really do a lot, much of which our clients never really know about), and second, because I hope over time they will become more educated about what we are doing and better understand the details (I’ve generally found that clients that can’t comprehend what you’re doing turn into problem clients), and third because I’ve found that clients see more value in “a lot of stuff” and so of course I want to take the opportunity whenever possible to inform them what we’re doing.
As for #5, does anybody really have a secret sauce that nobody else knows about? If only a few people know in the SEO community that’s as good as it being published in Time.
However (yes, the “however”), I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between sharing what you do as an SEO firm and what you are going to do for a specific client. We often have clients who get to the proposal and say “It doesn’t say on here specifically what you are going to do for me.” There’s a good reason for that, which is that we don’t know. That may sound strange based on everything else I’ve said, but what I mean is that when it comes to a specific client, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do to their specific website until we’re already in there doing it. We have a list of hundreds of things we might do, and generally we have an idea of how we’ll get started, but saying that we knew exactly what we were going to do before we start doing it would be like a mechanic telling you they knew exactly what was wrong with your car before opening the hood. They might have a good idea, but if your mechanic is like mine they always find something wrong other than what I thought was wrong, and more often than not what they find is a larger problem than the reason I brought the car in.
Bottom line? Yes, your SEO firm should tell you what they do, that is, their general practices, the way they work, their processes, etc. They should also be able to tell you exactly what they did last month. But if they seem reluctant to tell you exactly what they’re going to do before they’ve done it there may be a legitimate reason. In fact, I’d beware of a firm that tells you exactly what they’re going to do before they do it, because that might mean they’re applying a cookie-cutter method to your site, and that might not be the way to get the best results.