Moving Forward With a Broken Compass: A Plea to SEOs


In this past few weeks my company has met with several potential clients and partners whom, whether they know it or not, have all been burned by SEO agencies.

We have seen:

  • International brands who have had their site punished through the Google Panda and Penguin updates after entering into agreements with some of the largest and most renowned SEO companies in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Franchises who have been paying through the teeth for “top-notch SEO performance” only to have their traffic not grow to what was promised.
  • Large, reputable companies pay year over year for SEO/SEM that resulted in lackluster performance of their website.
  • Giant and fundamentally extraordinary companies with solid internal teams that placed their trust in external agencies, only to have that trust and their results manipulated and skewed for the betterment of their vendors instead of their own.

Frankly, it’s disgusting. In an age where SEO is a necessary component to any marketing or PR plan, it’s sad to see so many people being taken advantage of.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that all these agencies are actually trying to be manipulating bastards (although, under close examination, many are). But regardless of intent, these relationships, the expectations set, and what is being delivered is borderline criminal.

I recall back a few years ago to a local client that we had been working with primarily for PPC across three of their companies. I went to one of our regular meetings at their place, but had never been past their front conference room. And while I was confident in the work our agency had been doing according to analytics and client feedback, I was surprised when the client offered to take us for a tour of their entire facility to have us meet the people we had been actually been working for.

The client took my co-workers and I around their office complex and warehouses. They introduced us to people we had never before met, stating things like “This is Bob from Company X. They didn’t have a job before the work you’ve done for us. We built Bob’s office and the warehouse for his company off the back of what you’ve been doing.”

I was floored. Literally, I stood there shocked. I mean, what do you say to that? I think I muttered greetings and tried not to trip over my tongue like a fool. I’d never met people so happy to be meeting me – and all for the work I did every day quietly at my computer.

Meeting “Bob” – and seeing the jobs you’ve helped create for people and the buildings you’ve help build – is something that sticks with you. It isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Our SEO work and online marketing has meaning and that meaning has instilled a great amount of pride and dedication.

So often people in our industry get stuck on analytics and ranking reports to prove their value. The real value comes when you’re face to face with people whose livelihood depends on the work and expectations you provide.

Let’s take a step back and look at some of the people we’ve been talking to recently. (I had to paraphrase these quotes but tried to get across the personality and meaning.) How was their experience different?

“We feel that the SEO agency we recommended to our clients set unrealistic expectations and failed to follow through.” -R.M. (traditional full service Ad Agency)

“We’re dealing with an SEO company for years and this year we wanted to actually measure what they were doing for us. We tasked them with optimizing 8 pages over the course of a year but they outsourced their work and it’s not up to our company standards.” – R.B. (internal content coordinator for a PR department)

“Our work and the work of our ‘World Class’ SEO company is second to none. We stand by what has been done and how we’ve been doing it.” -M.A. (consultant, defending work that resulted in over 45,000 broken pages, tons of pages not being indexed in Google, and a cost-per-conversion that had only increased over the last 4 years.)

“The SEO agency straight up lied to us! They literally made up numbers and the execs just took ’em at their word.” -R.H. (new marketing manager at a startup)

When I talk to people like this, I just feel sad. Perhaps these SEO firms have never had those moments like I described above. Perhaps to these people, it’s just numbers and a day in the life of their business. Regardless, they’re giving SEO a bad reputation and trust me, that doesn’t need anyone’s help.

What does need your help is your client list, the companies they work for and the people who you employ through your work. The people who pay your bills put a lot of trust in you. They need your direction, guidance, and expertise.

SEOs: Take pride in your work or don’t do it. There are real people behind those numbers you put into your spreadsheet.

Original Photo Credit: Calsidyrose/Flickr

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