I'm Chris Giles, owner of CGain Web Design & SEO which is based in the English seaside town of Blackpool, Lancashire. Here's the first tale in a series about unwitting local businesses being duped and fleeced by SEO Snake-Oil Salesmen.
Back in 2014, a local Bank Business Adviser contacted me with a question from one of his clients, a local Cleaning Services company, that I was able to answer. The adviser and his client were both concerned that they were not getting any results from the hundreds of pounds per month the business was spending on a ‘Website Promotion SEO – Be No. 1 On Google' package, which they had purchased some months before from a regional marketing company.
This particular SEO Company used a range of direct marketing methods to acquire leads, including paid Social Media, Google Ads, Email Marketing and Telesales.
One of the tasks of a good Banking Business Adviser is to look at the outgoings of a business and then advise where savings can be made. My task was to audit the SEO Company's work and give my opinion on the value of it.
The client was pleased with their year-old static html website, and when asked about it, their consumers responded in a positive manner. The only complaint from the client was that they didn't appear to be receiving any inquiries or purchases as a result of it. After a quick check, it was easy to see why given that it was ranked low on search engine inquiries for its killer keyword phrases. Unscrupulous marketing businesses will find it easy to prey on the unwary…
Due Diligence On The Provider
The first step in my SEO Provider Audit is to check out the website of the SEO Provider. I look at its structure, design and SEO value. I ask questions such as…
- How Fast Does The Website Load?
- How Much Traffic Is It Getting?
- Does It Rank For Any Keywords?
- Do They Publish Any Case Studies, Reviews or Testimonials?
- What Is The Overall Quality Of The Content?
- What Is The Website Authority?
- What Kind Of Backlinks Does It Have?
All the above are crucial to any website that wants to rank on the Search Engines. Call me old-fashioned, but I would expect any serious SEO Company website to pass all of these tests. This particular company failed all of them. Saying that, however, I have found a small number of SEO Companies that produce exceptional work for clients whilst not having the time to spend on their own website. Instead, they will generate leads through different, but equally effective methods other than pure SEO.
Performing a keyword research study is really important for a local SEO campaign. Using specialist tools, we check the websites of a client's leading competitors and run what we term a ‘Content Gap Analysis'. Basically, this report tells us all the keywords the competition is ranking for that the client is not.
This research underpins the short-term and mid-term SEO strategy. By providing audited keyword rankings every month, any SEO company can demonstrate the effectiveness of their work.
Search Engine Optimisation Services
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Website Promotion services are in high demand, with a market worth billions. Business owners are well aware that a ranking position on the first page of Google search results for their most popular keywords is critical to their online success – and profit.
Unscrupulous marketing organisations take advantage of this requirement. “We'll guarantee you the number one spot on Google,” they claim. At this point, if the salesman knows a little more than the client, they will usually obtain the sale.
In response to the client's inquiry on a perceived lack of success after only a few months, the SEO business had responded with, “Oh, this takes time, you know, it's not a quick fix – you won't see instant results. We're currently working with Google to ensure that all of the modifications are submitted.”
Is this something you've heard before?
Of course, this is somewhat correct; after all, we all know that organic SEO takes time to provide tangible effects. BUT, what exactly has the SEO business done? For the amount of money the client had been spending, I would have expected at the very least a keyword analytics report, followed by some changes to the website structure to make it more search engine friendly organically. I would also have expected to see some frequent fresh content on the site, followed up by at the very least a basic social media campaign and at the very least a blog post or three. An Adwords or Facebook Boost campaign with a reasonable budget would have been a significant step forward. In addition, I would expect to see some evidence of a sensible backlink strategy.
I conducted some analytics and diagnostics on the client website, and I quickly discovered that it had some fundamental structural issues in terms of how it was perceived by the major search engines. In addition to a slew of other flaws, fundamentals such as page names, descriptions, headers, and the like had not been addressed by the original designer (a typical problem), nor had they been modified by the SEO company (an unexpected issue). It was also discovered that the client had paid for a “link-building” service some time ago and that a large number of false and irrelevant incoming backlinks had been generated as a result. Whilst Google in particular does tend to ignore such spammy backlinks, good practice is to ‘Disavow' such links through your Google Search Console.
With the exception of the fact that the SEO company had collected several months' worth of fees, there was no proof that the company had done anything. The adviser and the client were right to be suspicious.
Meeting the ‘SEO' Company
The client requested a meeting with the SEO business, and she also invited the Business Adviser, as well as my good self, to attend. It came at an opportune time, as the next payment was just around the corner.
The SEO specialist was well-versed in his field. A high-end suit, gleaming shoes, and a nice demeanour were evident. He brought us all up to date on the latest developments at his company, lamenting the countless hours spent on research and ranting about how slowly Google responded when fresh content was supplied. He was convincing enough that I almost believed him – and I probably would have if it hadn't been for the facts and statistics.
I came to the conclusion that he had either graduated with honours from RADA or, more concerningly, that he truly believed what he was saying.
Facts and statistics are a pain in the neck, and they frequently contradict a well-executed sales pitch, political broadcast, religious lecture, or other presentation.
While there was a pregnant silence following the SEO man's final statement, I instantly realised how the late Christopher Hitchens must have felt when he was going to deliver a reply to a young earth creationist. To illustrate, consider the case for a cat of an open can of evaporated milk on the kitchen counter while its owner is attending to a knock at the front door.
I figured I'd start with something straightforward.
CG – “You've been making all of these modifications to the website, but they haven't appeared on the site yet. I can imagine how frustrating that must be.”
SEO – “Of course, we're just waiting for them to be indexed by Google, which takes 90 days. It's quite inconvenient.”
CG – “You'll have compiled a list of all of the external incoming links to the website that you've been able to secure?”
SEO – “Yes, that will be available in the office. It is possible that I can have the guys deliver it to you by email, but you will not notice any changes for the time being owing to the cycle.”
I was finding it difficult to keep my emotions under control… It's time for a straightforward question.
CG – “Given that you have FTP access to the website server space, couldn't you have just gone in and updated the HTML directly? At the very least, we'd be able to see that some work had been done in order to improve the pages.”
SEO – “That's exactly what we've done, but Google takes time to index the adjustments, as everyone is aware. The cycle is 90 days long, and we're in the middle of it.”
I made up a cough or two. That appeared to be far more courteous in the circumstances than my natural want to burst into a fit of laughter that was so powerful that it caused my bladder to evacuate itself. After all, I had only recently laundered my jeans.
CG – “Allow me to explain…”
At this point, I accessed the client's website and presented the page source, highlighting the unfavourable meta title and description sections that were not optimised for search engines.
I then entered the domain control panel and presented a list of the files on the server that comprised the client's website in the browser window. The ‘last-modified' date stamp on each file, which was critical, was from before the SEO business was hired to work on the project.
After a quick right-click, I was amending the text, updating both the title and the description of the page at the source level of the website.
It was only after a refresh of the homepage and a display of the updated source file that the modifications were apparent. Live. It was a miracle. I'm looking forward to receiving my notice of beatification.
CG – “Google will index this changed page, as well as the rest of the website, within 2 or 3 days, or even sooner if I notify them through Webmaster Tools. After that, I would expect to see a steady increase in the number of people finding the website.”
Using a knife, you could have easily cut through the atmosphere. The client was the one who broke the spell of silence.
CLIENT – “All right, Mr. SEO,” she said, with grace in her voice. “I'm going to shake your hand and say goodbye right now. I believe that is the best option…”
The SEO expert exited stage left. In the same way as David Moyes shook Pellegrini's hand after the recent encounter at Old Trafford, he shook mine without even making eye contact when I extended my hand to him. My emotions were so hurt that I had to cough once more.
The site structure was fixed at a cost of £150.00, This was a one-time expense. Another local company, which specialises in social media advertising, was brought in to administer the social accounts. Their monthly fee for audited administration was £150.00. A strategy was put in place to study and produce regular material for the website, which included the client organising some short product demonstration videos to be used. The development of an ethical link-building approach was initiated. It's common sense, it's fairly affordable, and it's all simple to audit.
There are several quite competent search engine optimisation and web marketing organisations out there that achieve excellent outcomes for their clients. In addition to putting in the hard labour to get outcomes, they also put in even more effort – when they are not working for customers – to study and conduct research. They read things, they listen to Google, and they put things to the test. If you have one of them, revere him or her and send presents to him or her on a regular basis (TIP: Malt whisky or corporate tickets to football matches go down very well here).
The problem is the growing number of snake-oil salesmen and charlatans for whom a little information can be quite dangerous, especially when it comes to their client's financial well-being. The objective I've set for myself is to track down these individuals and expose them.
Please get in touch with me for a FREE and quick evaluation of your website or even a confidential audit of the work of your SEO firm. If you're spending money on SEO, I'll be able to sleep better at night knowing that your firm is genuinely putting in the time and effort.
Chris Giles is a Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM), specialises in SEO, and consults for both local firms and top national brands in the UK.
MODIFICATION (06-06-2014) – In the last two weeks, the client has received three inquiries through his website, which he has converted. According to him, these were the first inquiries received from the website in more than a year and a half.