How To Prevent Getting Ripped Off By An SEO

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    Unfortunately, it happens. A lot. Businesses hire the wrong SEO expert and either get tactics that don’t work, that actually hurt the website, or a company that doesn’t really do anything. This tends to happen in industries with so much mystery surrounding it. If you hire a web designer, you see the work. If you hire a painter to paint your house, they can’t very well not paint anything and tell you they did. 

    Let’s face it, to the uninitiated SEO is like this mystical force that determines your search rank. Even worse, so many SEO’s speak in a language that is like something out of Game of Thrones. Granted, there is always going to be jargon that is solely SEO-speak. But a pro will be able to explain the jargon in simple terms to help educate. The con will use this jargon to sound like they are an expert and hope you don’t ask too many questions.

    The point of this article is not to go on and on and try to explain every aspect of SEO. There are plenty of online resources you can find to achieve that if that is your goal. This post is for the time-conscious entrepreneur that would rather cut to the point. Spend a few minutes reading to get informed to know what to look for so that they can get a higher search rank without getting swindled. SEO has many benefits for your business, but only if you understand it enough not to get ripped off. 

    We all know the drill. You get an unsolicited email offering to increase your search rank for only $199/month. Wow, right? Not quite. I even get these emails. Or maybe you realize you need a higher organic rank so you try and find a local SEO, or (yikes) find someone overseas to do it cheaper. This is the great SEO pitfall. The easiest way to waste your money and not see any results. Would you set 2 $100 bills on fire every month? Of course not. Going this route is essentially the same thing. At least with burning the cash you have a unique experience.


    Why do most “SEOs” suck?

    I break down bad SEOs into 2 categories. Scammers and the inexperienced. Scammers are the ones that don’t do anything yet happily take your money every month. I’ve had a number of new clients that had this happen to them. And what was even more shocking is that often they weren’t even some shady cold-emailing offshore SEO farm. A number of times the culprit was a local marketing agency that held some prominence. I would do an audit and find nothing of value. These were clients that had been paying $1,000+ a month for over a year and there were no traces of any actual SEO work performed.

    The inexperienced at least try. But SEO is a complex and ever-changing art form. Something that worked great one day may become a nothing burger once the next Google Update rolls out. An inexperienced SEO can do some good or can do harm. They don’t have the experience to master the nuances of increasing traffic. They may go after keywords that don’t have a high search intent.


    Why is it so easy to get ripped off? There are a few reasons why it is so easy to get taken for a ride.


    1. Business owners don’t know any better.

    Maybe you’re not tech-savvy, maybe you are but just not in THAT way. For whatever reason, small businesses are seen as prey for scam SEO companies. I’ve read a good number of emails and conversations these scam SEO’s have had with clients. It is filled with gibberish and tech jargon meant to evoke fear and show their expertise. Often they purposefully make what they actually offer as vague as possible. The best way to avoid this is to be informed as to what SEO is really about.


    2. It’s not THAT expensive.

    The reason they charge $100, $200, $300/month is because it resides in the price point where people want to see the value, but not so high that they are going to be questioning what is being done with that budget. When a client is paying $1,500 plus a month they are much more curious about where the budget is going. So the scammers keep it low, let the client think they are being proactive in growing their business, and hope for a placebo effect. Not that I haven’t seen people paying thousands and getting nothing, because I have.


    3. SEO takes time

    SEO can take months to really show results. Oftentimes results happen sooner with good real SEO. But generally we SEO’s say it can take 4 months to close to a year to really see the benefits. Scammer SEO’s love to use this timeframe to their advantage. It’s all a numbers game to them. If after 6 months you see no improvement, they can easily say something like “we’re so close, I told you it wouldn’t be fast. Let’s make it to a year and then you’ll really see those new leads coming in.” By the time the year ends they’ve made their money and if you cancel they are just on to the next victim.

    The worst part of this is how human psychology plays into it. I have seen people continue to pay these guys, even after I do an audit and show them that their SEO hasn’t done a damn thing. Why? Who likes to admit they were scammed? No one. Our pride comes into play and for a delicate one, they may rather keep paying, and just assume that the one who gave them the bad news doesn’t know what we’re talking about.


    A Tale Of A Big Dog Scammer

    I have a client, let’s call him Steve. Steve signed up for SEO services from a very large company. You’ve def heard of them. They aren’t an SEO company, but they do “offer” it. They got him to sign up for $800/mo. After we redid his website he shared this with me. I was curious. What were they doing for this 800 a month? I mean, we did the onsite optimization. So they must have been doing link building I thought. So I set out to investigate. After a few hours running the site through various programs, I came to a conclusion. They weren’t doing ANYTHING. I mean nada, zilch. I was actually shocked. It was a HUGE national company. And I could not find one thing they did to increase his search rank.

    I asked him if they ever sent a write-up on the scope of what they were supposed to do. They never did. It took a little while, but I eventually convinced him to cancel with them. He was nervous about it. They told him if he canceled his rank would plummet, leads would dry up and his business would lose far more than the 800/mo.

    One year after he canceled and guess what? His ranking didn’t drop even one spot. He stayed exactly where my on-site SEO treatment put him.

    These stories aren’t odd, they are all over. And let me tell you, as an SEO that takes this service very seriously this shit drives me crazy. I’m not a fan of people making money for doing absolutely nothing, at the expense of a small business’s already stretched budget and making things harder for real SEOs at the same time.


    7 Red Flags to look out for when hiring an SEO


    1. They charge by keywords

    A huge red flag is a company that charges based on the number of keywords you want to rank for. It completely misses the point. It’s not about how many keywords you rank for. It’s a vanity metric. It’s about ranking for the keywords with a high search intent for YOUR business. And more than that it’s about getting the click from the results page. Because what use is ranking if you’re not getting the traffic?


    2. A page one Guarantee

    I see this all the time, “Page One Position Guaranteed”. Let’s be clear here. Google runs the show. As SEO’s we use our experience, tactics, and ongoing research to do our best to rank sites. There is no guarantee when it comes to SEO. It’s just the reality of the situation. And anyone that claims to guarantee that is full of it.


    3. Too Cheap

    Hiring a professional SEO expert isn’t cheap. Nor should it be. SEO offers the highest ROI in the digital marketing space, so it makes sense that SEO experts would be well paid. The average hourly for an SEO consultant is $100 at the lowest up to $500, and the average being in the $150-$250 range. Unless you’re in a really small location with not much search rank competition for your industry any company charging less than $1,000/month is likely a bad SEO. Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for.


    4. They ask YOU for keywords.

    If they are asking you to provide the keywords you want to rank for this can sometimes mean they won’t do the most important SEO step, research. I ask clients for what they want to rank for, but then during the research phase I find new ones that will be great for their business, and sometimes the ones you may think are the best are actually not. When it comes to understanding the most used search phrases that relate to your business the data is always better than what you may think is important. Research is so critical to really beating your competition.


    5. Too much jargon

    I’ve seen SEO proposals that are like 75 pages of boilerplate jargon. And some people are impressed by this. It’s a proposal anyone can buy for $100, slap your logo on it, and boom. But this is the inherent problem with the SEO and Marketing industry. So..much…jargon. It’s meant to confuse you. To obfuscate what they’re actually going to do for you. If someone can’t clearly explain things to you in a way you can understand and aren’t clear in the contract they don’t have mastery of the service they’re offering.


    6. If they didn’t really ask any questions.

    You can glean a lot about a business from their website, but to really do a killer SEO job you need to know certain things. Goals for one are super important. SEO without defined goals is counterproductive. And I don’t mean generic goals like make more money. Goals such as increasing the sales of one of our verticals to growing our lunch business are great goals for an SEO campaign. If any creative doesn’t ask about your goals, proceed with caution.


    7. The SEO provider doesn’t need access to your website.

    This is one of the biggest ones I’ve seen. And the one that drives the SEO in me the craziest. If an “SEO” company says they don’t need to log into your website then they are either scamming you or they are doing something shady. Either way, this is no good. On-site SEO is the foundation of search rank. On-site SEO covers a few things. Firstly is adding keyword-rich and well-written meta descriptions (the page descriptions you see in Google search results) page titles, URL optimization, and redirections, image alt text as well as making sure the site loads quickly. Once this is done the robot.txt is checked and a sitemap is generated.

    On-page is the foundation of a successful SEO campaign. And content creation is a powerful aspect of off-page SEO. A real SEO expert will be spending a lot of time on your website optimizing your on-page, handling faster load speed, tweaking content, and much more.


    So how can you, the business owner, prevent getting scammed?


    Before you sign, get a breakdown of the scope.

    Ask them what exactly they are planning to do to increase your rank. Pretty simple. Often this line of question will end the conversation with a scammer. It’s not worth their time, if they catch a whiff that you may be informed as to what SEO is they may just bail. A real SEO will give you a timeline for the various aspects. Generally first will be getting your on-site SEO all in place. This is the first step. This should include: Content Scanning, Keyword Research, Competitive Research, Optimizing URLS, Optimizing Page Titles and Headers, writing each page’s metadata, Image alt text optimization, and optimizing the site’s load speed.


    Monitor the work.

    You’ll want to be active in making sure they are doing what they say they are doing. If they say they finished the onsite work, log in and take a look around. If your using WordPress for your website, make sure there is an SEO plugin they added, like Yoast or All In One SEO. Go to each page and look to make sure the meta descriptions, SEO titles are all filled in and look good. If you are using Squarespace or Joomla or another platform, there are locations for SEO in all of these, a quick, haha Google search, will help you find where they are and allow you to take a peek.


    Some SEO terms you should know.

    Keywords- Keywords are words that are used in many places on a webpage that signals to Google what your page is about. Keywords are what we rank for.

    Meta Descriptions – The short description an SEO generates for a web page that is designed to be keyword rich yet explain to the searcher what the page is about.

    Meta Title – The page title that is created for the title of the metadata that appears in search results.

    URL your domain is donkeysdrinkingrum.com but each page has its own unique extended URL. Instead of donkeysdrinkingrum.com/about, an SEO will work to fit appropriate keywords into clean URLs.

    301 Redirects – when you change a URL to a new one, if someone clicks the old one in a web browser it will show a 404 PAGE NOT FOUND. An SEO pro will always redirect the old URL to the new one so no traffic is lost and the site maintains continuity.

    Image Alt Text – Technically this text is shown when the image doesn’t load. It’s not a caption. But search engines use that text to help understand what is on the page, and what the imagery is in reference to.

    robot.txt – This is a .txt file every site has that designates access of the search engines “robots” that “crawl” aka scan the site. An improperly written robot.txt file search engine may have trouble scanning the site and this will lead to poor rank.

    Sitemap – A sitemap is a list of all the site’s pages and URLs that maps out the site. This sitemap is submitted to the search engines so they can understand the architecture of your site and compel them to crawl it.

    Link Building – Link Building is the key element of off-site SEO. Link building is a tedious yet rewarding process of building your site’s authority by getting backlinks from other, more authoritative sites as well as business listing sites. For example, getting a backlink to your blog from a higher-traffic blog can increase traffic and signal to Google that you have great content other sites want to link to.

    Entities – Entities are becoming a very important part of SEO and many SEO’s don’t even know what they are or how to use them. An entity designates a single, well-defined thing or concept. Here’s an example. Fencing. Fencing can be the sport, the act of putting up a fence or selling illegal goods. Now Google figures out the meaning by context, but the clearer we can be with Google the better we rank. So we integrate entities into Schema and our website in one way by linking to a Wikipedia page that is the entity we are describing. So if we are SEOing for a fencing school, the sport, we would link to the Wikipedia page about the sport. Now if we were SEOing or a fencing company we would link to wiki pages about building fences and other entities related to it to provide a deeper context in the microdata.

    Interested in learning what our SEO can do for your business? Click here to get in touch. 

    Gabriel Bertolo

    Gabriel Bertolo is a 3rd generation entrepreneur that founded Radiant Elephant 10 years ago after working for various ad and marketing agencies. He is also an award-winning Jazz/Funk drummer and composer as well as a visual artist. He has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Shopify, and MECLABS for his insights into marketing and SEO.