I’m often asked to review quotes for friends in marketing who are looking for SEO service, but don’t understand too well what SEO is.  I could probably name off at least a dozen organizations I felt were providing Snake Oil service.  And it’s really strange to me; SEO is very dynamic; the game changes frequently.   As someone who does SEO, it’s my job to keep up with this evolution.

But one thing has remained curiously constant; the spectrum of SEO service has two ends.  Those “ends” are the Snake Oil Services you should avoid.

First, I will discuss these two types of Snake Oil Service.  Then I’ll explain how a business can avoid being duped by these charlatans, wasting thousands of dollars, or possibly harming your progress in Search.

Left End:  Amateur Hack Who Knows Enough to Do Crappy SEO

These guys throw out some technical jargon they picked up along the way and understand some fundamentals of the Web.   Usually lazy types out for a quick buck, provide sub-par service and either outsource or run your Website through some sort of automated software that requires little or no thinking on their end.   They conjure high-tech sounding jargon about why they’re more important & why they’re an expert.

These folks are more than happy to poo-poo pretty much everyone else, the big guys as too expensive, and that their methods are similar or the same.   They usually aren’t, and they won’t give you the up front, non-B.S. expertise you should expect for your business Website marketing… usually because they’re too amateur to know.

Right End:  High-End Firm So Concerned with Legitimacy Their Results are Mediocre

Big firms obsessed with their image, touting high-end service and expertise.   Smart people, don’t get me wrong.  But they are so concerned about marketing their “white-hattedness”  and legitimacy that the output of their work takes the backseat.  And when a paying business questions a lack of results for their investment, they’re instantly shot back vague excuses about “Long-term goals” and “Lack of patience”, then convinced by “SEO experts” that they’re expectations are unreasonable.  The cash keeps flowing from Corporate bank accounts into SEO coffers, and any mediocre results achieved are touted as God’s Gift to Your Business.

These firms do this in plain sight – they may be quite well-known and successful in the marketing community because they’re very involved.   This attracts the deep pocket corporate guys who want to “hire the best”.  These SEO firms usually never criticize other’s work, I think mainly because its assumed they’re always right and, well, corporate culture is soft and boring like that.  Everything they claim is backed with their “authority” on the subject.

And, of course, all customers sign a fat contract before getting started.  (Read it, too; you’re bound to find some gold nuggets about no guarantees or refunds and little or no mention about accountability on their end.)

The Point Is This:

Providing harmful/lazy amateur service or neglectful/mediocre high-end service are in the end the exact same thing: bad service.  If the service paid for does not render real measurable results that help a business profit as intended, this is snake oil. (also known as “bullshit”). Don’t kid yourself.  Any SEO worth their weight provides good service.

A good SEO will:

1) Earn your Trust

OK, this point admittedly sounds like the same vague B.S. found in other SEO blog posts, but it’s worth mentioning because everyone that reaches me has already been roped into all sorts of stupidity & scams by sales people.

Bottom line: Don’t pay up for SEO if you don’t 100% believe you’re being told the whole honest truth.  Ask questions, read contracts and TOS – not just the sales materials.  If you feel uncomfortable about it at all, don’t fork over any cash.

2) Explain Their Methods

Nothing about SEO is proprietary.  You either know what you’re doing or you don’t.    The only exception here is tools.  I do believe an SEO’s tools are the secret sauce that sets them apart from the rest.  And I don’t buy a burger to figure out the secret sauce.  I buy a burger because I want to eat it.

And likewise, businesses pay an SEO not because they want to know the secret sauce, it’s because they would rather pay for it than spending the time to learn it.  They would rather hire an expert.

A special note to SEOs who think what they do should be a secret: I’d rather pay someone else to change my oil.  Why?  Because I don’t want to deal with disposing of the old oil, remembering what kind of oil I need, getting under my car with tools, cleaning up messes, cut my hands like I always do with tools, and taking twice as long to finish.  Businesses buy SEO for the same reason.  They want your expertise.

Bottom Line: A good SEO tells you how they plan to achieve their promises made.   Then they’ll do it faster, better, and rank circles around any amateur could ever hope to.

3) Provide A List of Actions that Produce Results Up Front

I snicker & smirk at some of the SEO offers from online marketing companies I find online;  these impotent service offerings are usually about “evaluation”, “analyzing”, “reporting”, and “consulting” – things that do absolutely nothing to improve search engine rankings, but are intended to pacify the feelings you have about not getting what you paid for.

Ask yourself: Do you want to pay someone to actually produce work to increase rankings, or do you want someone to talk with on boring conference calls & some new pretty reports in your email box? Assurance is pointless if there’s no real work to back it up.

You’re paying for rankings.  You’re paying for traffic.  Ultimately, you’re paying to make money.

In my opinion an SEO Service should be about: 30% building content, 50% building links, and 10-20% fixing/enhancing the Website, and 10-20% reporting/consulting/deliverables.

Note about consulting: Maybe you’ve got a site and some competency with the Web and you only want consulting for you & staff.  There are good firms who provide SEO consulting, and I have myself from time to time.  If you do, I suggest to pay by the hour or arrange a set fee for a number of hours & the travel expenses if necessary.

4) Provide Time Frames For Work Completed

Expect a time frame for an SEO to produce their work.  I personally quote out by the hour for projects, so I usually give an estimated number of hours it will take to actually complete the project.  This makes my clients happy and willing to spend $150/hour for my work, because they know exactly what they’re getting and when I’m doing it.

I have seen firms charge $1000 for what amounts to literally 4 hours or less of an intern’s time.  What a rip-off.

5) Encourage You To Shop Around

You’ll get all sorts of quotes, willy-nilly, depending on who you call.  Get service quotes from more than one place, and if you don’t understand something, ask questions.  If a potential client is on the fence, I challenge every single one of them to go find a service that provides the same value & personal service I can provide for the price tag I can provide it for.   The more quotes you get, the more discerning you’ll become, and you’ll start to notice the cracks.   These are the things you ask questions about.  And you’ll eventually find the right company to hire.