Living in the world of search engine optimization can be particularly frustrating at times, I’ll readily admit. My wife and I have been watching the Dr Quinn Medicine Women series through Netflix over the past several months. In a couple of the episodes the classic “snake oil salesman” enters Colorado Springs, where the movie is set. He hawks his wares (which vary from railroad shares to Indian magic potions to you name it), everyone jumps on his bandwagon (except Dr. Quinn, of course), and then packs up shop unexpectedly, taking off with all the cash.
In our contemporary world, we still run into snake oil salesmen. They come in the same wide assortment of shapes and sizes. Some are in high society, like Bernie Madoff, while others are scammers operating from basements, garage offices and skyscrapers worldwide. And, in our world of SEO, we are deluged by them.
Snake oil SEO salesmen like to make big promises. And they love to sweet talk you. Many will team up with naive mom & pop web design businesses across the United States. They promise huge commissions for work referred, or, they promise dirt cheap off shore rates while letting the web designer offer “link building” or “search engine optimization” or even “first page Google guaranteed ranking” within their portfolio of services while making a nice profit.
I’ve been ripped off by snake oil internet marketing salesmen in the past. You’ll see their Adwords from time to time offering instant traffic. Reading the testimonies, everyone seems to claim that the traffic is real and really converts to leads and customers. But when you invest in their “advertising” and begin to dig down deep into the salesman’s services, you ultimately discover that they took your money and ran. Er, well, they did somewhat keep their word but did so in a way that didn’t quite represent the smooth sounding talk on their website or the raving customer reviews. So, what did they do? They ran a couple bots that generated auto hits on your site. You bought traffic, they sent you some automated computer generated traffic. Fair and square deal, right?
Reminds me of Harold Hill in one of my favorite movies, the Music Man. His original intentions were to empty the wallets and purses of the town folk through sales of musical instruments and band costumes. He was legitimate in so far that the people would actually receive the products they were purchasing, but he was illegitimate in so far that he planned to skip town once the products arrive. And what use are tubas and trombones and band costumes if there is no one in a small town to teach the kids what to do with them?
Prospective clients will come to me with websites “blessed” by these snake oil SEO salesmen. Perhaps the website owners were naive and completely innocent. Perhaps they hired their local web development company to provide SEO services, and then that web designer outsourced the work to the SEO company. Nonetheless, by the time they come to me, someone has played foul with their site – typically by generating scores of spammy backlinks through blog comment spam, forum spam, and even auto generated link exchange pages (ouch!). And then, on top of that, you have the over optimization of the actual website with hidden text and keyword stuffing gone rampant.
The curse that then falls on me is multi pronged. The client presumably has minimal SEO exposure and presumably the cost for the snake oil SEO was minimal. Most of those questionable SEO providers would be hard pressed to offer their services at traditional rates charged by trusted SEO firms. So they win their clients through dirt cheap pricing. Thus, the client associates “SEO magic” with bare bones pricing. Strike one for me – now I have to educate the client about the value in search engine optimization, and any SEO consultant will tell you that that is not an easy job to do.
The second curse is the amount of work involved. Snake oil salesmen like to make a fast buck with minimal (if any work). Since they are charging dirt cheap prices in the first place, that means the amount of work they plan to do is barely existent. Thus, if the client discovers what they paid for and, as an excuse, are told some mystical gobbledygook by the web designer about the mysteries of secret SEO, the client walks away associating the lost cost of SEO with some very, very minor coding changes and tweaks and backlinks here and there. Strike two for me – now I have to educate the client about the potential intensity of work involved with legitimate search engine optimization. There may be hours and hours of ongoing work involved developing interesting content, improving the overall structure of the website, modifying the coding, etc. But the client thinks ranking well organically is all about stuffing the meta keywords with 400 search phrases (including “business” and other very well trafficked yet vague keywords).
The third curse is the fact that now the prospective client is “well educated” about SEO and the cost and work involved. So, having been burned by this web development company, they begin Googling “SEO” and contacting a dozen other SEO providers. And, probably at least one of them advertises via Adwords about their $99/month “1st page in Google guaranteed!” option. The prospective client learns more and more about SEO talking with ex-telemarketers who are now employed by large web development firms. Some details are correct, but the gist of the conversation tends to lean heavily on sales. “You’ve got to buy,” “You’ve got to go with us,” “We offer the best deal,” “We’re the cheapest,” “We guarantee what others don’t.” Strike three for me – how do I educate the client that there are products made in the sweat factories in China and there are products made by hard working Americans who actually care about their brand and stand behind their quality. Hey, ask my wife – I spend much of my waking moments working for clients on my computers, in my office or at my home. It’s a crazy, insane life, but someone has to do it, and I enjoy it.
At the end of the day, I can’t force any prospective client to go with us. Why do we charge a so much per month while the other guy promises the same work for just a bare minimum? My response is that we do what we say – we do our best and stand behind our work. We’re not all about making a “fourteen a million” (in the words of my 4 year old son) empty promises and ripping you off when you’re not looking. We’re a small company, true. We have employees we need to pay, true. We have high overhead, true. But we don’t take on a zillion clients. We carefully take on each client and look at it as a long term relationship. Hey, if any of our past clients (even if they’re no longer in an active contract) email or call me, I’ll gladly give them a half hour or hour of free consultation. They might hire us again down the road, or they might not. But a relationship is a relationship, and we invest ourselves into really getting to know each client – and then we do our best for them.
Yes, our rates are not cheap. But I’m not going to establish a business around the hype of “cheap.” The snake oil salesman and the huge web hosting companies that are trying to make a fast buck by offering some form of “SEO” can push their cheap rates all they want. I’ll push the quality of our product with American family supporting rates that reflect the work involved. Does it turn a lot of prospective clients away? Yes. Do you ever have some prospective clients say you’re ripping off people with your rates? Yes. For some people, a material, tangible product can have a fee associated with it that is directly proportional to the amount of man hours invested into it; however, for those same people, putting a cost on intellect and the man hours invested into the application of that intellect (and the experience associated with it) is a foreign thing.
And, thus, the occasional frustrations of search engine optimization
Hey, thanks for popping by our blog and putting up with some occasional venting! If you’d like to make my day, please contact me at 800.460.SOZO and I’d be glad to brainstorm with you some ways to help your website become more successful. Along with optimized website design, we offer organic optimization for existing sites, paid search advertising, and website usability assessment.
CEO of Sozo Firm Inc