I was talking to someone at a networking event, this was a quite number months ago now, but the subject recently came up again in a conversation so I thought I would document an experience and hopefully it will help some people out there avoid this.
I did my little pitch of what I do to this person, this time I was testing purely focused around Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), I like to change my pitch to see what works, forever the tester.
The person asked me how much I normally charge for SEO, let’s call them John – not his real name (he’s happy for me to tell the story but not identify him or his company), to which I replied I charge according to how easy or difficult it would be to rank the keywords that would bring them in business and make profit.
We normally do an initial detailed paid report then based on that provide a quote on what it would likely take to get good traffic to their site. The report does many other things but I’m not here to sell, so…
I gave him the the lowest price of what we currently charge, that being £500 per month, of course I got the expected response of that’s very expensive, to which I replied actually not really if you’re doing the job correctly and highlighted that’s our min package with most decent SEO projects coming in between £1-2K a month, even more if you’re in a very competitive but usually profitable market.
“John” went on to tell, actually no boast, to me that he had a fantastic deal with a new company they just signed up with, they don’t pay anything until they are ranked on page 1 and a page 1 ranking is guaranteed.
I was fascinated with how a company could run a business like that, I couldn’t, I thought there must be a catch to this service.
I asked “John” if I could, work with him to see what kind of results they were getting and review that service. I suspected some foul play afoot and if I could prove it I could potentially save their company a lot of hassle and wasted time and money going forward.
After researching and looking through the 12 month contract they had signed, the holes in the service and potential negative impact it could have on the company was becoming worryingly apparent.
So here is the basic breakdown of why I implore others to not be fooled by these “seems to good to be true” SEO services.
The first problem we discovered was that the first keyword the other company got onto page 1 of Google triggers the start of payment, they got it done within the first month.
Now you may think, so what, they’ve done what they said they would and because they wanted to get paid they were just motivated to get a keyword on page 1 as quickly as possible, surely there’s nothing wrong with that…surely indeed…
Well yes you are correct in one assumption, that would be very motivating for a company to make sure they ranked a keyword, but Google doesn’t quite work like that, sure you can build on a keyword and potentially get it to jump a lot of places and it is plausible to get a page 1 quickly in the right circumstance, however the majority of good keywords take time to nurture and maintain.
No SEO business could operate on taking months to rank with no payment, so again where’s the catch? How could they possibly do this and more so how could they guarantee it?
The first keyword sounded really good, but as I found out in my analysis it had absolutely no one searching for it, so they were ranking for something that although was a service of the company, had little to no value to the business or website. Of course it was on page 1 so it naturally triggered the first payment according to the contract.
To get this easy keyword to page 1 they used what’s called Grey Hat Techniques which of course can be used sparingly and very selectively if you know what you are doing as part of a bigger and safe SEO campaign, but essentially these are tactics that are generally frowned upon at Google as it tries to manipulate their ranking results and that isn’t good for relevant quality results.
If you’ve heard about the Panda or Penguin updates then these updates have been brought in to reverse or stop SEO companies manipulating the results, which is why most SEO companies panic whenever there is a Google update.
FYI we love update seasons as we see most of our keywords get a small, sometimes large boost in rankings depending on the competitors and their own SEO tactics and what we’ve done slowly but surely to build the profile.
If you really over do things on the Grey Hat front you could get your site put into penalty, that takes about anywhere between 1 and 6 months (I’ve hear of 9 months in rare cases) to get your site back into Google and then you have to build up the site naturally again, which can take another few months to get anywhere with (effectively wasting all the work and money invested up to that point).
Removing Bad Backlinks
To remove the penalty you need to go through and verify and remove all the bad links out there by contacting each website owner the link is on (this can run into the thousands possibly more depending on what was done), it’s very very time consuming and costs a lot of money to try to reverse.
If you find yourself at this point make sure you have Google Webmaster Tools setup then you’ll need tools such as Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, Majestic to name a few to find out what other back links you have. This will at least give you a head start. p.s. You’ll need the Web Master Tools account to submit your findings/progress and to ask to be considered for de-penalisation.
So you need to pay for cleaning up and still doing things the right way to try to get back up the rankings once the links are all removed, talk about a cash and time drain on the business.
Can your business actually risk that or even afford to do that if things go wrong?
So at this point “John” the client is getting quite concerned, we’ve identified that the amazing deal of not paying until they are ranking actually provides them no benefit to the business and that there is a chance if this was to continue the site could get penalised and cripple the online part of the business.
Then we looked at the contract closely and horribly there isn’t much they could do as it does explain what the company will do for the most part and what triggers payment quite clearly.
There is a clause to buy out the contract, but that means paying out 3 months for no return then they still have the issue of having to pay for a new SEO company to handle the ranking of the website and possibly clean up the bad stuff that was created as well.
Thankfully though in this case we have a happy ending (unlike most accounts I’ve heard), I did spot one thing that meant they could fight to get the contract cancelled with no penalties.
In the contract and on their site it referred to being a White Hat only SEO Company, which is ultimately the right way to do SEO (something called Black Hat also exists and this leans towards the illegal tactics of hacking, so should never be an option for anyone – here is an article with a breakdown of White, Grey and Black Hat that I wrote a while back).
So given that I could prove that the tactics used by the SEO company were Grey Hat to get the first keyword into Google, this meant the client could get the contract dissolved and get that first months payment back.
There was a little bit of resistance initially from the SEO company, but after they were provided with a report with many of the Grey Hat links newly created for the site, plus the fact that the keyword had no value to the business so was misleading and that these types of tactics could cause serious ongoing damage to the business that legal action could be considered in the future… suffice to say the SEO company backed down pretty quickly at that point.
They also got as part of the dissolved contract that the SEO company had to remove all the bad links they had created, so phew… “John”, you can understand, was very relieved. It was a lucky escape for “John”, so I wrote this article as a warning to others.
There is nothing more that I hate than to meet someone who has a great business/product/service, but their marketing investment has been squandered by a rouge company (not just SEO’s), even worse when the work they paid for can negatively harm their business and it’s potential… so so mad at that situation…!
There are lot’s of very good SEO companies out there, no really there is, just take care, ask the right questions like above, get recommendations from your business circle, ask to talk directly with the companies in case studies.
To give you an idea of what we think is reasonable, we do the first 3 months as a commitment to give us the proper time to achieve and prove that results are happening, then it’s a month by month commitment with a simple 30 days notice period to cancel. we can also change the focus keywords over time as your business, customers or industry evolve.
SEO takes time to build and sculpt a good campaign, there is lot’s of research required to find those golden egg links, strategies take time to develop, implement, execute and measure. No one has the Google Formula, but the more data we gather the better we get at understanding what Google want.
So don’t believe any company that say they can guarantee results for Search Engine Optimisation, especially if they tell you there isn’t any consequences, because that is simply too good to be true.
Alan Fair | Director
T: 07793 544 852