Since the time I was a very young child, I have always been fascinated by magicians. Their ability to create illusions and make situations seem like something that they are not has always amazed me! From Rick Thomas in Las Vegas to my older brothers who would turn my $5 bills into pennies on countless occasions (I will get revenge for that someday), I could never quite figure out their secrets. Now that I am older, I realized that there are also magicians outside of the realm of entertainment. The marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) industries are full of masters of illusion who entice people into believing something that is not true. The difference is I understand how their tricks work, and soon you will too.
Since I bought my very first web domain, I have been bombarded by advertising material from marketing and SEO companies. Sometimes I receive advertisements from legitimate companies. However, more often than not, the advertisements are created by a carefully trained group of magicians that have discovered how to use a mixture of smoke and mirrors to prevent their audience from discovering their tricks. As masters of deception and illusion, they can lure almost anyone into believing that their marketing and SEO strategies are far superior to their competitors, cost much less and are guaranteed to work in half the time.
In this post, I want to reveal some of the tricks that are commonly used to take advantage of businesses so you will not be deceived by your marketing and SEO companies.
Trick 1: The “Too good to be true” approach
Have you ever heard the expression, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is?” Fortunately for me, I heard this saying so many times during my childhood that the words still echo in my ears today. This is a very important statement to keep in mind when trying to identify the tricks in not only the SEO and marketing world but in any industry.
One question I ask myself to identify situations which may be too good to be true is, “Where is my money going?” I love this question because it allows me to view what others tell me on a much more objective level.
For example, I am frequently contacted by local marketing companies (keep in mind that Envision is a marketing company, so it is pretty obvious that any email offering to help us market is not from a person). They claim to have found my website and boast how they can outperform our current marketing and SEO providers. For $300 a month they will do the following and more:
– Optimize my website for dozens of search terms
– Index my site to thousands of search engines
– Receive organic links from hundreds of web pages
– Create an email marketing campaign
– Gain thousands of followers on social media platforms
– Cure the common cold
There are about 50 problems with this list of items but the one I want to point out first is the amount of time required to do all of that. SEO is hard work and some of those tasks will take weeks, others months and others may not even be plausible for your industry at all. For example, we work on quite a few email marketing campaigns and we will typically spend at least 30 hours on an email series before it is completed (planning, writing, revising, designing graphics, etc.). If you do the math, Envision would have a pretty grim future if we worked off of this $300 a month or “too good to be true” pricing model.
Companies that charge a “too good to be true” monthly fee only have 2 options if they want to remain profitable. They either outsource their work to other countries or they do not do the work at all. Outsourcing to other countries is not a very good strategy when it comes to marketing (just think about how well you could market a company in the Philippines. I know I certainly couldn’t do much for them). The other option of doing absolutely nothing is much more common. These are the companies which tend to be really good at using smoke and mirrors to fabricate results.
Trick 2: The “Take advantage of my client” approach
I have a good friend who is a dentist (let’s call him Fred). Last weekend Fred came up to me and told me about an experience he had a few days prior. He went out to eat with a group of friends and a few other people that he did not know. As everyone took turns introducing themselves, one person proudly stated that he owns a marketing company. When Fred asked him what the company does, the person stated that they run social media platforms for dentists. According to Fred, the person continued to say that he “loves working with dentists because you can charge them $500 a month and barely have to do anything. Since they make so much money, they hardly even miss $500 a month.”
Unfortunately for that person, he did not know that Fred is a dentist. Like many marketing and SEO companies, he is using the “take advantage of my client” approach. If you are being charged $500 a month by a company who is only updating your social media channels once or twice a week, turn the other way and run.
Trick 3: Fabricating False Results
One of the most frightening aspects about the SEO industry in particular is that it is extremely easy to fabricate results. Do you remember the only 2 ways a company can charge $300 a month for SEO service and still remain profitable? Well I want to give you an example of a company that follows the “doing absolutely nothing approach.”
I was recently meeting with someone who has been paying an SEO company $500 a month for the past 3 years. He has not been satisfied with the progress that he has seen from his SEO company (let’s call it “Fake Name SEO Inc.”) and pointed out that nobody has ever come into his business saying that they found him from his website. After suspecting that the SEO company has actually not been doing anything, he reached out to them to address the issue. The following paragraph is a snippet of the email reply from the CEO of the company. What you are about to read may be very disturbing… viewer discretion is advised.
“I’ve been on the road the past few days visiting clients. One of which I shared your SEO results with and he was over impressed. The reason is that we’ve got you ranked in the very first listing on most of your search terms. This is rare for most SEO companies to accomplish. The good news is you have us on your team and this is not uncommon for all of my clients. They are seem to rank in the first position and all of them are in the top 5 positions. (see attached report).”
If you are thinking to yourself “this seems too good to be true,” your internal scam alert system is working properly! Oddly enough, this response is 100% correct. The client’s website actually is listed on page one of Google for the targeted search terms. However, the problem is that if you run these words through an analytics tool (the Google Keyword Tool is a great one if you have a Google Adwords account) you will find that there is no search volume for the targeted search terms.
Let’s analyze one of the SEO company’s highest priority terms, “pediatric dentists south davis county Utah.” Now let’s say you live in Farmington, Utah (which is in Davis County). If you wanted to find a dentist for your 3 year old daughter, what would be the first 500 search terms you would use? I would be sorely amazed if “pediatric dentists south davis county Utah” was even on your list. So while the dental practice is technically on the first page of Google, nobody will ever find their site using this term (except maybe the SEO company).
If you suspect your SEO company is using a similar trick, have them supply you with your site’s list of targeted search terms and then run them through the Google Keyword Tool to see if there is even search volume for those terms.
Trick 4: Google takes time and there are no guarantees
I will be the first to acknowledge that you cannot usually guarantee results when it comes to search engine page ranking and SEO. However, SEO companies often use this excuse to hide behind the fact that they are not doing anything. They will tell you that you may have to wait up to 6 months before seeing any results and sometimes longer. This allows them to generate plenty of revenue before you become suspicious.
While SEO does take time (we usually figure you should see some progress after 3 months), you should fire your SEO company if they are not actively making an obvious effort to increase your rankings (I define “obvious effort” as creating more content/ pages, writing blog entries, spreading content through social media, etc.). In the case of Fake Name SEO Inc., the only thing they were doing was changing the dental website’s title tags once every few months. If you are not familiar with the term title tag, just know that I could change every title tag on your website in 15 minutes or less (and this SEO company is getting paid $500 a month to change the title tags every few months).
Excuses should ALWAYS sound a warning signal
SEO and marketing magicians are incredible at pulling both rabbits and excuses out of thin air. My advice is to be on high alert the moment any excuses are first used. To illustrate this point, let’s go back to the remainder of the email from the CEO of Fake Name SEO Inc..
“The part I’d like to address is what you texted. The concern is that you aren’t seeing that people are calling or telling you they found you online. I agree that this is an accurate response from your new patients. This usually is the response from most people. you might ask where they heard about you and most will say a friend referred them. This might be true, but what happens more times than not is that they hear about you, but then need to find you or your phone number, etc. They all go online and look you up (usually from one of the search terms we optimize) and your website pops up. They can then get your phone number or address and schedule an appointment. When they come in, they’ll still say they found you from a referral even though your SEO was the reason they were successfully connected to you and was the means by which they could schedule an appointment.”
Let me point out 2 things about this paragraph. The first is, if your client was referred to you by their friend, then the SEO company had zero influence over that sales conversion. The second thing I want to mention is that if someone is performing a search for your company they are going to use your company’s name, not some vague search term like “pediatric dentists south davis county Utah”. 99.9% of the time a company is searched for by name, their website will pop up in the first few results anyway (regardless of an SEO company being involved).
Trick 5: Last but not least, indexing to search engines
If you are interested in learning more about the history of this term, visit this post about SEO Myths. The main thing to understand is that any company claiming that they are going to submit your site to be indexed with hundreds (or thousands) of search engines is bad news.
Companies make a lot of money by claiming they will index your site with search engines for $100 or less. Since $100 isn’t really a large investment for most companies, they will gladly pay the fee in the off chance that it helps their SEO. The truth is that “indexing to search engines” is a practice that ended around 2001. Now all search engine indexing is done automatically by search engine crawlers. That means you just paid a scam artist $100 to take credit for something that Google, Yahoo, and Bing do anyway.
I hope that you found this post helpful. I did not write this post for the mere pleasure of throwing our competitors under the bus. I wrote it because I have spoken to one too many business owners who have fallen victim to unethical marketing and SEO companies. As you consider working with any company (even ours!), please remember these 3 key takeaways which will help keep you out of danger.
– Ask yourself whether the fees the company charges make sense considering the time required to perform the service.
– Remember that if a company is claiming to optimize your site but you cannot clearly tell what is being done to do so (and they won’t tell you), then nothing is being done.
– Use tools like the Google Keyword Tool to verify that results are not being fabricated.
There are a myriad of tactics SEO and marketing magicians use to deceive their audience. If you have any specific questions or concerns that we can help clarify, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.