I am going to try and refrain from entering into too much of a rant here but there have been a number of things that I have encountered in the past week that have all snowballed into this post. The fact is that there are too many dodgy geezers in the search engine marketing game and it causes a lot of trust issues for genuine and skilled marketers with their clients.
These are the 3 things, in chronological order, that prompted this post;
Firstly, I was having a conversation with a business owner in Japan (Mark Bailey from Nagoyaradio.com) about his internet marketing and we got onto the subject of SEO. He stated that he had lost all confidence in search engine marketers and would not be outsourcing any SEO work in the future as he had been conned and ripped off by the previous firms that he had used. One organisation even took control of his site and held him to ransom every time he wanted to make a small tweak to it. Who can blame him for being mistrustful after a number of bad experiences?
Secondly, I am relatively active in the industry forums on Linkedin and some of the groups in this industry have a significant lack of value considering their following. I will avoid naming names here but there is a particular group focusing on SEO and SEM that has over 18,000 members and the majority of comments on the discussions in this group display a massive lack of thought as well as experience; many are just simple solicitations for business. There are businesses that come to the group for help and advice on SEO and PPC with the intention of building their businesses and the advice that they are given is frankly embarrassing.
Thirdly, I read a great post on the SEO theory blog where the writer Michael Martinez talks about whether or not there should be a recognised certification for SEO professionals. The post was more a discussion of the pros and cons of certification rather than an argument one way or the other.
So, now I have explained the source of the rant I will get on with it with some examples of poor web marketers and some naming and shaming thrown in. Collating this rogues gallery was not too tricky as there are many many examples out there.
Firstly, we have Adaptech Solutions from India; at first glance their site looks OK – it at least rendered properly in my browser. But what I want to draw your attention to is the testimonial on the homepage. You should read the main paragraph from the homepage first; the poor use of English is a warning sign but now take a look at the testimonial. Did a native English speaker write that? Not unless he/she has been locked away for the past decade with only access to Japanese Manga and Bollywood films. Even worse; my guess is that due to the similarity of the home page main text and the testimonial that the same guy wrote both. So, if you see a blatant lie on the homepage of a web marketing firms website then are you going to trust them to look after your website?
Following the theme of dishonesty we have another web design and internet marketing firm called Webflavors. They also have some very interesting testimonials, which unfortunately lack specific details that would help to identify the clients who left them.
These guys obviously realise the importance of trust as they have gone to the effort of including testimonials on their site that help potential clients to see that the business has been successful for others, therefore increasing their level of trust, however, they unfortunately they do not realise that in order to gain trust you have to prove yourself to be TRUSTWORTHY.
If it wasn`t for the poor grammar it would not be so obvious; perhaps they could outsource their web content to a UK firm.
Search engine marketing can be relatively complex and sometimes it does take a little time for a strategy to see results; a client and an agency should have projections of traffic and sales increases to come from a campaign that are the outcome of a detailed plan of action. However, as search engine marketers we can only control the site that we are working on, we cannot control competitor sites from getting some great links too and we cannot control the search engines from changing their algorithms. So, If things do not work out to schedule a decision has to be made on whether the plan was a no-goer or whether it just needs a little more time, but more often than not some flexibility should be applied. My point here goes back to the first sentence of this post; we have a trust issue in the industry because there are so many dishonest people operating in the space so I wonder how many agencies have seen campaigns pulled prematurely down to a lack of trust from a client?
Pay per click marketing has been around pretty much as long as search engine optimisation and although there is an issue here too for clients in determining exactly who and who is not to be trusted there seem to be less people claiming to be experts when they are not.
With PPC there is also no official industry body and no officially recognised qualification other than the Google Adwords exams. These are a helpful test of knowledge on the Google platform but they cannot claim to be a true test of ones savvy marketing ability. Google has their philosophy and that is broadly in line with most website marketers and website owners but there is no way that as a monopolist/oligopolist in the industry that they are the right organisation to police it.
I think that the cause of this comes down to 2 things;
1) Demand – there is currently a greater demand for SEO as many businesses still see it as a cheap and easy way to get more sales. Because of this, businesses may be inclined to opt for the cheaper services available in the market as they do not budget a large amount for the SEO channel.
2) Pay per click (PPC) has an image of being a costly channel and therefore the potential return on investment is not as Las Vegas as with SEO.
I believe that the truth is that both take a lot of time and effort and that success with both is based on a good website that has great products/services at fair (or better) prices and that is simple and easy to use.
I found this video on Youtube and thought that it was worthy of inclusion; it is not necessarily bad or good, and the maker may be an honest, hardworking marketer, it may resonate with some viewers but for me it just seemed to fit the bill as a prey on the uninitiated.
How can a business determine the skills of a search engine marketer?
If you lack in-house marketers that understand SEO and PPC then it is worth being diligent about who you hire and making them jump through some hoops first as you will potentially be hiring them for the long term.
Explain your business and the competitive space to the potential consultant/agency and also spell out your aims for using a search engine marketing firm. then ask them to:
- Outline the areas of your website that are in need of improvement.
- Explain how they would go about taking your website to where you want to be. You want to see that they have creative, though realistic and sensible ideas that fit your brand and industry well.
- Explain how they have helped clients to achieve results in the past, giving specific examples where they are happy for you to contact the client to verify.
- To guarantee in writing that they will not use any techniques that do not comply with Google`s Webmaster guidelines; not complying to the “quality guidelines” outlined on that page can result in complete exclusion of your site from the Google search engine.
If they can do all of this in simple language that you understand and agree with then you can consider using them. You need to look at hiring an SEO in much the same way as a full time employee; you need to find someone with the right cultural fit that you can get on well with and respect as this will help build a successful long term working relationship. Spend some time discussing your philosophy and theirs to see if they align well. Remember that SEO does involve a fair amount of knowledge, skill and experience but it really is not rocket science and is based on some pretty simple concepts. You can read my post on how a small businesses can start in SEO in order to get a basic understanding of how things work and some of the things that you could be doing in order to improve your search engine visibility. Alternatively you could do something controversial and hire an SEO Consultant to match you to the best SEO firm for your needs.
So what about search engine marketers, what can we do?
I believe that although it will be tricky to implement that it is worth introducing some kind of certification for SEO’s and also SEM`s. Awareness and knowledge of online marketing is currently improving amongst business owners, partly because many of them have suffered similar issues to Mark as stated above, and partly because it is now an unavoidable area for most businesses looking for growth so they need to have some knowledge. This increased awareness helps to self police the industry through business owners knowing how to spot a fake.
However, the amount of misinformation rolling around is still significant enough, and will continue to be so for a number of years which warrants some kind of formal way to recognise experts. There is no replacement for practical experience and this is truer in search engine marketing than in most other walks of life as there are plenty of ways to approach this discipline and to be successful with it. However, all successful approaches do have commonalities that need to be made public.
There are plenty of people in the industry who have built a good reputation for themselves through a proven track record of success and for those guys this may be irrelevant. But for new business owners who do not have a catalogue of agency successes under their belt but who do have years worth of practical knowledge, a professional accreditation may help to build their business more rapidly and with a higher level of trust from prospective clients.
I also wondered if we should have a Watchdog style website where the rogues are outed by the clients who have been burnt, but this is too open to abuse by competitors and also there are many relationships that turn sour not because any particular party has been underhand but just because things didn’t go to plan and the cause of the failure is perceived differently by both parties. It would therefore be unfair to publicly bad mouth an agency based purely on an individual personal opinion.
Anyway; it would be great to hear comments from others in the industry on how you think that we can overcome the current situation.