The Adolescence of SEO

Editor’s Note: Kate Morris is our next guestblogger. She’s going to share some war stories and give us some food for thought about SEO’s growing pains.–Susan

Back in the day, selling SEO/M services was relatively easy. The internet was “new,” business owners were completely oblivious to the craft of search engine optimization, and were willing to pay people to “get them on the web.” Those were the days when SEOs spent the majority of time on education (as much as we hated it), the rest on keyword density and link building. Life was good.

Today we are at the point when we not only get clients that have never done search engine marketing, but also the clients that:

  • are not happy with the service they are getting with another reputable agency
  • got duped by one of the many the SEO scams out there
  • have decided that they want to bring the service in-house

There are many reasons why they want to change tactics, some good and some bad. The good reasons maybe that the in-house has reached their threshold and need help in specific areas. The current agency may be too focused on core tactics and the client wants something more. This can sometimes be a bad thing though, especially when the client thinks they are getting high level services when they are only getting the bare minimum. This is starting to happen more and more recently.

On the flip side, the client may have been talked into doing some pretty shady things, made some bad decisions, and aren’t even aware they are being penalized for the actions of others. All they know is their online traffic and sales have dropped. We have all seen the horror stories, but here are a few of the most recent ones I’ve seen.

  • Paid links through brokers

    This is a grey area for most people in SEM, but we all know if found selling, you can get penalized. If found buying, the links don’t work as they were supposed to work. What happens is some agencies have not made their clients aware of this. That $10K spent on links? Worthless. It’s not a fact over the entire internet, but it is becoming a reality more and more every day.

  • Traffic Power and other nominal monthly fee products

    This was one of the most common ones, but thankfully business owners are getting a little smarter about these promises. Score one for the SEM industry. But it does still happen, clients pay $500 to be #1, and get nothing. Reeducation about expectations and actual prices of services can be difficult in these situations.

  • JavaScript <body> redirect

    One client had previously had terrible cloaking technologies implemented on their site, a JavaScript onMouseOver event that triggered a redirect within the <body> tag. Apparently, this was done by the agency in a wholesale manner to hundreds of clients. Ouch

  • .asp doorway pages

    An agency once had created .asp doorway pages that referenced pages on the client’s website. So instead of having the real pages on the clients’ actually site, they were just being pulled in from the SEO’s server. And when the client didn’t renew their services, the SEO Company killed all of the pages that were being pulled in by the clients’ site.

  • Stolen Content

    In one instance, a new client had an in-house employee doing all of their SEO/web design before they changed services. It turns out that the in-house guy had stolen all of the content for their informational pages from a competitor’s site that was going well in the rankings. And to top it off, the guy actually left all of the links within the content that was pointing to the site they he had stolen the content from.

  • Hidden Links

    One of my first stories, a client’s last in-house had placed hidden links in their ecommerce system, built in house and licensed to other companies. So these links to an internal site (one of about thirty) were on other’s sites. I found it because a client called and complained, rightfully. I removed all instances of the hidden links and educated the company on Google guidelines. They hired the guy back when I left…

What’s my point? Just to tell you horror stories? We love to hear them, it builds camaraderie … okay, I have a point, swear.

My point is that we have to change how we present our services. SEO is not dead as many have suggested. It’s just that sales pitches are no longer just about building presence online and conversions, but rather perfecting the system. Clients today are looking for the next step; they want the idea that is going to set them apart online since some industries are in tough battles for top spots in the SERPs.

When you are approaching a new client that has been with former agencies or services, plainly ask that perspective company what is wrong with their website and how they would fix it. This will give you some insight to where they are in the process and where you need to start. Then you can launch into how you can help. While you do not have to go into detail (but some free advice will sometimes close the deal real fast), the fact that you are willing to tell them what is wrong will let them know that you know what you should know about SEO.

Tip for Agencies: If you have a sales team, teach them the basics (training is key!) but also teach them how to identify the clients wanting that next step and what to pitch to them. All small business owners want SEO to be a process and it can be, but those same small business owners are getting smart. We’ve done our job for some of them, and they now want us to go the extra mile.

It’s time for us as internet marketers to step outside the box and get back to our creative core. Internet marketing is not a process, it’s an adventure.

Kate Morris is the In-House SEM for RateGenius. You can find her on her blog and on Twitter. She wants to thank Casey Yandle and Scott Polk for their examples.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “The Adolescence of SEO”

i agree ben, why my actual official title is:
Director, Internet Marketing

At last, someone else in the industry who (I think) is suggesting SEO needs a rebrand! SEO as a term is too limiting these days. It suggests that good search marketers have not evolved; that they remain stuck in an age where website optimisation and link building were the main activities of a search marketer. That’s no longer the case. Search marketing has evolved and with it the best search marketers have done likewise by offering new and creative services, such as advice in social media, PR and creation of content, such as video. Are these strictly speaking SEO activities?
Not only that, SEO is also a ‘tainted’ term. It has a bad name mainly due to the many examples of bad practice cited above. Therefore, if we are to rescue an industry damaged not only by this but also a huge amount of very unnecessary in-fighting, we need to move away from being known as SEO’s to something quite different where SEO is part of the mix, not the business definition.
I’m not sure what this term is but if you are calling yourself an SEO when in fact you are consulting across a much wider remit (i.e. copywriting, PR, rich media content, social media, networking, etc) then you are not an SEO, you are an Internet Marketer/Digital Marketer or something similar which is more in keeping with the true value you add.
If the leading agencies and consultants of this world begin to distance themselves from the ‘old school’ SEO terminology then over time, those practicing only ‘traditional’ (and often shady) SEO may just gradually be pushed to one side.

This is a great post..thank you sharing it..

“…All small business owners want SEO to be a process and it can be…”

I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not just small business owners – it’s all business owners.

SEO is a process, and as the industry matures, it will be exciting to read more about how people have turned SEO into a process.

A defined and repeatable process will help avoid/skip the dodgy techniques some people are using to solve problems and help SEO team identify and prioritze actions that have the best ROI.

“And to top it off, the guy actually left all of the links within the content that was pointing to the site they he had stolen the content from.”


Nicely done! Superb guest post Kate. I agree with alot of what you are saying and what you are saying actually ties into some things that I am doing. Expect an email.

great article Kate.

i hope i don’t get in trouble for this…

signed up client in may.. they are a fortune 500 (anymore detail would identify them, but they are higher up in the 500… *wink)

got notify within the last week or so (again being vague) that all the “link pages” and the commented out text blocks have been removed from all 12 of the websites we are doing SEO on…

they kept wondering why we had not added any stuff to the sites that were clear…

i showed them google’s cache and the linkpages and hidden text still showing up and said.. “when this is gone we can work”

of course everyone has had the client that wanted to do SEO on their “kickass flash site” that had one URL.. the domain.. for all 100 “pages” of content and couldn’t understand why they had to rebuild their website..


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