SEO’s are going to end up more hated than traffic wardens and estate agents

I’m as guilty of anyone of using a headline full of hyperbole then writing an article much more reserved, but in this case I’m being completely honest. Unless the SEO industry does something fast we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where we’re as disliked as a profession as traffic recruiters, estate agents even traffic wardens.

I run a little website to promote a little sideline I have in wedding dj-ing. It isn’t much, has average SEO, but it gets me enough enquiries that I can convince my wife I don’t need to get rid of my PA, Records and DJ equipment.

A tiny site with very little traffic yet every couple of days I get emails from people asking for or offering payment for links. A little aggravating I’ll be honest but not the end of the world.

Far more frustrating is the phone calls from companies who’ve noticed I’m not doing very well on Google and offering me there services. Normally I hang straight up on these people and leave it at that but the other day caught me while I was waiting for my wife outside a shop, so I took the call.

If the frequency of these calls on it’s own isn’t enough to ruin our reputation what they promise certainly is. What they were saying was hugely misleading and unethical.

They started the call with “Hi it’s Michael calling from mumble mumble Google”

I replied from “You’re calling from Google”

“No not Google just Company X who are an Official Google Supplier?”

I followed with “A what sorry?”

“We’re an official reseller of Google”

In this exchange I can only assume he meant he was calling on behalf of a company with Google Adwords Professional Status, but if I’d believed his first statement, as many people would, I could easily have thought he was calling from Google.

A little bit cheeky or damn misleading?

Then we proceeded to have a chat about their £99 pound a month service which guarenteed first place listing. I asked whether it was pay per click, he assured me not. I asked whether it was the natural search listings? No it wasn’t there. Maybe something in Google Local? No. After a few more questions he admitted it was where the PPC listings are but it wasn’t charged on a per click basis.

At this point I mentioned what I did for a living, and he went a bit quiet. It would have been tempting to go off on one but the bloke was just a call centre jockey who no-doubt was only following a script, so I resisted.

I suppose you could argue maybe companies could charge a set fee for PPC regardless of spend, but the way they evasively tried to deny it was PPC left me pretty concerned about their moral compasses.

So what can we do? Everyday thousands if not millions of business owners are being contacted in this well being mis-sold something I wouldn’t even describe as SEO, some who sign up will do doubt feel their getting value for money but my gut feel is most will end up feeling ripped off and mislead. And quite rightly they’ll associate those feelings with the industry as a whole.

I think Google need to be more proactive in working with people like the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK to inform people what SEO & PPC is and help them avoid getting ripped off.

And if there was a decent trade association for search marketers it should be spending it‘s time and money educating other trade bodies about the tricks carried out by these pranksters.

Plus each and every search marketer has an obligation to explain what they do to their friends and family, to help them understand. No more getting away with the I work on the internet to avoid explaining it!

About Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is Creative Director at SiteVisibility and specialises in achieving natural search results and producing link-worthy online content, working with a variety of brands including the RSPCA & uSwitch.

29 thoughts on “SEO’s are going to end up more hated than traffic wardens and estate agents

  1. Truth. This industry will never be rid of the quacks, snake-oil salesmen, and scam artists, unless we help educate the public about what we do (and what we don’t do).

    I have noticed an increased awareness among potential clients about what SEO can and cannot do, which is an encouraging sign. But we’re not there yet – far from it.

    It’s one of the reasons I keep blogging – to help fight the spread of misinformation and FUD.

  2. Nice article – we’ve had some clients reporting that Google has rang them to arrange PPC ad’s – it shocked me that it was “google” calling them – i thought – well maybe – but ive never heard of it (this guy is only a 2 kw client) so not like we are spending a fortune on them…

    Thanks for the read – im glad you posted this! they too tried to sell in the PPC but not PPC listing – i was like – well your pos 1 in the naturals – so if you want to buy some ppc, we can do it for less – they did! it drives less than the pos 1 natural…

    Im happy this fake google called them – as we then got a couple more bucks outa the client in the end – but too true the snake oil salesmen are out in force it seems!

    Notbaly – it was only when we slapped the website services by – ont heir website that clients began to report that ppl are ringing them – must be those “can i speak to the BT line holder” trying a new angle.

  3. As with a lot of digital things, SEO suffers from the fact that ‘anyone’ can be an expert. This is due to it having the no real qualifications needed status.

    This is something which needs to change – but how can it? The industry is centered around competition with Google who have the ultimate power.

  4. I agree with you Kelvin! There’s a lot of crooks and shady sales men out there, including in Holland.
    There’s a few medium sized companies in Holland which use aggresive sales tactics to corner their unknowing clients.
    To often I’ve come across companies that are SEO-damaged goods. You need to convince them you ARE a decent SEO.

    I think knowledge transfer and transparancy are key during these times.

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only person narked with these people, what do we do about it? Why is it none of the SEO trade associations have never really taken off…

  6. Kelvin, maybe because SEO is ‘too far away’ for many? Though I must say in Holland the IAB has made a good effort. Maybe we should broaden it and take a look at combining search and social into one trying to deal with these ‘cowboys’, social will be running into the same problems I think.

  7. I think maybe we require another SEOASS session. Perhaps shifting from the accreditation section, we should work on figuring out how to give SEMPO teeth or get the IPA or some other body involved and either regulate the industry or simply get people to start lawsuits for misselling or similar stuff and for those without insurance it’ll teach them a lesson.

    When I was in Ontario something we had was a small but strong industry body where you submitted your credentials and you could purchase your insurance through them. If you weren’t part of them, insurance premiums were extremely high.

    What we need to establish is a minimum edication level, an apprentinceship recignition and a grandfather clause for hose working in the industry more than x years.

    Well… let’s get to it then!

  8. It’s horrible, isn’t it? I was at a wedding recently, sitting with a friend of mine who is a town planner. A guest sitting next to her, whom we didn’t know beforehand, told her that “her sort shouldn’t exist” due to the restrictions or whatever that they put on construction plans. Never mind the good work she and her colleagues are doing in helping the Olympic preparations, etc. They “shouldn’t exist”. She was visibly a bit shocked, so I told her a bit about how our industry “enjoys” the same reputation. We’re not alone, but it still sucks that a) cowboys and scammers exist, and b) the public ends up with a distorted view of what *all* of us do.

    I wrote about dodgy SEO salesmen a few years ago at SEOmoz: My dad’s blog still receives link exchange emails and offers of SEO services. Note that I view this as very different to advertising requests or honest pitches, where the nature of the arrangement is very clear. Too many people try to hide what they’re actually proposing or what they don’t know.

    I got a link exchange email on Friday. I replied to the guy today after reading this. I just kind of want to see what they suggest 🙂

  9. Totally agree with you.

    My mate is a lawyer, and it’s the same in his field, he gets bunched with the call centre monkeys who ring up people who have accidents bothering them. Of course, he gets hate because people don’t disassossiate those who do the work to those who sell it (through fair means or foul).

    The problem is that trying to break down what we do into simple talk over a pint terms to friends (include the keywords on the page, build links to the page) does leave it to people having a go, which leads to them ruining their website with copy that doesn’t read correctly & spamming forums etc.

  10. I mean it’s always for someone outside a profession to fully appreciate the complexity and hard work that goes in a skill. But I’m starting to get very concerned that if you tell someone you’re a SEO they’ll instantly associate you with the fly-by-nights.

    Is it a job for SEMPO? I appreciate they’ve got a tough job, but it seems they really struggle to keep much momentuum going….

  11. Don’t worry you are not alone in this Kelvin. This is something that bridges “the pond” and is running rampant in the US as well. The best that I have come up with is to publish the emails & comments and point out that these are not the companies you want to be doing business with.

    Even though business owners may not know the intricate details about how search marketing works they are still consumers who know how to use a search engines. So when the business owners do get contacted by a snake oil salesman they tend to hit the search engines looking for info about that company or individual. If our content pointing out they are not worthy appears, the business owners tend to be very much appreciative. I have received a bit of positive feedback on my blog whenever I post an “outing” of a spammer/snake oil salesman.

    At the moment we are a self policing industry and we will stay that way because it is truly doubtful search marketers on a global scale would get behind a regulatory commission. Just the way it is.

  12. Yeah, so sad – but true. It’s the same in Germany every day in and out. Drives me nuts. But… on the other hand if people come to your company they probably do have trust in what you do? So in this case it doesn’t hurt too much – but genrally looking at the “industries” reputation you’re completely right. It doesn’t help…

  13. I think this is no different than any other industry where consumers have such a poor understanding of the facts. If the SEO industry started a little public education campaign – one that identified the common practices of the worst offenders and then informed the public to watch out for these behaviors – we could make a dent in this problem.

  14. To be fair its not just the spammy 3rd world call centres causing chaos in SEO, theres also an issue with larger agencies taking the p#ss with a wide variety of sins. So its not just SMB’s and individual people ending up with bad experiences, corporate people are also getting a negative viewpoint on it. Additionally you’ve also things like the “TopSEOs” issue happening.

    I’d say Google and the others have to really work with the IAB (or at least pick one like SEMPO/IAB or have them work together) so that there is one recognised body, similar to CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing). Doesnt stop 100% but does reduce it… problem is its not really in Googles interest is it?

  15. had same type of call from offshored call center for wpromote..


    we actually use this for clients..

    “if someone is calling you about SEO.. they are not the person to choose”

  16. Rob and Judith – we regulated the SEO industry in London already. Did you not get the memo? We meet every few months, as long as we get someone to sponsor the beer tab.


    In all seriousness, regulation isn’t going to immediately stop this, or have an impact in the short term, because 1) dodgy companies will keep at it, and 2) it takes a while for an authoritative body to gain the reputation to act as a go-to for people researching potential vendors. We’re also going to wind up going around in circles trying to figure out what a verification process should be. That’s a different argument though, really.

    I’ve actually never had a situation in real life where someone has reacted badly to me telling them what I do.

  17. This is such a prevalent and growing problem within our industry. There are several excellent ideas listed here for accreditation and policing our industry – all strong indicators that we will survive.

    I also think we can make a “grass roots” change at our own client and prospect levels. When I meet with potential clients, the first thing I do is walk them through what I call “SEO 101” and I explain to them that whether they buy my services or another firms, they should be an educated buyer. I also offer them links and resources to do some digging on their own. I find this an effective way to build credibility and also to dispute the “crooks” without standing up and calling them crooks. When they understand how involved truly effective SEO is, suddenly the guarantees and other silly tricks start to appear as silly to the prospects.

  18. Your headline clearly states SEO and the product some scammy company is trying to sell you is based on AdWords/PPC.. dont really get it 🙂 im sure there are some good examples of SEO though, but this post does not cut it..

  19. This is very interesting… And I see it every day also. The best is when you actually *ARE* and SEO firm and you are getting calls from competitors saying “we can help you rank on page 1.” And yes, I think we’ve all gotten those calls from people saying “we’re from Google” when they are not…

    Isn’t this all just a symptom of a very very new industry? I know many inside the SEO community don’t feel it’s very new – but by any reasonable business standard, it is new… Heck, Google is a “new” company. And SEO has largely been built on the shoulders of Google… I think this stuff will fade as people realize just how competitive it is selling SEO.

  20. @Robert Nicholson: You hit it on the head. It is NOT in Google’s interest. Think about it. The current system has thousands of SEO’s running around creating great content… When you’re a monopoly, why would you want to change.

  21. I get contacted all the time with promises to be #1 for keyword X (when I am already #1). In my case they are primarily emails sent to various sites I own on the side. Full time, I do SEO, so I find it amusing, but I can certainly see how some could be taken for a ride. These scammers need to stop – just not sure how to stop them…

  22. I’ve seen firsthand how one particular company likes to operate and pimp out their PPC service. It starts with the random cold call, quickly followed by the immortal ‘we work for Google’ spiel.

    Their PPC campaigns were/are all targeted locally (despite what they may tell you over the phone!). For the ‘equivalent price of afew coffees per month’ you’ll be targeted with such keyword beauties like, ‘wedding dj west sussex’ and ‘birthday party dj Berkshire’.

    We almost had dealings with one company who wanted to use us to process their online payments. Previously these were done manually via customer credit card details stored within an Excel file! What? Customer fraud or data protection procedures? Nope.

    As pointed out by Judith, I believe that regulation would be a strong deterrent. One mention of our own legal requirements from them and our ‘terms and conditions’ had the above company scurrying away under the nearest rock!

  23. I already had an adwords account that was working quite well when I signed up to one of these £99 (+VAT but you diddnt get that far) They guaranteed first place listings for 5 keywords. I thought for 99.00 that was pretty good. It turned out that 80-90% of the time I wasn’t being listed. They couldn’t prove how many hits I was getting so I left.

    I think they just sell you £20 worth of adwords and bang on an extra £80 for them selves!!!!

  24. Kevin from my experiance agency side, DJ’s are a spammy sector.

    @jane sounds like your mate ran into a property developer with delusions of grandure the dragons den has a lot to answer for 🙂

  25. Clients will do well to steer clear of any provider or company that claims to be associated with Google. There are also vendors out there that offer SEO services using Black Hat tricks–these play dirty and are quite upfront about it when selling services. The thing with SEO is that, unlike other industries, it’s not as well-regulated. You only have the search engines keeping an eye on SEO specialists.

  26. This post says so much about Brighton! A city where every one is a DJ, Blogger, Traffic Warden or Estate agent. I think i might just give up and become a Yoga instructor.

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