In an era of flaming high tuition rates, it's enough for students to cover their own bills, let alone fund the education of others. Kentaro Roy, president of Kentaro Web Design + SEO and funder of a scholarship at EMU, writes about being a student entrepreneur and keeping young talent in-state.
Unethical SEO: A Case Study and Cautionary Tale
As detailed in the first post about SEO in Michigan, the SEO industry in our state is still very young. And that makes it very easy for part-timers, moonlighters, and scammers to take advantage of the growing numbers of businesses who want to use SEO as a business tool. There are some very good, professional agencies out there, but unfortunately we've heard too many stories like Andrew's.*
Andrew is an appeals attorney working out of Ann Arbor, and he had been working with an SEO agency for several months when we met him. He was concerned because it seemed he was paying hundreds of dollars a month for nothing: he wasn't seeing any results, and we later found out that four months of SEO had only sent three visitors to his website. In fact, Andrew had made a separate website for his business on his own, and that website (with zero SEO) was ranking better and receiving more traffic than the site he was paying the SEO agency to promote.
It turns out that his SEO company told him that he was ranking for ‘hundreds of keywords', but upon closer examination we learned that the keywords he was ranking for were not competitive at all, and received little to no search volume. So Andrew's website was ranking for keywords that nobody was actually searching for. Their work had provided him with very little value, and he had paid what comes out to over a thousand dollars per visitor.
We participated in several conference calls with Andrew and his agency, to help him figure out just how much he was getting out of their service. The longer we spoke with them, the more obvious it became that Andrew's actual ROI was next to nothing. The representative we spoke with was evasive, and couldn't tell us more than "SEO takes a while to gain traction" and that "Andrew's site was ranking for hundreds of keywords". He is no longer working with that agency, and was even able to get some of his money back from them when he canceled their services. He isn't a client of ours, but we were happy to help him get out of a bad situation.
Unfortunately, it's very easy for business owners who are too busy to do their own independent research to get taken in by these types of companies, who may say things that seem promising (like "you're ranking for hundreds of keywords" or "we'll make you rank #1 in a week".) That sounds great, but how many keywords your website ranks for is not important, because Google associates keywords with others that are closely related. So even if you were only theoretically targeting one keyword, you could also rank for several others that are closely related. Also, a keyword that is not competitive and has no search volume is not worth your time. And you should never trust a company that says they can get your site to rank first for any keyword within a week (or even within a year)--no one can guarantee number one rankings within a set amount of time.
Unethical SEO companies will tell you things that sound like good progress is being made, but actually mean nothing for your business. If you're working with an SEO company, it's worth your while to do a little research and ask questions. Most SEOs will be happy to answer their clients' questions and clearly outline the results of their work for you. And if they aren't, consider that a red flag.
Our state's SEO industry is a young one, but that doesn't mean that Michigan-based businesses should have to deal with unethical companies taking advantage of the situation. Like any other investment, a little research can go a long way when selecting an SEO company to work with. Don't hesitate to ask the following questions when shopping around for an agency:
1. How will the progress and any results be reported to me?
2. How will you change my website to optimize it?
3. What information do you track, aside from rankings? Will you be tracking conversions and performing ongoing keyword research?
4. Will I retain complete access to my website during and after your work?
An ethical SEO company should be able to answer these questions fully, and provide you with regular reports. Don't settle for less!
*name changed to protect individual's privacy