I was at McDonalds recently and noticed the writing on the bag: “Made with 100% Real Beef.” And then something to the effect of “And with a number like that, you can’t get any better.” Reminds of the breakfast cereals that are made “with” 100% real honey– meaning that they have a giant vat of cereal and high fructose corn syrup, and someone with a squeeze bottle squirts in a few drops of 100% real honey. After all, it’s made “with” 100% real honey, beef, leather, or whatever– as opposed to being made “of” that item.
Whether marketing and advertising are just different shades of lying is a philosophical debate. But what’s not a question is the number of charlatans out there fleecing clients on PPC and SEO. This is not just run of the mill “we’ll get you to #1 in the search engines” kind of talk— these are professionals that charge insane rates. One our our clients is a major fast food chain that spends 6 figures a month with us on a full range of PPC, SEO, email, and webmastering. We partnered with an SEO company that in one of first meetings attempted to claim that he could at-will stop people from linking to the client’s site. When one of our guys asked how exactly this could be done (since I could just create a blog post and link to the site), he said that it was proprietary technology. After 2 1/2 months of keeping this guy on, with no improvement on rankings, we got rid of him– not before he attempted to ask for more fees, and also trumpeted the value of his RSS network, and 3 way linking strategy. His final gasp was to mention using Twitter as one of the keys to driving more leads for the client. It wasn’t a bad run for this guy, who makes a living getting first page rankings on no-traffic terms.
So if you want to make an easy living fleecing corporate clients, do this (I’m not kidding– this is so easy):
* Proclaim that you are an expert at SEO: create a local meetup group (with 2 other conspirators) and say that you founded the “SEO experts” group in your city. Join a few professional organizations, such as SEMPO (yes, they are legit). Put up a canned website with huge logos for Google, Yahoo, MSN, Verisign and other networks– saying that you are partners with them in advertising. List yourself in a few directories.
* Get a few clients: Word of mouth marketing is easy. You won’t be keeping clients very long, so make sure you have a steady inflow of new clients to replace the ones who find out they’re getting fleeced. Don’t have references? That’s okay– mention that your clients are confidential. After all, you wouldn’t want other clients to know about what we’re doing for you, right? In your initial client meeting, spend the whole time talking about 301 redirects and 200 status codes– sound ultra technical, especially if you can’t actually program. Don’t worry, the client doesn’t know how to program either, so your cover will hold.
* Create ranking reports: Using your proprietary technology (just pay for a subscription at seomoz.com or seobook, create a monthly ranking report on terms that you choose. The key is to choose terms that have no traffic and nobody else is competing for. Choose 4 and 5 word search phrases– go for “large, custom blue widget manufacturer Los Angeles”, not “widget” or “blue widget”. Claim that the longer terms are “higher relevance.” When the client asks for how long it will take to get results, say that nobody really knows the search algorithms except Google and Yahoo themselves– and that anyone who makes firm promises is a charlatan. This excuse will buy you lots of time.
* Set up a few wordpress sites: Using those search terms you listed, buy the domains. To flush out this snake oil peddler mentioned above, we ranked on franchise review site. Within a couple days, you’ll be on the first page of Google for that term– if not in position 1. If you’re sophisticated with programming, auto-generate a bunch of fake content by scraping other blogs. Or follow what bluehatseo.com has to say about this. Not needed— buying a few domains and putting up free wordpress templates is sufficient here.
* Proclaim victory!: Whew, it’s been a LOT of hard work, but look– we got a #1 ranking on these 5 terms. If you want to get more mileage out of it, do it with lots of fanfare and spread out the results over time. If you deliver these results right away, they’ll think it was easy. Go on vacation for a few weeks, then come back and proclaim victory. If there’s someone who’s smart about SEO in the client meeting, who asks questions about whether those terms have traffic, babble on about how you have to take a holistic approach to SEO and that many factors will affect rankings.
* Collect fees as long as you can: If you’re lucky, nobody will ask any questions. But if they do, be ready with these excellent comebacks:
o Why aren’t rankings on my main terms going up?: “Sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back”– fluctation in results is perfectly normal. Your site needs more unique content. We’re going against some strong competitors here, so it will take some time.
o But PPC seems to be driving traffic and leads, not SEO: PPC is a short-term solution that is bleeding you money. The real pro’s recognize that organic results are more trustworthy to users– and getting in naturally will save you money over time.
o I don’t understand what you’re doing– in fact, I don’t think you’re doing anything: There are many factors involved here that only trained professionals like myself will understand. I go to a lot of conferences to network with other people like me who don’t know anything either. We have a proprietary RSS network and series of blog sites– I’m sure you can understand why we don’t divulge trade secrets.
o I don’t see any more inbound links than when we started: Okay, the client must have talked to someone else, since they didn’t know what an inbound link was before. You know you don’t have much longer with this client. Throw a Hail Mary: “I don’t think we’ve been giving your account the proper level of service here. What I’d recommend is that we move you to a premium package at $Xk more per month, which will allow us to put more effort on your initiatives.” If they don’t go for that, try to talk about social media optimization and the power of online comunities, Web 2.0, twitter, and such. As a final effort to block this other firm that the client has been talking to, try to scare him with the risks of black hat SEO, that they could get banned FOREVER.
What’s sad is that this is pretty close to what has happened at a major client– the difference being that we actually put up the wordpress sites to reveal the trick. I know– it’s bad etiquette to expose the tricks that other magicians use. But someone is eventually going to realize that it’s a magic show and that the coin was behind your hand all along– and that there was a hidden compartment with a mirror hiding what was in that supposedly empty box. Well, in this case, the box actually was empty.
If you are an SEO who is making money doing what I’ve described above– kudos to you for living by your wits. But now it’s time to learn some real skills to place in your bag of tricks.