Of Dangerous SEO Consultants and Commoditization

I’ve been watching the evolution and commoditization of search engine optimization with great interest in the last year or two as it’s a profession that is easily tackled, though tricky to master. Problem is, unlike architecture or plastic surgery, it’s hard for the customer to differentiate between an amateur with a toolkit and a top professional who knows not just the “what” but the “why” too.
Case in point: I get at least 2-3 of these every day:

“What would a huge increase in relevant traffic mean for your business? If I could greatly increase the amount of customers who are interested in your products and services, wouldn’t you be interested”

By their frequency, I can only conclude that this is an effective method of marketing a service, even as they always have a return address of Gmail or some other public email service, not an actual SEO firm.
So who the heck hires a search engine optimization firm that doesn’t even have the ability to promote itself to the top of the search engine? Isn’t that like going to an unlicensed, uncredentialed surgeon, hoping for the best?
dog with laptopThen again, a quick Google search for “become an SEO consultant” yields 1.5 million matches, and there are over 200,000 matches for “download seo toolkit” (you can also download free virus creation apps, but that’s another topic). In an industry where there’s no external indication of expertise, however, isn’t it inevitable that every opportunist and their dog would offer up SEO consulting?
That’s the commoditization I’m talking about: when products or services differentiate based on price because they’re all basically the same regardless of vendor. So do you ask around and find an SEO consultant, or do you respond to one of these goofy queries like the one I listed above?
I teach Search Engine Optimization classes at Boulder Digital Arts too, so perhaps I’m part of the problem: what I know about SEO I’ve learned from talking with people, reading documents, and years of experimentation. Does that make me an expert? Or, as some people have suggested, have we moved away from the age of the expert and instead into a time when everyone has some knowledge and it’s all about finding those that are far enough along that knowledge continuum to help you out?
In my defense, I will share that I start out each class by pointing people to Google’s own Webmaster Guidelines and say that everything we’ll discuss is out of that information. If someone wanted to, I suppose they could then get up and leave, if they’re a real self-motivated person. So far, that hasn’t happened!
So much of SEO is just common sense anyway: good sites linking to your content and clear on-page layout — including titles and headlines — are critical to your position in the search results. Don’t care about people finding you when they search for your product or service? Then you’re in a very small group. Vanishingly small. Literally.
But with SEO consulting as a commodity, as a professional service that might well be delivered by amateurs or opportunists with a rudimentary toolkit and a gift for sales, there is a problem: bad SEO can hurt you.
It’s something that few people in the SEO space acknowledge, but if you hire the wrong people and they put into place tricks, sneaky code, and other prohibited tactics, perhaps because they simply don’t know any better, you can indeed be kicked out of the search engine forevermore. Think about that.
The consequence of picking a bad SEO consultant is therefore potentially dire, and yet junk queries like those I receive every day suggests that people are indeed doing that for their online businesses every day. That’s a dangerous disconnect and one that can cost you a lot more than not having the ranking you desire.
Be honest with me here, have you ever responded to one of these “we can get you top ranking in the search engine” queries? And what kind of results did you have?

4 comments on “Of Dangerous SEO Consultants and Commoditization

  1. Dave,
    Well stated.
    The marketing technique by bad SEO consultants that drives me crazy is when we have a booth at a trade show (or other event) and about a dozen SEO consultants come up to me and say, “I looked at your web site and it sucks. I can blaa blaa blaa… for you” I figure this is a learning opportunity, so I ask, “What are we doing wrong and what would you change? What special insights do you have about SEO that will convince me to use your services?” To each of their basic suggestions, I usually reply, “That’s pretty basic – and even my shoe-string web marketing staff is already doing that.”
    Where it gets interesting (and dangerous to the SEO novice) is when the creative SEO suggestions start coming out. Many of these consultants have some pretty wild suggestions that will cost you lots of money and probably produce little results. Note: This is fertile ground for a consulting practice where it is easy to make claims of dramatically improved performance – but it is nearly impossible to measure it.
    In my start-up, I got both great advice and very destructive advice from consultants in areas where I was not an expert. My input is: 1) SEO is knowledge that every business leader should understand – and figure-out on their own as an ongoing part of their business education. 2) When using a consultant (maybe to get up to speed on SEO or to take your SEO to a new level) always be asking, “Does this make sense?” and “How can I measure if this is working?” and “How can I confirm this change with a second opinion?”. Also look for consultants that are willing to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question – and I’m not sure if anyone knows the exact answer – but let me share what I hear on that topic and my opinion.” My financial adviser says this to me a lot and I leave our meetings knowing I picked the right guy.
    Hope this helps.
    Scott Dalgleish
    Blog: http://www.90PercentDone.com
    http://www.PhaseIVengr.com

  2. Hi This is really a nice and informative article. I think SEO is very closed. Search Engines have not revealed lots of their so called ‘secrets’. When you start learning it there are changes to get misguided due to inappropriate material available.
    I think the best thing is experimentation, though it take lots of patience.

  3. Your absolutely right. What makes a bad SEO is the technique, well I rather say it as a the method use in optimizing; if the method is a black hat then you better be ready packing your things, cause if a search engine detects this discrepancies you’ll be sure to be ban. What makes a good SEO is the using the white hat method which confirm to the basic guidelines which search engines disclose of.

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