This is going to hit 3 points My first post on BHW after being here for 8 months A rant about, you guessed it, consumer education (If you don't like potty mouth words, leave now) A call to action as to what we can do, if anything, to improve consumer education. As well as what I've done to combat these issues (great for N00bz and maybe some new tactics for some vets) Who is this for? It's for you & your failed leads. I want this to be something you send to people to protect them and increase the overall level of consumer education within the SEO industry. Why? So that when you get contacted by my failed leads you don't have to sit on Skype for 2 hours answering basic questions, you don't have to worry about the leads running off because someone else told them they'll get them to rank #1 in a week. The same goes for me, I don't have to go through this vigorous process because a lead can't Google things. If you were sent this link from an SEO let me be upfront. This isn't going to be a cuddled up piece of content that'll hold your hand while we walk through a field of flowers. This article is going to slap you on the wrist for your mistakes and educate you. I don't mean to hurt your feelings but I mean to get my point across and display the frustrations many SEOs feel. Who am I? Do you need to ask me who the hell I am? Heisenberg aside, I'm an SEO like many of you nice folks. I've been in the SEO game for 4 years and marketing for about 5 years. I first started with SEO when I was in high school, was out of the game for a bit when I started working for Corporate America (ew!), and then happily rejoined the game when I was in college and am happily still in the SEO world after I graduated. In total, I've serviced about 100 clients for SEO but around 200 if you count small SEO jobs that <1 month for small changes, audits, etc. I've had over 500 leads and have sent too many proposals to count. One thing I've noticed with: responses as to why I wasn't hired, failed leads, clients who have fired me, clients who I have fired, past clients, current clients, and even some digital marketing firms is that... CONSUMER EDUCATION FUCKING SUCKS I warned you about the potty mouth, so you can't be mad at me. From my experience, business owners start typically looking for an SEO/agency after Their webmaster tells them to hire an SEO -> Their webmaster tells them that they did basic onsite SEO and the business owner doesn't want to look stupid so they Google SEO They Google how to rank #1 in Google They look into non-specific digital marketing companies who also offer SEO by chance I will admit, that this hasn't always been the case in the past few years. Consumers (meaning business owners looking for SEO services) throw the abbreviation "SEO" around more often than before. To most, SEO is a magical thing that happens overnight if you pay someone $50 you'll rank #1 in Google for every search term you can think of. Wow, what a magically impossible dream. What exactly do consumers not understand? I'll break this up into a section about the following: How much SEO costs How long SEO takes to work How to hire a real SEO, not someone who will fuck you over Realistic SEO expectations What goes into SEO (onsite, offsite, social, links, algorithms, etc) What is white, gray, and black hat SEO When I first started to get annoyed with all the highly unrealistic questions/expectations from job ads, leads, or current clients my initial thought was "Wow, the SEO world is much smaller than I thought. It must be difficult to find this very basic information". Nope, Google any of those bullet points above and you'll find dozens of high-quality articles. The first time you ever had to hire a plumber did you just call the first search results and accept to pay their prices? If so, you're a dumbass. I mean that as kindly as I can but cmon you're already on Google how hard is it to search for "Average Plumber cost", "Does a plumber really need to work on my car to fix my toilet". Okay, the last one was a joke but it correlates. How do you know the plumber isn't just trying to rack you up on insane charges? Same goes for SEO. Do you even know what you're paying for?!? How much does SEO cost? Just because one SEO says they'll charge you $50/month and the other SEO says they'll charge you $500/month doesn't mean the cheaper one now will be cheaper in the long run. No, you'll have to hire me to clean up the last guy's mess. Not only did you have to pay him hundreds of dollars but now you have to pay me hundreds of dollars just to clean his mess up before I can even work on what needs to be done. I'm sure all those Chinese links really helped your small mom & pop store in the middle of Kansas. Don't get me wrong, the high prices don't always mean the world either. Company A may charge 3x the amount of freelancer B and get 10x the results, but can your company afford to take on that cost while you wait 6 months to see those results? Use your own due diligence. If your mechanic said it'll cost you $5 to fix your radiator, run/drive as far away from there as you can. On the other hand, if your mechanic said it'll cost you $20,000 to fix your radiator you should also get away from there. Either case: your judgment in mechanics could use some work. So, what should you pay for SEO? It depends, really. There are many factors such as: Are you hiring a company or a freelancer? Are you looking for the full SEM package or just some on/offsite work to be done? Are you in a small niche or are you trying to out rank Wall Street? Is your website 1 page or 100,000 pages? Are you looking to pay hourly or a monthly retainer? These are all questions to factor into what YOU think you should be paying for SEO work but here are the usual prices I see from US solo SEOs Hourly: $15-$50 Fixed (monthly): $300-$3,000 Now, these aren't always definite. I've had clients who are on a $3,000+ monthly retainer and that's because they wanted a lot of work to be done, they were in a highly competitive market, they were the largest company in their niche, and their website was well over 1,500 pages. I've worked with SEOs who charge $75-$100/hour but as I said, the above are averages I personally see. What you, as a consumer, need to look out for are huge outliers and ask for justification. Why is this person only going to charge you $3/hour? Even if they're from a country where the USD is much more valuable over there - if they were doing quality work they would still charge similarly to US SEOs. You're paying for expertise, not location. If they're charging you $50/month chances are their "work" is using automated software. Why is SEO so damn expensive? There's a lot that goes into making a website rank well (I'll outline some of this later) part of us being able to do our jobs is having the tools to do it well. SEO tools/software is expensive. Whether you're a white,gray, or black hat SEO you need tools to complete your job. I use dozens of tools per day which costs over $1,000/year and that doesn't include specific tools/services I purchase specifically for my individual clients. I have enough clients that the tool prices I pay compared to what I make isn't too much. If you want to hire an SEO for $300/month and they only have 1 client (not including you) that's a much steeper price to pay per client for tools. What we, as SEOs, need to do is prove our worth and worn every lead about low-quality work. Personally, I don't care if you're a white, gray, or black hat as long as your goal is to help your client succeed. Want to rank your client with link spam? Go for it, but do it in a way that works today. Not what worked in 2007 and the Google picked up on in 2010. Even if you lose the lead, inform the business what to look out for. How long Does SEO Take To Work? This is probably one of the most conflicting questions within the industry and I fully understand why a consumer wouldn't be able to answer this after hours of research. As SEOs we have different methods, we service different industries, and we focus our efforts in different areas. You can read articles about whitehat SEO and find out it takes anywhere from 1 month to 1 year to see results, WOW! That sounds promising. We may inform our leads how long it will take to see results but we almost never stop to explain why it takes that long to see results. Props to those of you who do, you are the real hero. For consumers: Let's go into some of the variables which determine how long it will take your website to rank General metrics (DA, TF, CF, Domain Age, AT profile, backlink profile, citations,etc) Niche Competiton Keywords (long tail, short tail) Location targeting (city, state, national) How much you pay ($300 for a retainer is cool but how much work is being done to fill that retainer) Type of SEO tactics used On average I think 6 months is a safe bet for whitehat SEO. 3 months for small niches and 8-12 months for high competition. That being said, it can take years to rank for certain keywords. Those are keywords you probably don't want to try and rank for. If an SEO says it'll take <1 month, run. If they can't answer the question, run. If they mention PR (Page Rank) being a ranking metric, laugh & run. To my fellow SEO's: Let's actually figure out how long it takes you to rank a client. Just because Joe's tactics take him 6-7 moths to rank his clients doesn't mean your tactics will too. Just because Moz says it takes 3-5 months doesn't mean that that's what it'll take you. The tactics you use and when you use them will vary your results. Take the time to do a case study, to compare data across clients, and to be your own SEO. Don't just listen to Joe and Moz because they have more experience than you. You also can't just give a general "It'll take 4 months" without knowing all the information I bulleted above. Does the client want to rank for a small town in Kansas or are they trying to rank nationally, is there budget $100 or $1,000, do the sell jeans made out of rain forest tree leaves or are they a new law firm? These are very important things to know to give an accurate estimate. You can propose an average but make sure you follow up with an adjusted time frame based on the info they provide. How to Hire A REAL SEO? 90% of my clients have a sob story about how they hired an SEO because they were cheap or because they ranked them #1 within a week (soon to crash back down into Oblivion) or even because they were sent a manual action. My heart goes out to them for how much they've lost and how much extra they had to pay me to fix the issues the last guys left behind but if you hire an SEO for $50/month you clearly haven't done much, if any, research. Why would you hire anyone for something that touches on every aspect of your business and its reputation without doing research first? You can, once again, Google "How to hire an SEO" or "Questions to ask an SEO" and you'll find hundreds of good questions to ask that'll also include why you're asking them and what you should expect as an answer. I may not agree with all the explanations some of these articles give but I largely agree with at least half of the questions in each article. Keep in mind that everyone has access to these articles so some (I'd say around 30-40%) of the SEOs I'm trying to help you avoid hiring have already read these articles and have a document they can copy & paste from when you ask these questions or have memorized key talking points for each one. Still, this alone can help you weed out up to 70% of bad SEOs. Don't stop there, add your own questions. These articles don't know your business, your financial situation, or the market you serve. These articles are a great starting point that'll allow you to take your first steps. Keep doing research and crafting your own unique questions. If you learn to run, you'll be able to detect a bad SEO with 90% accuracy. Even if they do use those copy & paste answers. To my fellow SEOs and to any & all future SEOs: You need to be able to prove that you're the real deal. Just because you are, doesn't mean that you come off that way to everyone. Don't just answer questions, elaborate. "Do you do X". Don't respond with 'yes' or 'no'. Explain why that's your answer. Don't use copy & paste proposals or standard cold call messages. Send a unique proposal based on the client. Obviously, if they don't tell you too much information there's only so much you can say to them but these clients are best to avoid anyway. My proposals are 75% the same (who I am, my expertise, past clients/results, skills) but I always have a unique paragraph or two about how I will help that specific client. Realistic Expectations for SEO Results Does this sound like you? How often have you heard a lead say this: "How soon until I'm on page/rank 1?" "How many sales will you make me?" - I have a story I'll share for this one. "I have a budget of $100" "How many links can you get me?" "This is what I want to rank for..." Consumers, please follow my advice: Research. Research. Research. These are things we laugh at you for. Not only does is make you someone's joke of the day to other SEOs (yes, this happens. A lot) it also shows those bad SEOs that you don't know what you're talking about and that you can be easily manipulated and taken advantage of. If you posted on Craigslist "How do I lock my car" with an image showing where your car is parked, chances are someone will open the door and take what they want. You posted that saying "Help, someone might be able to break into my car that's unlocked and parked at..." with the above questions you're essentially saying the same thing. "How soon until I'm on page/rank 1?" I spoke to this earlier with estimations. You'll also find that this is a common question to ask to vet an SEO. There are no guarantees that you'll be rank 1 no matter how much you spend or who you hire. "How many sales will you make me?" This is both a valid and non-valid question. SEO, done correctly, will generate sales. However, those sales are generated through higher search rankings, content traffic, backlink traffic, optimized conversion funnels, landing pages, etc. You're not hiring an SEO for the sole purpose of making sales. Yes, the SEO work should generate sales but there's a difference between a sales team and an SEO team. You could have a website that has a 100% conversion rate due to its amazing design and product but if all of your keywords rank on page 50 your sales will be limited. "I have a budget of $100" If you've read through this entire post so far then I hope you can answer this on your own. If hiring a cheap SEO is a really bad idea then so is offering SEOs a cheap price. Can you guess who'd be interested in this job? Not anyone you want. You may not be able to afford $300/month but if you can't at least afford $300 for 1 month of work then it's best to wait until you can. Also look into hourly. $20/hour for 5 hours a month is only $100/month which at a fixed price is more often than not, bad. Those who charge $20/hour successfully and have long term clients are usually quality SEOs. "How many links can you get me?" "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" - Google Penguin. Link building is an important part of SEO work. Whether you hire a white, gray, or black hat link building is a major part of their operation. The issue with this question is that it shows you're looking for quantity of links. Sure, 10,000 links sound good and if done right (link spam) can improve your search rankings. It won't however, replace how well a dozen high-quality links will do. Those spam links also won't generate any real traffic or sales. You'll get the rankings but only the organic benefits. Whereas high-quality links improve organic results (and their longevity), send you real traffic, and can produce sales. Link spam can be beneficial in some cases when done correctly. It can help you rank a lead generation site higher than your website but still send you the leads without risking a penalty from your website. Chances are that you're not looking for link spam. "This is what I want to rank for..." Unless you're a plumber, you wouldn't tell your plumber how to do their job. So unless you're an SEO, don't tell me how to do mine. There's a lot of moving parts that go into keyword research Search volume Competition level Relevancy Info keywords vs action keywords vs action-info keywords Current site metrics Current page 1 websites Exact match, partial match, and brand keyword Search location Etc By all means, ask to view the keyword research and make suggestions but don't demand that X, Y, Z be keywords you rank for without asking for data to support those keywords. Results are not going to be instant. SEO isn't a cost it's an investment and all investments take time to see a return. For my fellow SEOs: How can we manage expectations? Be upfront about how long it takes to see results and how you'll achieve those results. If a lead asks a bad question let them know it's a bad question AND answer it. "How many links can you get me?" Manage those expectations "this is how link building works..." "This is why you shouldn't focus on quantity of links..." What Goes Into SEO? This alone could be a 200-page book. Simple answer: more than you can imagine. Every year SEO becomes more complex. New algorithm updates, new user preferences, old techniques stop working, new techniques have little information (meaning it's harder to do maximize effectiveness). I'll just bullet some important ranking factors but there are hundreds more Conversion rate CTR Geo-targeting Keyword targeting AT profile Backlink profile Authority links Overall onsite optimization Web design Content Content length Content engagement Social media Social signals Brand awareness Brand reputation Title tags Header tags Internal linking External linking User metrics Mobile responsiveness URLs URL structure Citations Preferred URLs (WWW vs non-WWW) and so much more Those bullet points alone can take dozens if not hundreds of hours to optimize/ improve depending on the size of your website. That barely cracked the ice as to what goes into SEO. This is another reason as to why SEO isn't cheap. SEO isn't just about doing A, B, and C to get you to rank well. Each SEO campaign has to be specifically tailored to you based on your niche, budget, status, and competition. You're not the only one trying to rank #1 for your keywords there are other SEO's working for your competitors trying to rank them #1 or maintaining their already excellent rankings. Not only do we have to do the SEO work, we have to do it better than everyone else. How do we rank you? Math. Well, in essence yes. But we don't talk about it like that. Google chooses which pages rank where, for search results based on a multitude of extremely complex algorithms. Whether you hire a white or black hat SEO - we manipulate these algorithms to move your website higher. We carefully craft title tags based on wording, length, and structure to appeal to Google's algorithms along with everything else we do. These algorithms see hundreds of updates per year in which we must adjust our processes. Once in a while, there's a major algorithm update or a new algorithm all together which vastly changes the playing field. What is White, Gray, and Black Hat SEO? Almost no one actually does pure whitehat SEO. Why? It doesn't work. You can write great content for years and never get any noticeable mentioned. For a couple hundred dollars you can get onto editorials like The Huffington Post. That's a paid link, which is against Google guidelines. Almost all SEOs are gray hats for 2 main reasons: buying quality links and using PBNs. It has been a long time since I've talked to a pure white hat SEO that got results in under a year. The issue is just the way we define all of these types of SEOs. We call ourselves white hats but don't abide by the rules. Why? If a lead hears anything but "White hat" they run away. They wouldn't run if they knew the specifics. Do you want me to spend hours upon hours writing dozens of high-quality blog posts that more times than not get little attention and aren't mentioned anywhere notable? If you pay me hourly that's probably a couple thousand dollars you've paid me to write great content but that just doesn't go far. Or, for less than $500 (BHW Mods- this is not a sales pitch but will adjust this paragraph if needed. Those who inquire about this service will be ignored.) I can get you a link from The Huffington Post which will help your metrics, rankings, and traffic. Chances are, Huff Po is a much larger website than yours so that piece of content has much more potential than anything that goes on your blog. The other thing I mentioned is PBNs. won't get into specifics. If you want to, check out this post by T0mmy. Just know that they're not a white hat ranking technique but a whole lot of "white hats" use them. Some people say Black Hat SEO is illegal tactics such as hacking into a competitor's website. I largely agree but most people don't view "Black Hat" that way and just throw gray into black and call it a day. Let's talk about gray hat SEO. I personally consider myself a gray hat. I do high-quality SEO work both on and offsite but I also have no problem using a PBN, buying high-quality links/directories, or spamming the crap out of a lead gen/ social site. I've never landed a client a penalty and the results I've gotten are great. Gray hats find the balance between white and what we consider black hat. Clients and SEOs are so scared of penalties but they fail to realize that it's a lot harder to get one than you think. As long as you're careful and use common sense. It's also easier to get one than you may think. Is your website less than 6 months old? Chances are I can have it banned from Google before it see's it's 1st birthday. I'm not at all a fan of negative SEO but I can send your website a manual action faster than Google can on its own due to various reasons I won't get into. They're mostly listed on this site so do a couple Google searches, make me proud. Let's talk about black hat SEO. For all intents and purposes, we will use the current industry definition of black hat SEO which is anything considered "unethical" by Google or illegal. When consumers hear black hat they run for the hills. They assume any amount of black hat work will destroy their website, land them in jail, and start WWIII. That's barely an exaggeration. All of my clients at some point ask me "Why is this competitor ranking higher than me?". I'll run some reports and about 40% of the time, it's because they use black hat SEO. I won't get into it too much as this is on the white hat side of BHW but spam still works if done correctly. I'm not going to talk about negative SEO or illegal SEO. Don't do it. Side note: Negative SEO can be used ethically for reputation management. What can we do, as SEOs and as Consumers? As a consumer, just educate yourself. SEO is not some small niche hiding in a dark concern of the internet. SEO is the forefront of digital marketing and by far the 2nd best investment your business can make (the first being your website). This post was hopefully educational enough for you to leave the nest a fly by yourself. As SEOs, we need to educate our leads and clients so that we all benefit from the result. We can hear less about the horror stories of what the last SEO did, we can stop hearing basic questions that Google can answer, I can help educate your leads and you can help educate mine. Educating consumers will only increase its demand and the quality of clients. How Do I Combat These Issues? I pretty much explain to my leads & clients everything I've said here. I'll send supporting information from popular blogs like SEJ & MOZ. Consumers don't need to know to do SEO work just what goes into. We might know all the parts that go into a car but we don't need to know how to manufacture those parts or how to put them all together. Did I not include something? Do you have a funny story to share? What do you do to help educate consumers?