10 Things Most SEO Consultants Hate

Mar 14, 2013 at 12:09pm ET by Trond Lyngbø

Having spent over ten years as an SEO consultant, I’ve gathered a list of “top ten challenges” (or, as I think of them, my pet peeves) about the industry and our clients.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences to share with our community. I’ll go first, and list out 10 things that challenge and push SEO consultants to come up with their very best efforts.

1. Fascination With Quick Fixes
Our clients, normally savvy business owners, are strangely driven by the urge for “quick fixes” in their SEO. Even though they understand the complexity of SEO and the potential benefits from getting it right, many just want a quick win.

My clients are evaluated on their quarterly or annual results. Even though my convincing pitch with fact-based reasoning demonstrates that they will double revenue from organic search by taking a long-term approach and working on a 24- to 36-month timetable, I still see resistance. They don’t like this. They want faster results. They prefer 12 month horizons.

Often, I’ll get anxious client emails before board meetings. They’ll break down our organic traffic goal into a 12-monthly figure, get pretty graphs drawn, and then discover (to their dismay) that the traffic we’re receiving is nowhere near what we “agreed upon at our initial discussion.”

Businesses should understand that organic search is important, and it cannot be rushed. Quick fixes may deliver quick wins, but it is unreal to expect them to be sustained and long-lasting.

2. ”But My Competition Does…”
One of the toughest questions I’ve had to field begins with, “My competitors are doing _____ , so why can’t I?”

Many sites ignore Google’s guidelines and exploit loopholes in the search giant’s algorithms. They indulge in practices like shady link-building, exact match domains, ranking on duplicate content, and so on. In the near term, sometimes, these techniques help them outrank other businesses.

As an SEO consultant, I get frustrated at hearing Google’s never-ending string of (rarely implemented) rosy promises and dire threats to discourage webmasters against such practices.

In Norway, we have 5 million citizens. That isn’t many. But when I’m responsible for SEO strategy at some of the biggest, highest-traffic sites in the country, I am frequently left red-faced at Google’s lack of effective responses to such under-handed and crooked tricks to game search rankings. My personal opinion is that Google isn’t quite good at filtering out low-quality content in Norway. Even when I report poor-quality sites, nothing happens.

There are times when I even feel sorry for my clients. Their competitors have been using tricky techniques for years, and yet nobody stops them or penalizes them for such actions. They make a lot of money through their shenanigans. On the other hand, my clients are practicing ethical and white-hat SEO, adopting best practices and respecting guidelines, only to find themselves outranked by low-quality sites. It’s frustrating for SEO consultants. Have you ever felt the same, or had similar experiences?

3. The Conundrum of “Hourly Rates”
So, I’m called to bid on an SEO consulting project. I make a presentation, hand over my proposal… and a few days or weeks later, my prospective client will call to complain that my hourly rate is too high. They love everything else about my proposal, but try to negotiate a lesser rate, saying that my competitors claim they can do it at a lower price.

Well, that’s true. They can. And it’s because they have a different approach and attitude toward SEO. Instead, wouldn’t it be nice when clients look at how much more money I’m going to add to their bottom-line? At how quickly I can help them achieve their financial goals and targets? At how effectively I can help them grow their business?

Look, a good SEO consultant is so much more than just a technical specialist. A great SEO consultant is excellent with analytics. Armed with access to valuable data, a consultant can help with your business development needs, guiding you grow your business in new ways. It is meaningless to evaluate such value by “hourly rates,” yet we see it all the time. How do you deal with it?

4. SEO Cannot Compensate For A Poor Product
SEO can’t fix everything. I know that’s contrary to industry-driven myths, but hey! If your product, service or customer care are mediocre or just not “awesome,” you should fix that first before you call in the SEO guy (or gal) to get you more traffic.

SEO can amplify your business results. If you have a great offer which adds value to people, SEO will help you expand your reach and help many more people while making a bigger profit.

5. Learn To Say “No” More Often
I should follow my own advice! Sometimes I get a bad feeling when a prospective client calls for a meeting. Maybe he wants to switch agencies for the 3rd time in 2 years. He isn’t happy with his present SEO vendor, or recently had a confrontation, and so, wants to change consultants.

I’ve often found that these clients are impatient, frustrated, and difficult to work with. Any trivial thing can affect their behavior and attitude toward their SEO consultant. A sleepless night, a bad quarter, a rough review by their boss, and they’ll impulsively leap to random conclusions, second-guessing your judgment, and blaming everyone but themselves.

It’s a bad situation to be in, as a consultant. Such a client’s attitude can drain your motivation and mess up your mood. You have to promptly break off these relationships. Say “No” when you see it coming. Cry “Stop” when it begins with an existing client.

Yes, you may lose an account. But it’s still the right decision. Keeping on “energy vampires” as clients can have devastating consequences on the rest of your consulting business.

6. An Obsession Over Hit-Counters
People love “hit counters.” Ok, maybe hit counters isn’t the right way to describe this. But, many clients still place disproportionate emphasis on page views, search rankings and other such low-quality KPIs (key performance indicators).

None of these correctly reflect your business’ performance. You need to focus on the right KPIs. Ones that are actionable, and which contribute directly to bottom-line profitability. Those are the ones you seek to improve through your SEO strategy.

In many clients’ eyes, ranking is still king. But, SEO consultants understand that a site’s placement in the SERPs is only a rung in the ladder to business success. Without an acceptable conversion rate, more sales and higher profit as a consequence, even a #1 ranking on Google will be worthless.

7. SEO Is Still Icing On The Cake
A few business owners cherish a naive belief in the ability of SEO to transform everything and magically create results. So, they put off consulting an SEO expert until everything else is ready with their website development.

Unfortunately, when this poorly planned and constructed site generates sub-optimal results, fixing it will need expensive changes. It’s far better to involve an SEO consultant right from the planning phase so that all aspects of your commercial website will work in harmony and synchronize with other elements to deliver stellar results.

8. IT Consultants Can Fix Everything
It still amazes me that my family will call whenever they have trouble with their printer, PC, mobile phone, scanner, or have a virus problem — just because I’m an “IT Consultant.” Sometimes, they’ll even call for help with their TV, cable connection, or satellite dish!

It’s the same story at work, too. Clients don’t see a difference between a Web designer, Web developer, paid search expert, or SEO consultant. They figure that “If you’re an IT manager, you should be able to fix everything that runs on electricity.” Well, that’s not how it works!

9. ”Content Is Easy”
Sorry, it’s not. Unless all you need is to fill in some white space with text and stuff it with keywords.

Time and again, I hear clients saying they can handle content by themselves. I no longer go into raptures of delight when clients say they have a “good copywriter or writer on their staff.” Rarely, if ever, do those writers have a good understanding of SEO.

Whenever I’ve relied on these “inside experts,” I’ve been disappointed and ended up having to teach them how to do what’s needed. That also cuts into my SEO budget, wasting time that’s better spent on other SEO tasks. Does this sound familiar?

10. Getting Paid Per Link
When the SEO discussion turns to link building, the issue of buying links crops up. In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin update, it’s weird to even hear that businesses dare buy links from people offering “pay per link” deals.

This is risky, and I always turn down such requests from clients. But, some still go ahead with shady or black-hat link building techniques, and then blame SEO consultants when the ax falls on their business’ head.

So there. These are my pet peeves about being an SEO consultant. I’m sure there are many others you’ve faced in your career. Please go on and share them in the comments below. Let’s get some discussion going on these vexing problems and talk about how to solve them.

Domain names are a crucial element for capturing clicks and conversions from search results

A new study from Microsoft Research confirms what most SEOs have known for years—that domain names are a crucial element for capturing clicks and conversions from search results. Unlike what’s been published in most search marketing forums, however, this research was not focused on SEO techniques or search engine ranking algorithms, but rather on observed searcher behavior, offering insights about how people actually respond to what’s presented to them in search results.

The results of this research present a good news/bad news scenario for search marketers. The good news: If you have a credible, trusted domain name, you’ve got an advantage, as searchers really do pay attention to the URL in search results before deciding to click. And this is true regardless of the position of the URL on a search result page.

The bad news, of course, is that it’s more difficult these days to acquire “credible” domains now that most single or even double word domains are in use or reserved. Add confounding factors such as personalization, Google changing its core algorithm more than 500 times a year, and the fact that most searchers don’t move beyond the first or second page of results and you’ve got a major headache for most SEOs.

Nonetheless, the study is worth a close read for anyone wanting to understand more about how to capture the attention and clicks of searchers, thanks to its wealth of data generated by observing real people and their search behavior. Probably the most significant conclusion from the study:

Surprisingly, we find that despite changes in the overall distribution of surfaced domains, there has not been a comparable shift in the distribution of clicked domains. Users seem to have learned the landscape of the internet and their click behavior has thus become more predictable over time.

In other words, even if search result rankings change due to factors like personalization or algorithmic tweaks, searchers don’t seem to care. They’re demonstrating a clear preference now for credibility and trustworthiness in a domain name now over simple ranking on a search result page. This is the strongest evidence yet that I’ve seen that an obsession with ranking is not only futile, it completely ignores the reality of how your site attracts users.

Key takeaway for bosses/clients: rank really doesn’t matter, if you’ve got a quality (trustworthy) domain name.

The study also has merit for anyone doing paid search, and considering what display URL is most appropriate for an ad. While advertisers are always limited to a display URL that corresponds with a top-level domain, the additional keywords shown in the display URL may be crucial in getting searchers to click. Also, even if searchers don’t have favorable “domain bias” for your main site, it may be possible to secure another more favorably-perceived domain for your paid search campaigns that serves as a microsite that ultimately funnels searchers into your main domain.

The report is thick with math and numerous citations to related work, but it well worth the effort for anyone involved in competitive search marketing