It’s been a couple of months since you started doing SEO marketing and the phone isn’t ringing the way you thought it would. Right about now, you are starting to wondering to if paying your SEO company is worth it. You begin to think, “Is my SEO company doing a good job or actually losing me customers?”
If you are the average business owner, there is one thing you hate not knowing. “Is this marketing expense actually working or is a complete waste of money?” It’s exactly what we wonder ourselves when we are trying a new marketing tactic.
James had similar doubts about his SEO company
Just recently, we met with a James, a business owner (of course this isn’t his real name but we changed it to protect his identity) in the construction industry that was beginning to have similar doubts in their SEO company. During the beginning of the meeting, James seemed glad to discuss how his current SEO company had done tons of work for his company and had even created extra websites (i.e. fishing nets) to catch more customers (i.e. fish).
He seemed happy with his current marketing company but still wanted to meet with us for peace of mind and validation that what was being done for their marketing strategy was actually working.
The one thing that James was absolutely sure of was that he was at the top of Google for the keywords that his potential customers would type into Google when it was time to use his services.
Once we built some rapport and trust, James finally felt comfortable in painfully admitting that even though he was certain that he was at the top of Google, and therefore in a position to out perform his competitors, his company revenue had dropped over 22% in the last year! Now 22% might not seem like a lot but when he told me that it was equal to over $125,000 in revenue that he did not generate in the last year, my ears sprang to full attention.
After educating James by focusing on SEO facts vs. myths, we were able to show him the huge leak that he currently had in his SEO strategy from his own computer (and we will share how exactly you too can audit your SEO company in under 30 seconds below).
Needless to say, when James saw the truth for himself, you could literally see his heart sink to the bottom of the ocean as reality showed it’s ugly face.
So… does SEO work?
It’s important that I address this right off the bat, especially after sharing James’ story since this is likely the current question rolling around in your mind.
In short, YES, SEO does work!
If it didn’t, all of our past clients wouldn’t have been customers for long if we didn’t help them grow their business by generating more customers for them on autopilot. It’s how one client was able to generate a $10,000+ contract and sell his business for 6-figures to a competitor 18 months later!
If it didn’t, new customers would automatically be divided equally between you and your competitors and you wouldn’t need to worry about marketing at all.
The truth is that people use Google because it gives people the answers that they are looking for and trust. For this reason, numerous studies have been done that show that being at the top of Google equals more customers.
Pretty impressive right? One thing we love about SEO is that it can be measured and tracked. It’s hard to argue with black and white data and facts. “So if SEO works… why was James’ company losing money?”
The reason that James had seen such a huge revenue difference was because his marketing company wasn’t delivering the results that he was misled to believe.
At one point James did enjoy the benefits of having great SEO results grow his business, but the fountain of money had run dry. Although James might have felt that the loss of business had happened in what felt like an overnight nightmare, there were clues there before starting SEO and during the SEO campaign.
Had he known what exact things to look in the beginning and during he could have continued to enjoy double-digit growth in 2016 and into 2017.
Tell Tale Signs of Bad SEO Companies
Although it is true that the results of effective SEO campaigns can take time there are situations in which you are no longer investing marketing dollars in a company that can bring you results. It is in the best interest of your business to figure out whether your current SEO company is going to actually help you grow your business, hold you back, or in extreme cases, actually put your business on the path to going out of business.
If your current SEO company put a lot of focus on how low their prices were, you might be working with a company that won’t bring you results.
Many SEO companies out there base their entire business model on quantity vs. quality. Their goal is to sell low-priced SEO Marketing Campaigns to as many people as possible. To this type of company, it doesn’t make sense to put in the quality work to actually deliver the results that business owners so anxiously and unfortunately will never see.
If they finally lose a client that has caught on to their scheme, they don’t worry too much about it because they expected to lose you as a client at some point and they’ve already sold more people on their company.
Ultimately, working with another company, even companies outside of marketing, that try to compete on price is a losers game. You’ll get far less quality in exchange for the promise of things that might never come.
One of the ways that SEO companies can prove to their customers that they are actually working on their SEO campaign, is to provide them with monthly reports.
Different companies report different metrics to prove that what they are doing is working and usually includes:
- Current ranking positions of your desired SEO keywords (remember that being #1 on Google can bring your website 1/3 of all Google traffic)
- Monthly website traffic breakdown (typically graphs showing that your monthly website traffic is growing each month)
- Monthly backlink breakdown (showing you what backlinks they have earned for your website since quality backlinks are seen like “votes” for your website in the eyes of Google)
Editor’s Note: We highly recommend that you check your monthly marketing reports from your SEO company so that you are at least aware of what is being reported and done in exchange for your monthly investment. If there is something you don’t understand, your SEO company should gladly help you better understand your reports.
If you don’t currently receive monthly reports of any kind, I’d ask for one from your current company. Note: if they weren’t providing them before, they might not have wanted you to see them in the first place. Definitely verify that what they are reporting is accurate.
It’s when business owners don’t double-check and verify the work being done for them that leads to many business owners paying a bad SEO company for a lot longer than they should have.
False SEO reports are generated to mislead business owners into believing that they:
- Were actually getting results by being shown fake reports
- Were actually gaining traction climbing the Google results towards the #1 spot
- The reports or metrics they were receiving mattered
- Could trust the beautifully designed report they were being given
If James had known how to verify the “great news” that he was being told and shown, he wouldn’t have experienced such a huge drop in business.
Knowing what clues to look for in your monthly marketing reports can save you thousands of dollars in wasted marketing dollars.
Breaking Down a Suspicious SEO Report
Typically, false or misleading reports will focus a lot on numbers and data that sound great but don’t actually translate into more customers or revenue for your business.
Shady Keywords + Rankings
One tactic that shady marketing companies can use is to report and track irrelevant keywords with their, surprise, 1st page rankings on Google!
This shady tactic might be part of your SEO report if you see:
Zip Codes – A zip code’s 5-digit number can be part of the keyword supposedly being “ranked”. If any zip code shows up in your SEO report it is already a red flag by our standards. Bad SEO companies can use the zip code trick to make it seem like your website is already ranking #1 for “lawyer las vegas 89147” when in fact you are actually ranking on page 12 of Google for “lawyer las vegas”
The truth is that people will rarely (1% would be high even by our standards) search for (keyword + city + zip) so being told that you are ranking for a keyword that potential customers will never type into Google, means that you are being shown BS numbers.
Extra Words – If extra words appear in your “keyword” being ranked, then it is just another example of them trying to rank you for keywords that your potential customers aren’t truly searching for on Google.
Branded Company Words – If the name of your company is part of the “keyword” that they are showing you amazing ranking positions for, it might be too specific of a keyword that you could have technically already been ranking for.
Note: When setting up keyword tracking and ranking reports, we always type in the website URL and the name of the company as one of the keywords we want to monitor. We tell clients upfront that we are doing this in order to make sure that they are always ranking for their own company name. It is possible that some other company could rank for “name of your company” on Google and in effect, siphon away customers that should have gone to you.
Reporting Paid Positions vs Organic Positions – Reporting untrue keyword ranking positions is also something that we have seen bad SEO companies due in the past in order to trick business owners.
Typically what they will do is show that you are ranking #1 for a keyword that you are paying Google AdWords to show you at the top if you’re willing to pay the price. Some marketing companies will report the client’s Google ad as #1 even though they are ranking #9 in the organic results section. The true number to report in this situation, would have been #9 instead of #1. If you pay Google enough per click, you can be #1 on Google (in the paid ads section of course) without the help of an SEO company.
We most recently saw this in a local Las Vegas business that was paying for Ads and SEO but was being shown false rankings. Her SEO company wanted her to believe that she was #1 because of their marketing efforts. Simple case of taking credit for something they didn’t deliver.
Dissecting Other Misleading Website Numbers
Another way that SEO companies can mislead you by having you focus on numbers, that might seem exciting in the moment, but in fact don’t actually translate into new sales and customers for your business. This can be easy for you to spot by looking at what your report includes or what your conversations with your current SEO company focus on.
Too much focus on website visitors – If your monthly reports show too much emphasis on the amount of website visitors each month, you’ll typically see it as a line graph that shows that your website traffic is growing. If you see that you are getting thousands of website visitors each month but haven’t actually gotten new leads or phone calls, then this might be a sign that the numbers being reported are a) not accurate b) made up.
Note: having a lot of website visitors is not a bad thing! It is actually the entire point of SEO (to get you to the top of Google, so more people go to your website, so that more leads can be captured by the website’s contact form or website phone number).
As the business owner, you should always have access to your Google Analytics account where you can log in and verify that the numbers being reported are accurate.
Some Google Analytics numbers that you should verify are:
- The location of your website visitors – As an example, let’s say that you are a divorce attorney that is licensed in the state of Nevada or even a fitness gym that is based out of Las Vegas. Unless your website visitors are actually in Las Vegas or Nevada, you wouldn’t be able to actually have those website visitors become paying clients. Is isn’t uncommon to see that as much as 43% of your website visitors can be coming from out of town, out of state, or even worse, out of the country. If you can only service clients in your city but are notice tons of website visitors from Russia, the amount of website visitors is not a good indicator of your SEO working because they won’t turn into potential customers.
- The websites that are sending you website visitors – Your Google Analytics monthly website visitor numbers can be heavily skewed, especially if your reports aren’t discrediting false website visitors. Your website can and actually does have fake website visitors that visit your website every month and that ends up being reported. Without setting up reporting filters so that you have factual numbers to base your marketing conclusions out of, you are grasping for straws and might end up basing your marketing decisions off of “half-truth” numbers.
- Acquisition > Overview > Referral to see how much of your traffic is actually not a real website visitor and therefore not a potential customer
- What marketing channels are bringing you website visitors – You can quickly get an overview glimpse of where your website traffic is actually coming from which can help you determine whether your marketing is worth the investment. When you view the website traffic acquisition pie chart, you will be able to see what percentage of your website visitors are coming from a) Organic Traffic i.e. SEO b) Referral Traffic i.e. other website like your local newspaper that wrote a feature about your business c) Direct Traffic i.e. people that automatically typed in your www.websiteurl.com into their website browser (this are typically website visitors that already knew you, got your website URL from your business card or a billboard d) Paid Search i.e. PPC or pay-per-click advertising e) Social Traffic i.e. website traffic from your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest accounts
- Acquisition > Overview > Determine what is bringing you traffic. It should be congruent with the marketing strategies that you are currently participating in.
Too much focus on backlinks – If your current SEO company places a lot of emphasis on the word “backlinks” it might be a sign that they are doing work that won’t bring you new customers, and even worse, might actually get you removed from Google for spamming. If your current company proudly reports that “This month we created 1,000 backlinks!!” You are definitely putting your website and business in danger. Backlinks are links from other website to your website that are seen as “votes” by Google. However, after the major Google update a few years back, websites that had focused on building hundreds of thousands of backlinks fell off the face of the earth overnight. Google scrutinizes the quantity vs. quality of backlinks more now than they did before. Quality backlinks are harder to generate and can require lots of SEO work to get one but are well worth effort. Good SEO companies don’t emphasize the amount of backlinks each month on their monthly reports while bad SEO companies focus a lot on low-quality backlinks because they are super cheap and easy to generate but don’t actually help your business.
The 2 Main Things Every Good SEO Report Should Include
Even if your current SEO company provides an SEO report or doesn’t at all, there are some things that every good marketing should be able to show you, the business owner, every month.
# of website leads generated each month
The entire purpose of doing SEO marketing for your business, is to generate more new customers and revenue. Doing SEO for your website so that more potential customers work with your business instead of your competitors is the main goal. Once people click on your website, your website should do the hard work of convincing and converting those website visitors into actual warm leads.
Both instant lead notifications and a month-end report with the total # of new leads should automatically emailed to you. By knowing how many leads are coming in, you will also receive the benefit of knowing whether your sales team is doing a good job of converting warm leads into paying customers or if your SEO efforts are being wasted by having a low sale conversion rate.
These leads can come in the form of:
- Instant lead email notifications that are delivered to you or your sales team the moment that the person gives you their name, email, phone number etc
- Note: If your website leads aren’t coming in instantly, you are losing sales by not following up with them as quickly as possible. For example, if a air conditioning lead came in through your website during the hot Las Vegas summer months with triple-digit temperatures, you can bet that the potential customer will forget about you and give their money to a company that can quickly fix their broken air conditioner.
- Phone calls that can be tracked and even recorded for customer service quality. There are multiple services out there that will automatically track and record phone calls that you or your sales manager can review. It’s something that we’ve seen a lot. Great quality leads coming in from SEO marketing that end up being wasted because of the receptionist’s rude tone or unfriendly customer service.
Accurate and Good Ranking Changes
Your monthly SEO ranking report should show positive movement towards the #1 spot on Google. If you notice that instead of gaining better ranking placements, you are actually losing positions, it can mean that either a) your current SEO is doing work that Google doesn’t approve of b) they aren’t doing work that is helping you.
It is important to set aside a minimum of 20 minutes each month to hold your SEO company accountable for the work that you are paying them to do. You wouldn’t let a contractor leave your house half-built right? SEO should be treated the same way; make sure that you are getting what you are paying for.
If James had verified the SEO rankings for himself, he could have completely avoided losing all of that revenue and would have addressed it a lot sooner.
How to audit your SEO company in less than 30 seconds!
We are about to show you exactly how to audit your SEO company in less than 60 seconds for free, without having to buy any software and by using your own computer, tablet or phone.
To run this test, you don’t need to have your SEO report in front of you. You’ll need:
- A computer, tablet, or phone with internet connection
- An open web browser window (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Windows Explorer aka Edge)
- Open an “Incognito Window” (Chrome), “Private Browsing Window” (Firefox, Explorer/Edge, Safari)
- Go to Google.com
- Type in your “search” (ex: “divorce attorney las vegas”) into Google inside of the Incognito/Private browsing window’
- Does your website rank where you might have been misled to believe?
- Still not sure? Try doing the search again in a regular browsing window. You might notice that your website is higher on Google without the Incognito/Private browsing window.
VIDEO INSTRUCTIONS: Select the web browser that you are going to use below. Note: Personally, we use Google Chrome everyday and absolutely love it.
“So why does my website SEO ranking change between Incognito and non-incognito?”
This is the exact same question that James asked me when I showed him the TRUE ranking of his website.
Pretty much, it comes down to the fact that you:
- Were most likely logged in to Google (GMail, Drive, YouTube etc) and therefore Google was using your browsing history to distort what websites it shows you when you do a search. If you are the business owner, you have probably gone to your website at least a few times in the past month. If you didn’t delete your browsing history, during that time, Google would show you your own website at the top of Google because in Google’s mind, “Well James has gone to this website a few times so he must really like it. Let’s show him that website again… at the top… where James probably wants to see it”
- Checking a website ranking using an incognito window is like doing that “search” for the very 1st time EVER! This gives you more accurate rankings and more importantly, it shows you exactly how, someone that has never heard of your company, is going to see the results on Google. Unsurprisingly, most people are going to click on the websites at the top of Google (remember the section above about Google click-through-rates?).
Once James understood that the reason why his business had seen a 22% drop in revenue from the year before was because his website:
- Wasn’t truly at the top of Google
- …therefore, people weren’t visiting his website
- …therefore, his website wasn’t generating as many leads
- …therefore, he didn’t have as many leads to convert into customers
- …therefore, he didn’t have customers that brought in more revenue
- …therefore, he had actually shrunk his business, instead of growing it during the last 12 months.
“What will happen if I don’t do anything about my bad SEO company?”
If by now, you’re already convinced that your current SEO company isn’t bringing in the new customers that they had promised, you need to make a decision.
If you stay, without consulting with another SEO company that does have a good record of actually helping to grow other people’s business, you are putting your business, employees, family and customers at risk. By continuing to spend marketing dollars with negative ROI, you are literally putting your company on the Titanic on path to come across the giant Google iceberg.
If you decide to leave, you’ll free up your marketing budget, stop wasting money, and can now reassess where your marketing dollars might be better spend. If you leave, you’ll have the opportunity to put your business back on the path for growth, more clients, more revenue and success.
The decision is yours.
Want us to audit your SEO company instead?
Chief Marketing Strategist
Luis Camargo has been living, breathing and dreaming about powerful online marketing since 2012. In under a year, he had learned how to bring online marketing pieces together to make marketing results-driven and return-on-investment centered. His approach is simple, “Do what you say you’ll do, help others achieve their goals and they’ll help you achieve yours.”