Cheap SEO – What Are Agencies Really Doing for Such Low Fees?

Have you ever wondered why so many SEO agencies charge just a few hundred dollars a month for SEO, whilst others ask for thousands?

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I mean, I charge $125 an hour, and yet I’ve dealt with business owners that have been paying $99 a month.

It’s ridiculous. It’s no wonder business owners are confused.

Infact, I’ve spoken about pricing before in this article, where I go into depth about the cost of SEO and why rates vary, but in this article I wanted to move in a slightly different direction and touch on what a lot of agencies are doing for such low rates.

I’m not sure many business owners really have any idea of just how bad it is within some firms, and to be honest, I think it’s time they realised.

Why I decided to write this article

Listen, what I’m about to share with you in this article isn’t fabricated, nor is it written just for shits and giggles. I wanted to publish this article because everything Im about to say, is 100% true, and it needs to be said.


For a number of reasons.

  1. The SEO industry is full of scammers and frauds
  2. Good people are having their money stolen
  3. I’m absolutely fed up with it all
  4. I would like to see something change

Now I couldn’t give a rats arse who likes or dislikes this post. I published it in an effort to help prevent more people from being ripped off, and of course for those that have been burnt, or have had their websites ruined by idiots. Because quite honestly, these clowns need to be held accountable.

I get tired of answering the phone each day and having to be subjected to an SEO enquiry, where I’m guilty, and having to prove my innocence. People are being ripped off, left, right and centre, and they’re being as cautious as hell with who they deal with.

And for good reason.

My friend Ted

I have a friend. Let’s call him Ted.

Ted is someone I know well, and over the years, has worked in a few digital marketing companies. Two of which have been SEO agencies.

Ted’s a great guy, and someone that I respect in the SEO industry as a genuine, honest guy. He’s someone that I’ve worked with, and I would happily refer anyone to use him.

Anyway, I hadn’t heard from Ted in quite some time, up until around the end of last year. He called me to say G’day and to see how I was going.

The conversation was interesting, and I wanted to share it with you.

It went something like this….

Me – “Ted, how are you mate? You still working for XYZ SEO company?”

Ted – “Nah, I left that place. I couldn’t stand how they were treating their customers.”

Me – “What do you mean?”

Ted – “It was pretty bad, they were just blatantly stealing people’s money. There’s really no other way to put it. We were just forced to sell sell sell, at any cost. I was meant to be doing SEO but spent more time doing sales, because it was such high pressure.”

Me – “Shit you serious?”

Ted – “Yeah. They had a room full of staff. About a dozen of them, packed into this tiny little room on the phones all day, cold calling, pushing hard to get leads, and close sales. They had me doing the same when things were slow. I was miserable working there, I had to get out.”

Me – “So what, they would just sign anyone up?”

Ted – “Yeah. It didn’t matter if they needed SEO or not, or whether or not they could afford it. All that mattered was getting their credit card details and putting them on contract.”

Me – “What sort of things would you do to get them to sign up?”

Ted – “Management often told us to lie about things that were wrong with their websites just to get them to sign up, or they’d just offer them a free months trial or something. Most of the clients that did sign up got nothing. A lot of staff left because they just couldn’t take it. It was horrible, I’m glad I left.”

Me – “What do you mean, they got nothing?”

Ted – “Exactly that. We would sign them up for 12 months, and do absolutely nothing, unless the client started complaining. Then they might build some links or offer them another free month or something. But that was just to shut them up because they didn’t want them to cancel.”

Me – “Man, that’s crap”

Ted – “Yeah, it was pretty bad. Honestly I don’t know how most of these people haven’t been locked up.”

This comes as no surprise

To be honest, as bad as this sounds, it really comes as no surprise. This sort of thing is pretty common place in a lot of SEO agencies, especially the bigger ones with thousands of clients.

You see, here’s the thing…..

SEO, when done right, is VERY labour intensive. It takes a lot of time to do onpage optimisation, link building, outreach, and to create great content. Infact most of my campaigns often take 100 hours or more to yield the desired outcome. For big agencies this is problematic, because they can’t support and sustain a quality service at large scale.

Infact, I was on an agency site just the other day, and they were boasting about how many clients they had. It was something like 5,380 clients. They were also boasting about how many staff they had, which was 128.

This means for every staff member, they’re responsible for 42 clients.

This is absolutely impossible – unless of course, you’re selling shit.

Which is exactly what they’re doing.

5,380 clients signed up at $600 a month, is better than say, 200 clients paying $2,000 a month.

  • 5,380 x 600 = 3,228,000
  • 200 x $2,000 = $400,000

It’s also a lot easier to sell SEO for a lessor amount.

In any case, it’s just a matter of “packing them in”.

This is what’s known in the industry as “churn and burn”. Sign up as many low end clients as possible, and sell them big bags of false hope.

This is the very reason I take on no more than 10 clients at a time. Otherwise it becomes too difficult.

I want to provide quality, not quantity.

Chances are they’ve probably got a lot less than 5,380 clients anyway, because they’re lying bastards, no doubt.

So what the hell are they doing?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what most dodgy SEO agencies are doing. These are agencies that charge a few hundred dollars a month for their services, typically $99 – $599 a month range.

They’re playing a shit load of table tennis

They’re doing sweet FA and you’re paying for it

The majority of SEO agencies that are absolutely jam packed with clients are doing absolutely F all. These are the types that get you on a call and sell you magical fair dust and make all sorts of wonderful promises, but don’t deliver. Agencies when questioned by clients about what’s going on, will usually make every effort to simply confuse the client with technical jargon which generally leaves the client feeling totally confused, and somewhat stupid, which often ends with the client just “giving up” on asking any further questions.

Which leads me to my next point.

They’re hoping you don’t bother them

Asshole agencies, want your money. They dont want to hear about you, your website or your problems. They just want that monthly payment coming in. That’s it. If you continue to really annoy them, or threaten to cancel out and break the contract, they’ll panic, and shit will get done – FAST.

I’ve spoken to so many clients that have been burnt that have said this to me during a call …

“It’s funny John, nothing seemed to be happening until I said I was going to cancel, then suddenly my rankings started to improve.”

Again, they don’t want to do anything – unless they really have to.

Disgusting isn’t it?

They’re using private blog networks

Here’s the real kicker, and this is essentially what allows large agencies to do what they’re doing.

SEO professionals know that private blog networks work. I hate to say it, but when they’re set up right, they’re very effective. This means that they usually have a small selection of staff, who are allocated to simply buying expired domain names, and building out fake blogs in order to create “web properties” that they can then leverage with links. In other words, instead of doing SEO the right way, they’re just placing shitty content with links on sites they own.

This means, they’re “bulk” creating pieces of low quality content (or having it done overseas for next to nothing) then slapping that content up on sites that look like this, and they’re done. It’s seriously the laziest form of SEO there is.

So for $600 a month, you might be paying for one shitty blog post with a link in it and that’s it. You see your rankings improve, and you think the job is being done right, and everything is wonderful.

Needless to say, this goes completely against Google’s quality guidelines and can result in your site being slapped with a penalty.

They’re offshoring the lot or using third party services

This one comes as no surprise to most business owners Im sure and probably needs no explanation.

Essentially this is where they’re outsourcing the lot (shit SEO that is) to virtual workers in other countries and paying them $2 an hour to blast crappy links all over the place. They might pay their virtual workers a total of $40 for the month and pocket the rest while they play table tennis.

What the hell can I do?

As a business owner, you’re probably thinking “What the hell can I do to avoid this type of crap? I don’t want to be ripped off”

Here’s a few suggestions.

Stop “trying” cheap SEO

Most business owners I speak to say this “It was only $200 a month so I figured Id just give it a go”. I’m not sure why business owners do this. Not only is it dangerous, but sometimes the damage done is irreversible. This means you might have to dump your website and start over.

Consider learning SEO and do it yourself

DIY may not be a viable option for all business owners, as they’re usually time poor, but it is a safer alternative to shitty SEO. If you’re interested I provide SEO training here. It costs bugger all – $20 a month.

Ask around, get referrals

As with any service type, its always best to ask around and get referrals from peple you trust – family, friends, work colleagues etc. Ask other business owners too.

Ask the right questions

Don’t just hand over your credit card details to the first person you speak to. Ask the right questions. For example, you might want to consider asking any or all of the following questions –

  • What do you do as part of your onpage optimisation process?
  • What do you do as part of your offpage optimisation process?
  • Do you use lock in contracts?
  • Can I cancel out if I’m unhappy?
  • Could you please give me the contact details of 3 other clients you’ve helped
  • Can you show me some examples of sites you’ve ranked
  • How many hours a month will I be receiving?
  • Will I be kept informed, and if so, how?
  • Can you guarantee first page rankings? (If they say yes, hang up the phone)
  • Can you show me an example of a client report?
  • Why should we hire you?

Of course there could be more, but these would be great starters.

Search for reviews in Google

Go to Google and search for “SEO company name + reviews”. If you see a shit load of bad reviews on the first page, then you know its time to bail.

Hire me

Without blowing my own horn, I can say that when you work with me you’ll know the job is being done right. This is exactly why I dont charge $99 a month. I’m not interested in taking your money and then taking shortcuts, or giving you half arsed excuses. I want results, just as much as you do.


Look, I understand that not all SEO agencies are awful, but certainly those that are charging absolutely peanuts for their work and making first page guarantees etc are total ass-hats. As a business owner, you should always be taking precautions about who you decide to work with.

Remember, this is marketing. Your business is at stake. This isn’t something you should just throw a few hundred dollars at and “hope for the best”.

If you’ve got something to say I’d love to hear it. Perhaps I’ve missed or overlooked an important point. Perhaps you’ve been burnt by a shitty SEO agency? Perhaps you’re an agency owner and you’d like to have your say?

Remember, I reply to everyone’s comments, so post one below.

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