SEO Fatigue – Dodgy Agencies, Clueless Clients, Had Enough Yet?

It’s been a testing week for me here at SEO Point. I’ve had some great client calls, and some – well, not so great. Very frustrating to say the least.

If you read anything about “SEO” this week, then take the time to read this. I’m going to give one of the most honest, straight forward and bullshit free posts I think I’ve ever written, about SEO, the industry, the people in it and the problems that currently exist.

This post is the result of having spoken with dozens of business owners this past week, who have enquired about search engine optimisation, that have gone on to complain about –

  • Being ripped off
  • Losing their rankings
  • Getting stuck in crappy contracts
  • Losing thousands of dollars
  • ….and on and on and on.

To give you an example, here’s a few discussions I’ve had this week over the phone.

Prospect – “Our site has been penalized because we’ve been building dodgy links and spinning articles, how much to fix it?”
Me – “I would need more information, what’s the URL?”
Prospect – “I can’t tell you”

Prospect – “Listen, can we put the money into an escrow account, and if we get rankings, then we’ll pay you”
Me – “I’m sorry, we require payment in advance. We don’t do performance based SEO”
Prospect – “Why should I have to pay for something if it doesn’t work?”

Prospect – “How much do you charge?”
Me – “It depends on what you need, but our standard SEO services start at $1,500 per month”
Prospect – “We don’t want to invest $1,500 a month into something that we don’t know will help us.”

It’s becoming more and more obvious as I speak with people, just how defensive business owners are becoming when dealing with SEO agencies.

This is how I feel (and probably look) at times.


Why is this happening?

The truth of the matter is that business owners firstly, know that they need SEO in order to be found in the search engines (most notably Google) however due to the amount of BS that is currently going on the marketplace, they’ve become seriously cautious about getting ripped off (which I’ll get into in just a moment).

Here’s the bottom line on why I think this is currently happening.

SEO is still relatively new

I know SEO has been around for quite some time now, but if you compare it with other forms of advertising such as newspaper, radio, television and magazine, it really is – just a baby. And with anything that’s new and extremely profitable – every man and his dog are jumping all over it, yelling “We’re the best – we guarantee results”. Problem is – nobody can guarantee anything. SEO is always a “best effort” exercise, that’s not really regulated in any way. At the moment, it’s kinda like the “wild west” out there.

There is massive demand.

Look it doesn’t need to be said, but there is absolutely a HUGE demand for search engine optimisation services at the moment with business owners literally crawling over the top of one another to try and be “first page in Google” for their desired keywords. Demand can be a great thing when there’s supply, or at least GOOD supply. At the moment I feel many business owners are out to find gold and they’re digging rock with plastic spades.

Many SEO agencies thrive on clueless business owners

Here’s the real fuel that drives the fire – many SEO agencies love the fact that business owners are utterly clueless about SEO and how it works, because this means all they need to worry about is pitching them an amazing sounding offer over the phone and signing them up. So long as business owners hear “first page rankings”, and the salesperson hears “credit card details”, everyone does a happy dance and money exchanges hands. Until things go pear shaped.

Cheap vs expensive SEO – looks completely the same to most business owners.


Business owners want rankings as CHEAPLY as possible.

This is one of the biggest problems in this industry – pricing. Most business owners view SEO as an “expense” rather than an investment. This is why I usually always hear, “How much will this cost, or “You’re too expensive. They’re not looking at search engine optimisation as an investment towards their business.

If you’re investing a monthly fee towards SEO, then over time, you should be making a positive return on that investment – and the only way that’s going to happen is if you focus on increasing revenue and sales, NOT keywords and rankings.

If you’re thinking financially at the start, then you should be thinking financially at the end.

Rankings do not equate to income – conversions do.

This is the VERY reason why, I ask questions like …

  1. How much is the site currently making per month on average?
  2. What is a customer worth to you?
  3. How are you currently generating sales?
  4. What are your conversion rates?

…and so forth

I ask these questions for a reason. Not because I’m trying to see how deep your pockets are, but HOW WE CAN HELP INCREASE REVENUE. That’s the whole point. Not keywords. Not rankings. Infact, it’s not until much later into the campaign, where we might begin talking about keywords and rankings.

Cheap SEO becomes problematic because many business owners shop around just on PRICE. When business owners do this, they’re not seeing the whole picture – and this leads to the problems that we have now – SEO agencies dropping their fees in order to be the cheapest, just to get customers. It becomes this whole “churn and burn” affect.

And what makes it worse is that when agencies drop their pricing, the quality of their work drops too. They start –

  • Spinning articles
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Building out thin content
  • Slapping up dodgy links in cheap article directories
  • Using automated software that blasts links all over the place
  • Hiring overseas staff at $2 an hour

Essentially SEO agencies are being “squeezed” to try and satisfy market demand, and as a result, we end up with crappy services springing up all over the place. This then creates a never ending cycle of madness. Business owners want cheap SEO, agencies want customers, agencies reposition their pricing to satisfy the demand, the quality drops, the results become non existent, business owners become frustrated and complain.

It’s total madness.

The SEO industry is getting a bad name

I love SEO, and I love helping people online. What I don’t like (not always, but at times) is the SEO industry itself.

This industry is unfortunately full of scam artists. Overnight businesses selling links, outsourcing overseas to the Philippines, and offering misleading guarantees. Not to mention the countless fiverr gigs and phishing emails I get almost every day. It’s sad to say, but it doesn’t take much for anyone to slap on a suit and tie and start pitching clients for work.

To give you an idea on what some business owners are saying, here are just a few comments I’ve received whilst speaking with clients –

  • “Yeah, look we don’t like contracts because if it’s not working, then we can’t get out, and that’s happened in the past. There’s too many scammers out there.”
  • “The SEO industry really is a scam. I can’t believe how bad it is”
  • “This agency claimed they would be helping us make sales. In 8 months, we haven’t made one sale, and it’s costing us money. The whole thing has been misleading and dodgy.”

Two “SEO professionals” discussing onpage optimisation


Infact, just recently I was asking in one of my mastermind groups about using contracts. How other agencies have structured themselves, whether they use contracts or think they’re beneficial. Here’s what one of the members had to say.

  • “We’re in an industry of snake oil salesmen and we need to win back trust. I think a 30 day notice period is reasonable, though it’s important to emphasize results take time”.

Again, this echoes my point about businesses becoming overly cautious about working with SEO agencies. Because of all the horror stories, the trust is gone.

Many SEO agencies are ripping business owners off

I speak with a lot of business owners, and inturn, I look at a lot of websites. When business owners come to me and say, “John, we’ve been working with XYZ SEO agency, and we’re not happy”, I’m often absolutely shocked to see the level of work (or lack of work) that has been done. To give you an example, here are a few things that I’ve found when assessing clients sites that are paying good money.

  • No onpage optimisation at all. The SEO firm has simply gone about building crummy links pointing back to the clients site. This is a huge waste of time, because without sorting out your onpage issues first, building links to it is pointless. It’s like trying to fill a bucket with water that’s full of holes.
  • Spammy links. This is definitely the most common. In most cases, this is a direct result of cheap SEO, whereby the agencies do nothing but submit your website to spammy business directories.
  • Severe over optimisation. This occurs when agencies continually hammer keywords, exact match anchors and so on to the point where the site becomes severely over optimised and at the brink of receiving a penalty.

What’s worse is that I’ve worked with clients that have had their sites negatively affected or penalized as a result of working with agencies like this. It makes helping a client so much harder when you’re starting a campaign with a damaged website.

But again, it revisits my point made above – it’s churn n burn. Flip and flop. Get em in, sign em up and push em out the back door. Agencies don’t care because there’s so much demand, clients become disposable.

Obviously I’m not suggesting that ALL agencies are like this – that would be untrue, but there’s certainly quite a lot.

Business owners are on the defensive big time


With all of this nonsense going on, business owners are on the defense big time. When I speak with prospects and they won’t provide their web address to me, out of fear of giving away too much information – then something is seriously wrong – and I mean, can you blame them?

Unlike having a pergola installed or getting a hair cut, where you can actually “see” the work that’s been done …SEO is this mysterious “thing”, that isn’t tangible for a lot of people, simply because they can’t “see it”. I remember once speaking with a client that said “This SEO company has been excellent!”, and I asked, “What did they do?”, and she replied (after a momentary pause) …“I don’t know”.

How could she possibly say they were great when she had no idea of what they did?

In any case, (I’m getting off track slightly) defenses are up because business owners are sick and tired of being lied to. I feel less sorry for business owners that invest in $99 a month SEO, because seriously – you get what you pay for – however in a LOT of cases, business owners have their best interests at heart and just want help. They go to SEO agencies because they recognize that they’re not the experts, the agencies are – and when things go bad, or don’t work out, they’re then left wondering – What the hell do I do now? Who can I trust???

Some business owners are trying to do their own SEO

When things go bad and a business owner gets burnt, or is left disappointed, they then start thinking, “Bugger this, I’ll do it myself” . Whilst this might save some money, it NEVER saves time, and typically always ends in –

  • Rankings going backwards
  • Costly mistakes being made
  • Penalties
  • Incorrect methods or strategies being applied
  • Business owners losing their minds
  • Loss in sales or conversions

I always tell business owners, “Treat your online business the same as you would an offline business”. If you were setting up a clothing store in a large shopping mall, you wouldn’t be crawling around in the ceiling installing lights, you wouldn’t be laying carpet, you wouldn’t be mucking around doing the shopfitting. You’d hire professionals to do that stuff. Apply the same mindset online.

But wait, I know what you’re thinking, “I DID hire professionals, and I still got let down”. Don’t worry. I feel your pain. This is the whole point of me publishing this article.

There is a MASSIVE gap between expectations and actual outcomes

One of the biggest problems that comes about from failed SEO campaigns, is the gap that exists between what –

  • Business owners think is going to happen, and what
  • SEO agencies actually do, OR are capable of

Business owners expect –

  • All of their desired keywords to be number 1 in Google, no excuses
  • Results fast
  • To stay at number one forever once they’re in position 1
  • There to be no charge if things don’t work out
  • To be kept up to date through out the campaign

SEO agencies expect –

  • That many of the chosen keywords may not rank due to certain factors (such as competition) but are willing to make their best efforts
  • That the process will take some time (because Google often takes a month or so just to bump rankings)
  • That SEO should always be ongoing, because rankings are not forever lasting
  • To be paid regardless, because you cannot “undo” time, effort and the resources invested
  • Business owners to be realistic about their expectations
  • The client to have clear goals, and be patient

Somewhere in amongst all of these expectations, someone, somewhere ends up pulling their hair out. Sometimes it’s the agency, sometimes it’s the business owner. In a lot of cases it might be both.


Having clear expectations

The biggest, and most important part of ANY SEO campaign, is to be absolutely CLEAR and CONCISE about what your end goals are. For business owners this means that they should be able to say –

  • “We want to increase sales of our product by 30% within 12 months”
  • “We want to increase our email subscriptions by 25% within 6 months”
  • “We want to increase our phone enquiries from 5 a month to 30 a month within 3 months”

These are all tangible and measurable goals.

Now did you notice that not once did I mention keywords or rankings? Do you know why? Because rankings are VANITY METRICS and do not guarantee results. Now I know a lot of business owners are probably thinking, “That’s rubbish because I know if I’m number one for dog collars, I’m going to be making a fortune”. That might be true to an extent, but I’ve seen hundreds of websites that rank well and make next to no money. Focus on conversions, sales, and leads.

Here, have a read of a typical conversion that I always have with clients.

Me – “So, you want to be first in Google for XYZ, is that right?”
Client – “Yes”
Me – “Tell me why”
Client – “What do you mean why? Because we want more traffic to our website”
Me – “Do you want more traffic or more sales?”
Client – “Both”
Me – “Just stop for a moment, let’s have a look at how much traffic you’re currently getting now. Okay look, you’re getting 50 visitors to your site a day, and your conversion rates are 0.025%. Instead of trying to get more traffic, how about we work towards getting more sales with the traffic you already have?”
Client – “Oh, I didn’t know that, yes that sounds interesting. How would that work?”
Me – “Well, with the information that you’ve provided, if an average customer is worth $900 to your business, and we can increase your conversion rates to 2%, based upon the traffic you already have, that will then create an additional $10,800 a month to your business. How does that sound?”
Client – “Oh, yes that would be fantastic. I didn’t even think about it like that.”

Sometimes you can improve sales, leads and conversions with what you ALREADY HAVE.

Also note that not once have I spoken about rankings, or keywords or search or anything. The first part of any campaign should be working out how to improve conversions, filling that gap, THEN working towards improving rankings. It’s pointless driving more traffic to a dud offer where no conversions are happening.

Business owners are asking the wrong questions

The first thing I want to say here is that – it’s not usually the fault of the business owner when it comes to failure of an SEO campaign. But when they start focusing on the wrong metrics, (such as just rankings alone) they start asking the wrong questions. This then leads to wrong expectations, and when that happens, the whole thing turns into a train wreck.

Here’s a list of terrible questions a business owner might ask.

  • How much do you charge?
  • How fast can you get my site ranked number 1?
  • What kind of links do you build?

Of course SEO agencies aren’t immune to asking terrible questions either. In particular, if they’re not asking about your business, how you generate sales, current marketing strategies and so forth – I’d advise slipping on a pair of Adidas joggers and running away fast.

What’s the answer?

Look, I’m not wearing a cape and I can’t save the world, but I can give some advice to business owners.

  • Understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve before you contact a marketing agency. Clearly define your goals. Be realistic. “Ranking #1 in Google” is not a goal.
  • Understand the metrics that you REALLY want to measure. Whether that be making more sales, getting more enquiries etc. Not searching in Google every 5 minutes to see if your keywords have moved up.
  • Diversify your traffic sources. I say this every day to business owners. Do not position yourself so you depend 100% on Google. You simply MUST get traffic from other sources.
  • Understand that content marketing plays a big part in the performance of your website. If you expect to rank well in Google, you’d better start getting decent content on your website ASAP.

If you’re a business owner and you’d like some advice as to how you can find a good SEO company, then click here

If you have a comment, then please post it below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

29 thoughts on “SEO Fatigue – Dodgy Agencies, Clueless Clients, Had Enough Yet?”

  1. 1. been in the business almost 20 years and never believed we’ve had credibility as a marketers much less a good reputation.
    2. At best we have been treated with skepticism just like the witchdoctors many believe us to be
    3. Do not blame SEOs for not working on sites… that is just as much or more about clients and the bigger they are the less you get access to the site!
    4. As founder of SEO Pros can tell you for a fact if you think anything you’ve written here is new… sadly mistaken… clients have always wanted something for nothing… the ones who get bad service either deserve what they got because they did no due diligence or used ANY of the resources at their disposal
    5. seriously who buys marketing services from telemarketers! Suckers is who!
    6. the biggest difference between an Agency and a free lance SEO consultant? The consultant drives an old chevy and works out of his home. The Agency has an office, the owner drives a luxury car and spends most of their time at conferences selling their brilliantly planned SEO strategies but poorly implemented by junior practitioners to the uninformed…… IMO, that sums up our industry REAL GOOD!

    Bottom line…. SEO’s got their rep the old fashioned way… they earned it!

  2. Excellent article, John. Shame it got cut out of G+. Might be ruffling some feathers as you noted, eh? The SEO industry is a shambles and at some times very embarrassing. An uphill battle to genuinely try to help clients now. Frustrating.

  3. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read this John.

    We tell all our new clients that relying on search engine rankings for the success of their business is a very unwise choice … we tell them that again and again … and yet they don’t seem to understand.

    Two weeks ago we completed a new website for a new client and a week later he was back complaining that he couldn’t find his site in Google.

    Despite what we had told him again and again he continued to believe that the success of his new business was assured from the moment his website went live.

    And some people wonder why I they sometimes find me banging my head against my desk.

  4. Why did the article get pulled from Gplus John? I think you’re bang on the money.

    I sometimes get clients calling me telling me X keyword has dropped 2 places..and “what am I doing about it?” A quick check later I can reveal that X keyword drove them 7 visitors last year.

    Expectation management is the biggest thing to manage in our jobs, clients are used to making calls and getting action, they don’t get that it takes sear engines some time to propagate…they think it all works like email.

    1. I posted it up in the SEO Hangout community. I guess the moderators over there might have thought it was overly “promotional”. I wasn’t trying to pimp anything – just voice my concerns and frustrations about what’s going on in the marketplace.

      As for clients thinking SEO is “instant”, you’re dead right. I see clients continually “changing” their title tags almost every second day, and then wondering why they’re not getting results. As you know, you can’t be constantly making changes without allowing adequate time for things to settle down before you know if they’re working or not.

  5. Good article, very well thought out, and unfortunately this is an all-too-common a scenario here in the states also.

    I also think the G+ moderators with being overly aggressive, and I’m glad it got posted elsewhere.

  6. Fantastic post John.

    While I’ve never worked directly with clients myself, I talk with dozens of agencies a week, and the amount of mis-information from them and from the client is astounding.

    One thing I’ve noticed over the past year or two is the severe decline in lower-end ($99/mo “SEO” shops) agencies…many have simply shut down. Too many clients penalized and no sustainable model without the low-end links that were their bread and butter.

    I’m actually optimistic about the future of SEO. It’s becoming more mainstream, more recognized as valuable. The agencies I see prospering are focused on long-term results and their pricing reflect that. There will always be the low-end offer out there, but I think business owners are coming to realize that good SEO takes time and talent…and both those aspects come at a price.

  7. Great insights! I get a handful of calls weekly about “I need to rank #1 on X” and while sometimes that totally makes sense most of the time it is a broad keyword that is not only unattainable for their site but wouldnt drive many (if any) conversions.

    1. Hi Brady,
      Yes mate I know what you mean. I had to almost argue the point once for a client that wanted to rank first for “painter in”, because he said it got 1,000,000 searches per month. I gave up trying to explain that the term was useless and that it was a broad match anyway.

  8. 100% true. The combination of clients expecting to rank for #1 immediately and shady SEO salesmen makes its difficult for legitimate SEO practitioners to secure business. I have noticed that social agencies slowly starting to creep into the snake oil salesman position though. Social is even more of a wild west than SEO!

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  10. Hi John,

    this was a good post and I enjoyed reading it having lived many of the same calls. I’ve run a digital agency for over 16 years and while we are not focused on SEO as much as our strategy, design and coding / implementation practice – we have always worked in SEO for select clients. Over the last 8-10 years, I found that most of our clients simply didn’t have the budgets or stomach for constant change to deal with organic search rankings. ( if they do we send them to one a few SEO focused shops we are friends with). So we have typically worked with most of our clients who are interested in search using PPC. Paid is much easier to explain and set expectations – it is straight forward and works for clients who don’t have the appetite to really build out and tweak their site for organic or the ability to build legit inbound links over time. We can and have told some clients – “hey the ROI here is not working” – lets trim it back or just cease it. We are glad to work on loose contracts with 30 day outs because of the way we can implement and manage a paid search account. I was curious why you didn’t touch on Organic vs. Paid more in your article and how you feel about paid’s appropriateness for some or many that you described. We think there are still plenty of upsides to playing the PPC route -thanks in part to the same ill informed clients you are describing (for example we have a prospect who is a specialist physician spending close to $10k per month using Google Adwords Express that he set up himself for 4 branch locations – yep using Express! … talk about doing surgery on yourself !)

    thanks again and I’d love to hear your position on the value and efficacy of paid search.

    Bo Simmons

    1. G’day Bo,
      Thanks for posting such a detailed reply mate.

      You’re right about PPC being much more stable, however at this time I don’t provide services accommodating paid traffic.

      It’s definitely something I want to investigate in the near future, as that combined with other forms of inbound marketing can be super powerful.

  11. Excellent article John. I do so feel your (and the clients’) pain. Hopefully matters will shift and settle in future and the snake oil salesmen will get skimmed off the top.

  12. Hi John,

    We spoke briefly last week when I called about mentorship. Firstly I wanted to say thanks very much for writing such a well informed article. For something of such length I would have typically fallen asleep after the second paragraph but you captured my attention for the entire piece.

    This is exactly the kind of information I was searching for and I feel that your approach on conversion, sales and leads sets much clearer goals. There is an industry understanding that more traffic brings more business however your example clearly shows that much greater work can be done with on site optimisation and improved conversion rates to provided better return on investment.

    Thanks for the informative post and thanks for the chat the other day. I really got alot out of it and you’ve had my brain churning ever since.


    1. Hey mate, cool. Glad you got a lot out of it.

      If you enjoyed this one, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, as I’m going to publish another one this weekend that I think you’ll get a lot out of.

      Thanks for commenting.

  13. Hi John,
    First post of yours I came upon. Spot on.

    I cater to small business owners locally and they are so confused about SEO. Much of what you have here illustrates my frustrations. I will not go thru point-by-point because my response would be as long as your article.

    However because I work only with local businesses, I control that uncertainty with in-person interviews. At this point, I can demonstrate what goes wrong when they hire say someone who calls them from Florida and offers them SEO. (am in WA) Worse, how their SEO is diluted by [phone book] companies using a different telephone number for every listing so they can spot the search channel. Yeah.

    I separate On Page and Local. Some have great sites already. Most do not. I work with Sole Proprietors (Yes I know I will not become wealthy) and they can only afford incremental steps.

    SEO is still relatively new
    Oh my, so many doubters. But with whom I deal with (local sole proprietors), they have “heard of it” and may have researched it (Dangerous) and know they need it.

    Many SEO agencies thrive on clueless business owners
    Many of my clients have “relationships” with directories like Dex, who insist on separate telephone numbers for tracing results! I look at them and say cancel it NOW! I call Bologna.

    Others who have web sites claim their “Webmaster” has SEO’d their site. Um okay let’s look. My answer is usually “Not only is your content bad, but your site being SEO’d? Not.

    In re – SEO getting bad rep? Well duh, they are ripping people off! I have clients that tell me who their SEO Companies are and research? Wow. Good for me I can show it and claim a new client!

    Thanks for articulating what we see and feel in the field.

    Great post! Thanks!

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