The Bottomless Pit of SEO

bottomless-money-pit-seo-If you are a novice blogger, an affiliate, or plan to make a killing by placing Google ads on your site you may believe that SEO will bring you tons of money. It may, but unless you watch every step and invest a great deal of efforts in building the traffic, it won’t.

A couple months ago I started a mid-sized SEO project. I guess by now, after going through a few dozens of SEO engagements I should not be too worried, yet I was. The SEO world has changed a great deal since my last project. Also this time I needed to start from scratch – new site, new for me, very competitive market, and as usual very small budget, both in terms of money and my availability. So, eLance / oDesk here we come.

As it’s typical for SEO engagements I started getting responses to my project almost instantly after I submitted it. 20 or so proposals came in the first hour, about same in next 24 hours, and about a dozen afterwards. Most of the proposals came from India with cost ranging between $5 and $15 an hour. Pretty much all proposals I got were boilerplate documents some of which were slightly modified to acknowledge my name and the project. For follow up I picked about 10 companies with near perfect rating and high number of hours billed in the last year.

If I were new to SEO outsourcing reading these proposals might have given me lots of false ideas and build high expectations. It does to many people. I remember seeing an abandoned blog from some lady who decided to follow 4-hour work week lifestyle. The author put a couple posts and then hired a freelancer to do SEO. From what I could decipher from her posts she basically believed that SEO will bring her traffic that she would be able to monetize. Yeah… She abandoned the idea in about 5 months, probably after wasting ~$3k or more on SEO. As they say, the only people who made money during golden rush were those who made shovels.

If you are new to SEO and planning to outsource it you need to understand that most of SEO companies sell a low-end data entry labor. Do not expect magic or in-depth knowledge, SEO experts, search engine gurus working for $15 an hour (or far less if you consider the margin SEO employer takes out the pay of the SEO “specialists”).

That was the case with all proposals I received, they presented the exactly the same approach – volumes of activities that supposedly fool Google ranking system into believing that my site is the most relevant reading material for specific search terms. Here is a typical proposition:

These proposals appear as a great deal. So much stuff for so little money! And so much knowledge (for example how many directories do you know to which your site could be submitted)! That definitely appears as the way to go… Well, the problem is pretty obvious – what items on this list will result in improving your SEO ratings and what are there just as busy work? The sad reality is that high percentage of the activities falls in the latter category. Imagine that you get on elevator and hit a button to go say to 25th floor. Will hitting it again and again get you there faster? That would be a very good metaphor for many typical SEO activities – just complete waste of effort. A lot of other SEO activities could be categorized as “diminishing return” e.g. submitting URLs in web directories.

Another set of problems associated with outsourced SEO is the quality of work performed by the team. That is the most serious issue. “Busy work” just sucks your budget dry, low quality deliverables can hurt your reputation. For example, an article with reference to your website or comments on the blogs posted on your behalf – do you really want your name associated with them? Here are just a few examples of writing done by one of my SEO providers –

“Small businesses should utilize outsourcing because it is good for business as it increases profits and decreases costs which is better for the business to compete with other businesses.”

And the most significant issue arise from some techniques that could be deemed by Google as “black hat”. They could be OK today and “black hat” tomorrow. Or more often used to be OK but not any longer now… Utilizing these techniques can offer great progress initially but in a short order result in serious penalties.

I can go on ad infinitum describing specific problems and issues associated with SEO outsourcing. I wish I could find some stats on how much money businesses spent on SEO today, how much of it is outsourced, and how much of it is wasted. I bet the total volume would be high than GNP for some countries.

If you decide to outsource SEO you owe to yourself

  • Understand SEO or hire someone who does. You need a SEO professional with your company’s interest at heart control execution of all SEO activities
  • Define your SEO in great details
  • Watch over SEO execution like a hawk
  • Update your knowledge of SEO (and make corresponding changes to your SEO strategy) on an ongoing basis
  • Review results and adjust your SEO activities on an ongoing basis

Yes, SEO is unavoidable. Yes outsourcing SEO activities is a sensible thing to do. But unless it’s properly designed, executed and controlled SEO becomes a trap and just a great way to waste your money.

3 thoughts on “The Bottomless Pit of SEO

  1. Totally agree – I have had quotes from small and large SEO companies – some with massive spends and some with as little as £60/month.

    “Yes, SEO is unavoidable. Yes outsourcing SEO activities is a sensible thing to do. But unless it’s properly designed, executed and controlled SEO becomes a trap and just a great way to waste your money.”

    You really need to research your SEO company before you select it. The best way to do this is the old fashioned way… If you know of any companies who run online shops or who get a lot of work/enquiries from their website – ask them who they are using for their online marketing and SEO.

    There is too many bad fish in the SEO ocean these days.

  2. Thanks Paul – successful ecommerce company must be doing something right about SEO. BTW, I am quite familiar with a top-notch company which life depends on SEO does it all in house. They only hire grads from ivy league schools to do SEO though.

  3. I totally agree with this, it is really important to have a quality work, specially if you wanted to have your name associated with them, it is really important to know and understand SEO to be able to use SEO benefits to its full potential with minimum expenses.

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