During the last decade the public’s trust in SEO has faded. Ever-changing search algorithms and blackhat penalizations have eroded SEO companies’ reputations. Some critics have predicted the end of SEO, and recently a frustrated SEO even announced on Reddit that he was leaving the SEO industry.
With our roots in SEO, we at Wallaroo Media take this shift in reputation seriously, so we decided to take the temperature of SEO’s reputation. What we found was very interesting, and we’ve compiled some ideas that SEOs can use to make sure they don’t brand themselves as SEO scam artists.
Using QuickSurveys, we polled 100 respondents on their opinion of SEO’s credibility. Our survey was simple, and though it doesn’t qualify as formal research, we can glean some useful information. We asked two questions, response rates are in parentheses.
How would you describe the reliability of SEO companies?
SEO companies are effective at boosting a company’s online presence (34%)
SEO companies can be effective, but success is largely based on luck (25%)
SEO companies are seldom effective (24%)
SEO companies are a scam (18%)
What do SEO companies do? (open question)
– 17% responded with a more or less correct answer
– 11% responded with a closely related answer (advertising, web development, etc.)
– 2% responded with a negative answer (scam, cheat, lie)
– 69% said they didn’t know
Although 34% of respondents trust SEO companies to do a good job, the whopping majority (70%) don’t even understand what SEO companies do. Roughly 65% of respondents think SEO works with some luck (at best), or think SEO is a total scam (at worst).
The Cause of SEO’s Woes
Perhaps the answer to SEO’s woes is partially reflected in the industry name itself: search engine optimization. It sounds like jargon, and to most people it is. The name is even less understandable as its more commonly known acronym. Look a little deeper, and you’ll see word usage that is difficult to understand. Dig into your proposals and reports, and think back to how many of your clients have asked, “Thanks for the report, but what does this mean?” SEO is an industry blurred and distorted to the rest of the world because of its somewhat technical nature and its incredibly technical vocabulary.
Another cause of distrust in the SEO industry stems from constantly changing search algorithms. Many people are skeptical of SEO professionals’ ability to effectively drive traffic because search algorithms do not remain consistent. Ten years ago, keyword density, article submissions, and link directory submissions were the way to go. Today, many forms of those practices are being penalized by Google. Even so, there are some technical aspects of SEO that will probably always remain, and certain concepts and principles will always be important to SEO work. Potential clients either don’t have that knowledge, or don’t believe it’s necessary anymore, giving them one more reason not to put their faith in SEO.
Finally, SEO has a somewhat unfortunate history. The story is best told by Google itself:
…some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways.
For years unethical SEOs have tried to trick search engines into ranking websites, rather than just creating and marketing good content. Algorithm updates have made blackhat techniques less effective, and SEOs are being forced to rethink their methods. Unfortunately, blackhatters are still out there, and the darker side of SEO’s history remains either way, adding fuel to the skeptic’s fire.
How to Gain Potential Clients’ Trust
The problem exists, but what can you do about it? We offer a few suggestions to help you deal with your potential clients’ somewhat negative and foggy perception of SEO.
Avoid jargon like the plague, redefine yourself
No one likes jargon, except for those who actually understand it. If you love jargon, save it for conferences and lunch dates with your SEO pals. The rest of the time, use language that the less SEO-savvy crowd will understand. As we’ve spent time explaining reports to clients, we’ve found it’s easy to label charts and tables in a language that our clients understand. For example, “Organic Search Traffic” is much more easily understood by the average business owner when it’s changed to “Website Visits from Unpaid Search Results.”
This may also mean some re-branding for your company. Although the technical aspects of SEO will always remain, SEO is trending more toward content strategy and outreach. Branding yourself as an online marketing, content strategy, or digital PR company distances you from SEO, and uses terminology that more business owners are likely to understand. SEO can still be listed as a service you provide, even a strength you possess, but it doesn’t have to define you or your company.
Stay up to date on algorithm changes, be prepared to explain them to a child
Even if you brand yourself as a company with a broad skillset that includes SEO, you’ll need to be prepared to talk about what’s going on with search engines. The more educated and up to date you are, the more confidence you’ll be able to instill in your clients. The more you’re able to help them understand what’s going on, the less afraid they will be.
Don’t be afraid to educate your clients. Smoke and mirrors are great for magic tricks, but SEO isn’t magic. If you make your work appear mysterious, your current and potential clients will assume they’re being deceived. Pull back the curtain and show them what’s going on. There will always be the occasional over-confident clients who say they could do it themselves, but as with any art form, understanding the process is very different from being able to duplicate it.
Don’t take shortcuts, have a strong ethical framework
Distance yourself from shady SEOs by practicing the kind of SEO that Google recommends. Create useful content, then work hard to get real, relevant links to that content. Don’t cheat the system. Don’t ever try to cheat the system. If this is your company’s attitude, your clients will trust you.
A potential client came to visit our office and meet our team before sealing the deal on his account. As he met one of our writers, he mentioned his concerns about blackhat SEO. Our writer expressed the importance of whitehat SEO techniques as naturally as if he were the president of the company. He helped our new client to trust us more than our president ever could have because the client saw our ethics were pervasive throughout the entire company. The potential client became an actual client because he knew from top to bottom, our company does its best to practice whitehat, Google-approved SEO techniques.
The Wrap Up
Most companies and professionals in digital marketing have felt the distrust of SEO at one point or another. You may have even felt as frustrated as the SEO who expressed his irritation on Reddit. Don’t give up though! Be transparent, stay educated, and don’t take shortcuts. We’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with the sometimes tarnished reputation of SEO, please share your experiences in the comments section!
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