We know those first page numbers sound tempting, but they should always be taken with a whole sack of salt.
Businesses asking how to get to the top of Google is something we get on the weekly and while we wish there was a simple answer, there isn’t. The most important thing you can do however is arm yourself with some fundamental knowledge about what SEO really involves and what to avoid when seeking help to improve your website’s SEO.
The information contained in this post can significantly protect you and your business from being taken for a ride, and potentially save you from wasting thousands upon thousands of dollars and risk of permanent penalty from Google.
Why do SEO agencies have such a bad reputation?
Unfortunately, with no industry regulation, just about anyone can watch a few YouTube tutorials and claim to be an SEO expert. This, in combination with the fact that SEO can be a technically overwhelming subject for many people, means that providers can do just about anything (or nothing), and get away with it – at least for long enough to command a handsome fee before the client gives up due to a lack of results. This has resulted in the industry’s reputation as being all about quick sales, minimal accountability and extorting as much money as they possibly can before the client cancels.
Anyone who guarantees you a particular place on Google search results should be instantly dismissed. The reason? You cannot control Google, and you cannot control how much time and money your competitors are spending on their SEO efforts. For those reasons, no Google rank is ever truly guarantee-able.
Over the years, we have worked with many SEO agencies through mutual clients, and as a result, we’ve learned a lot about exactly what they do. From these direct experiences, combined with seemingly endless accounts from clients who have previously engaged SEO agencies, we strongly believe that the reputation is (far more often than not) well-deserved (with one or two notable exceptions – but more on this later).
To put it bluntly, most SEO agencies spend a great deal of effort making their job sound as complex as possible so that clients don’t feel confident enough to question them, all while doing the absolute bare minimum, and most of the time – not even that. It is regular practice for them to copy and paste their reports from month to month and tell clients not to expect significant results for the first year as the default excuse as to why nothing much seems to happen. By the time the one year mark comes around, little has changed, the clients move on and new ones replace them. And so the cycle continues.
Even if semi-well intended, many SEO agencies are owned and operated by people who have very little to no experience with any of the services they sell. They simply provide the face of the business and outsource most, if not all of the non-client-facing work (usually to the cheapest possible offshore labour) with little to no form of quality control in place. They also frequently exploit people from nations with struggling economies who will work long hours for wages they can’t live off without needing to juggle multiple jobs.
Because these workers are paid so little, they often aren’t able to dedicate enough time or energy to their tasks, leading to mediocre results and unhappy clients. English fluency and cultural nuances can also be an issue where the work being conducted involves content writing, which the vast majority of SEO work revolves around heavily.
How much do SEO agencies charge and will you really get what you pay for?
SEO agencies typically charge anywhere between $1000 – $10,000 per month in exchange for an SEO package, which rarely specifies exactly what work it involves, but often comes with grand promises of first page results and a horde of new leads breaking down your front door.
Once the work commences however, if you’ve found yourself with an unreliable provider, typically one of two scenarios will play out:
What SEO actually is
The fundamental act of SEO is trying to optimise your website to the suspected preferences of Google, so that you can appear higher in Google search results. We say ‘suspected’ because Google’s search algorithm is a closely guarded secret. No SEO agency knows for certain what the ultimate course of action should be. The best anyone can do is follow Google’s guidelines, study recent research from reputable industry sources, and test, test, test.
At the end of the day, Google don’t want you to attempt to manipulate them into ranking your website higher just because you have the money to do so. They want to show the best and most relevant search results based on their user’s searches. They also would prefer you to spend your marketing budget on their AdWords platform, which guarantees you instant (albeit paid) access to showing up on first page results.
It’s important to respect how much power and resources Google has. Trying to fool Google means trying to fool some of the best and brightest minds (as well as the deepest pockets) in the digital world. Over the last decade, Google has become extremely good at detecting when a website is undertaking bad practice attempts to manipulate their rankings and can respond with brutal and business-destroying consequences. The last thing you want is a careless SEO agency risking your business with penalties that you may never be able to recover from.
Google’s algorithm gets more sophisticated by the minute and most SEO agencies don’t keep up to date with Google’s ever-changing best practices. They often rely on practices that may have achieved good results in the past, but are now either redundant or potentially even damaging.
What work is involved in SEO
There are 4 main pillars of SEO work:
“Link building” is one of the primary services an SEO agency will claim to do for you. We say ‘claim’ because they often don’t actually do it, because it’s time-consuming (and thus expensive) for them to perform. If you’ve ever managed a website before and received an email from someone asking if you’ll let them publish their blog post on your website, that’s a link builder at work.
SEO agencies usually outsource this task to offshore workers who will send bulk emails out to every website they can find (regardless of relevancy), trying to find anyone who will agree to publish a pre-written blog post about the client’s business for a small incentive fee. That blog post will then contain a link back to your website and thus, a link is built.
The idea is that it can be very helpful for your search rank to have high quality, reputable websites linking back to yours. If you have these kinds of websites linking back to you, Google sees this as a sign that your website is likewise valuable and trustworthy.
The problem is that most of the time, the websites that agree to publishing these types of blog posts are low quality, irrelevant sites that just want to be paid the incentive fee. Essentially no benefit comes from those links.
To get genuine backlinks usually means talking directly to other relevant websites/influencers in relation to yours, or finding an SEO provider who has strict quality assurances on their link building services. If doing your own link building, it takes time, mutual respect, strong rapport and often the exchange of free products or services to secure a backlink.
“Technical SEO” is all about optimising your website to load quickly, having clean and concise coding, optimising your website’s structured data (a technical term for a certain form of coding which helps Google recognise and categorise your page content), optimising the meta data on all posts/pages/products and about a dozen or so other items.
Most SEO agencies will tell you there’s a million and one things wrong with your website, no matter what your website is really like. These types of agencies aren’t usually particularly technically savvy either, and approach technical optimisation as a generic list of boxes to check and settings to set, regardless of whether those settings are the best possible settings for the individual site, or whether they have any positive impact on performance whatsoever. We’ve seen many clients engage SEO agencies who come in and decimate carefully considered optimisations with their generic templates, ultimately doubling the website’s load time – all while telling the client that all of the “problems” have now been fixed.
As a company who has a large focus on development, we are hugely passionate about site performance and have extensive experience at the highest technical levels of website hosting and development. SEO agencies simply do not have this focus.
Any Silvercode-built website already has significantly more advanced technical optimisations that any typical SEO agency would perform, and many more that they likely wouldn’t even know they should be doing.
This is where things can actually make a huge difference and there are two main things to cover:
- Optimising the main/static pages of your website for your top keyword/phrase targets.
- Publishing regular, ongoing blogs on a range of topics to support your main keywords/phrases. This can include answering common questions, providing guides/tutorials or anything else that people in the market for your products or services may search for.
A good SEO agency should be able to assist you in either entirely re-writing your content, or editing your existing content to be as optimised as possible. This is a very involved process however, which to do well takes considerable time and care.
Google likes businesses that pay for ads on their advertising platform, Google AdWords. It’s long been rumoured that having an active AdWords account helps over time to build trust with Google and improve your website’s organic rankings. It also helps from the perspective that it increases your traffic, which is always good for SEO.
In summary of the above:
How to get reliable and cost-effective help with your SEO
It is still possible to get trustworthy and high quality assistance. But if you’re coming in fresh, you may need some help in identifying a quality provider out of the rubble.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and want some help, or have already been burned by an SEO agency, we can help. While Silvercode doesn’t offer ongoing SEO services, we do provide a range of white-hat, evidence-based and transparent once-off SEO services that will set up your website with the strongest possible SEO foundation. For ongoing SEO services, we can provide a reliable, trusted and results-proven SEO provider to take you the rest of the way.
What's the next step?
If you need assistance to research and analyse your present search engine ranks, and figure out what steps you need to take to improve, we’re here to help.