Scarcity, SEO, Integrity and Lemons

Before reading this post, it would help you to read two posts by John Andrews:

SEO and the Market for Lemons (the original paper is here)

SEO going underground

Unfortunately, both of John’s predictions are largely coming true. More and more I get burned clients coming to me who have paid a lot of money to well known consulting firms, and all they got were directory submissions and pretty looking reports, but no actionable results. Alternatively they had great results for 2 months, and then are surprised to find sites banned from the index because their SEO firm built shady links without advising them of the risk involved.

Or how about the consulting firm who said they can rank a well known company in it’s niche for a site that spends 7 figures on PPC, but  is 3 years behind in SEO, for only $10,000 a month? They’re not even in the top 100 and it’s a lucrative vertical where a lot of very smart affiliates play. In 2006 it could be done for a $1.5k/m spend in Text Link Ads, but that play won’t work anymore in 2009.  It will take a lot of work and a lot more link building then it did then to achieve the same results – a lot more then $10k.

These things happen because many of the most read, well known names in the industry spew a lot of crap. Every day, in and out, I see the same 20 link building tips reformatted in different ways, eaten up by the masses who don’t know any better. Granted, there are some excellent pieces now and again, but they are the exception, not the rule. I understand that many of these are written for linkbait and branding, but these people need to understand that they are contributing to the death of an industry – their own.

Because when outing becomes an acceptable tactic used by a well known personality within Search, or when a supposed published expert blogs about using the “Google Toolbar as a link harvesting tool”, we’re in trouble. A lot of trouble.

As the Good SEO goes underground to private SEO forums, informal networking events and invite only meetups, the public face of SEO will continue to be one of fly by night scammers, snake oil salesmen and a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about (Does “We will rank you on the google using our 10 way linking service with pagerank 8 web 2.0 domains using Angela and Paul’s backlinks” sound familiar?).  But when companies continuously fail to see results and return on their rankings, they’ll write off search, pour their money into pay-per-click, emailing, affiliate networks, and wherever else they see a return online. But try and pitch them on SEO and you’ll get kicked out the door and never be invited back in.

As for the big brands, Google’s already done them a favor and ranked them without having to hire an SEO.  Even corporate SEO faces a slow death knell, the big brands rank, and the small to medium size companies will hire in-house.

Trying to make it as an SEO Consultant? If most of your knowledge comes from SEO Blogs and public sessions at conferences, you may be able to make a pitch and talk the talk, but you sure as hell won’t rank.  The real information and knowledge belong to those who test, those who network and those who share. The drivel posted for common consumption will only cause you to have wasted time better done preparing your resume.


  1. Excellent observations! I especially like,

    “The real information and knowledge belong to those who test, those who network and those who share.”

    Happy to learn about your blog. You have a new subscriber!

  2. Another great post, Ari. A little Thanksgiving SEO treat. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  3. I am thankful for the SEO Contrarian. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  4. Thank god I go to “private SEO forums, informal networking events and invite only meetups” :o)

  5. So what advice can you give about either specific SEO forums to join or ways of finding helping SEO forums that we should be joining?

  6. Well I think that was what the link was for Mark ;)

  7. This change was inevitable I think, I think the caffiene update from google might slap a few more of these people down too, but it could go either way. Do you think most good SEO’s realise they could probably make more being an AM?

  8. It’s always funny to hear the “Big Brands” story, while the Big G is pushing itself more and more in between the big brands as a viable option for the searcher, see Aaron’s post:

    When I ook at the results on the Toy of the year a couple of weeks ago, the bigger toy companies or marketplaces were ranking on the first page for Zhu Zhu Pets.

    Now, on the day of Cyber Monday, the top 10 results are filled with the so called news sites who claim Zhu Zhu Pets are all sold out everywhere.

    Toys R Us, eBay and Amazon are banned to second page results. Results are, higher spend on Paid Search, as these companies are competing over the shoppers in search for a Zhu Pet.

    Seriously, can you really say the top 10 are helping you out to find the perfect present for your kid?

  9. I have a problem about paying for these forums when my experience is I help on forums more than I get help. Way more :(

  10. For what it is worth Lea that is why some people get selected as moderators and such. A number of experts who joined our site and gave back were given free memberships and made moderators. And if a person is super helpful then it can even open up job opportunities and such (with the people running the main site AND with various members of the community).

  11. @LEA,

    I have found some paid forums super helpful in getting new insights. Connecting with people in a more closed environment will allow you to build better connections.
    I have made new friends who are willing to help in certain cases with complex issues.


  12. *shrug* thats nice to know, but I haven’t had it happen to me.
    and I suppose, for me, the flipside of my tight scottish background is if I pay for something I have to get full value – so I’ll be surfing the paid forum when I could put my time to better use actually working :)
    I don’t need to network for JVs and such “I work alone” :) and I have no wish to build a big SEO consultancy because I have found that customers are almost always more trouble than they are worth.
    But thats me – YMMV.

    Hey Aaron! Long time no talk! :)

  13. Once a customer has been jaded the only way a different seo company is going to get their custom is by explaining their processes in detail and a lot of convincing, as well as trying to tell them where the other company went wrong.

  14. Excellent post Ari – Spot on.

  15. @Lea – There is great value to be had on in the right places – see the post after this one.
    @Alister – indeed, there’s a lot of value in long term client education.

  16. Hey Lea…didn’t realize you were you as you didn’t put your URL in your first comment. ;)

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