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Setting Up an SEO Shop Overnight!

May 13, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I received the following request from an email address in India:
"sir/madam.i want to start SEO(search engine optimization)business.but before    that i want to know about to intitate this?can u please help me?"
I forgive the formatting and poor grammar, as English is probably not their first language. What I don't understand is why people think that SEO is something they can perform as a business without knowing anything about it!

Certainly I give this person props for wanting to know about SEO *before* they set up shop. But what is it about SEO that attracts people with no knowledge or skills? While it's definitely not rocket science, if SEO were so easy that any hack could successfully start an SEO biz overnight, then every webmaster and company owner could easily learn it and do it themselves.

Regardless, new SEO companies keep popping up like dandelions in Spring.

This would be okay if they weren't getting paid for their services. But apparently they are. While you can start to learn SEO by reading the overabundance of free information available, this does not provide you with the knowledge you need to perform SEO on other people's websites.

Not to mention that a good portion of the free SEO information is actually wrong.

Most of what passes for SEO information these days that is written by the average hack has about a 0% chance of increasing targeted traffic to a website. The fact that new articles are being written in 2009 about submitting to search engines – a procedure that hasn't done squat in at least 10 years if not longer – makes me want to scream. And when I hear of companies that recommend changing all the URLs of a website even though there's nothing wrong with them, I nearly pull out my hair.

It's not only the lost time and money that people spend on these useless "SEO" tasks; it's that they are boondoggles at best. Inexperienced SEOs don't understand what really works, so they just do the stuff they read about in others' blogs. The big problem with this is that the information they read is likely to be outdated, not applicable to the website in question, or an outright myth that spreads from forum to forum without ever having been tested.

I'm not saying that you can't learn SEO on your own. In fact, I think it's one of the best ways to get started. But that means doing it for your own sites or for free until you learn more about it.

You can't learn SEO by just reading about it.

The only way to learn is to try stuff out. When you find something that works once, don't assume that it will work again on a different site – try it and see. It might, or it might not. It may have worked once due to a special combination of factors that the first site had that the second one didn't. Try it again on a third site. And a fourth.

The more sites you work on, the more you'll understand the magical mixture that makes sumptuous SEO soup.

Doing SEO for others means you need the knowledge that only comes from many years of experience. The more you learn and practice, the more you won't waste time and money on those things that everyone else is wasting time and money on. Those things that never actually move the needle any more than the needle would have moved if you had stayed in bed and eaten ice cream.

If you have your heart set on being an SEO and doing it for others, that's great! I'm not trying to discourage new SEOs from entering the marketplace. In fact, I previously wrote this article on where to get a good SEO education, which I highly recommend reading:

Learning SEO and SEM – Where to Start?

I also recommend apprenticing with an experienced, professional SEO agency for at least 1 year, if you have the chance. By that time you should start to be able to diagnose website problems and understand which things are worth fixing and which aren't.

Ultimately, the onus is on those who contract with SEOs.

If you're a company who's thinking of hiring an SEO consultant or agency, for goodness' sake take a look at how long they've been in business! If they've been in the biz for at least 3 years and have some proof of results and satisfied customers, they probably have some clue about what they're doing. Even then, be skeptical. If they're asking you to make major changes to your website, be sure you understand exactly why. I'd even suggest getting a second opinion if it's extensive and expensive.

I've said for years that there are many ways to skin the SEO cat. What one company proposes might indeed be effective; however, another company may be able to gain you the same amount of targeted traffic through different, more efficient means.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Danielle Keister said:
Oh, Jill, I feel your lament loud and clear. I could actually replace SEO with Virtual Assistant. We have the same problem in our industry where people think that just because they typed their church newsletter, that somehow qualifies them to support clients whose businesses are very important to them. Just because someone babysits kids doesn't make them a teacher. Likewise, just because you can reconcile your personal bank statement doesn't make you a bookkeeper or an accountant. But the media just loves to portray our industry as some kind silly, earn-some-extra-pocket-change telecommuting work for mommies instead of the legitimate, skilled, business-minded profession that it is. I get requests like the one you received ALL the time and it drives me crazy. Maybe someday, the media will get it right and stop writing fluff pieces that miseducate and attract the masses instead of just the folks who are qualified. Well, I won't hold my breathe on that one, LOL.

Fabulous article!!
 Annette Vaillancourt said:
AMEN to that, Jill. I had a 19 year old contact me asking me to teach her SEO so she could pick up some extra cash and quit her job at a sandwich shop. I've been doing SEO for 10 years and cannot begin to explain the nuances of it to her ...and I'm sure she expected it for FREE!
 Heather Burns said:

Excellent rant, Jill, and one which is often echoed in the straightforward web design world.

I have a similar problem with the outrageous volume of email I receive from SEO companies trying to sell their outsourced SEO services to me, in emails with footers listing a fake American address and phone number. [snip] Why would I want to outsource my own business to companies who misrepresent themselves and cannot follow basic instructions? You and I understand these games, but your average small business owner with a faint grasp of the web does not. That's the real tragedy.



[Slightly edited as some could be construed as offensive. - Jill]

 BarbaraKB said:
Always love when you rant, Jill. Always!
 Michele said:
Thanks for the rant Jill! This is an excelent reminder of why I look to High Rankings to get the best SEO information available.
 Rob Greer said:
SEO isn't rocket science. If you have time to read for several months and you have good technical/analytical skills, you can become great at SEO. The information you need is all online for the taking. It's all about how much time you're willing to invest in the process. In regards to your comments above, I definitely don't think you need to apprentice with a SEO firm in order to become great at SEO.
 Helen Faber said:
Hi Jill,

I am located in Ottawa, Canada and the same is true here - "new SEO companies keep popping up like dandelions in Spring"! Over the past six months, what we are seeing is MANY related local businesses that now offer "SEO services". These include Web Design, Hosting, Copywriting and even Graphic Design /Print firms.

And... there is not a day that goes by without getting one of those "We do SEO" emails from India.

I loved your rant because it's SO true!
 You don't need to know said:
Just out of curiosity is this Racist site or a SEO site?
 Linn Barringer said:
Excellent and fully justified rant, Jill. I keep being offered to get my website to no.1 in Google by Indian based "SEO Experts". They don't even check that I already AM at no.1 for my chosen search term.
I've been a follower of your honest, clear-thinking SEO advice for years. I put a lot of it into practice in my clients' generally simple websites. BUT I do say to website clients that "I do not charge for SEO service because I am not an SEO expert but I do follow much of Jill Whalen's advice, so you should find the website I build for you will do well in Google". Most of my clients' websites are not critical to their business, and they are satisfied with the results. I Tweeted you about one who was on page 1 in Google for her preferred search term, after just a few days. She is no.2 on p.1 a few minutes ago. Mostly due to natural, obvious, simple SEO garnered from High Rankings.
 Steven WebMaster said:
As the webmaster for the family business (very small business at that) I am tasked with all things web related. Of course I have a strong background in the product lines (having been in the industry for nearly 30 years), so I might have a clue concerning the product lines and what is really important to our prospective customers.

Seemingly every day I receive telephone calls, emails etc from SOMEBODY doing SEO. The introductions are almost always the same... we reviewed your website and found something terribly wrong and our company can help fix the problem(s).

Great. Name one minor thing that is actually wrong with the website and I will hire your firm right now. No questions asked, just clearly state a specific problem and you got the business. To date, nobody has been able to mention an actual specificl problem with the site. Oh sure they claim our SEO is completely wrong and for a small but significant fee they can solve the problems. Personally and professionally I find this strange as as I am #1 on Google for the past 6 years for my #1 product. The manufacture of the product is #2. Yet these SEO firms find a problem with my SEO and purportedly have a solution... that will somehow improve my rankings
 Al Kalar said:
Awe c'mon, Jill. Teach me to do it right. I've got a few minutes (LOL). No charge, right?

After 5 years, I'm still learning. These "wanna be's" are nuts.

When ah started, I kuldn't spell "optimeyezer", now I ar one.
 Jill said:
Thanks all for your comments so far!

For the record, and to set @"you don't need to know" poster straight, I didn't infer anything about people from India in my article. I simply mentioned that the email was from someone in India. Not really sure how that fact is racist.
 Stephanie Cockerl said:
I'm also tired of the requests from subcontractors. I'm trying to find work myself. Besides how can I or any professional in this business actually trust someone else with my business that took time, research and years to build?
 Alvin said:
Oh come on Jill 1 month will teach all there is to knpw about SEO.

Not sure I agree with keep trying thing,best to learn how to do it properly and you will get it right first time.
 Michael said:
It definitely makes sense. For us who want to earn by the seat of their pants for the thrill, is a matter of sweat equity and trial and mucho errors!
 Mike L. said:
Jill, I concur. SEO/SEM isn't easy. I thought I had learned all there was to learn about SEO in one day. Then it took almost 4 years to learn how to apply that knowledge to actually get results. Truthfully, I don't think I'll ever stop learning, therefore, I agree with you.
I don't agree with you on everything, for example your take on plagarism. Personally, I agree with what a famous person (name forgotten) once said about that topic, "There are no new ideas being formulated today, just rehashes of the same old stuff". If this is the case I just cannot see how anyone could claim the copyright to most modern works, including SEO writings. Unless, of course it's a brand spanking new idea that has never been seen before and that they exclusively originated.
 Heather Burns said:
Just a note that if I offended anybody...good. As you can see from the comments above, SEO and web professionals are tired of having their time wasted by overseas "outsourced" firms which don't research their subject matter or their potential clients before bombarding them with phonecalls and emails which misrepresent themselves on the most basic level. I assure you that these contacts are far more offensive to those of us who have built up our businesses on hard work and integrity as opposed to cold calling for sales quotas, than implied "racism" against the country where most of them seem to be based. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
 Anita Larson said:
I was laughing out loud when I read this. I get these emails and phone calls about outsourcing SEO almost every day. When my clients get these types of emails they forward them to me and ask if they are legit. I advise them to hit "delete" and forward them links to sites such as yours for SEO education. Your writings are "right on" and I can sure relate to this one. Thanks for all the valuable information you share. I subscribe to only a handful of blogs/ezines and always learn something useful from yours!
 Andy said:
Good piece Jill. It amazes me the ignorance of some people when assessing the techniques used by specialist SEO companies - neglecting the fact that there any many, many factors that influence good positioning within search engines. I hate when people look for shortcuts or some magical formula that will automatically double traffic.

You should have told them the the META keywords tag is vital and that they should include the special Google wacking formula within a tag labeled 'nonsense'. :-)
 BostonScott said:
I got a laugh out of this on several levels. Only in the SEO world would an individual write to you for advice on becoming a "competitor" of yours.

You are right that a lot of the SEO advice out there is wrong. There are a lot of theories about how particular search engines ought to work and people spend a lot of time extrapolating on these theories... but that does not do clients any good.
 Jean said:
What a hoot! Gave me a smile for the day.
 Disa Johnson said:
I'm with you on this Jill. You know how much work we get cleaning up messy SEO jobs? It's insane what people do after reading a forum post or blog entry, get inspired, and wreck a website or two collecting pay. The sad thing is, every company I hear try to explain afterwards what they got themselves into, I can predict precisely what they say before the words come out of their mouth: "We figured for that little money, we might actually get some rankings. If it didn't work we really haven't lost any money or anything." They lost their innocence is what they lose, and they look bad having done it that way. Then the clean up costs. Oops.
 Gerald Weber said:
I think the main point here is people or companies hiring SEO firms need to do enough due diligence to know if they are dealing with a company that knows what time it is in the SEO world.
 Jill said:
@Disa and @Gerald

Completely agree. That's especially why I added that last paragraph to the article. Cuz in the end, if you don't do your due diligence, you have no one to blame but yourself.
 Scott Clark said:
What these firms do is set a subconscious expectation among clients for commodity pricing of worthless services. For example, to many clients "submitting to search engines" and "link building" sound like roughly the same scale of task. So when we begin talking about the tremendous amount of work content development linkbuilding and page rank sculpting that ranking will require, there is built-in doubt.

This is also happening at (good) web development shops and ad agencies. SEO becomes a bullet-list option on page 3 of their services brochure. In a recent meeting I asked a few SEO 101 questions of an agency claiming SEO experience and they not only failed, they gave answers that could get the client into trouble.
 Jill said:
So true, Scott.

In fact, I just this second finished up my Search Engine Land article for this week (to be published there on Thursday), which speaks to this very concept.

It's called, "85 Reasons Why Website Designers/Developers Keep SEOs in Business."

Will drop a link to it here once it goes live (if I remember!).
 Digger LOL said:
LOL you ranting again!
 Daniel said:
I have just two words in reply to that: THANK YOU!
 Angus Dayton said:
Then what's the point of this website if the information is only 10% of what you need to know to succeed
 Kash said:
Wow, Jill Great article for new SEO shop owners!.. :)..

and good for the shoppers as well!.. :)..
 Greg McNary said:
Same situation with web design/development, especially with tools like FrontPage and others. All of a sudden, everybody has a "brother-in-law that does web sites and can build it for little or nothing". A year later, and the results have produced "little or nothing", and they abandon the web with the impression that the web is just not suited for their business. That's the worst thing I've seen from inexperienced or poor quality people, whether it be web development, SEO, etc. They make it that much harder for legitimate folks, because now the client doesn't trust anyone, much less see the value in paying an outside expert.
 Tim Staines said:
I generally agree with your sentiment. I would add that there are plenty of SEO shops that have been selling crap hat SEO for years and years. I've been working for a small and very effective SEO agency for a bit over a year now and have learned a whole lot about SEO. If I opened a new shop tomorrow, my account management & entrepreneurial background combined with this year of formal training in the industry would make me a much better provider of SEO services than many of the "well-established" firms that have been providing sub-par consulting for years and years. I know this because a good portion of our new clients come to us after they have experienced this low quality SEO work first hand.

The NEW SEO company that knows it's stuff is not nearly as dangerous as the OLD SEO company that knows how to sell its crap service. This is where the buyer really needs to pay attention. Length of time in business is not nearly as important as quality of service when determining the right SEO consulting firm.
 Jill said:

You bring up a great point. I was thinking of discussing that as well in this article because that is also a pet peeve of mine, but decided to focus on the new SEOs cropping up.

But I totally agree that sometimes it's the well-established craphat SEOs that are even more of a concern because they do appear to be reputable on the surface. I know of one largish company who people believe are one of the best, yet we hear from clients all the time that they got no ROI out of them.

It's tricky, which is why the best defense is SEO education, imo.
 Nick Stamoulis said:
That is the problem with this industry. People read something and think they know what they are doing and go grab a few clients perform horrible work and then leave a jaded client.
 West Coast Vinyl said:
I like the article, a very good primer on info about selecting an SEO agency or consultant.
However, I have been fortunate, my clients trusted my company to do seo/sem and have shown result for my client. Again have been fortunate to learn proven techniques not thru ebooks but expert info. The kicker is We have only been around since 04, we're not big but selective of our client, and our website is not on the first page for seo or search marketing result.
We get our leads thru internet, little bit of offline word of mouth, but thru hard work on convincing clients and showing proof of what we can do.
I am sure there other small seo company that are similar to us just gliding under the radar and enjoying what we do. seo is our passion!
 Elmer said:
I agree.

"The more sites you work on, the more you'll understand the magical mixture that makes sumptuous SEO soup." Unfortunately, this one doesn't even teach web site builders how to do SEO right.

Here in Hong Kong I noticed that many web design companies are joining the bandwagon and bringing in SEO as part of the standard service yet when I look at the sites they build, it doesn't show they know the subject. Others still offer directory submission service for a hundred dollars.

The key indicator is not necessarily time, but abundance of happy clients.
 Tim Roberts said:
Great rant and article Jill and so true!

That's why I call for regulation:
 Jill said:
Nope, can't agree with you on that one, Tim.

I've written before on why there can't/shouldn't be SEO standards.
 Tim Roberts said:
I know, we will just have to beg to differ on that one!
 Alan Bleiweiss said:

I've been getting email about four or five times a week lately from "SEO" companies in India wanting to partner with my company. Some just want to be our link-building source. Others wish to do our article writing. And still others what to be our complete out-sourced solution provider.

In the opening of your article, you state:

"I forgive the formatting and poor grammar"

Well, I would too, if this were about someone in India looking to eventually provide SEO in India. By the flood of "business offers" I get, I'd say that is not necessarily the case. And no offense to people learning to speak and write in our language - if they are not capable of accurately communicating even the most basic Americanized English, there's no way I'm going to let them work on keyword selection, let alone near a business web site's content or META descriptions...

As far as the flood of new "companies" even here IN the U.S., it's just as bad because they start marketing services when they know nothing about it. What I DO like about that though is that every single time I have a first meeting with a prospective client, I get the same exact response - "You seem to know a lot more about this stuff then the other people we've met with..."
 Nick said:
"You seem to know a lot more about this stuff then the other people we've met with..."

I hear this a LOT. And this is in regards to all sorts of web stuff. I remember talking to a client where the previous agency had told the client they HAD to create a blog because everyone does blogs and it would help their Search Engine Ranking. What the agency (a big one in fact) forgot was that 1. The client didn't need one as their target market probably wouldn't read it anyway 2. The client didn't have the time and resources to keep a blog up to date or relevant for their business. When it came down to it, the agency were trying to add it to the exorbitant fee they were charging already.

We gained a client because the first thing I said was 'No one can guarantee you any placing in a search engine, it is a constant and ongoing work'

I used to tell my employer that to get the highest rankings for our key terms we would need to hire someone full time to just watch our site and adjust the SEO and SEM. Would it have been worth it in new work. Quite possibly, but try convincing someone to spend that amount of money on something they don't understand and can't quantify. It was their loss as the designer who took over from me didn't have a clue about the web, let alone tracking the rankings.

Maybe I should set up an SEO business.... ;-)
 Leigh said:
I am new to your site and this is the first post I have read, I am subscribing! Loved the rant and so true. I have been in the web design biz for over 10 years. SEO takes lots of practice and patience. Staying on top of it is key, thanks to the ever changing technologies and algorithms.
 Vikas Sah said:
Experience is no doubt a good asset but once you have the fundamentals right, creativity can give you the edge with SEO as well. A factor which seldom gets mentioned.
 Al Mackin said:
Entertaining comments! There does seem to be a lot of spammy SEO companies around, and even though we're an online marketing business we still get emails from companies offering to help us. They're instantly recognisable by the poor spelling and grammar, but I've had a few that have been quite well written and even taken a phone call from one (uk based) company that promised to get my website to number one in Google, guaranteed. I guess every industry has it's sharks and SEO is no different, but it appears that some consumers are being taken in by it and employing some of these businesses. I think education is the key, so that businesses who want seo services on their website can tell a good SEO company apart from a bad one.
 TJ McDowell said:
I think there's a good reason that quite a few new SEO companies are popping up. Business owners are figuring out how to use SEO to their advantage. They learn basic SEO techniques, which honestly aren't that tough, and they want to be able to use the techniques on other sites like they did on their own. Makes sense to me anyway.
 JND said:
Nice article, its so true how so many companies are sprouting up making the same claim that they know what's what. The cut above the rest is the part that mentions "one company proposes might indeed be effective; however, another company may be able to gain you the same amount of targeted traffic through different, more efficient means."

This is the statement to end all statements about shoddy so called seo companies-who's more efficient takes the game to a new level.

Like it.
 Eugene Rivera said:
"I'm not saying that you can't learn SEO on your own. In fact, I think it's one of the best ways to get started. But that means doing it for your own sites or for free until you learn more about it."


You are absolutely right, SEO is something you can learn overnight, because it is a whole process. It has taken me almost between 2-3 years to learn the ropes and be able to apply it to my website. I hired an SEO professional and I am also being mentored by an SEO expert form whom I bought software to learn and do the job on my own. People think that SEO is just like web hosting, just take one pill once a day and you'll be fine. I had to learn about on-page and off-page skills to make my website visible and guess what it's not over because it is a continuous process.
 Ron said:
I think it is extremely hard to learn SEO without a technical background because the web is very "technical" in nature, but it can be done - I know non-developer SEO experts, but even they are at a disadvantage. And if you don't want to work for an SEO to learn it, try creating your own blog and applying SEO techniques to that blog, thats a good way to learn. SEO involves many different disciplines (technical, writing, general marketing, and creativity), and starting your own business employs many others, to both start an SEO business and be a great SEO together is extremely difficult to do, but not impossible. It takes experience to be good; experience and experimentation to be excellent! Oh, and I'm going to add that you should learn how to code because you should always know how the internet and websites work if you're going to be optimizing them (on-site), collecting data on them (analytics), and using them to generate leads or sales.