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Egregiously incompetent, cutthroat, reckless or outright dishonest? No matter how you slither it, the latest generation of predatory SEO creeps proffer blatantly false information camouflaged by pretty reports. Deceptively branded reports aside, buyer beware when the snakes come to call. Here’s some hard facts to dispel this week’s crap-ass haze of myths and misinformation.  [Author’s Note: This post is not aimed at any specific SEO firm, rather the amalgamate of experiences we’ve had over many years.]

Background
The subject of our indignation today is an SEO “audit” one of our brand-clients received.

No worries. We don’t have any reason to be defensive, as our work has helped move the client’s website from a single PR2 property to (4) PR5 properties in a little over 18 months. I was invited to the conference call to receive a personal presentation of this audit, but could not make it. It’s probably better that I didn’t participate. We received a copy of of the “free SEO report card” a little later.

To Be Fair
There are some issues revealed in the audit, that any mechanized site-grader tool would catch. Life happens in the day to day evolution of a CMS as a result of new application development in between quarterly audits. However any good information in this business-grubbing ploy, is vastly obscured by dangerous hyperbole and lies.

Here’s just a few scary highlights as a warning for future report card recipients.

Free SEO Report Card writes: “Also know that only 1 page is indexed in Google and only 24 pages are indexed in Yahoo.” Fact: Oops! The site has hundreds of pages crawled and indexed by Google and Yahoo. So far as we’re concerned this egregious error tells everything that needs to be told about the quality of the reporting company’s work. Here’s a snapshot of Google WebmasterCentral’s crawl stats relating to Googlebot’s activity in the last 90 days.

crawl-stats

Of course, Googlebot crawling the site does not mean that pages are indexed. We tested the site using the following SEO 101 pages-indexed queries (aimClear Blog substituted for client’s site): Google, Yahoo, Bing. Had the audit technician run these basic tests they would have seen that site-grader program misfiring. Bing, Yahoo and Google all show over 700+ pages indexed. Fail!

Speaking of the big crawl, Free SEO Report Card writes: “H1/Header Tags (The H1 text is a vital area for spiders (crawlers that “crawl” your page for information) to find vital information to improve your rankings.)”

Ooooh Noooo Mr. Bill! Fact: H1 tags are important for structure & usability, not for stuffing your “Hey Google, look at me!” keywords. At SMX Advanced last month (on a panel I was on) Rand Fishkin showed correlation data revealing H1, H2, H3 etc. tags are just a sliver of the important on-page features. “Vital for spiders?” FAIL! Better sign up for some training or at least read a bit more before you spew incorrect data from last year.

Let’s talk about W3C Validation. Free SEO Report Card writes: “Strong W3C validation: NO (58 errors and 10 warnings) Facts: Let’s begin with the report card-toting interactive company’s homepage. It’s got W3C CSS validation errors.

The good news is that while it’s optimal for site visitors, using interpretive devices, to have access to validated code, Search engines do not penalize (some say devalue) unless the site literally can’t be crawled, far from reality in this case.

Adam Lasnik of Google said “Rewarding validation & accessibility of documents would be a slippery slope.” Our client’s validation errors have no noticeable effect on usability or search engine performance. The site was coded for users and then search engine spiders, not for a web standards body. It happens to work in my BlackBerry too. The only reward you get for the time spent chasing these errors is a little W3C badge you can put on your site. Guess what? FAIL!

Free SEO Report Card reads: “Overall grade: D.” WTF! Advanced SEOs debate how to assess the progress and success of websites. Search engine algorithms are complex amalgamates of raw power distribution, trust and semantic clues.

What is the continuum of this grading scale? How are these criteria ranked, equalized and correlated to some f_ucked up grading scheme? You have not seen analytics, progress over time or WebMasterCentral. Heck, you don’t even know how to value the most basic SEO attributes. What the hell are you doing telling a company that their site has ANY grade.

The best is saved for last, perhaps the most irresponsible assertion of all. Free SEO Report Card writes:

keywords-are-missing

Fact: Free SEO Report Card has no clue what keywords are targeted and the client’s objective for the site. Every word on an HTML page is technically a keyword. In this case the research that went into defending our client’s brand and products considered many sources including analytics, traditional KW research tools and social media chatter.

The keyword strategy resulted in hundreds of thousands of new visitors on keywords that were targeted. It’s an incredibly deceptive practice to flip out such damning rhetoric to get business. Shame on you.

Conclusion: Forwarned is Forarmed
Fact:
This is not kindergarten Mr. SEO report card. This is a beloved national corporation’s online presence and livelihood. There are other marketing firms involved in its interactive products, which (though not perfect) we’re all plenty proud of. There were other silly assertions in the “audit,” but we don’t have time or inclination to address them all.

We take note that searching for your company and it’s visible personal results in a great big ZERO in the thought-leadership department. It’s easy to see why. The brag-sites you’ve posted on your online brochure look one step ahead of payday loan sites. Here’s our SEO report card for you. FAIL!

  • Brian Hancock

    Rarely a week goes by where I don’t have to defend our services to a client as a result of emails like this. I have no problem handling these situations because I am comfortable in the level of service we provide, but the frustrating part is these situations eat up valuable time that could be used to improve our client’s performance even further….

    I feel your pain!

  • Jill Whalen

    At least this one appears to be free. I’ve seen companies pay $$$ for that crap advice!

  • Carri Bugbee

    A friend of mine (who knows nothing about SEO or online marketing) was interviewed last week for a sales position at one of these so-called national SEM firms. I said “How could you do that job if you don’t know anything about search?” She said they told her she wouldn’t need to know anything.

    I told her to skip the interview because they were obviously snake-oil salesmen. She did the interview anyway and was convinced of my assessment after she met them. They didn’t plan on training her, they just wanted her to “pound” (their words) on potential clients around the country over the phone, selling their pre-packaged services. To me, it sounds like a boiler-room sales approach straight out of Glengarry Glen Ross.

    It’s awful that there are so many con-artists selling SEO “services.” It denigrates the entire category. But I guess anytime there is a hot market with money to be made, there will always be shysters willing to exploit people for their own gain. And in some cases, people don’t even know enough to know how much they don’t know so they THINK they’re offering legit services, when they’re not. I’ve seen the same thing in the PR biz and now in social media.

  • Yura

    Interestingly, I have too seen a similar report (not sure if paid, though) and was asked to follow the advice.

    Out of the 5-7 report, only 1 point was relevant to site success and relatively helpful, others were rubbish, worse less, than bits used to create the report.

  • Brent Nau

    We had one our client get solicited by one of these “paid” web site reports. After looking at their report I just had to laugh. A good read. Thanks.

  • mark rushworth

    *sigh* i must get at least 3 snake oil salesmen emailing/calling me a day each one i have to validate and each one fails! it gets me down as an in house seo as im really keen for someone to actually have some oustanding quantifyable results… but alas i must be at the top of my game, either that of almost everyone else is just faking it ?

    …it really gets me down and its a massive waste of my time :/

  • Kye Swenson

    Ha, this is great. If they target anyone who has even a basic knowledge of SEO, they will likely fail. I can’t believe they tried to forge the page indexes! It’s pretty easy to find out how many of your pages are indexed on Google, if you can do it through the search engine box, that means that even a recent college grad who took a class on SEO could figure this scam out!

  • Lee Odden

    Well written and well done Marty!

  • Marty Weintraub

    Thanks for these comments and support. We expect this sort of punk-junk to be even more prevalent as our ranks swell. It’s really the same as it ever was, with even more blue hue monkeys’ red-faced interactive sales rep’-losers coming to call with, stupid rhetoric designed as a sad (& failed) attempt to grub biz from actual professional SEOs.

    @Lee Odden, thanks for appreciating the intent of this post and kind words. @Carri Bugebee, thanks for the anecdote. Cheers :).

  • Matt Foster

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I rarely comment on articles I see, but this is by far and the best summation of the crap that muddles our industry. The use of the word “indignation” about sums it up. This should be required reading for all potential SEO clients. Thank you for taking a bold stance on the snake oil, and using clear and convincing language to communicate all of our thoughts. Respectfully, Matt Foster, CEO, ArteWorks SEO.

  • Terry Harmon

    The fact of the matter is, a lot of so called “SEO” companies pray on the fact that people are seeking their services because they don’t know anything about search engine optimization. There needs to be some sort of checks and balances system…maybe hire another consultant to check the work of SEO’s!!! :)

  • Barry Hurd

    It is amazing that this stuff happens, but the real reason it happens is less laughable. The reason the boiler room sales force is hitting every business is because most business decision makers have no idea what the truth really is… and they believe the best “visual” or “pitch”

    If you get really geeky and start quoting metrics and statistics, a less knowledgeable soul may just concede that you “must be right”

    The education in many medium to large business units is years (or decades) behind the impact this is having. I wrote up a post a week or two ago on “top CMO quotes” that I had heard in the past six months from veteran marketers at enterprise corporations.

    We can all get a little chuckle out of stuff like this, but as long as big business turns a blind eye to eduction in this realm, the snake oil salesman are going to be banging on every door asking for a check.

    ~Barry Hurd

  • arnie00717

    Yeah such kind of things are happening in market. I don’t wanna name a big company that did to my client. Well Written post.

  • SEO Aware

    I love you even more for this, Marty.

  • Andrew Goodman

    Aptly put, Marty. This isn’t kindergarten. One of the points that bothers me most is the HTML validation trick. Anyone can bulk up a “report card” with finger-pointing blame about factors that have little to do with SEO, and – as important as compliant code is in general – are pretty typical across even well-coded websites.

    And the funny thing is, you see that HTML validation critique traded all around the web and thrown in companies’ faces as if they should be all red-faced about something a validator tool came up with that was minutely out of keeping with some supposed ideal standard.

    Code assessment is definitely important, but this is not kindergarten and it would be nice if these predators weren’t so cynical in their efforts to shout “boo!” in relation to phantom problems. There are more than enough *real* website and SEO problems to fix, after all!

  • Tammy

    I totally agree! I hate to watch good clients go to these “experts” and than return to me to fix all the errors! It is insane, it doesn’t make sense to pay these guys, they don’t care about clients and they cost us money & time! Thank you for another wonderful post!

  • Andres Garcia

    This is a good post. People allow greed to control them. It is unbelievable the things people can do and still be able to sleep at night. In the “new economy”, as I like to call it, we shall be profitable by taking a selfless approach towards doing business.

  • Andres Garcia

    It is these businesses that will survive. Greed will no longer be tolerated… but there is nothing wrong with fair profit.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Andres Garcia: Yup, the only real wealth is the creation of value. Thanks for stopping by.