5 Things Your SEO Consultant Won’t Tell You

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Natural Google traffic makes up half of the traffic on the web. The runner up, direct traffic, doesn’t even come close, taking up only a fifth of the web traffic pie. There’s no question that growing your search engine traffic is one of the most promising ways to grow your online business.

But can you trust the people who claim they can grow that traffic source for you?

There are some real paragons in this industry, but if you aren’t careful, you could end up working with somebody that is taking advantage of you, or doesn’t really know what they’re doing. Here are five things a bad SEO consultant won’t tell you about what they do or their industry at large.

1. SEO is not a dark art that only the technical mind can comprehend

I believe all marketers should be data-driven, so technical knowledge of some kind should be a must in any field of marketing. But this isn’t really much truer for SEO than it is for any other field of marketing.

Some SEOs intentionally obfuscate their process and make the whole thing sound like it requires intimate knowledge of computer algorithms, and that they somehow hold the undisclosed secrets of top Google rankings.

Make no mistake, technical knowledge becomes massively important when you start talking about page load time, site architecture, responsive design, and so on. These do have tangential influence on SEO, and if you hire a consultant who can help with these issues you’ll be in much better shape.

Furthermore, an SEO who can design tools for your audience to use is more likely to earn you attention online than one who can’t.

But no SEO has intimate knowledge of exactly how Google’s algorithm works. Even a recently defected Google employee has no idea what the next algorithm update will bring.

All in all, SEO isn’t really a technical skill. Like all marketing, data plays an enormous part, and yes, those with web design experience will be more useful to you. But SEO is primarily about building online relationships and trust, attracting attention, and doing market research.

It’s not about hacking Google.

2. They’re probably violating Google’s guidelines

While SEOs do many things, most of that revolves around one of two central things: choosing keywords and building or attracting backlinks.

According to Google’s own guidelines, “Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.” While Google more explicitly rules out spam-related techniques like buying links, excessive link trading, building websites just to build links, and using automated programs to build links, this doesn’t mean all other links are safe.

In fact, Google would like to see a web in which every link was given editorially and nobody manually built a link to their own site, ever.

This is never going to happen, but it does mean that any link an SEO consultant builds for you today can be called into question tomorrow.

Any time an SEO builds a link specifically to influence rankings, that “may be considered part of a link scheme.” There’s really no way around it. Most SEOs are violating Google’s guidelines. That’s a risk you need to be aware of.

This is not to say that SEOs should never build links, but it does mean that the practice needs to be approached very carefully. Only links defensible as legitimate marketing are really worth building.

If your SEO consultant is building links that don’t significantly boost brand impressions or send referral traffic, they are setting you up for failure at some point in the future. It’s not that you’ll be penalized for this (unlikely in any non-spam situation). It’s that you’ll essentially lose all the links and end up starting over from scratch.

This might not sound so bad now, but trust us, it’s a very painful process for the clients who have come to us after going through this exact process. Many of them believed that their links were “safe” because they were “hand built” and the content was “quality.” Unfortunately, all of these were just words, because the links still came from sites that had small audiences and lots of spammers. Now they need to rebuild their entire link graph from scratch, and find a way to deal with the huge cash flow disruption they’ve sleepwalked into.

SEOs who don’t take Google’s guidelines seriously and don’t diversify their traffic streams are just building a house of cards.

3. They don’t really know how to go viral

Viral marketing is a big hot button these days, and we’ve spent some time talking about what makes things go viral. I think it’s important to learn what you can about the subject and try to bring at least some viral component to every campaign. At the same time, nobody really knows how to go viral.

Browse the top posts of all time on Reddit and they don’t look particularly different from the stuff that does okay there every day. Look at any piece of viral content or meme and it’s virtually impossible to dissect why it worked instead of one of the many other creative ideas that failed.

We all know the description of a viral piece of content. On average, each person who sees it shares it with more than one other person who will also share it.

Easy to say. Almost impossible to pull off intentionally.

We’ve studied the subject and make an effort to learn from the science of shareability. People are more likely to share a piece of content if it makes them look better, it surprises them, it amuses them, it expands their view of the world, it’s emotional, and it’s actionable. It’s a good idea to work as much of this as you can into each piece of content.

But any marketing strategy built entirely around the concept of “going viral” is doomed to failure.

Just look at every viral video, meme, or piece of content you’ve ever come across. How many of them were put together by marketers?

I thought so.

We tend to focus on going “viral” with a lowercase “v.” It’s better to work on content that tends to get picked up by influencers in a particular niche and shared with their audiences. This is something that can be done consistently and that can be strengthened by relationships. There’s much less luck involved and the audience is far more relevant.

Keep in mind that even genuinely viral content tends to spread only through specific subcultures. Not even “Gangnam Style” got shared by everybody who saw it. There’s always a limit to who you’re willing to share a piece of content with, and the six degrees of separation are a myth.

4. If they’re doing it without you, they’re setting you up for failure

The core goal of any genuine SEO campaign is to establish you as a trusted authority on subjects that matter to your target audience. SEOs are experts in SEO, not your niche. They might not be lying if they claim that they can boost your rankings without you, but any results they can give you will be temporary, and the brand impressions probably aren’t going to be all that positive in the first place.

We’re certainly not saying that SEO doesn’t work unless your employees are the ones who write all the blog posts and build all the links. We’re just saying that if you care about how your customers perceive you and you want your search traffic to last, you’re going to spend a lot of time talking to your SEO consultant, brainstorming with them, advising them on the values you want to portray, defining your unique selling proposition, and so on.

Furthermore, the best SEO campaigns surround something you have done: a newsworthy event, case study, or piece of knowledge that isn’t widely known. Your SEO consultant can advise you on the kinds of newsworthy stunts you can pull off in order to maximize links. They can write blog posts, put together videos, and design infographics in a way that maximizes the exposure you can get from an event. But they can’t turn water into wine.

Online exposure revolves just as much around what you do as what you say. SEOs can only handle the “saying” part. It’s their expertise. But without the added benefit of your expertise, they can’t make you look like an expert.

5. They haven’t tested the validity of anything they say

This is one of the worst offenses.

Much of the SEO industry is run by followers. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with learning from the experts. But marketers who just parrot what leaders in their field talk about are only going to end up sleepwalking into traps, mistakes, and wasted time.

We mentioned before how important it is to be data-driven. You absolutely must put your opinions to the test if you have any desire to maximize results, especially when you put the word “optimizer” in your job title.

SEO is just as much art as science. There’s a lot of guesswork, and intuition plays a crucial role. It’s okay to venture into unexplored territory. That’s what discovery is all about. At the same time, you need to measure results and justify actions. There’s nothing wrong with hunches or beliefs. There is something very wrong with stating hunches and beliefs as facts, then proceeding to act on them indefinitely without testing their validity.


If you’re looking for an SEO consultant, or working with one, we hope this helps you ask the right questions. For the consultants in the audience, we’d love to hear if you think we said anything unfair, missed anything, and what resonates with you. Thanks for reading.

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and MoveoApps.com, a mobile apps development company. Pratik has been featured on sites like Forbes, Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur and FastCompany to name a few. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik for a quick chat.
Pratik Dholakiya
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  • http://www.megrisoft.com Mohnesh Kohli

    The question which most of SEO will not tell correctly How long they are into this business. Best way to check there domain whois

    • Jimmy Chronicle

      I believe the question that seo companies won’t fess up to is if they do the work themselves and aren’t outsourcing to India, etc.
      Our company has in house experienced website developers who mate the websites with seo. We build on the structure of the sites including server configuration, site speed, and other technical areas.

    • http://www.rankwatch.com Sahil

      Great Post Pratik. Totally agree that SEO has to be done hand in hand by vendor with its client. Giving clients or prospects a brief of what SEO is, how it plays a major role in inbound marketing, and about its future is very important and most consultants or vendors fail to do this.

  • http://www.reginaldchan.net Reginald

    Hey Pratik

    Thanks for sharing the info. Sorry to say but I really don’t trust SEO companies. I believe we could do our own SEO but it would take some time. Doesn’t mean we will fail but why not trying right? Being said that, I like the way you said it and thanks for sharing!


    • http://www.superoffice.com Steven Macdonald

      Great point Reginald. Part of being a great SEO is making mistakes and learning from them. All SEO’s have made mistakes.

      Nice write up Pratik – It’s really important that the client/ consultant are communicating and not just allowing the SEO to go off and do stuff..

  • Rob Kirton


    I agree with the sentiment expressed in the article. I have worked for many years in the web industry and am in the process of seting up my own consultancy. SEO is one of the services I am offering, and following up from the comments made by Reginald, I understand his mistrust. There is an answer to allow that mistrust to be overcome. It is to be open and transparent.

    As you say the technical part (site speed etc..) is best left to an expert who really knows for example why and when DNS pre fetch is a good idea and how to make it happen. Most people don’t know what Apache config is, never mind digging around in it.

    For other aspects, the best approach is to be transparent. Justify actions when it is based in hard figures and be truthful when you take action based on a hunch or intrinsic knowledge. People will accept that if they accept and respect your expertise.

    I’m taking it a step further in making sure that it doesn’t appear to be a black art. I am offering to all customers, training to allow them to carry out any of the tasks I would carry out if I was tasked to manage the SEO process.

    I’m a great believer in the old saying “Teach a man to fish…”


    – Rob

  • Jacques Vrolijk

    I keep telling my prospects there is not such thing as white hat link building. And that any SEO done without working on page is just a set up for failure. Never have a hard time explaining why, but still this article makes things just that bit more easier.

    and Okay I can tell “Told You So” to those who went the other way 😉

  • http://www.creolecrackers.com Amy

    I think you are spot on in this piece…if even more kind to SEO’s than you should be. I am an SEO myself, and have been in the company of people who are all about BS’ing and it is easy to deceive a client who has no idea about the subject. This article gives those looking for services a start into what to be aware of.

  • http://onlinestrategy.ca Ava Naves

    I’ve submitted a fairly lengthy comment on the pros and cons of this article, but it’s not getting displayed. Praktik, do you know why?

  • http://jobappplus.com/about Alexander Miklin

    That hit the nail on the head. There are so many SEOs who claim to know but really just read a few blog posts from SEJ,SEL or Matt Cutts, and then decided they are experts. This is where OpenSite Explorer comes into play (Either seoMOZ or MajesticSEO) which separates those who know from those who talk.

  • Dang

    Following up on Point #5, I’d ask for proof of experience – give me a term/website you’ve ranked for. This will allow you to determine how experienced they are, duh! Is the term they provided an easy, medium, or difficult term in a super low no-competition niche or a saturated competitive industry?

    Having an idea of your SEO consultant’s practical experience can directly have an impact on your business. So often these days (and now more than ever), there are those who do the R&R – Read & Regurgitate. That’s easy to do. Diving into data and getting your hands dirty on the other hand, takes a lot more effort and gives you the experience you need for better judgement in such a speculative industry.

  • http://www.tvsinternetmarketing.com/blog Carmen Rane Hudson

    Actually at least one of your points is something that the SEO consultant’s clients need to hear too: that SEO consultants, content marketers, and more need their clients to communicate with them, to tell them the awesome things they’re doing, to give them more insight into their business, to provide them with photographs from out in the field, and more. Some clients want to just “fix it and forget it,” throwing SEO consultants at the problem.

  • http://planleft.com Erik Nelson

    Another great post Pratik. I think these questions not being answered are part of what gives SEOs a bad name with many companies. We are very transparent in what we do and try to explain everything as in depth as possible to help our clients learn as they grow their presence with us. Happy clients are the best clients as they tend to stay on with you a lot longer (and thus net more $$ in the long term for both you and them) than a client who feels cheated.

  • http://www.travelcenteruk.co.uk/ Shania Brendon

    Your 3rd point really touched me, it is very true. To go viral for a small business it needs a lot of effort and time and still it may be impossible. Big brands get attracted very soon and people start liking and sharing but for small business even to get Facebook likes they have to work really hard. Going Viral we are trying but the percentage of success is very low because everyone social media asking for money. Firstly SEO’s promised SEO can be done freely but now even to get exposure we have to pay. I meant all the social media’s including Facebook, Stumblr upon and etc, even to submit an awesome infograpahics we have to pay the publisher because they making hay while the sun is shining towards them. When I wanted to submit my guest post, they needed money to accept our articles. So I am sure it wouldn’t be very easy to go viral unless you are an expert.