There are many companies offering excellent search marketing services.
But just like any professional service area, there are some who offer less useful services that may not be helpful, might violate Google’s guidelines and at worst, could also offer services that are unlawful.
There are some folks who regard the SEO business as a hustle.
I won’t name names, but I will share an anecdote.
There was a person who was granted a speaking slot at a major search marketing conference at which I was speaking.
Prior to the session we all got on a conference call to discuss our presentations.
During the course of discussing our presentation that person made bold declarations of how Google’s algorithm was easy to game and a reference to the SEO industry as a hustle.
After the conference call and behind the scenes I expressed my concerns to the moderator of that session about the fitness of this person to speak at our session.
The moderator declined to disinvite that person from the conference session.
So the day of the conference arrives.
The SEO Incompetent steps up to speak and offers a meandering presentation lacking any actionable advice.
This person was up there on the stage making off-topic statements about how Google was subjugating the Internet, statements that kept getting wilder and wilder.
None of what this person was talking about had anything to do with building links.
And Then the Unthinkable Happened
This person’s hands were waving about as they offered off topic anecdotes and still nothing actionable.
And that’s when it happened.
They blurted out the N-Word.
A hush fell over the conference room.
It was clear that this was someone who had nothing to offer.
As a presenter at a search conference, that person was a walking waste of time.
How is it that someone so incompetent was invited to speak at a conference? I will explain.
The Problem with Ambitious Incompetents
The problem with ambitious incompetents is that they work harder at creating the perception of competence than trying to actually be competent.
This particular person had gotten themself onto national television. I don’t know how they pulled it off but they did.
That person’s television appearances created the perception that they were authoritative.
That perception of authority led to the invitation to speak at this event.
Some authority hustlers pay authors at major online publications to write favorable articles about them. Those articles help create the perception of competence.
There are numerous articles that document the culture of bribery in the content creation niche. Money is paid to contributors at major publications who then write articles favorable to the person paying.
This particular authority hustler had used the As Seen on TV trick to build a perception of authority.
Faking Authority with Social Proof
Social Proof is an idea proposed by Robert Cialdini in his book, Influence. Social proof is a way of influencing people by showing them others who have made the decision that the marketer wants them to make. According to Wikipedia’s definition:
“Social proof is one type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for clues concerning the correct behavior.”
Corrupt marketers pay to be praised as top marketers in major news publications in order to display logos of those publications on their website.
Those paid-for articles are then used as “social proof” to create the appearance of competence and influence potential clients to contact them.
When an article about the trafficking in paid articles was published on BuzzFeed (One Of The Web’s Most Prolific Online Marketing Writers Has Been Promoting His Clients In Articles For Forbes, Entrepreneur, And Inc. Magazine), some in the SEO industry responded that the links were no-followed and so the paid articles didn’t matter.
But those people missed the point entirely.
The purpose of those articles was never about the (no-followed) links. The reason they were written was to create the false impression of expertise.
Buying paid “mentions” in articles can also be about buying social proof that can be used to influence potential clients.
The above linked BuzzFeed report related that a well known marketer had given testimonials about a company that offered “mentions” in top publications.
BuzzFeed News said about the marketer:
“wrote about his experience with the firm on his own marketing blog.”
According to Buzzfeed news:
“In late May, DeMers ranked Patel alongside Elon Musk and Sheryl Sandberg in a roundup, published by Entrepreneur, of entrepreneurs with exceptional personal branding. “
The article goes on to document the back and forth between the marketer and BuzzFeed about whether or not the marketer paid to be compared to Elon Musk and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook).
Whether that marketer paid to be compared to Elon Musk is besides the point.
The point of bringing up that news report is to document the lengths that some people may go to create the perception of competence and authority.
It’s fine to consider social proof.
But in my opinion what counts most is the actual authority and soundness of opinions expressed by the person, far more than logos that may or may not be paid for.
Social Proof: Fake Client Testimonials
Another thing to watch out for is hiring an SEO based on who their past clients were.
A common way hustlers promote themselves is by promoting their past clients and working their way up the ladder to be bigger clients.
A real example I know of is that of a marketer who traded free services in exchange for a testimonial.
I know about this person because they publicly brag about it.
The problem with doing that is that the testimonial is not a measure of their competence. They paid for the right to say that so and so was their client.
In my opinion it is dishonest to represent a paid testimonial as anything other than a paid statement.
A paid testimonial cannot be considered a reflection of that marketer’s competence.
Would you buy a product based on a paid review?
Similarly there is no basis for assigning authority or credibility to someone based on a testimonial that was paid for.
I was reading the blog of this marketer a couple weeks ago. This person is so dense that he openly bragged about the deal to provide free SEO services to this organization in exchange for using them as a reference and patted himself on the back as being smart.
Be Your Best
I have been in search marketing for 20 years.
Over the course of those years I have gotten to know hundreds of good people in the search marketing community who are smart and competent providers of high-quality services.
I am certain that it pains many of them as it does me to see people of dubious ability pay for the appearance of competence without actually earning it.