By Samuel David

Chances are, you already know why SEO is important for your business. What you may not know, however, is how it works.

Regardless, your zero or semi-knowledge of SEO shouldn’t be an excuse. It shouldn’t be a free ticket for any SEO guy or lady to take you for a ride.

Maybe you’re a roofer who has pick and off-seasons. Winter is probably your off-season. So you informed your search engine optimization (SEO) expert that you’ll be pausing your subscription until February. They replied, saying that if you must maintain your directories, then you can’t pause your subscription!

I’ve seen several cases where business owners and entrepreneurs like yourself are seeking an honest opinion on how to make sense of their monthly SEO budget spending. What did they get instead?

Rants from only God knows who (it’s a faceless web community, isn’t it? But with some digging here, another there, some SEO guys? Or perhaps an SEO agency?) saying stuff like “You aren’t going to get a high-quality SEO services for $xxx/month” “…with $xxx you could as well flush it down the drain” “…$xxx will not get you where you want to go…”

Admittedly, cheaper doesn’t always mean better. But the same goes for the higher priced SEO packages (think $2000 and up a month) — they don’t always equal a boost in conversions or increase in return on investment (ROI) as well.

Granted, you’re shelling out money — some of you over $1000/month — to that SEO company because they told you that’s how big you’ll have to spend before you can ever get those customers calling you.

I’ll tell you what — I don’t know if they’re right or wrong or whether that’s the way to go, but I can assure you that there are ways to tell if you are, in fact, being taken for a ride.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Is your SEO expert taking you for a ride?” user=”smallbizbonfire” hashtags=”smallbiz,marketing,seo,onlinebiz,digitalmarketing” url=”″]

Are you being forced onto a recurring a contract?

I’d say, proceed with caution, especially if it’s your first time with an agency. A couple of times top brands have signed a 6-, 12-, or 18-month contracts and saw between good to great results.

Other times, however, this same idea that seems pretty awesome for some websites and got them desirable results, got another business owner paying herself out of an SEO contract until she could become free from an agency that had done her business enough damage already. Honestly, it’s that bad when you aren’t lucky with a contract.

Opt for no contract or limited instead for starters. If everything goes well, you then might consider a committing to a long-term contract.

Do you know what the SEO expert has been doing, specifically?

There may be no reason actually to start asking this question. Or maybe not until you start seeing your main keywords ranking higher — but then not translating into revenue. In this case, your exposure is increased but in terms of your sales, nothing seems to have changed, right?

Like, what’s their team of SEO specialists doing? Are they strictly doing the structural components of your content for SEO or are they also implementing new design and development? And for how much are they willing (or have they agreed) to carry out the SEO of your website?

You should be keeping an open eye assuming you have paid advertising running in parallel. Here’s a perspective just for you.

Gabriela, a photographer in a group (White Hat SEO) discussion on Facebook says she’s locked into a monthly SEO contract with an SEO company. At about the same time, she has paid advertising — sometimes Facebook, another time Google Adwords, Instagram ads — running.

In the last two months, Gabriela claimed she stopped Facebook and Instagram ads but still had Google Adwords running. That was when she realized she gets between to 10 to 20 visits per day…

However, the channel that’s bringing those visits specifically — Google Ads or her SEO specialist’s exploits — is what she’s interested in that made her create the post.

When guys jumped in, someone quickly remarked that Gabriela has two H1’s (one is blank), 16 H2’s, and no Schema. Another person noted that Gabriela’s website has the call to action “Book Now” wrapped in an H1 tag.

I must add that Gabriela admitted she’s a noob to SEO (most business owners are, by the way) and only started having an idea of the base price in the SEO market after people weighed in. Before hiring anyone, she should have considered her business size — small; her business type and model — single service, single location; her business niche and the kind of services she’s offering — photography; and how much each contact is worth to her or how many of those she’ll get in a month — $100, $300, $500, $1000 or more?

And just so you know, Gabriela, after the two group members pointed to her those three BIG red flags, remarked: “Isn’t this something the SEO company should guide me or tell me to expand the budget?”

Still, when Gabriela demanded to know what her SEO client had been doing so far, they said: article content, optimization, article posting, article promotion, PDF content optimization, PDF posting, PDF promotion, bookmarking submission, image sharing, classified Ads post, search engine submission, directory submission links, social sharing

So, Christopher, one of the guys who became concerned about Gabriela’s post snapped: “That’s just talk. Let them show you in detail. Where did they use the articles they wrote, what optimization did they do exactly, where is the PDF content, where is it posted? What images did they share and where? …Make them show you numbers.”

Long story short, whoever Gabriela had hired for her SEO was hurting her business. She wasn’t showing up in searches for her top priority keywords, she wasn’t getting those visits, much less leads, or even customers… so what’s the point?

[easy-tweet tweet=”It’s time to say: hey, SEO expert, show me the numbers!” user=”smallbizbonfire” hashtags=”smallbiz,marketing,seo,onlinebiz,digitalmarketing” url=”″]

Did your rankings drop as threatened?

Maybe you don’t know, but there are SEO experts who threaten their clients with a drop in rankings if they ever decide to pause their subscription or even decide to cancel it.

Case in point: a Reddit user is a roofer and winter is his off-season. He contemplated pausing his commitment to this SEO firm until February and thus notified them accordingly.

Next, the SEO company replied that he needed to keep the commitment of $200 a month if he wants to maintain his directories.

Some SEO companies that focus on building citations/directories (assuming you canceled your commitment, moved to another agency or even decide to handle your stuff) will start removing you manually to make it seem like you’re getting ranked lower for not continuing to use their services.

This is not without some element of truth in it I must warn you: some SEO’s build artificial links on domains they own. You leave, your links are removed. Your rankings … gone.

See, I’m a little less bothered about whatever approach your SEO team is taking to SEO, or what strategies they might be using to rank your business website (I leave that to you and maybe Google) — but I’m more concerned about how you have been so ripped off (and continued to be arm-twisted–maybe for a longer time than I’m thinking) that you didn’t even notice.

That’s even still fair enough until they build those directories links — as many as they think they should be building — and until Google notices and penalizes … well, not your SEO agency, but you … your website!

[easy-tweet tweet=”Is your SEO expert explaining the power of quality #content #backlinks?” user=”smallbizbonfire” hashtags=”smallbiz,seo,onlinebiz,digitalmarketing” url=”″]

Could a penalty be from the SEO they did (and is that all they did)?

As it turns out, the level of expertise, skills and experience required to build links or create awesome content, the kind that Google will delight in and rank highly in the search result pages, assuming you care to know, is miles ahead of the one required to set up a Google My Business page, or for building links in this or that directories.

Understand that an SEO firm claiming they submitted your website to search engines, helped to set up a Schema, Google My Business page and other related activities, while you’re going to pay for these services for sure (it must have been included in your SEO package) are only a step in the right direction.

For one, a local listing can help local searchers to more easily find your business website. But then again a Schema set up and search engine submission, for instance, will help the search engines to be able to better crawl and understand your website’s content.

Note, however, that with some Googling any Joe can perfectly pull off those activities. In my honest opinion, whether you agree or not, that’s not SEO. Or let’s say that’s not the “SEO” that you’re paying for.

But if your SEO expert disagrees and insists that it is (maybe because they’re aware of the depth of your SEO knowledge or maybe they don’t, but just shouldn’t be doing SEO in the first place), well, I don’t know, but I think something is not right.

Your SEO expert should be talking about content so good they ranked high in search results, went viral, hence they attracted lots of links naturally. Or because of the SEO team’s ingenuity, with their experience and skills, securing relevant and top quality backlinks.

An SEO company that understands SEO and the value of useful, quality content and earned editorial links — which is not an easy one to pull off — is obviously doing something right and you should rest easy because soon enough you’ll begin to see returns from your SEO investments. Plus, I must add that your rankings and other perks achieved via this new status will stick and for a long time, and your business website won’t be at risk of any of Google’s penalty or algorithms updates.

Conversely, if an SEO expert turns to PBNs and directories for links and somehow was able to improve your website’s position in search results; well I don’t know for how long you’ll last in that position, but I do know that you can’t last long because the approach to SEO is not sustainable over the long haul.

What will happen is that a not-so-nice competitor finds out about this and reports you to Google. Then you’ll get penalized (that’s if Google has not already taken note and plans to penalize you in their next algorithm update).

Assuming this is not the case, another competitor with better content and maybe a cleaner backlink profile will effortlessly displace your website in search results. This is not to mention that given your website was listed in directories, which means you won’t be getting calls — sales call anyway — because the leads you’ll get aren’t qualified to start with. As with a new business, you can bet that’s not a recommended way to start. Neither is it a good way to scale.

Do YOU understand your customers and your competition?

In the analogies of Gabriela and the Reddit guy above, I would want to know that these business owners already know the landscape that they’re competing in.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what any SEO expert is telling you, if you have been able to research your customers — including their worth and their lifetime value (LTV) — the level of competition in your space, your competitors and the sophisticated nature of their SEO exploits, and can reasonably conclude what you need to be doing to reach your customers successfully, please just save yourself the stress … and the bogus SEO budget.

[easy-tweet tweet=”After all, there are many SEO experts today that were DJ’s in the eighties.” user=”smallbizbonfire” hashtags=”smallbiz,seo,digitalmarketing” url=”″]

Wrapping Up

Whether you know or not, there are many SEO experts today that were DJ’s in the eighties. Just because someone identifies himself as an SEO expert don’t necessarily mean he is one. And ignorance, naivety, or your believing them without verifying their claims won’t stop them from selling you snake oil anytime they have the opportunity.

My recommendation?

Have basic working knowledge of SEO and the SEO space. You can get started with Google’s SEO for Beginners or you could try Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO. You could also make friends with a few SEO buddies who can at least tell you if you’re headed in the right direction.

This way, no one will be taking you for a ride or engaging in SEO practices that can hurt your business or earn your business website search engine penalties. And you have complete control.