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The Problem With A-List SEO Agencies

February 27th, 2013
27 Comments


Dead Panda With Chainsaw
Image lifted from DeviantArt.com
  1. Too much business
  2. Leads to having to hire more people in a competitive industry where there are not enough skilled providers and a lot of churn from people jumping around trying to make more $
  3. So you end up hiring inexperienced people and trying to train them on a “SEO system”
  4. So now you’ve got a lot more overhead and your investors are impatient so you take any business that walks in the door and throw it over to the new kid
  5. But the site is complicated – not like those 20 page websites he started doing SEO on as a teenager – so he logs into the company intranet and downloads the “How To Fix Panda SEO Problems”, cuts and pastes a client logo on the deck and hits the “send” button.
  6. Client trusts the advice – Hey, they have a booth at SES so they must know what they’re doing right? – and proceeds to implement massive noindexing, nofollowing, blocking in robots.txt and link disavowal.
  7. Organic traffic goes pretty much the way you would expect it to:
    Bad Panda Advice

Many doctors kill a few patients along the way – that’s part of the way you learn after all – and there are plenty of great A-list SEO consultants, but sometimes the stories you hear are insane.


Tags: Enterprise SEO

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jim Rudnick // Feb 27, 2013 at 8:28 am

    My addition, Andrew…

    #8. You finally realize it was a bad SEO firm, and then do a search on Google for a replacement….figuring that hey anyone who can get their own SEO firm in the top 10 is worth looking at, eh?

    Which is how you learn to check references and call the firms clients to actually speak to the folks who use the replacement firm….that’s a review that IS worth getting, eh!

    :-)

  • 2 Sharon // Feb 27, 2013 at 8:36 am

    True story even at a lower level. I do local SEO for bigger companies as a sub and can’t believe the lack of understanding of local and even on-page I encounter sometimes. The turnover and lack of any sort of litmus test for new hires = the results you outlined even for Jo-Bobs Drycleaning.

    PS-the link in my profile is my husband’s business, ’cause I haven’t had time to work on my website. :)

  • 3 Andrew Shotland // Feb 27, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Unfortunately Jim, even references do not prevent this from happening. The agency that produced this traffic graph has a stellar rep. The CEO is very well-known in the SEO industry. I bet they have done amazing work for clients. And of course, most references are not worth the time to check because who’s going to send you to someone who will give a bad reference?

    The problem here is industry-wide because anyone with a “name” in this biz is probably drinking from a firehose. And it’s hard to say “no” to revenue.

  • 4 Joel // Feb 27, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    A lot of truth here; I think there’s the added burden of being front and centre and analyzed from every angle. Even slight mistakes become huge ordeals – I’m calling to mind when Wil Reynolds felt he had to apologize to the industry at large when one of his interns contacted Moz for outreach.

    Processes are the first thing to go when your business gets busy, I’ve found. Neglect your processes, and your business starts to break down – including those excited new hires who have nothing to go off of but their extremely busy mentors.

  • 5 Andrew Shotland // Feb 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Best looking blog commenter in the world

  • 6 Curtis R. Curtis // Feb 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Nailed it! Kudos Andrew.

  • 7 Mollie Benton // Feb 27, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Amen! Rubbing up against the bigger SEO companies with the deep pockets gets frustrating sometimes but then I realize that we are simply offering a different service all together. We call ourselves a boutique SEO company but really we are a group of people who only take on a set amount of clients so that we can take care of them the way they deserve to be taken care of. Yes, we get busy sometimes and have to turn some people away, but that’s the only way we can produce the results that our clients deserve. Loved the article!

  • 8 Eilidh MacRae // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Very interesting post! For any SEO company being the best is a dream and I believe any problems reaches along the way would be able to be dealt with.

  • 9 Cameron Whitaker // Feb 28, 2013 at 2:12 am

    A classic case of growing to big which means you become careless, sloppy and become complacent. This is why smaller companies are more personable and are all about quality of service not just about lining their pockets.

  • 10 Miguel Salcido // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:53 am

    AMEN brotha! I feel like I just heard a sermon in church. You speak the truth.
    I’ve worked in large SEO agencies like this, and have faced the same issues. Its a flawed system for sure.

    Now I make my living providing large agencies with quality SEO services that they turn around and mark up and re-sell. Its amazing how many agencies do this and how inept they are internally with SEO. This is literally 80% of my income.

    I am to believe that the in-house SEO team within digital agencies is dying. No thought leadership and tons of turnover (cause SEOs, good ones, are entreprenuerial and/or get recruited 3-4 times per month for other positions).

  • 11 Andrew Shotland // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I don’t believe these teams are dying. I believe they are going through an awkward growth period that creates the situations described above.

    In a way, this is a great problem to have – too much growth and not enough people to service the current client base.

    Pretty soon everyone will be a SEO and that will be that – http://www.localseoguide.com/im-a-mortgage-broker-i-mean-seo/

  • 12 John // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Any chance you could reveal what the successive bad seo advice was in the chart?

  • 13 Andrew Shotland // Feb 28, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    The client took about a hit from the April 11th Panda 2.0 update, but even though their traffic went down about 30%, that was only because it was abnormally high the two weeks before the update. It really only went down to slightly below avg levels of where it was a few weeks before. So in reality they didn’t really get a serious Panda hit, but the week over week loss was 30% so everyone panicked.

    So they proceeded to noindex everything in site. Then they added insult to injury by blocking a billion pages in /robots.txt, including pages that were linked from the main nav. Traffic has been sliding ever since.

  • 14 Jonah stein // Mar 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Because what worked last time, for that site that has been around for 10 years or has more brand search or something else different is not going to work this time.

    Being a good SEO is like being a chef. You can train anyone to follow a recipe but it takes experience and talent to actually cook with the ingredients you have on hand, pair it with the right wine and make the customer happy. Even then, if you don’t have a good wait staff and front of house manager, you will fail.

  • 15 Andrew Shotland // Mar 1, 2013 at 10:33 am

    What he said

  • 16 Rick // Mar 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    You hit the nail on the head. Sure you may get to work with the best SEO agency out there, but when they grow to a certain point you end up with junior people working on an account. It if don’t get the A team, heck even the B or C team.. there probably are better options at smaller agencies out there.

  • 17 the off-white guy // Mar 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    and how about the fact that all SEO agencies are frauds simply by virtue of the fact that anyone that is really good at SEO can make piles of money much, much, much easier than dealing with frustrated clients all day.

  • 18 Andrew Shotland // Mar 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Exactly. Like why don’t they use their SEO skills to create a blog that ranks for terms that people who need help with SEO search for and provide them with profitable, high-quality consulting services?

  • 19 BrettASnyder // Mar 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    This can also be read as something of a cautionary tale for growing SEO companies, ones that still have the time/resources to be hyper-focused on customer service without the distractions that come with this type of growth. None of the companies that experience these types of issues but you hear them time and time again when growth exceeds the company’s capacity to handle it.

    Moral of the story: don’t think “this won’t happen to me” but acknowledge these problems and learn to recognize them and address them before they get out of control.

    Thanks for sharing Andrew, much enjoyed the post!

  • 20 Kumar // Mar 3, 2013 at 3:08 am

    You are SEO expert and running a SEO agency/company, but all employee can’t expert. So, you can’t control all work yourself done by your employee. This is a simple but main issue with a A-List SEO Agencies.

  • 21 Matthew // Mar 3, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Just wanted to say thank you for giving so much back! I consult and do seo but not for more clients than my small team can handle. I love keeping the expenses LOW, the quality of service HIGH and the clients HAPPY! Thanks for the great article.

  • 22 RMandal // Mar 4, 2013 at 7:13 am

    In my experience, the bigger a business gets, the more detached they tend to be with their clients. Whether that’s because they’re more focused on the financial side of things, or there’s just less time to do it all, it leads to a lot more chances to fall through. In general, I’d say this detaches the company from their own staff as well, causing a rift that leaves the employee working the bare minimum, because why work hard, and learn more when a lot of big companies don’t really reward that type of devotion anymore.
    Training is generally short and out-of-date, and many experienced employees might feel at risk when dealing with newer employees, causing a sense of harsh competitiveness within the company, and leaving newer employees to fend for themselves.

  • 23 Mr. Raleigh // Mar 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Having a small web design and internet marketing company is much better, especially for local businesses. They know of special directories, events, people in the area to help any business succeed. It’s also nice to have a company that will get to know you and your employees, not just take your money.

  • 24 Jason Ferrara // Mar 7, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I love the drawing – it sums up the article well. I can only imagine that the right leg of the bear was cut off by its own right arm during a period of solitary focus on one issue – oops! we forgot to protect our leg! Good stuff.

  • 25 Bryson Meunier // Apr 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Sorry just getting around to reading this today.

    I totally agree that just because an agency has an enviable client list and is well known in the industry doesn’t mean they do good work. I’ve seen top agencies give terrible advice to clients that then came to us to fix.

    On the other hand, I work for a large agency, and we’re one of the largest in terms of revenue according to Ad Age, and I know we never give bad advice like this. We’re kind of unique in that we have individual client teams, we try to staff appropriately and all of our SEO supervisors talk to me about the strategy that they’re putting forth for their client.

    So while I know this is a problem with some A-list agencies, I work hard to make sure that it’s not a problem with ours. Great post! I would just qualify the title to avoid an unfair generalization.

    Great seeing you yesterday!

    Best,
    Bryson

  • 26 Andrew Shotland // Apr 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

    No apologies necessary Bryson, although it does hurt that you don’t stop by my blog on a daily basis.

    I know you guys do great work, so surely you understand the importance of a good title when it comes to blogging? :)

  • 27 Suzanne Lanning // Dec 16, 2014 at 3:33 am

    Very interesting post! They added insult to injury by blocking a billion pages in /robots.txt, including pages that were linked from the main nav. Traffic has been sliding ever since.

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