Congrats to the unscrupulous SEO offliners, you're starting kill the business for everyone!

34 replies
Google is starting to take notice of the practices of unscrupulous offline SEO consultants, warning everyone to be wary of SEO consultants.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - Webmaster Tools Help

Even SEO sites like Search Engine Journal are writing about it... even going so far as to specifically state that if an SEO contacts you out of the blue, be extremely wary.

Be Wary of SEO Companies that Contact You First | Search Engine Journal

The simple truth is that good, white hat SEO providers don't need to go begging for business like that. Their business is built on a solid reputation, the satisfaction of clients and referrals brought in from happy customers. They don't have to resort to unsolicited e-mails and underhanded tactics to win business.

That kind of PR is going to start to hurt a lot of people here who don't have any solid business development strategy beyond the street hustle.

It will ultimately bring about an end to the low-end hustler players that don't quickly create a real business development strategy.

I've been saying this for several years now, watching business after business get burned by scammers, and even well-meaning but inept folks who create real damage to their clients. In fact, I am aware of a couple lawsuits in my own network of contacts that's going down right now because of this sort of thing.

But the real shift is how the trusted media sources and industry journals are now issuing blanket warnings to business owners against any and all outbound efforts to make first contact.

So what's your strategy to stay in business in response to this kind of PR effort that will only continue to grow?
#congratulations #hit #offliners #radar #seo #starting #unscrupulous
  • Profile picture of the author HypnoHugh
    Offline clients should be wary of unscrupulous and dodgy SEO 'consultants' as there are a lot about and can damage your business.

    But Google is not against them as this quote from the article you mention demonstrates:

    "If you're thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you're considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site."

    The easiest way to be seen as one of the good guys is to warn clients of the bad practices that can get you in trouble and show how your methods are legit.

    I find you don't need to keep secrets as even with full disclosure most clients are still not technically capable or are simple too busy to do it themselves.

    Being open builds trust and credibility.

    Hugh
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  • Profile picture of the author alanborcic
    It looks like playing field will be cleared out of people who here for quick buck. No concern for people who have solid business structure. SEO is just one of few dozens strategies that real business consultants provide
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  • Profile picture of the author HypnoHugh
    Another tip is not to lead with SEO but with other less controversial and more easily understood services such as website design / redesign, Google Places, Facebook Pages, Mobile sites, lead generation / list building or simply online strategy over view.

    SEO often works best as a back end sale.

    Also have a few good testimonials and rank your own site for a few long tail key words.

    No publicity is necessarily bad publicity - as long as you position yourself correctly.

    For example positioning yourself as a supplier to a particular local market or to a particularly industry / niche further builds trust & credibility.

    Hugh
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  • Profile picture of the author MichaelHiles
    No Google is certainly not opposed to SEO consultants. They're opposed to UNSCRUPULOUS SEO consultants.

    What is happening though is the shift in definition of what constitutes "unscrupulous", and this morning Search Engine Journal published an article that essentially indicted any SEO consultant who engages in outbound marketing as meeting that qualification.

    Be it right or wrong, fair or unfair, that's what's going on.

    Unscrupulous SEO players have run amok and created a really bad reputation for SEO consultants in general. In order to help businesses define who is unscrupulous vs. who is not, a VERY widely read and respected trade journal source is now creating a blanket definition of "unscrupulous" based on the marketing practices in which the marketing consultant engages.

    It's simply the reality of the market.

    What's your strategy to adapt as a business when this trend continues?

    If trade journals are running with this kind of story, it won't be long before general small business journals pick it up and start running with it. Then it will make its way into the chambers of commerce, etc...

    But it's not like this has happened overnight, this has been coming for a while. The only difference is now the trend will start to hit Main Street radar and general awareness.
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    • Profile picture of the author Jagged
      [QUOTE=MichaelHiles;3775360]
      What's your strategy to adapt as a business when this trend continues? [QUOTE]



      I run into this a lot....where local business owners are skeptical of anything SEO related from being bombarded with email & phone calls, mostly from overseas (so called) SEO companies.....some of those local businesses have already been scammed in some way before....word gets out quickly in local communities...

      I point out a few factors to clients that separate my business from those overseas wannabe's:

      - I make no promises I can not keep.....especially when it concerns getting the #1 position....& I explain why....

      - Their only goal is to take your money....there is no commitment to an ongoing business relationship.

      - That those emails are not targeted to his business alone...that even my business gets them...lol Kind of like selling ice to eskimos...not a smart business plan.

      - The best way to go about local SEO is to know the area that you are targeting. Know the demographics, know the people, know the local business climate. I find it impossible for any out-of-state, out of country SEO business to make those claims. I show them that I personally live in my clients geo-targeted area, I actually am one of their targeted customers....I live, eat, shop, entertain in the same local community that they do.....who better to know the local customer base, the local business climate than someone like me who lives it everyday....

      Combine that with an analysis of his current business website and/or standings in local searches for his business, product or service, an analysis of comparison to his competitors....and targeted cost savings over their current marketing methods (yellowpages, local mailings, etc) & most times they are eager to get started....

      I go to client meetings with a track record of getting local business in front of local customers....I carry articles like those Michael has shown to back up what I say about those scrupulous under achieving, overpriced, out-of-town/country wannabe SEO companies....and as mentioned above by Voasi....education goes a long way in my business plan.

      Good luck,
      ~Ken
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      • Profile picture of the author BradB
        Man I must be getting OLD but this is real old headline stuff to me.

        Seems to me I've heard the same kind of panic talk about MLM,.....a dirty terrible nasty Scam business that is designed to ruin the American economy.

        More recently there was the deluge of articles railing on all things Affiliate marketing too.

        You Nasty Black-hatters you...

        Things like this seem to level out after a while and the sincere people who stick with it and develop themselves and their product will out distance the wannabies and fly by nighters.

        And the journalists will find something else to raise the alarm about.
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        • Profile picture of the author ebizroi
          Done and done. I love it!

          Rapport is key. Also key is deliverying some value ahead of the sale. We all use tools that can generate reports with actionable recommendations leading the customer to the conclusion that they would prefer to outsource those recommendations.

          Educating the customer IS key. No selling ice to eskimos (I get SEO solicitations too!) Be aware that SEO is a term that means almost nothing to those outside the industry.

          Its like talking about a CPA (Cost per Acquisition) offer which means an accountant to anyone outside of the Internet advertising industry.

          Know your target market and what their biggest problems are. Show industry knowledge which can be gained based from past careers or through having multiple clients in the same industry.

          Bulk email to 3rd party lists is likely to be ineffective, especially if not if campaigns are not CANSPAM-compliant.
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          • Yes, my Google Places rep told me they've really been cracking down on and even CLOSING DOWN scammy local SEOs.

            I'm sure glad I don't have to do any prospecting, because I know companies are getting totally hammered by calls from these high pressure scammers. Must be really hard for legit marketers to get past the gatekeeper or even get emails opened.
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            • Not just the 'regular' scammy SEOs that promise the world and deliver little to nothing, but SEO hijackers and extortionists.

              I recently blogged about 2 cases where SEOs had either hijacked the clients Place page or with one of my clients it was actually extortion. The client (before he came to me or I would not have advised it) paid the SEO $1200 just to get the log in and password.

              When the client gave me the log in I found out the entire account was in PURGATORY, due to all the violations the SEO had. If you don't know what that is, it's a penalty that is beyond, pending, rejected or suspended. There are certain signs when an account is in purgatory and there is NO WAY to get it fixed. So this guy spent 1200 for a totally dead, useless acct.

              Just saw another poor user in the Google forum that's having a problem with an SEO taking over his account and saying if he refuses to pay he'll fix it so the customer can't ever add a Place page.

              Sad! And makes us all look bad!
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              • Profile picture of the author 1960Texan
                Originally Posted by Catalyst eMarketing View Post

                Not just the 'regular' scammy SEOs that promise the world and deliver little to nothing, but SEO hijackers and extortionists.

                I recently blogged about 2 cases where SEOs had either hijacked the clients Place page or with one of my clients it was actually extortion. The client (before he came to me or I would not have advised it) paid the SEO $1200 just to get the log in and password.

                When the client gave me the log in I found out the entire account was in PURGATORY, due to all the violations the SEO had. If you don't know what that is, it's a penalty that is beyond, pending, rejected or suspended. There are certain signs when an account is in purgatory and there is NO WAY to get it fixed. So this guy spent 1200 for a totally dead, useless acct.

                Just saw another poor user in the Google forum that's having a problem with an SEO taking over his account and saying if he refuses to pay he'll fix it so the customer can't ever add a Place page.

                Sad! And makes us all look bad!
                What always amazes me whenever I see something like this is that so many of the unethical people in our business are initially working just as hard as those of us who earn our livings legitimately. I say "initially" because it's a lot easier to build a client roster when you aren't scamming people.

                Will
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            • Profile picture of the author edakehurst
              Originally Posted by Catalyst eMarketing View Post

              I'm sure glad I don't have to do any prospecting, because I know companies are getting totally hammered by calls from these high pressure scammers. Must be really hard for legit marketers to get past the gatekeeper or even get emails opened.
              I have no problem getting past the gatekeepers. Charm, wit, sincerity, and low-to-no-pressure is the key.

              With that said, I very rarely open with any talk about SEO. Usually by the time that enters the conversation, it is them asking me about it, not the other way around.
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  • Profile picture of the author 1960Texan
    A few points about this particular blanket statement:

    The simple truth is that good, white hat SEO providers don't need to go begging for business like that. Their business is built on a solid reputation, the satisfaction of clients and referrals brought in from happy customers. They don't have to resort to unsolicited e-mails...
    1. You can't have a reputation, solid or otherwise, until you have your first client. Should we just close the gates behind us and not let anyone else in?
    2. Same for referrals.
    3. Most businesses rely on new clients/customers to survive, and damn few of the successful ones wait for the new customer to come knocking at their door. Sales staffs, advertising/marketing budgets, these things would not exist unless they were widely used and needed by businesses near and far. A personalized, well-crafted yet still unsolicited email is nothing more than a sales call.
    There are unscrupulous people in every business. They make it that much easier for the rest of us to over promise and under deliver.

    Will
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    • Profile picture of the author MichaelHiles
      Originally Posted by 1960Texan View Post

      A few points about this particular blanket statement:



      1. You can't have a reputation, solid or otherwise, until you have your first client. Should we just close the gates behind us and not let anyone else in?
      2. Same for referrals.
      3. Most businesses rely on new clients/customers to survive, and damn few of the successful ones wait for the new customer to come knocking at their door. Sales staffs, advertising/marketing budgets, these things would not exist unless they were widely used and needed by businesses near and far. A personalized, well-crafted yet still unsolicited email is nothing more than a sales call.
      There are unscrupulous people in every business. They make it that much easier for the rest of us to over promise and under deliver.

      Will

      Yeah I thought the SEJ piece was pretty blunt... and even far too broad brush sweeping.

      HOWEVER... this is the position that they are taking, and you're certain to see more of this attitude. That's when the realization hit me that the market shift is in effect, and everyone should have a pivot in their arsenal to be ready to meet the change in the marketplace's attitude towards certain kinds of business practices... warranted or unwarranted.

      Remember... we live in an era where PROFIT is a dirty word in general. Even on the WF, among supposed marketing folks, there's a contingency of people who are incensed at the mere notion that someone would sell an information product and make a whole bunch of money on it.

      But the real culprits are the scam artists who have proverbially pooped in the punch bowl for everyone. And pointing out scammers tactics isn't necessarily helping good guys out either.

      That's like a car salesperson saying, "yeah but I am one of those really caring, legitimate car salespeople"

      Indeed, they may very well be... but the market's attitude is already decidedly against them.
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  • Profile picture of the author octaneinv
    Good read. I've been in the business consulting game for a long time now, here in New York, and the very first lesson I teach to my students is the fact that "SEO" is a deadly term, and being an "internet consultant" or "seo consultant" or "marketing consultant" is a failure waiting to happen.

    I know a name doesn't change who you are, or what you do; but it holds alot of weight when talking to clients. Try some alternatives like, "Creative Marketing Analyst" or "Strategic Marketing Partner" or "Business Growth & Development Adviser".

    Ryan
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  • Profile picture of the author Voasi
    I've been the Director of SEO for one of the largest SEO firms in the US as well as several other SEO companies in my background, I've seen plenty of this.

    I've been seeing this coming for a while. It's sad, because these SEO companies that are looking for a quick buck are going to go out fast, but the worst part about it is that they're bringing down the name of "SEO" and turning into "Scammers" and labeling the industry as "It doesn't work".

    Here's what you need to do, noob or not:

    1. Make sure you have case studies. If you don't have clients, then build your own websites, get them ranked. It will be an investment of time and money, but what business owner does invest in those 2 things for any new business. Once you have a few of your own websites ranking (regardless if you plan on using them for clients) showcase them on your website and when you're talking to clients.

    2. Educate. This is the game changer. This is what's going to set you apart when you're out there cold calling. You got to remember that business owners are getting 10-20 calls/email a week for SEO/internet marketing services.

    What sets you apart?

    It's your ability to educate. I've been telling my sales staff to educate. We have a 2 step process. We first sell them on an appointment, that's all we're selling, along with building rapport. DO NOT underestimate rapport building - that's the key. Then, during the appointment, we educate them on SEO, internet marketing, conversions, ROI, etc... and then go for the close.

    We've beaten big SEO companies for contracts based on this model. It works, because call-center SEO companies aren't building rapport. Once rapport has been built, the walls and barriers are down and they LISTEN to the education portion.

    Done and done.

    But at the end of the day, you HAVE TO back up your claims and successes of previous clients to match up with what you're going to give them. That's how you GROW your business, rather then just stay stagnant and become a "paper" seo company.
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  • Profile picture of the author m.jizzLe
    Only scammers and new companies work the sales rachet? Cold-calling is an essential part of sales, no matter what level you're at.

    There will always be scammers, its your job as a salesman to get the final yes out of the client.
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  • Profile picture of the author cchipster
    I take it you dont live in the Southwest? Every biz owner here has been burned by fly by night SEO 'experts' being we are the tech capital down here. Imagine marketing your services here...hahaha welcomes you to reality reallll quick. You must just now be feeling the ripple where you live! LOL
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  • Profile picture of the author Matthew Payne
    I have found it is best to sell SEO with a service like web design. Selling SEO by itself is getting to be nearly impossible.

    I will say this the people who are screaming hard do have a point. Why would you want someone to SEO their site if you cannot even get your own SEO website to a decent position in Google to get enough traffic to bring you business?

    The legit companies will always have business, they just will. Their reputation will carry with them, but woe to those who are trying to start an SEO business now have nothing to show for it and thus resort to cold calling.
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  • Profile picture of the author Fernando Veloso
    1/ These "seo companies" send email blasts cause they WORK and they make money.

    2/ Instead of hitting the hammer on "seo companies" (and targeting the wrong folks along the way...) perhaps Google "could" educate offline biz owners into whats right and wrong.

    So what's your strategy to stay in business in response to this kind of PR effort that will only continue to grow?
    Referrals. And Adwords. And a short but incisive presence in some circles of trust.
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  • Profile picture of the author roypreece
    Selling SEO is no different to selling insurance or ad space. In each case you're selling a promise.

    And in every industry there are people who promise what they know they can't deliver -- they just take the money and move on.

    The solution is to sell yourself before you sell the promise (SEO success).

    This takes longer, and a bit more effort .... which means that the scammers won't do it, because they're too busy chasing a fast buck to put in the time to build trust and rapport.

    If you make the decision to spend time selling yourself before you make an SEO offer, you'll be OK.
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    • Originally Posted by roypreece View Post

      Selling SEO is no different to selling insurance or ad space. In each case you're selling a promise.

      And in every industry there are people who promise what they know they can't deliver -- they just take the money and move on.

      The solution is to sell yourself before you sell the promise (SEO success).

      This takes longer, and a bit more effort .... which means that the scammers won't do it, because they're too busy chasing a fast buck to put in the time to build trust and rapport.

      If you make the decision to spend time selling yourself before you make an SEO offer, you'll be OK.
      So true, and one easy way to create credibility is to build one or three or seven sites, in any given niche in your area...and get them ranking and with traffic. Have this info with you when you visit potential clients.

      Let them know that YOU KNOW what your doing and are there to help them gain customers/money/benefits. And you know you can do this because you've done it for others. As evidenced by the ranking/traffic you show them.

      All the while, being an honest and similarly compelled small business person.
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  • Profile picture of the author Chris Rivers
    So true.

    Regardless of all the fly by night wso's that claim that anyone's dog, cat, squirrel or possum can do offline marketing...it becomes more evident that you have to treat your offline marketing business....drum roll please....like a business.

    The longer I'm in the offline marketing arena, it becomes even more obvious to me that building credibility through producing expert resources that are respected by prospects, clients and the industry, your portfolio and ongoing training are things that "real" marketing experts spend the time and money to develop.

    Thanks,

    Chris
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  • Profile picture of the author kirbymurphy
    I was approached by an "SEO expert" firm to sell their services. They are quite big, but some investigation turned up MANY complaints. The clueless business owner with a web site is ther prime market.
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    • Profile picture of the author Hugh Thyer
      Some of you guys need to harden up.

      You're in business now and it's a jungle out there.

      Things like WARNING: type messages have been around for decades. People with some marketing knowledge have been killing it with this type of positioning. It's nothing new.

      If you want to survive, if you want to do well then you need to find out how to market your business or these guys are going to eat you alive.

      Get your message sorted out and get out there. You can't hide behind a weak marketing message or poor positioning statement and expect your competition to feel sorry for you and leave you alone.

      Re-read the post by Jagged. Here's someone who knows how it's done.
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  • Profile picture of the author iAmNameLess
    LOL... so easy to overcome this. People tend to find excuses to why they aren't doing as well as they want. How many offline businesses even know what a google webmaster account is? These are people who don't even know how to do their own google places. Most have no idea what SEO even is. Many of them refer to me as the google guy.

    Not a big deal... same has gone on with web design, doesn't stop me at all.
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    • Profile picture of the author Stephen B
      All sectors have good and bad businesses operating in them so why should we believe that our industry would be any different?

      It doesn't matter whether you are just starting out or have an established business the primary rules are still the same:

      "look after your clients and your clients will look after you".

      If all businesses believed negative press then no business would ever get done ... look at the press and jokes regarding lawyers, dentists, real estate etc.
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  • Profile picture of the author Ewan Kennedy
    Hi Michael,

    I was very interested to stumble across this thread and your reference to Search Engine Journal's (SEJ's) article since my own, rather spookily similar, article was published on Ezine Articles just 12 days before SEJ's and had an almost identical title.

    I can't post links yet but you can Google, if interested:
    [cold calls from seo companies and why you should be wary]

    Most of the comments in the thread are just common sense. Where there are uninformed or gullible targets, there will always be scammers preying on them.

    I think the key for clients is to research thoroughly prior to committing and therefore the key for providers is to help educate them.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jan Hurst
    Why not use this to your advantage by taking a proactive approach?

    Contact your local media with a story that tells your side. Since almost every business does some form of outbound marketing, make that point. It doesn't mean they are all scammers.

    Give the story your spin, why the national media has painted too broad a brush, and what local businesses can do to protect themselves.

    Offer a radio interview. Offer to be a guest for a talk radio call-in format.

    Get ahead of the curve with your own strong PR campaign. This sounds like a great opportunity to give yourself some positive visibility in your markets!
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    • Profile picture of the author Bojacked
      I don't know that anyone can necessarily blame offliners totally for this issue. There are just as many bluefart-ers out there in the online and offline business in my experience.

      I think with google restructuring like it has in recent days many of the shady folks are scrambling to do whatever they can to bump their clients to the top of google or risk losing them. These are the people that most likely havent been honest and reasonable with their clients from the start. The "you're on the first page of google for your term or you pay nothing" folks are most definitely about to get screwed! I just did a few local searches and found that one search returned ONLY 3 organic non-places rankings! I almost wonder if google isn't just as much to blame for this by drastically restructuring the search results this way. I don't think the places rankings taking up more than the top 5-6 spots makes sense on a desktop. On a phone, yes... desktop no IMO.

      Please don't condemn the offline community as I doubt they are to blame at large. Yes many are newer folks just getting started but I do believe the majority of the offliners here really are in it to do things the right way for their clients because they care.

      Just my two cents. I do think your post makes a good point and helps our community to realize what we are up against. Now we can organize our efforts to distance ourselves from these guys who are just out to make a quick buck. Might even be the best selling point you have, building trust is essential in this business.

      B
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  • Profile picture of the author Michael William
    Business owners are going to want to check you out. The best thing you can do if you are starting out is tell them that upfront and be yourself. Tell them you are brand new, what your old job was, and are looking for an opportunity to prove yourself. Give them a site for free that almost demands upsells and you can build your clientele quickly. Some A holes may slam the phone but many business owners will be sympathetic and will want to give you a chance (and save some serious money).
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  • Profile picture of the author BigRichLane
    Everyone needs to start somewhere, but they need to make sure they are knowledgeable before they start. I wouldn't start a rant about the new graphic designer that just got out of college and is looking for a job. everyone is looking to build a better life for themselves so you can blame them for that. times are tough right now so people are doing whatever necessary to put food on the table.

    However I would start one about a construction worker that bought a wso on logo design and started a business selling custom websites. Honestly though every business is going to have some clowns and its partially the responsibility of the person hiring them to check them out. If they get ripped off (and dont flame me for this) in a way is partially their own fault for dishing out 700-2000 dollars without doing their homework. Seriously if someone is handing out money that please point me in that direction.
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  • Profile picture of the author RentItNow
    One of the traps for small businesses is an unscrupulous SEO guy will of course undercut what is the going rate because of the sticker shock local biz owners have SEO...they fall prey easily to that (pennywise, pound foolish owners). Same with website designers. I would say the number one complaint I hear from owners is "the guy took my money and I am still waiting for my SEO results/website". No wonder they are leery when u walk in.
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    I have no agenda but to help those in the same situation. This I feel will pay the bills.
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  • Profile picture of the author Aaron Doud
    Honestly why not use this as your marketing?

    "Don't let another out of state company that just wants you money rip you off. I'm Aaron and I want to be your partner. I'll help you navigate all this. And together we will help you get more customers, grow your business, and build your brand."

    Yeah that kinda sucks but if you put more than 30 seconds into it you could make it better and have it focused on the customer.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Morris
    Its about time this happened, here in the UK its the same.
    Most small businesses have had a cold call promising the world with SEO.
    I would not dream of pitching SEO in an initial client conversation, whats the point?
    No point in pitching SEO when there site has no clearly defined message or call to action
    To be a true 'consultant' you have to get to understand there business as a whole, only then would you get to see which set of solutions would work best. To many people get caught up in the services and packages. Prove your value by understanding there pain and offering the right solution.
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