#14 – SEO – 20/03/2013


So apparently there has been another Google update…

There will have been a few SEO’s going into last weekend worrying about whether they will be getting a bollocking about their clients come Monday. A few of the more dedicated of this bunch probably completed a few ‘keyword’ searches to see whether their sites had bombed or not. These poor fuckers are going to be up against it. I mean after all the quality work they’ve been doing recently how will they be able to explain this to their clients?

Lets be honest (for once) and say that the majority of SEO agencies have probably got used to explaining indifferent results to their clients over the last couple of years. So one more panda update won’t really make a massive difference. Will it?

This thought process led me down a foggy road, one where I thought “Would an SEO agency rather ‘strive’ to get #1 results for their clients than actually rank for them?” Yes, an SEO campaign is more about traffic and conversions these days but the fundamentals of organic traffic comes from rankings (I feel I have to add this because some idiots usually comes out and say that rankings don’t matter when they quite obviously do.)

So lets think about this for a second. SEO agency A are currently ranking #1 for their clients priority terms. What sort of things will they probably consider?


Being #1

  • Forever checking ranking results to see whether they are still ranking 1st for their “priority” term(s).
  • Shitting themselves every ranking update regardless of how white hat their campaign has been because of the unpredictability of Google.
  • Running out of sources to get organic traffic.
  • Frustrated clients who will soon get bored of the same results (however good they are).

Now you work for SEO agency B and you’re striving to be #1 for your clients priority terms.


Striving to be #1:

  • The results above us are spam… We could easily replicate them but it’s not a good idea for you in the long term.
  • We create quality content that gets plenty of social shares and links, we’re just waiting for the links to pass authority.
  • We get quality links from websites with high authority, we’re just waiting for the links to pass authority.
  • “We are looking to offer a risk free organic search campaign that has your long term business success in mind. We wouldn’t want to ruin this by building links too quickly or poorly, like your competitors”.

I can imagine a large number of SEO suppliers who are currently striving for the #1 spot because they are either:

  • Too afraid to do anything to drastic (especially around anchor text)
  • Don’t actually know what it takes to rank a site in 2013
  • Have been penalised by Google and are trying to get back or have taken a client on in a similar situation.
  • Are miles behind the competition but will lie about the clients chances of ranking to keep the money coming in.

But business wise there are benefits to this, we may pretend that there isn’t but we know it to be true.


Selling the idea to a client that they will rank once Google changes their algorithm to reward ‘quality’ is currently a utopian one. Let’s ignore the fact that we can’t seem to define quality content. Have you ever really believed that Google will be able to do this, let alone choose too?

I aim to create the best content to get more shares, more links, more visibility and my client out there. Not because it might one day help me rank better. If this ‘tactic’ helps me in the future then so be it.

One things for sure though, you can bet your bollocks this ‘quality algorithm’ anticipation has been and will be coming out of the mouths of agencies around the world in both selling to prospective clients and keeping clients happy. I know that at the end of the day any supplier that tries to do something like this and doesn’t back it up by traffic or conversions will be caught out in the end and likely binned but it won’t stop some agencies from providing a sub par service in the name of risk management, being clueless and/or being afraid to try.

Sorry I’ve got kind of lost here. Time to stop typing I think. Any thoughts are as always appreciated.

Oh yeah that’s it. We’re looking to accept guest posts here at The Saloon. Ideally some of you guys that don’t normally post on your own blogs let alone anyone else’s. We are after fresh ideas and voices within the industry (even if this post proved otherwise). If your down to write get in touch with one of us.


  1. Reply
    Patrick March 20, 2013

    I love this point Sean: “Let’s ignore the fact that we can’t seem to define quality content”

    This is really important. If we humans can barely differentiate amazing content from good content, or even good content from bad content, how is a machine ever supposed to do it? In particular, what makes a piece of content stand out is its ability to resonate with its audience – which is a subjective matter.

    It will be a loooooong time before Google could get close to comparing multiple pieces of comparable content and being able to judge that one is intrinsically ‘better’. Can many humans even do that?

    The only way they can differentiate is through external factors such as links, social signals, author signals etc… So simply building quality content just to satisfy Google is a fool’s game.

  2. Reply
    Dustin Verburg March 20, 2013

    Sean, you’re really on point here.

    I’m naive and live in a pile of lumber just off of the freeway (behind the Denny’s) in the Pacific Northwest, so I didn’t know that agencies are making promises based on this future update. It’s sort of like a real estate agent going “well this house sucks now, but when North Korea invades it will BE GREAT so you should keep paying me.” And only the idiots who watched the Red Dawn remake believe him, but think of how much money that movie made… there are a lot of idiots.

    I also have to agree with Patrick, beyond analyzing basic grammar, spelling and syntax, there will never be a web-bot-google-machine that can really determine what is and isn’t quality content. Until Mr. Data works for Google, that is.

    • Reply
      Sean March 20, 2013

      Thanks Dustin 🙂

      I’m also similarly naive but I don’t think it takes a genius to work out that this is what these agencies will be saying by reviewing a few of their posts. If they are getting the client the results they pay for/expect then fair play to them. If they’re not then I’d expect them to be lying to keep them. Simple as. No-one seems to talk about this though.

      What happens when your work doesn’t get the results expected??

  3. Reply
    Sean March 20, 2013

    Obviously this is what I mean’t…

    *ahem* I kind of mean’t the online marketing bubble (I rarely think outside of it) but the point that humans find it difficult to define quality in anything makes it very difficult for a computer to do so.

    We can spam the interwebs with our content FOREVER!!!

    • Reply
      Patrick March 20, 2013

      Uh-oh, what have we unleashed?

    • Reply
      Dustin Verburg March 20, 2013

      Well, to some degree ‘quality content’ is subjective and we can’t agree on it at all. So really a machine would just frown so hard it exploded if it was given the task of separating quality content from bad content.

      • Reply
        Sean March 20, 2013

        I’d love to see that in some sort of sci-fi film.

        “Can’t work out which infographic is better through content alone. Do humanoids prefer blue or green?”


  4. Reply
    Zoe March 20, 2013

    Without sounding too cynical this is part of the reason I decided to go in-house… the soul-destroying last couple of years trying to change client perceptions and SEO strategies to line up with Google’s constant updates. The monthly justification as to why someone isn’t ranking for their main keyword and why their competitor with crap links is and what we’re going to try next to get them there. Yeah, their traffic might be growing but if a client is sold an SEO contract on the basis of rankings then that’s what they want.

    Of course, knowing that every month they stay on is hugely profitable to the agency should make it easier to bear, right?

    The last couple of years have been *hard* on agencies and yeah, the majority have got used to explaining ranking drops to clients and blaming it all on the algorithm. I don’t know what the answer is but as long as SEO is awash with cash you’ll get agencies either fobbing clients off (subpar service), or creating “deliverables” like paid links/PR/guest posts/whatever that may or may not work (also subpar service).

    At the moment it looks like a lot of clients go round and round different agencies looking for an answer, or get a penalty and sign on with someone out of desperation to remove it. Like I said, I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel a lot happier having stepped out of the agency game for the meantime.

    • Reply
      Patrick March 20, 2013

      If we had an upvote button I would upvote this comment.

      As an aside, we should get an upvote button.

    • Reply
      Sean March 20, 2013

      Zoe, we don’t really like cynicalism in The Saloon so we’re going to have to ask you to leave…


      I was very close to going in house this time last year and it is something that I will probably look to do one day.

      I really like this point

      I don’t know what the answer is but as long as SEO is awash with cash you’ll get agencies either fobbing clients off (subpar service), or creating “deliverables” like paid links/PR/guest posts/whatever that may or may not work (also subpar service)

      At the end of the day these agencies want to attract the best people, the best (highest paying) clients and look good whilst they’re at it. I’m currently working with a few companies who have previously worked with high profile agencies and are after something different as well as a shit hot link removal service. If I was better at the latter we’d be raking it in!

  5. Reply
    Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) March 20, 2013

    really enjoyed reading this, Sean. i much prefer working in-house as well. from a guy who has worked on client’s sites via agency work, many clients imo are the scum (that some seos are as well) however, when you’re in business where your revenue is contingent on that of others.. i think it’s easy to ‘lower the bar’ on ethics just to get clients.. it’s a shitty cycle that truly screws all in the industry… the clients don’t give a shit about us.. they’re interested in ‘us’ now because they believe the web (and its association to consumer behavior, you know- the ones holding the cash) will make them money.. quicker and cheaper..

    • Reply
      Sean March 20, 2013

      That’s another great point, I’ve worked with some real arseholes before who might actually deserve this kind of treatment! I’d be a liar to say that I’ve never told a lie to a client to keep them sweet. I’d honestly be amazed if no-one in the industry has done so.

      Also agree on your point about the clients not giving a shit. I think they care more about you if you’re a ‘name’ (agency or consultant) and if they have a large amount of budget that they don’t really have to answer for.

      As an aside is it just me who thinks that working for a large agency/being known within the industry has a positive effect in terms of client retention?

      • Reply
        Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) March 20, 2013

        last question.. sure it’s minding the sheep.. business owners don’t have time to ‘really’ research good services.. GOOD services.. plus, again, why would they care as long as (in the end) they make money?

        ‘i’ve heard’ of people who’ve worked for ‘topseos’ who sustained business by pouring fiscal promises in the ears of others cut from the same ethical cloth..

        the only time i think most clients care is if there is a stark contrast between expected revenue and actual revenue made by association with respective agency.

        • Reply
          Dustin Verburg March 20, 2013

          It’s troubling that companies do have to use the white hat label, but it inevitably comes up in the conversation anyway. Either the client mentions it, or you do to brush their worries away. I don’t think it happens in too many other industries, but if the conversation’s going to go there anyway, you have to mention it.

          • Reply
            Sean March 21, 2013

            “Lets get this out of the way, we are a white hat organic traffic provider specialising in…”

            “Can you please excuse me for one moment”


        • Reply
          Sean March 21, 2013

          It’s interesting I’ve never thought about how someone selects an agency. Do they look in Google & find a perfectly written blog post? Do they discuss with a friend? Do they check socially? The funny thing is that although I know a thing or two and have a certain level of cynicism I think I could easily be sold a service that would never come to fruition from an agency. What chance do the other suckers have?

  6. Reply
    Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) March 20, 2013

    the best is some need to put ‘white hat’ labels on their services.. in what other industry do you have to ensure your to-be consumers that you’re not ‘full of shit’ like the others..pathetic..

    • Reply
      Dustin Verburg March 20, 2013

      my above comment was meant to go here, but whatever. you know what I meant and I am already prepared to contemplate my mistakes on the tree of woe.

    • Reply
      Sean March 21, 2013



      • Reply
        Dustin Verburg March 21, 2013

        Hahahahaha. I never really have that conversation with clients, but I know it comes up. I don’t ever include ‘white hat’ when I write a a piece of marketing copy though. I see where both of you are coming from and for the most part I agree that it’s something like “I’m a guy with a knife but I only use it to cut cakes, unlike those other knife guys who use them for all sorts of nasty things so don’t worry about it” when you just front load it. I’m conflicted here, though!


  7. Reply
    Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) March 20, 2013

    marketing gurus.. dude, i pay for your services for over 6 mos and you can’t even return an email you said you stated in ink you’d return.. you’re in marketing? hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahqahahahahahahahahahhqahaha

    • Reply
      Sean March 21, 2013

      My automated email reply couldn’t be bothered.

      Thanks for your cash!

  8. Reply
    Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) March 20, 2013

    this is happening..


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    Please let us know in case you are interested.

  9. Reply

    […] Sean recently proposed that some SEO folk are waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers that Google’s next update will reward quality content that deserves to rank. I sincerely hope that people don’t actually believe such garbage, and would like to dig into why it could never actually happen. […]

  10. Reply
    Gisele Navarro Mendez April 3, 2013

    I’ve always dreamt about going in-house, I’m sick of clients who are turning to SEO because “we want to outrank our competitors… Oh and do you do social? Because our competitors have a large Twitter following and we want to beat them. And what about content marketing? We’ve seen that our competitors have published some infographics and we want better infographics on our site.” In some cases I’ve had to start every meeting talking about their competitors and how their rankings have dropped; they are paying us to follow their competitors’ every move + learn about their strategies + beat them little by little. They don’t even care about what we can do with what they have to offer as a business, and imo that’s pure Sheiße.

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