What A Waste…Oh The SEO!!

Is SEO ever a waste of time and/or money? American Express certainly seems to think so, even going so far as to suggest that search engine specialists will naturally try to trick the filtering techniques of engines and are likely to get your site banned from the engines.

Seriously ineffective SEO firms and individual crackpots with just enough knowledge to fool people into giving them money abound at the moment, unfortunately. It’s quite easy to find examples of clients who have been shafted by someone who did something amazingly stupid and harmed his or her business. There are most likely just as many examples of cases in which, for whatever reason, clients simply did not do well in the online arena. SEO isn’t foolproof, certainly. Nothing is, really, not even marmite.

However, it’s fairly scary when such a large presence as American Express comes out and advises small business owners against employing a search engine specialist in their attempt to boost their online visibility. Not only is it an insult to those of us who know what we’re doing and do it well (usually), it also has the potential to cause even more damage to people who actually heed this advice and take matters into their own hands without the knowledge to successfully perform online. In the past, I’ve dealt with clients who would not do anything that didn’t involve frames, set up session variables that were then transferred all over the site via a querystring (no I am not joking) which caused pages to be indexed with these identifiers and ended up overwriting shopping carts, had nothing but an image on their home page, and spent $30,000 a month on PPC that they insisted on managing themselves only to finally TEST an ad and see that their landing page for these ads had no call to action as they thought it did. All of this nasty business was the result of someone in-house, with no SEO background, attempting to please the engines.

I currently have a client for whom my goal is to not do a single thing that could be construed as trying to please the engines. I am limited to PPC and meta tags, basically, but that’s fine because I’m honest about what I do and the client understands that I am bound by many constraints. This client’s view, which I agree with, is that the business’s offline reputation is so strong that it simply cannot be put at risk in any way. So there you have it…I don’t get to do too much SEO for him, but I am able to make sure that no one else takes advantage of him. That’s definitely not a waste of time OR money.

Honestly, any idiot can sell SEO services. (Notice how I am not taking this opportunity to provide you with any jokes about Jay.) I have dealt with enough small business owners who have absolutely no clue about how to effectively do business online to know that there is a massive amount of vulnerable people out there who can be easily snowed by someone looking to make a few bucks at their expense. I recently had an old coworker ask me to do some PPC work for someone he knew, simply because he had a great deal of respect for the company and knew that they lacked the knowledge to NOT get screwed over by unscrupulous types. As overworked as I am, I did agree to think about doing it, mainly because I’ve seen the money that gets basically stolen from these unsavvy clients who simply have no idea that they’re basically being raped by people who can end up doing major damage to their site and their online efforts.

Stating that SEO is a waste is completely irresponsible. Yes, there are examples of poor SEO but that’s absolutely no reason to advise all small business owners against employing the services of reputable people who happen to have the background and the knowledge to compete in the online arena. And, when you really think about it, that poor advice is really no different than bad SEO…

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34 Responses to “What A Waste…Oh The SEO!!”

  1. Joff says:

    Could AMEX’s reaction not be a blessing in disguise?

    If the competition are having second thoughts about using SEO, it’s only going to help my clients improve their rankings!
    I think most small businesses already treat SEO with kid gloves so knowing that even the big guys get stung it will prompt the small businesses into ensuring they’re only dealing with reputable SEO/SEM’s.

    I now predict Mastercard and Visa will be investing heavily in SEO campaigns to wipe the floor with American Express lol.

  2. Julie Joyce says:

    @joff: that’s actually quite a good point…

  3. Chris Hambly says:

    Very well said Julie, the business needs people like you who say it as it is.

    Great stuff!

  4. Julie Joyce says:

    Mr Hambly: what a nice thing to say! Thank you sir.

  5. g1smd says:

    Since this has now been discussed on several prominent SEO-related websites in recent days, I wonder how long it will be before certain of those SEO-related websites start to rank well for the term “American Express”.

    Would be kind of ironic no?

  6. Julie Joyce says:

    @g1smd: That would indeed be ironic. I should have used better anchor text!!

  7. Poker-Chicks says:

    Hi All – this is Or and Elinor – and this is our first comment on this blog…
    First of all – great post – we really enjoyed it.
    Next, we’d like to say that Amex is pathetic and we do not use their credit cards :-)
    Also, for two women who work with allllllllllot of SEO consultants and companies, we want to say that if Amex had their pages at the top of the SERP’s – they’d probably not be so quick to bash SEO. Whoever said what they did,, definitely has very superficial knowledge of both SEO and in hiring the right company.

  8. Julie Joyce says:

    Thanks poker chicks…glad to see you aren’t using Amex to fund your poker adventures haha.

  9. Mr Happy says:

    Ha ha. for a site who don’t believe in SEO the US Amex site certainly has keywords in the title tag – unlike its UK sister site which has no focussing in it at all.

    Oh well off to build an affliate site about credit cards – if they dont want to have an effectively protected brand in the natural search listings I suppose the least I can do is start filling this space for them – as I do see they have an affiliate program with a 90 day cookie and up to $200 commission…

  10. Julie Joyce says:

    Well said, Mr Happy. I really need to meet you in person because I want to call someone “Mr Happy” quite badly…and weren’t you supposed to answer my question about Nick Cave??

  11. Jenny says:

    I personally think it’s a waste of time (I don’t put money into it). I have done all the SEO I can to my site and I have seen NO difference at all.

  12. Mr Happy says:

    what was your question about nick cave? My brains like a sieve today and site:www.seo-chicks.com intext:”nick cave” aint working in google today :(

  13. Julie Joyce says:

    Mr Happy: I think I just asked if you would comment on his level of coolness. I could be wrong. I just think Nick Cave mentions require a comment hahaha.

    @Jenny: when you say you’ve done all the SEO that you can to your site, what exactly have you done?

  14. Mr Happy says:

    Hi Jenny stick your URL up – I’m sure we’ll see what we can do to help (don’t want to assume that your blog is the site you are talking about).

  15. Mr Happy says:

    Sorry – I’m replying out of sync here but Nick cave is kinda cool but he generally passed me by. I think I was listening to the Sugar Cubes. the closest I got to liking any music taht came out of Australia was more likely to have been when Frente did Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order and when Smudge released Don’t wanna be Grant McLennan.

    Not too sure of his new look – but I guess with his infatuation with the New Testament if we got him an cassock he could feature in an episode of the X-Files as a scary preacher…

  16. Julie Joyce says:

    Mr Happy: acceptable answer, thank you.

  17. Ciaran says:

    Jenny’s website appears, from her link, to be this one: http://thesocalledme.net/ – give her some help sisters!

    And as for Amex; who still uses them?

    You pay a fortune, to have a card that isn’t accepted in bucket loads of places, but which is the wallet equivalent of a Ferrari in terms of its ability to make up for manhood issues.

    Seriously, which people in the industry wave one around?! Am I right? Or am I right?


  18. Julie Joyce says:

    Hey Liza. You are so damned funny…and you’re right, you’re right!

  19. Mitesh Patel says:

    mr happy, you are right.

  20. Lynne Foster says:

    Great post. I’ve lost count of the times we have heard that ‘another company promises 6 million hits a day’ (a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean!) We’ve also had to deal with clients who having been paying SEO prices month after month and have had no work done (which we have been able to prove). It’s such a shame there is no way of highlighting these so-called companies, like a 3 strikes (customer complaints…) and you’re on the blacklist kind of thing.

  21. Julie Joyce says:

    @Lynne: the three strikes idea is quite good!

  22. Kyle Healey says:

    What a load of you know what. I’m guessing whoever wrote that little seo’s are evil bit in the manual had some bad experiences. Talk about an over-generalization fallacy.

  23. dhunt says:

    I am new to SEO but I thought SEO is just about making a site search engine friendly . Giving it the best opportunity to do well .

  24. Unfortunately, there are a number of scams around. The best ones are the ones that have an Indian calling you “We’ve partnered with Google, and we can guarantee you a top 3 position for $100 / month”. I know at least two people who have fallen for it. Very sad…

    There are also no standards or baselines readily available – which is why it’s so easy to have scammers take advantage. Fortunately, numbers are always easy to use, and I’ve been finding that by merely showing people where to get the information from (wordtracker anyone? hehehe), I get the credibility to get the job.

    Screw Amex, seriously. Every big company has at least an outside SEO firm, if not an in-house one. Are they trying to make sure that no small business owner makes money? Sad

  25. Hey all, I went as far to voice my disgust at a moronic comment but that is as far as I bothered. Mainly as a day later I went on holiday YAY – No computer no clients for days only beaches and sunshine so needed it.

    It is no wonder they are the worlds least accepted card, charge outrageous merchant fees and most places as pointed out don’t want to know.

    It is interesting though how far this little article reached out to the community.

  26. Mr Happy says:

    Hi Jenny,
    Just had a quick squizz at your site. From what I can see you already have the SEO Title tag plugin for wordpress installed – one way you could be getting better positions is by using this functionality more fully than you are at present – title tags look the same as your article headings.
    As a guess I think you should maybe have a look at refining your keyword research and locking onto a couple of core niche areas where you could be getting traffic. do some quick brain storming on all the words you think could be appropriate to you (and your audience) – rattle these into a keyword estimator tool you can use http://www.keyworddiscovery.com for free (just sign up for a trial).
    You’re already doing some pretty cool things – pinging out to pingomatic – if you increased your ping list you should get some more places knowing about you. That said having a technorati authority of 465 is well cool – if you could show my bloggers how to do that would be cool :p Using the do-follow blog roll was a great idea!
    Hope that helps

  27. Julie Joyce says:

    @everyone: thanks for the comments. Amex is getting raked over the coals for being kind of a shite card anyway, and no one seems surprised that they’d make such a stupid declaration as to say that SEO is a waste. Generally speaking, they aren’t enjoying a lot of favor in any sector that I can see right now.

    @Mr Happy and Jenny: thanks for your comments. Getting this type of discussion going helps everyone, and it’s nice to see people reaching out to each other. I’m going to go hug a tree now.

  28. AMEX needs to have a realistic expectation of SEO, and possibly revamp their online style. Amex is perceived as an old school corporate monolith, Mastercard is priceless.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    I think AMEX should do more research into the industry before condemning it. I defend myself a lot against accusations like these even though I’ve never used black hat SEO or put any of my customers at risk with sneaky, underhanded techniques. It’s getting old, honestly, and I’m sure this won’t help.

  30. Julie Joyce says:

    @Elizabeth: thanks for your comment. I will say that there are some instances in which black hat techniques are REQUESTED by a client, since I’ve had those services, ahem, requested of me before. The sites did insanely well with those tactics and the client made enough money that, when things finally simmered down, it no longer mattered to them. I think the bigger problem in SEO isn’t necessarily black hat at all; it’s simple incompetence. Whether you do black or white hat, if you don’t do it well, you make us all look like idiots.

  31. Fionn says:

    A month ago I did two half hour workshops on search engine marketing at an American Express Open for samll business convention co-branded with SCORE. The enitre conference had about 400 people the two sessions pulled in 250 people. I could not go to the bathroom wihtout a line of people coming up to me. I sat in the lobby and ran site clinics all day between sessions. Small business are hungry for good advice not this rubbish from American Express. If they want to help the small business community they should provide them with good quality information not made up crap.

    Even more astounding this industry is still debating if we need standards.

    Looks like American Express may need some reputation management over this I hope they call me!!!!

  32. Julie Joyce says:

    @Fionn: I completely agree that small businesses are hungry for SEO advice. That’s a brilliant point…more than almost anyone, the small business owner is the type of client that I like the best, simply because they tend to want to work with you and learn from you. At my previous job, my favorite clients were the small local ones, mainly because of the interaction. They’d ask a billion questions and I’d have to constantly stay on top of everything, and I loved it. The fact that a quasi-respectable company like Amex would intentionally vote against using SEO services for small businesses is true proof of the fact that they are the ones who don’t have a clue.

  33. This is a very informative post for a newcomer like me. Reading the article and blogs, i am a little confused as to why a company like American express would advise small businesses against SEO, and can’t help feel there is a method behind it. I believed SEO can really work and improve traffic to small businesses via the web.

  34. To be fair, sometimes it is the clients that sabotage their own SEO efforts for many reasons.

    But I do agree there are way too many folks that have read a dozen blog posts on SEO then try and pass themselves off as experts. I think a big onus needs to be on the client to look into the meat behind an SEO’s claims. They should be checking for how the SEO’s own site ranks and if the have case studies posted.

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