How to Overcome a Bad SEO Experience

As an SEO agency, we deal with a wide range of clients. From extremely niche industries, like selling pre-engineered steel buildings, to broader industries, like fitness, our clients come to us from totally different situations with completely different needs. While variations in the industries and needs of our clients presents challenges, there’s almost always a way to help them succeed online with SEO strategies and practices.

Despite how different our clients are and their histories with digital marketing have been, there is a common experience we hear pop up from time to time that’s concerning for us as an agency and others as consumers. A bad SEO experience, or getting burned by an SEO agency, is problematic for both us as service providers and potential clients as consumers for a few reasons:

  1. First and foremost, it’s problematic for the client that’s been burned because they’re angry, didn’t get the results they expected, probably lost money, and are ready to throw in the towel with SEO altogether.
  2. It’s problematic for us as an agency because a bad SEO experience makes the whole industry look shady and unreliable, thereby deterring future opportunities to help businesses.
  3. It presents a unique problem because more often than not, the way to recover from a bad SEO experience is by having a good SEO experience.

As I’m sure you can imagine, it can be a little difficult to explain why a business should consider SEO with another agency after they’ve just lost time, money, and hope on another. “Why should I put more resources into SEO when it’s how I got into this mess in the first place?” “How do I know the same thing that happened with the last SEO agency isn’t going to happen with this one?” We’ve heard both of these valid concerns from clients who have been burned before, and this is how we tell them to overcome a bad SEO experience.

Reflect on what went wrong.

We never blame the client for a bad experience with SEO, but we do ask them to identify what went wrong and how it went wrong. Between businesses and SEOs, it’s easy for the lines of communication to get crossed or for responsibilities to get scrambled, and that’s where problems start to arise. If you’ve had a bad experience with an SEO company, ask yourself: Was I unclear about my expectations? Was there something on my end I needed to do but wasn’t aware of? Were there questions I didn’t know to ask that could’ve prevented this?

By taking a good, critical look at how your situation played out, you can sometimes identify actions or steps that either shifted the course of your strategy or could have been taken to prevent mishaps. If you understand everything that happened and could have been done better on your end, you’ll be more prepared moving forward.

You can learn from your mistakes.

Once you’ve identified what went wrong and have some clarity on the situation, you can use what you’ve learned to have better experiences moving forward. The trick is to use the bad experience you’ve had to set yourself up for success and to do that, you have to prepare. Post bad SEO experience, you have to regroup and reassess your goals. What were the new goals, and what are your goals right now? What needs to happen this time that didn’t happen last time? What questions didn’t get asked last time? Again, use the past experience to broaden your understanding of how SEO works and what was lacking with the company doing it for you.

Think critically about what the solutions to your problems are.

So, the company you hired took you for a ride, and bad SEO has had an adverse effect on your business’s online performance. Now what?

For many businesses that have been burned by SEO, the tendency is to dump it as part of their strategy and never look back. This is understandable, because why would anyone want to invest more time and money into something that failed them? But the problem with that logic is that damage done by bad SEO is often only corrected by good SEO. If bad SEO got your website a penalty, bad rankings, or a messed up site, then good SEO is what gets you out of that.

As natural of a reaction as it may seem, don’t swear off of SEO because you’ve had a bad experience. The right SEOs can and will help you recover and find solutions that will not only help you bounce back but help you have greater success than before.

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Topic Spotlight: The Death of Organic Search

If you haven’t noticed, there have been a lot of articles circulating lately about “the death of organic search.” Half of these articles are dramatized accounts of SEOs impending irrelevance, while the other half are high-level tech-talks that discuss the future of machine learning. In between are everyday business owners who have invested in SEO services and are getting freaked out by all the chatter regarding the alleged dying out of SEO. To clear up some of the common confusion surrounding this topic, here’s a simplified overview of the main things you should know.

So, first thing’s first:

Where did all the death talk come from?

This topic stems from developments that have been made in machine learning and chatter about how it will affect organic search. To understand why people are talking about this, you first have to understand the role of machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) within Search.

A Brief Understanding of Machine Learning and AI

It used to be that keyword stuffing-in titles, headings, content, etc.-was enough to climb to a top ranking position because search engine algorithms started off pretty simple. But that quickly changed as search engines became more sophisticated and adept at spotting shady SEO practices, such as spammy link building or hidden text on web pages. Penguin 1.0 served as the initial game changer for what I’ll loosely refer to here as the ‘Old SEO’, and since then search engine algorithms and advancements have only made it more difficult to game the system.

Since then, search engines have become less focused on a set of simple factors and more concerned with an ongoing and comprehensive approach that commits to user experience. Now, ranking factors determine which sites provide users with the best experience and information (quality content, mobile-ready, fast page speed, easy to navigate site structure, etc.). That means digital marketers have had to get a whole lot more strategic and think holistically about quality and what their audience is most likely to find useful or interesting enough to engage with. So, in other words, there’s been a lot less faking it for SEO.

As a result of all this, search engines now develop and use machine learning AI systems as part of their algorithms to process search results. That’s part of why search has taken on a more natural tone as of late and why Google can guess what you’re searching for before you even finish typing it. It’s also why forcing keywords doesn’t work anymore and says a lot about the direction search is heading, which you can read more about in this awesome article by Jeremy Knauff. The point is that advancements in machine learning AI have changed how SEO works and how it will work in the future.

Connecting the Dots

I’m sure you’re wondering where the advancements of ranking signals and machine learning make the drastic jump to the death of organic search. In short, fear and predictions about shrinking organic space stem from developments implemented from machine learning and Google’s efforts to drive revenue through paid ads.

Basically, it goes like this: findings from machine learning AI systems are used to further improve user experienceàsearch engines adapt by modifying the layout and functions of their search experienceàthe results of machine learning are processed and prioritized in how search engines look and workàthe space for organic search results shrinks. Specifically, the space for organic search results is shrinking under things like more paid ads on top and carousels. Just in October, data showed that the number of traditional organic search results dropped from 10 to 8.5, and that is where the hype surrounding the death of organic search really takes off.

The Bottom Line

An important thing for digital marketers to understand is that as search engines get better at predicting user intent and what search queries will be, there are fewer opportunities to be viewed by users. Think of how voice search has evolved: when a user conducts a voice search, search engines pull the best result without user selection. And while all of this may not mean organic SEO is dying out completely, it certainly does mean it’s changing.

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New to SEO? Here’s how to get started.

If SEO is brand new to you, knowing where to learn or start can be difficult. In fact, SEO can be difficult and overwhelming even if you’re not brand new to SEO. Some people want to learn about SEO so they can do it themselves, while others want to sharpen skills for their digital marketing career. Regardless of what brings newcomers to SEO, it can’t be denied that at least understanding and keeping up with the world of search can be beneficial across many industries.

SEO is an integral part of business, online behavior, and an evolving marketing landscape.

For that reason, it’s near impossible to avoid hearing about-after all, when was the last time you heard someone say “I don’t need SEO for my business”? When the majority of your competitors and businesses within the same online space are all doing something, it gets harder to ignore, which is exactly what’s happened with SEO. The term SEO pops up in conversations, at work, in job interviews-it’s everywhere, and that’s why having a basic familiarity or working understanding of it is so important. Regardless of whether you’re considering SEO as a potential service or just wanting to learn more, here are some simple tips to get you started.

  1. Identify what you want from SEO.

First and foremost, identifying why you even want to learn about SEO in the first place can help guide your approach. Are you interested because you’re considering SEO services for your business? Are you looking into starting a career in digital marketing/SEO? Or are you just curious about the developments of search and how they impact the lives of everyday consumers? Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, ‘getting started with SEO’ can mean different things for different people.

  1. Start learning.

Once you know what you want from SEO, you can start learning. For a beginner crash course, Moz Academy is a good starting point. A series of friendly videos will walk you through the fundamentals (and beyond) of SEO. When it comes to SEO, there is always more to learn, and you can always choose to add to your knowledge of it once you nail down the basics. To learn about the latest happenings within the world of SEO, read the latest articles produced by reputable search news publishers, such as Search Engine Journal, SEO Round Table, the Moz Blog, and Search Engine Land. Reading the content they produce and following the leaders who write them (their blogs or social media accounts) will help you see what conversations are happening within the industry and put you in the know with who’s who.

  1. Talk to people who know SEO.

No matter how far the digital world advances, people remain the greatest resource we have. Regardless of what draws you to SEO, a little good old fashioned conversation can sometimes be the most productive way to get started. For example, if you’re looking into SEO because you’re considering it for your business, then chatting with an agency or SEO professional could help you determine whether or not it’s the right move or the specific practices you’d benefit most from. If you’re interested in becoming an SEO professional, speaking with one can help you get an idea of the skills and prerequisites necessary to make that happen.

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SEO Short Cuts are Tempting, But Not Worth It

As an agency, all our clients come to us expecting different things and holding different ideas about SEO. Some clients are looking for a way to grow their traffic a little more, while others are making a last-ditch effort to save a sinking business. Regardless of the situation they come to us in, we end up hearing a lot of the same questions, comments, and concerns: How long will it take? What works the fastest?

In response to these questions, we find ourselves explaining time and time again that there aren’t any shortcuts to instant viral content or top rankings overnight. Even as an SEO agency and Google Partner, we don’t have special insider hacks or cheats that allow us to bypass the best practices and strategies that take time to help websites. Google is also very clear about the fact that there are no shortcuts for SEO. In fact, in a recent video, they stated 4 months to a year as the typical amount of time needed for SEOs to first implement improvements and then see potential benefit:

There is no secret formula, shortcut, or back door method for SEO, and we think that’s a good thing. Here’s why.

If there were a shortcut, everyone would take it.

SEO has a broad range of approaches, so businesses can pick and choose which strategies will work best with for them (and their budget). SEO is by no means a one size fits all solution and that’s a good thing, because it creates multiple pathways for online success. If there were a shortcut for secret formula that bypassed the process of SEO, everyone would take the easy route. The result would be a bunch of jumbled together results in response to user queries, none of which stand above the rest because they’ve all taken the same shortcut to get there. Search engines are driven by user intent and focused on user experience, and the absence of shortcuts keeps it that way.

Transparency is part of SEO’s appeal. 

Part of what makes SEO such an attractive option for websites is its transparency. Our clients can look up and read about the exact methods we’re using for their account, how it works, why it works, and more. In an industry with a lot of moving, it’s rare to have transparency on how it all works. The areas that lack that transparency, like black hat SEO, are the ones most likely to offer shortcuts and quick fixes, which is exactly what you should be avoiding.

Quality is imperative-and that’s a good thing for businesses.

In a world full of fraudulence, quality remains one of the few things that’s really hard to fake. That’s why the foundation of successful SEO starts with a good hard look at the quality of your website, content, usability, and so on. The best SEO strategy in the world won’t work if it’s for an extremely low-quality business or blog. Part of the reason there aren’t recognized SEO shortcuts is because it would take away from the necessity of quality that search engines are trying to provide users with. Plus, when has improving the quality of business practices and/or content ever hurt a business?

Some things to keep in mind…

SEO is not for everyone.

Different businesses have different needs, and you shouldn’t do SEO if you think it’s going to be a magical, instant fix for all of your challenges. Prior to seeking SEO services, business owners should always look into what their competitors within their industry are doing. Maybe they’re focused on different forms of marketing, or maybe your business just doesn’t have the need for SEO that others do. If your business is on its last leg, maybe there’s a more effective way to spend your last marketing dollars rather than pour them into SEO. Whatever your situation may be, do your homework and decide early on if SEO is the right solution for your business.

Patience is important.

If you do decide that SEO would be beneficial to your business, try and have patience right from the start. As I stated earlier, SEO is not an overnight fix or a quick solution. SEO done well and SEO done right takes some time, and no honest or worthwhile agency will promise you a shortcut.  In fact, a recent study by Ahrefs investigated how old the top ranking pages on Google are and how long it takes a page to rank on average, and the results all reinforce the same message: it takes time, often at least a year:

Remember: a customized SEO strategy that’s both well put together and executed will take time, patience, transparency, and quality.

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3 Awesome (and Easy) Ideas to Boost Brand Personalization

The relationship between consumers and brands is something that’s always evolving and shapeshifting as new trends, behaviors, and channels of communication develop. Marketers have always had to adapt to the demands of consumers, finding new ways to appeal to them and position themselves as relevant, desirable brands.

In recent years, those developments have created a need for increasingly personalized performance and consumer interaction between brands and consumers. Now more than ever, highly targeted and uniquely personal strategies are necessary for brands to effectively connect with and resonate with their audience. Thus, a new imperative in online branding was born: brand personalization.

Brand Personalization

The rise in popularity of more natural marketing tactics, such as native advertising, has indicated some important things about how users interact with brands. Overall, it seems that users are most receptive to brands that position themselves as peers. People want the brands they support to be reflective of their values or align with/contribute to who they are as individuals.

For as many new challenges as this poses for brands, it also creates a lot of new opportunities to be creative and connect with target audience in a more impactful way. When a consumer comes to view a brand as not just someone trying to sell or promote something but rather as a peer that has something of value to offer them at eye level, the likelihood of brand loyalty goes up. Even better, brands that consumers feel a strong connection or sense of loyalty to is one they’re more likely to recommend to their peers over others:

Source: OneSpot/Marketing Insider Group

Brands are more than just sellers of goods, services, and information now, which is why brand personalization is critical for long-term success.

Easy, Beginner Ways to Boost Brand Personalization

For as big of an undertaking as all of this may sound, brand personalization is probably much easier than you think. There are easy, pain-free ways to bring a more personalized, effective element to your brand that will set you up for further success down the line. For a quick and easy-to-implement start, check out these ideas.

  1. Personalize Emails

Email marketing is a powerful and effective way for businesses to generate leads and maintain relationships with their customers. Brands have an opportunity to convert and permeate their presence every time an email lands in an inbox, so ensuring that users open up and interact with those emails is crucial. Moreover, an inbox is more personal than other marketing channels; brands are directly communicating to their audience and therefore have an opportunity to position themselves as acquaintances or friends just trying to stay in touch. For that reason, personalizing emails help brands become more memorable to users and seem less like spam, which in turn yields a more positive reaction to the emails in the first place.

Personalizing emails doesn’t have to be needlessly complicated. It can be as simple as adding dynamic tags to address email recipients individually, or using a little retargeting to suggest similar items after an online purchase. The point is to put voice and personality into your emails to make your brand seem personable. This makes customers more likely to acknowledge what you’ve sent rather than treat it as just another spammy, promotional offer.

  1. Create Social Buzz

Social media channels are one of the best ways for brands to develop a persona. By maintaining active social media profiles, users start to recognize brands as peers and engage with them. That’s why brands have to use social media to build identity-because it contributes to the social network of their audience members.

Consistency across social media channels is key for brand personalization. Voice, tone, posting frequency, and engagement are all things that should be consistent so your brand develops a presence that’s as identifiable on a daily basis as it is throughout campaigns. Responding and engaging with users gives you a chance to showcase the persona behind your brand while also encouraging your audience to share their experiences and interact.

  1. Implement Loyalty Programs

If you want to cement your brand as being identifiable and have customers who recall and return often, then loyalty programs might be the best way to personalize your brand. A method that brings people back to the brand over and over is one that develops a relationship. This makes your brand a fixture in the minds of consumers, especially when there’s a benefit or added incentive to their loyalty.

Loyalty programs don’t have to be overly complex or expensive. Any business can implement practices that reward new customer referrals with something small, such as a discount or freebie. Many businesses develop more detailed loyalty programs, rewarding continued customer loyalty with rolling perks and recognitions throughout the year. Overall, a loyalty program facilitates the relationship between businesses and their client base that ultimately helps brands further the develop the identity and relevance necessary to become more personable.

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Hacked Sites Are Up 32%. Here’s What You Need to Know

A couple of weeks ago, Google released a year in review regarding the State of Website Security in 2016. The report opened with the following announcement from Google:

“First off, some unfortunate news. We’ve seen an increase in the number of hacked sites by approximately 32% in 2016 compared to 2015. We don’t expect this trend to slow down. As hackers get more aggressive and more sites become outdated, hackers will continue to capitalize by infecting more sites.”

As you can probably tell from the statement, this news is unsurprising. With millions of websites already in existence and new ones popping up every day, the internet is an endless feeding ground for hackers. Even as website security continues to advance, malware and hacking strategies also shapeshift and evolve to exploit weak spots.

This presents a number of problems for both users and webmasters. First and foremost, the potential leaking, theft, and abuse of user information puts online consumers at risk. But what’s also concerning, namely for webmasters, is that when website security is compromised it can result in hefty penalties, which can significantly set back search engine rankings. In response to this problem, this is what Google wants you to know.

Top Ways Websites Get Hacked by Spammers

While specific malware and hacking spam varies, there is some consistency in how websites are typically hacked. They are:

  1. Compromised Passwords: Hackers have different techniques for guessing passwords until they guess correctly, like trying common passwords or rapidly testing random combinations of letters and numbers. Google recommends creating a strong password, never reusing passwords across services, and taking advantage of two-factor authentication (2FA) to make it as difficult as possible for hackers to compromise passwords.
  2. Missing Security Updates: Put simply, old software has vulnerabilities that new software doesn’t, so webmasters should periodically check for and run updates on their web server software, content management system, and any plugins or add-ons your website uses.
  3. Insecure Themes & Plugins: While themes and plugins can enhance the functionality of a website, they’re not always maintained by their developers. If a theme or plugin is in use but isn’t actively maintained, it opens a door for hackers to add malicious code. Check to see that your themes and plugins are secure, and if you remove a plugin, make sure you remove all files completely from the server as opposed to just disabling it.
  4. Social Engineering: This method is about exploiting human nature to bypass sophisticated security infrastructure. Phishing is a common example of this; an attacker will send an email posing as a legitimate organization and request security information. Websites that are managed by multiple people are more susceptible to this kind of attack, so Google recommends security training to educate webmasters on basic phishing protection tips.
  5. Security Policy Holes: General security weak spots can put an entire website at risk. If you’re a website administrator, try to avoid: allowing users to create weak passwords; giving administrative access to users who don’t require it; not enabling HTTPS on your site; allowing file uploads from unauthenticated users, or with no type checking.
  6. Data Leaks: This happens when confidential data is uploaded and a misconfiguration makes it publicly available. You can avoid this by periodically checking and restricting confidential data to trusted entities through security policies.

Clean Up Guides

A lot of websites share similar issues when affected by known hacks. To help fix the problem, Google created clean up guides for sites affected by those known hacks. The hacks are:

  • Gibberish Hack: The gibberish hack automatically creates many pages with nonsensical sentences filled with keywords on the target site. Hackers do this so the hacked pages show up in Google Search. Then, when people try to visit these pages, they’ll be redirected to an unrelated page, like a porn site. View the guide for fixing this here.
  • Japanese Keywords Hack: The Japanese keywords hack typically creates new pages with Japanese text on the target site in randomly generated directory names. These pages are monetized using affiliate links to stores selling fake brand merchandise and then shown in Google Search. Sometimes the accounts of the hackers get added in Search Console as site owners. View the guide for fixing the Japanese Keywords Hack here.
  • Cloaked Keywords Hack: The cloaked keywords and link hack automatically creates many pages with nonsensical sentences, links, and images. These pages sometimes contain basic template elements from the original site, so at first glance the pages might look like normal parts of the target site until you read the content. In this type of attack, hackers usually use cloaking techniques to hide the malicious content and make the injected page appear as part of the original site or a 404 error page. Learn how to fix this type of hack here.


Despite the damaging effects that hacking can have on a website, webmasters do have an avenue for recovery. If a website has been penalized for problems resulting from hacking, webmasters can apply for reconsideration and potentially remedy the consequences. According to Google, 84% of webmasters who apply are successful in cleaning up their sites, so there’s no reason a hacking incident has to tank your site forever.


What’s important to remember is that prevention is easier than correction. Taking the extra steps necessary to protect your website can and will ultimately save you the hassle and the headache of having to deal with a breach in security later and dip in rankings later on.

To practice adequate prevention methods, all webmasters should be registered for Google Search Console. Google found that 61% of webmasters who were hacked never received a notification from Google that their site was infected because their sites weren’t verified in Search Console. If your website is being attacked or experiencing issues from hacking and/or spamming, Search Console is the first place you’ll be notified about it. If your website isn’t registered and verified in Search Console not only will you not receive that notification, but your website will continue to suffer and be penalized.

In addition to Google Search Console, there are steps you can take to secure your content management system. The majority of websites are powered by WordPress, Joomla, Magento, or Drupal, all of which have their own security recommendations and resources specific to their system. If your website is powered by one of these, you can learn more about the best practices for securing your CMS and keep your site protected from hackers.

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Price, Performance, and People: How to Choose the Right SEO Agency

When it comes to choosing an SEO agency to entrust with your website and/or online strategy, it can be difficult to know if you’re choosing the right company. Scams are everywhere, and it’s already hard to get past the no-guarantees nature of SEO services when hard-earned money is on the line and you can’t be sure of a long-term payoff. Plus, prices vary so much from agency to agency, so how do you know if one is ripping you off or another is too good be true?

While the right SEO agency for a business will depend on the specific needs of a brand, there are some steps that make the process easier. But first, there are a couple of important things to understand:

Not all SEOs do the same thing.

Part of price variation from agency to agency is due to the fact that not all SEOs do the same thing. One agency might specialize in PPC while another strictly focuses on organic search. One agency might cater specifically to franchise businesses while another focuses on smaller, local businesses. An SEOs price range is something that’s been developed to reflect the depth and scale of service they offer, and in most cases, they’re happy to address a potential client’s monetary concerns and explain the logic behind their pricing.

The work you do beforehand can save you time, energy, and sometimes money.

The worst SEOs want you to approach them with as a blank slate, and the best SEOs want you to come ready to explain the what and why behind your goals. When you approach SEO service providers with general and shallow goals, such as climbing rank or increasing traffic, it shows that you haven’t considered what it is you’re really trying to achieve and, more importantly, why you’re trying to achieve it. This makes you vulnerable to shady SEO service providers because it allows them to dictate your goals in a way that makes you an easy profit. That’s why doing your homework beforehand can help protect you from not so great SEOs and prepare you for the right SEO agency for your business.

Bearing these two things in mind, here’s some of the best advice on how to choose the right SEO company for your business.

  • Know your goals: As I said before, the work you do before ever approaching SEOs can save you time, energy, and money. Before approaching an SEO agency, you need to know why SEO is the next step for your business and the specific goals you want to achieve by using it. Is it to boost your number of subscribers? To drive high-converting traffic? To rank for keywords that will bring you more of the traffic that converts? Before you approach an SEO company, spend some time identifying why your business needs this, and make sure your goals state what you want and why you want it.
  • Know your criteria: Again, don’t go into the process of choosing an SEO agency blindly. Before approaching them, determine your criteria, including your budget, range of services, contract duration, location, and any other factors that you see as necessities or deal-breakers in choosing the right SEO agency for your business. This will give you categories to compare and narrow down the list of SEOs, ultimately saving you time and ensuring you find the best possible SEO.
  • Prepare your questions: Once you narrow down your list of the top SEOs you’re considering for your business, put together a list of questions that will help you get a feel for how the SEOs carry out their services and manage their client accounts. In your questions, be sure to ask what processes they would use to achieve your goals, and why. Ask how they execute those processes, and always ask what their process for keeping clients informed and updated is, as well as how often you as a client can expect to hear from them or receive a status report. It can also help to ask for a case study or example of a business similar to yours that they were able to help be successful. The best SEOs will be helpful and eager to answer your questions, so be mindful of how the conversations go when you’re asking to make sure it’s the best fit for your business.

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