A Tale of Two SEO Agencies: How One Got Our Trust & the Other Didn’t

A Tale of Two SEO Companies

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens compares and contrasts Paris and London as they go through a time of societal revolution (that’s my take on it).

Now I hate to use the word ‘revolution’, it’s so cliché, but the world of inbound marketing is rapidly evolving, particularly with SEO.

For example, a friend told me about a local marketing-ish upstart, with zero SEO experience, landing an SEO job with a company that’s been in business for 40 years. Yeah that’s not slightly scary.

This seems to happen when companies hear about SEO—they read a few blogs, a hypey article in a mainstream biz magazine, and they get seduced.

When an industry, like SEO, reaches a stage of evolution that business owners and C-level types are ignorantly talking about it, the seducers and the Charlatans appear on the scene.

And the seducers and Charlatans can do quite well, for a time.

Company protocol—talk to two SEO agencies, then choose one

From an SEO perspective our company website is a train wreck hit by a nuclear bomb. So when we began the process of re-engineering the UI/UX, rewriting the copy, and reworking our CTAs, it was the perfect opportunity to fix our technical SEO issues.

Based on company protocol I had to consult with two SEO agencies and then choose the best one.

Before I get to what the best SEO agency did differently and who the agency is, I’d like to talk about the agency who didn’t earn our trust—this is where the real lessons are—for biz owners and other agencies coming up through the ranks.

Misstep 1: assumed we knew nothing about SEO

There’s nothing like starting off a consultation/sales pitch by having your intelligence assaulted (and insulted).

What they didn’t know is that I have a knowledge-base in SEO from attending world-class SEO conferences, and by putting in about 500 hours of study and hands-on experience to date.

Their assumption about our SEO knowledge-base led to the second misstep.

Misstep 2: didn’t listen at all

Once I could get a word in, I told the two SEOs exactly what I wanted them to do. Our site has over 14K URLs, duplicate content, and a horrendous sitemap, and I needed their help to work through those exact issues.

They didn’t listen. Instead, they committed the third misstep

Misstep 3: tried to wow us with a shiny object

I shouldn’t even call this a shiny object. Basically, after I told them what I needed help with, they tried to wow us with this ‘amazing’ SEO tactic called keyword research, using a magical tool called Google AdWords.

The wooing and wowing didn’t stop there—they attempted to further blow our minds by telling us they could determine which keywords brought people to our landing page.

It was a cacophony of SEO agency nonsense.

Misstep 4: it was all about them

There’s a lot more that went wrong on this call, but this misstep was the worst of all. The entire consultation was all about them—they didn’t ask any questions about our company—they made no effort to understand our pain points, fears, and desired outcomes.

And the most bizarre part of the experience was the way they used a client testimonial to sell us on their services, but we couldn’t even relate to the client or the story.

The SEO agency who earned our trust

The SEO agency we chose is Image Freedom, the top SEO agency in San Antonio. And there were just two reasons why:

  1. They listened to our problems and immediately understood our needs
  2. They instilled confidence by addressing our exact needs and giving us an action plan on the consultation

No up-selling. No seducing. No shiny objects. No nonsense.

Truth be told, I was already sold on Image Freedom because I’ve worked with their team before. But again, protocol demanded we talk to another SEO agency.

If you have an SEO agency, earn people’s trust and let your results do the wowing and your clients will refer the crap out of you, so much so you’ll have to turn down work.

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  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    David I don’t really know what to say here besides thank you.  I had the chance to sit with the wife of one of our clients today, their family owns more of San Antonio than I even want to think about and she was telling me about a meeting she’d had with their IT folks.  They were directing her down the worst possible path and billing her for it as they went.

    If you can use Google well enough to find a picture of a boob you’re also qualified to speak at SEO conferences and give bad SEO advice… or at least that’s what the status quo would tell you these days.  I appreciate this post for calling that out.

    On behalf of everyone here on the Image Freedom team, we’re all eternally grateful for the kind words and your support.  I’ll make sure we never let you down.

    • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

      You’re very welcome, Matt. I hope through posts like this that other businesses can avoid being seduced and will know exactly what to look for when choosing an SEO agency. Keep  up the great work at Image Freedom.

      • http://twitter.com/JamesPiper90 James Piper

        Hi David,

        Are you able to recall any of the questions that really helped push a deeper discussion about your needs and business objectives? In other words, what helped uncover underlying issues from your side.

        Also, I checked out Image Freedom’s blog and this picture had to be shared somewhere. It is hilarious.

        Thanks!

        • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

          Hey James. Great question. With our company site, just about any hack SEO could easily see there are a multitude of technical SEO issues, many of which are easy to fix. 

          We know this already and we know what to do. But we went to both of these SEO agencies clearly stating up front that we had a specific need (a sitemap). And we needed it because we’re about to go through a total site overhaul, and at that time, we’re going to fix all of the other SEO issues.

          So, what we loved about Image Freedom is that they listened to everything we had to say, and every question they asked was in direct relation to solving the problem we approached them with.

          And then they asked very practical questions about timing and what our desired outcome and expectations were. 

          Our CMO is a non-nonsense type of person, and as that phone call was the first experience he ever had with Image Freedom, he was sold on the spot, without Matt or anybody on his team having to try to sell him on how good they were or how much they knew.

          Another thing we liked about Image Freedom is that they offered very creative solutions to help us move forward with our project, including letting somebody from team come down to their office to work on the project, under their supervision.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    David I don’t really know what to say here besides thank you.  I had the chance to sit with the wife of one of our clients today, their family owns more of San Antonio than I even want to think about and she was telling me about a meeting she’d had with their IT folks.  They were directing her down the worst possible path and billing her for it as they went.

    If you can use Google well enough to find a picture of a boob you’re also qualified to speak at SEO conferences and give bad SEO advice… or at least that’s what the status quo would tell you these days.  I appreciate this post for calling that out.

    On behalf of everyone here on the Image Freedom team, we’re all eternally grateful for the kind words and your support.  I’ll make sure we never let you down.

    • David Cohen

      You’re very welcome, Matt. I hope through posts like this that other businesses can avoid being seduced and will know exactly what to look for when choosing an SEO agency. Keep  up the great work at Image Freedom.

      • http://twitter.com/JamesPiper90 James Piper

        Hi David,

        Are you able to recall any of the questions that really helped push a deeper discussion about your needs and business objectives? In other words, what helped uncover underlying issues from your side.

        Also, I checked out Image Freedom’s blog and this picture had to be shared somewhere. It is hilarious.

        Thanks!

        • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

          Hey James. Great question. With our company site, just about any hack SEO could easily see there are a multitude of technical SEO issues, many of which are easy to fix. 

          We know this already and we know what to do. But we went to both of these SEO agencies clearly stating up front that we had a specific need (a sitemap). And we needed it because we’re about to go through a total site overhaul, and at that time, we’re going to fix all of the other SEO issues.

          So, what we loved about Image Freedom is that they listened to everything we had to say, and every question they asked was in direct relation to solving the problem we approached them with.

          And then they asked very practical questions about timing and what our desired outcome and expectations were. 

          Our CMO is a non-nonsense type of person, and as that phone call was the first experience he ever had with Image Freedom, he was sold on the spot, without Matt or anybody on his team having to try to sell him on how good they were or how much they knew.

          Another thing we liked about Image Freedom is that they offered very creative solutions to help us move forward with our project, including letting somebody from team come down to their office to work on the project, under their supervision.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    David I don’t really know what to say here besides thank you.  I had the chance to sit with the wife of one of our clients today, their family owns more of San Antonio than I even want to think about and she was telling me about a meeting she’d had with their IT folks.  They were directing her down the worst possible path and billing her for it as they went.

    If you can use Google well enough to find a picture of a boob you’re also qualified to speak at SEO conferences and give bad SEO advice… or at least that’s what the status quo would tell you these days.  I appreciate this post for calling that out.

    On behalf of everyone here on the Image Freedom team, we’re all eternally grateful for the kind words and your support.  I’ll make sure we never let you down.

    • David Cohen

      You’re very welcome, Matt. I hope through posts like this that other businesses can avoid being seduced and will know exactly what to look for when choosing an SEO agency. Keep  up the great work at Image Freedom.

      • http://twitter.com/JamesPiper90 James Piper

        Hi David,

        Are you able to recall any of the questions that really helped push a deeper discussion about your needs and business objectives? In other words, what helped uncover underlying issues from your side.

        Also, I checked out Image Freedom’s blog and this picture had to be shared somewhere. It is hilarious.

        Thanks!

        • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

          Hey James. Great question. With our company site, just about any hack SEO could easily see there are a multitude of technical SEO issues, many of which are easy to fix. 

          We know this already and we know what to do. But we went to both of these SEO agencies clearly stating up front that we had a specific need (a sitemap). And we needed it because we’re about to go through a total site overhaul, and at that time, we’re going to fix all of the other SEO issues.

          So, what we loved about Image Freedom is that they listened to everything we had to say, and every question they asked was in direct relation to solving the problem we approached them with.

          And then they asked very practical questions about timing and what our desired outcome and expectations were. 

          Our CMO is a non-nonsense type of person, and as that phone call was the first experience he ever had with Image Freedom, he was sold on the spot, without Matt or anybody on his team having to try to sell him on how good they were or how much they knew.

          Another thing we liked about Image Freedom is that they offered very creative solutions to help us move forward with our project, including letting somebody from team come down to their office to work on the project, under their supervision.

  • Charles Besondy

    David, this post HAD to be written. Hats off to you for writing an informative and professional post. I share your observations as someone who frequently needs to recommend marketing specialists to clients, or manage a team of specialists to implement my marketing plan for the client. There is huge collateral damage to our profession caused by charlatans. I recently did a large planning project for client that had been burnt so many times before and was so distrusting of marketers that it was impossible to work with them effectively.

    • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

      Thank you, Charles, appreciate your comments here on this topic. I’m sorry to hear that about your client. Almost sounds like there needs to be some sort of therapy for people that have been burnt over and over again. Hopefully this post will make its way around to create some awareness that there are reputable marketers and SEOs doing great things for their clients.

  • Charles Besondy

    David, this post HAD to be written. Hats off to you for writing an informative and professional post. I share your observations as someone who frequently needs to recommend marketing specialists to clients, or manage a team of specialists to implement my marketing plan for the client. There is huge collateral damage to our profession caused by charlatans. I recently did a large planning project for client that had been burnt so many times before and was so distrusting of marketers that it was impossible to work with them effectively.

    • David Cohen

      Thank you, Charles, appreciate your comments here on this topic. I’m sorry to hear that about your client. Almost sounds like there needs to be some sort of therapy for people that have been burnt over and over again. Hopefully this post will make its way around to create some awareness that there are reputable marketers and SEOs doing great things for their clients.

  • Charles Besondy

    David, this post HAD to be written. Hats off to you for writing an informative and professional post. I share your observations as someone who frequently needs to recommend marketing specialists to clients, or manage a team of specialists to implement my marketing plan for the client. There is huge collateral damage to our profession caused by charlatans. I recently did a large planning project for client that had been burnt so many times before and was so distrusting of marketers that it was impossible to work with them effectively.

    • David Cohen

      Thank you, Charles, appreciate your comments here on this topic. I’m sorry to hear that about your client. Almost sounds like there needs to be some sort of therapy for people that have been burnt over and over again. Hopefully this post will make its way around to create some awareness that there are reputable marketers and SEOs doing great things for their clients.

  • Michael Aprile

    Written, simple, straight-forward and to-the-point, Dave. It might lead some people to want more information, however, it was good on its own. I believe, overall, that people desire honest reporting and I want more of it. Thanks..

    • http://www.davidmcohen.com/ David Cohen

      Thanks, Michael. It’s hard to know when a company is reputable or not without ever working with them, especially when they’re referred. The gauge I try to use is based on the questions they ask. And if they aren’t asking any questions, but just telling me about them,  I’m out.

  • Michael Aprile

    Written, simple, straight-forward and to-the-point, Dave. It might lead some people to want more information, however, it was good on its own. I believe, overall, that people desire honest reporting and I want more of it. Thanks..

    • David Cohen

      Thanks, Michael. It’s hard to know when a company is reputable or not without ever working with them, especially when they’re referred. The gauge I try to use is based on the questions they ask. And if they aren’t asking any questions, but just telling me about them,  I’m out.

  • Michael Aprile

    Written, simple, straight-forward and to-the-point, Dave. It might lead some people to want more information, however, it was good on its own. I believe, overall, that people desire honest reporting and I want more of it. Thanks..

    • David Cohen

      Thanks, Michael. It’s hard to know when a company is reputable or not without ever working with them, especially when they’re referred. The gauge I try to use is based on the questions they ask. And if they aren’t asking any questions, but just telling me about them,  I’m out.

  • http://www.refreshweb.com/ John Rasco

    Hi Dave… I wanted to write and thank you for the Klout link contribution, and then discovered who you are and learned more about you. This is a powerful critique, and a lesson in making assumptions about people.

    From my side, it’s never ideal to meet people over the phone, and the odds of having a prospect as well-educated as you in an initial conversation about SEO are infinitesimal. So, I probably–OK, I certainly–oversimplified, but I did not mean to talk down to you. Had we met and looked at your problems, I may very well have told you that RefreshWeb was not a good fit for you…what we are really good at is site strategy and on-page optimization. Your quick judgement may be correct, but your comments say you may not have spent any time on our site, seen the quality of our work, looked at our client list or read our testimonials. We typically work with clients for years, because they see the results of our work, and consistent, iterative improvement.

    Our motivation is to help people, and most client prospects first need help in understanding how SEO works, and how much of the available market they are missing, simply by not knowing what people are looking for. We always start with a free ranking report, to see how well the site is performing…and whether or not we are needed. As you know, your current site has poor optimization, so we could naturally conclude that you needed some education.

    I will continue to ponder these things to try and improve. I am sorry if you were insulted or felt you were not heard. Unfortunately, there are very few knowledgeable prospects.Over the years, I have only talked to a handful…maybe three. I’m thankful for the critique insofar as having the rare chance at honest feedback, but I’m sorry to be judged on the basis of an introductory call you decided to sit in on. We had spent time with your marketing person, talking about your market and the great good you can do for young people, so we were motivated as well. David, every person has a gift they can contribute…we may have different strengths, but we in no way tried to mislead or trick you into using us. I can assure you that the person who referred us has known us over our entire 10-year history, and knows both our integrity and the quality of our work.

  • http://www.refreshweb.com/ John Rasco

    Hi Dave… I wanted to write and thank you for the Bound link contribution, and then discovered who you are and learned more about you. This is a powerful critique, and a lesson in making assumptions about people. From my side, it’s never ideal to meet people over the phone, and the odds of having a prospect as well-educated as you in an initial conversation about SEO are infinitesimal. So, I probably oversimplified, but I did not mean to talk down to you. Had we met and looked at your problems, I may very well have told you that RefreshWeb was not a good fit for you…what we are really good at is site strategy and on-page optimization. Your quick judgement may be correct, but it looks like you may not have spent any time on our site, seen our clients or read our testimonials. We typically work with clients for years, because they see the results of our work, and consistent, iterative improvement.

    I will continue to ponder these things to try and improve. I am sorry if you were insulted or not heard. Unfortunately, there are very few knowledgeable prospects.Over the years, I have only talked to a handful. I’m thankful for the critique insofar as having the rare chance at honest feedback, but I’m sorry to be judged on the basis of an introductory call you decided to sit in on. I can assure you that the person who referred us has known us over our entire 10-year history, and knows both our integrity and the quality of our work.

  • http://www.refreshweb.com/ John Rasco

    Hi Dave… I wanted to write and thank you for the Bound link contribution, and then discovered who you are and learned more about you. This is a powerful critique, and a lesson in making assumptions about people. From my side, it’s never ideal to meet people over the phone, and the odds of having a prospect as well-educated as you in an initial conversation about SEO are infinitesimal. So, I probably oversimplified, but I did not mean to talk down to you. Had we met and looked at your problems, I may very well have told you that RefreshWeb was not a good fit for you…what we are really good at is site strategy and on-page optimization. Your quick judgement may be correct, but it looks like you may not have spent any time on our site, seen our clients or read our testimonials. We typically work with clients for years, because they see the results of our work, and consistent, iterative improvement.

    I will continue to ponder these things to try and improve. I am sorry if you were insulted or not heard. Unfortunately, there are very few knowledgeable prospects.Over the years, I have only talked to a handful. I’m thankful for the critique insofar as having the rare chance at honest feedback, but I’m sorry to be judged on the basis of an introductory call you decided to sit in on. I can assure you that the person who referred us has known us over our entire 10-year history, and knows both our integrity and the quality of our work.