Before any of you SEO consultants out there try to serve my head on a platter for impugning your work or your character, hang on a sec. In addition to my small business website design services, I have provided hundreds of hours of SEO consultation to small business owners. That’s the basis for this post. Some of those consultations have proven to be valuable and resulted sites ranking much better. On the other hand, a lot of them haven’t – primarily because of the misinterpreted value the SEO consultation itself by those that purchase it.
Small business owners and/or their defensive webmasters tend to reap very little benefit from SEO consultation, nor do they see much ROI. The limitations of the value of SEO consultation can be vast. I’ve spoken to hundreds of website owners – the majority of whom listened closely to my recommendations throughout the call and then never invested more than a few minutes actually implementing the suggested strategy. INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING.
The Perception of SEO Consultation
I would much prefer to do the work myself oftentimes, but when a client chooses “SEO Consultation” from a host of services, they’re not hiring someone to optimize the site for them – they’re hiring someone to give expert advice as to how to optimize a website. Many less than savvy small business owners invest in “consulting” because it is seemingly less expensive initially. What they often overlook is the very meaning of the word “consulting”, as well as what is included with the consultation itself. As defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, consulting is defined as follows:
- Main Entry: con·sult·ing
- Pronunciation: kən-ˈsəl-tiŋ
2: of or relating to consultation or a consultant <the consulting room of a psychiatrist>
That said, one of the questions many clients ask during the course of their initial consultation is, “Yeah…but isn’t this stuff what I’m paying YOU GUYS for…”? The short answer is, “No, you’re not…not at all…”. During an SEO consultation I’ll gladly tell site owners or their webmasters absolutely everything I can about what needs to be done to optimize the site for the search engines…with no concern whatsoever that doing so has a negative impact on the “do-it-for-me” SEO side of the business. I know that very, very few of them will never make an even half-hearted attempt to complete step one of the strategy I suggest.
The Standalone Value of SEO Consultation – $0
SEO consultation is worthless unless it results in the strategy being implemented. Here’s the thing, it can take a lot of consultation to get a small business owner or their webmaster to the point of being able to SEO a page successfully – and even more to optimize a whole site. Not to mention that there is an entire world of off-page SEO to explore once the site itself has been modified to be more “search engine friendly”. Understanding SEO is essential, not only for carrying out the present strategy, but to be able to create strategies for other pages or sites in the future. A worthwhile and valuable SEO consultation should lead to a better understanding of SEO as it relates to the client’s industry…not just “change [this] to [this]…and don’t forget to…”.
Let’s say a fat farm cooks and serves every meal during a person’s stay. Will she lose weight? Sure…WHILE SHE’S THERE! Once she leaves, there won’t be anyone to cook her meals and say, “eat this…don’t eat that…go workout…”. Without learning how, what and why to eat, she’ll just gain it all back upon returning home. The same is true of SEO. Simply making the changes because “a consultant told me to…” without understanding WHY serves little purpose.
Unless a site owner intends to pay for hours of step-by-step SEO consultation every time a new page or new site needs to be optimized, there won’t be a consultant on the phone next time saying, “change the title of this page to…”, “create additional text for this page…”, “link this page to that page using this word…” or “go to this blog and participate in the discussion…”. It’s one of those, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day…teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime…” kind of deals.
Do-It-Yourself SEO Isn’t Necessarily Any Cheaper
Make no mistake, SEO consultation typically involves nothing more than providing advice to the client or client’s designer as to what should be done – not actually doing it. So, whether website owners realize it or not, hiring an SEO consultant means they ARE a “do-it-yourselfer”. The consultant may be holding their hand along the way a bit, but the site owner is ultimately responsible for actually doing all of the work that will be required to make the site perform better in the search results.
It may take hours of consultation for the average small business owner or website designer to grasp the basics of on-page SEO alone. Once an understanding of the basics is achieved, actually doing the work often takes more time and effort than most website owners are willing (or able) to commit to addressing even the basic on-page SEO issues. Site owners should really stop and do the math…between the time & effort required to learn SEO and the time & effort required to carry out a successful strategy, most of them would be better off hiring someone to do it for them in the first place.
Scams Make Business Owners Avoid SEO Like The Plague
For some site owners…those with enough common sense to realize they can’t learn SEO in their “spare time” and expect to succeed…it isn’t usually long before the lightning bolt of reality strikes. Alas, there are many who VASTLY underestimate the time and effort that will be required to do the work themselves. Those site owners invariably opt for consultation, thereby heaping the responsibility of learning SEO, as well as understanding and carrying out an SEO strategy, squarely on their own shoulders. When desired results aren’t achieved, it’s almost always the consultant that is blamed.
Therein lies the inherent flaw of the SEO consultation itself – having to rely on the site owner to carry out the plan…and with the exception of the consultations, that site owner is completely unengaged with the field of SEO. This creates a dilemma in and of itself – breaking each basic best practice of on-page and off-page SEO down their simplest forms. Making the endeavor that much more difficult is the need to help site owners or webmasters understand that these are concepts…understanding why is just as important as understanding what and how.
The concept of SEO can’t be dumbed down too far – doing so creates a “checklist” of seemingly unrelated tasks and never leads to a full understanding of what is being done and why. Most site owners don’t (and won’t) even try to understand why the “why” is important. Because of the reluctance to do what it takes to understand SEO, many site owners have been so taken advantage of by industry charlatans they will never even CONSIDER venturing back into the realm of SEO – often to their own demise.
SEO Consultation IS Valuable…
…just not for anyone and everyone. There are two important things to keep in mind when it comes to SEO Consultation – the person providing the consultation and and the person receiving it. Not all good SEOs are good SEO consultants…it takes someone not only with the technical knowledge of SEO, but most importantly – as it pertains to the consultation – the ability to explain those technicalities in a manner that someone else can understand. That’s no easy task. If the person receiving the consultation “just doesn’t get it”, that’s not necessarily as much a reflection on the consultant as it is on the person receiving the consultation.
There are good SEO consultants and bad SEO consultants. Just like there are good doctors and bad doctors. The difference is that the general public doesn’t study some information on WebMD and make the ridiculous assumption that they can remove their loved one’s appendix. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of SEO. People are so ignorant of what is involved with optimizing a site, they think a few hours of consultation will give them all the information they need to do their own. Frankly, that’s a bit insulting…and site owners with such unrealistic expectations often get precisely what they deserve.
Furthermore, many site owners think they can pick and choose what recommendations to follow – again due to nothing more than ignorance. A doctor prescribing four medications with explicit details of why, when and how much of each to take would expect that his instructions will be followed. If the patient blatently ignores his instructions and doesn’t get the desired result, does that mean the doctor is guilty of malpractice? I’d say not…
When To Consider SEO Consultation
For consultations to truly have any value, “the student” must actually be willing and able to grasp the concepts behind SEO. There are some do-it-yourselfers out there that can benefit a great deal from consultants – and they’ll likely save themselves a considerable chunk of money doing the work themselves. That said, having a basic understanding of the Internet and website design is a necessity – period. One can’t exactly grasp the concept of SEO if they’re still typing URLs into the search field by mistake and/or don’t know what a description META tag is.
When considering SEO consultation, one should as themselves: do I know the difference between the address bar and a search field…do I know what headings are…do I know what ALT attributes are? If the answers are, “no…”, do-it-yourself SEO is probably NOT, I repeat NOT, something that should even be entertained. For most small business owners it is a better investment to hire a reputable SEO to optimize the site. It may cost more initially, but at least there is an opportunity to generate a return on the investment – and the site owner won’t throw good money after bad in a futile attempt to get a site to page one of Google for “iPods”.
SEO Is For PEOPLE – Not Search Engines
To properly optimize a site it is important to understand why certain things are important…like internal linking, for instance. While there’s no doubt that text navigation helps search engines index all of a site’s pages more efficiently, the concept of internal linking and it’s impact on a site’s ranking is due to the increase in usability for visitors.
Most people tend not to realize that the original intent of search engine algorithms was to provide search users with the most relevant and useful information within the database – not to sell crap. That goal hasn’t really changed…there’s just a great deal more revenue involved in the process. Search engines still want the best, most useful, most popular and most relevant sites to appear first. The manner in which a website proves those things to the search engines, though, has changed a great deal.
That’s why it’s important for anyone with the goal of having a site found in the search results to either put forth the effort it takes to understand SEO themselves or hire someone that does. Just for the record, when I say “hire someone”, I DO NOT mean pay some big company that doesn’t know anything about SEO a monthly fee to provide “30 minutes of consultation per month…” and “submit the site to hundreds of search engines…” – both of which are a complete waste of money. Submissions are SEO circa 1999. No discussion. As for the 30 minutes of consultation a month, well…you should know enough about SEO to properly optimize a site in roughly 10 years or so…good luck with that.
Hidden Benefits of SEO Consultation
Providing worthwhile and valuable SEO consultation helps website owners understand the scope of what optimizing a website really entails. If nothing else, it may help them understand that they can’t or aren’t willing to do the work necessary to improve a site’s ranking. For ethical and reputable consultants, that often means being hired to provide SEO services, rather than just consultation. The sad reality is that once a site owner feels as though they’ve “been had” by one of the many scammers that are ruining the industry reputation, they’ll likely never trust anyone with regard to SEO again.
Personally, I’d much prefer that clients “get it” based on consulting with me. Having to cover the same thing time and time again, page after page can be irritating. Rather than having them keep coming back page after page, site after site to review the same principles over and over and over again, I’d prefer being able to move on to the next step of the strategy…but that isn’t always the reality of consultation. While I suppose it provides a certain amount of job security for me, covering the same topic for the sixth time with the same person…well, it’s enough to drive a person bonkers – and for some of us that’s a shorter drive than others!
SEO Isn’t For Everyone
What consulting has helped me to realize is that some people are just completely incapable of grasping the concept of SEO as a whole. Explaining “why” a title should contain target search terms doesn’t mean they are going to be able to write the next page title themselves…because they just don’t get it. And that’s okay! If a mechanic told me step by step what to do to rebuild an engine, could I do it? I’ve never tried, but I’m guessing not! There’s nothing wrong with that…just like there is nothing wrong with someone “not getting” SEO.
There is a lot involved with implementing an SEO strategy based on consultation. Even when the initial strategy is carried out successfully, keeping up with what’s necessary to maintain a site’s ranking can be just as involved. Oftentimes that’s just more than many site owners are capable of or willing to do. Unfortunately many are so gun-shy after a bad experience with a con artist or snake oil SEO company that they’re unwilling to even dip a toe in the SEO pool again. That’s right…companies, and large publicly traded companies – and supposedly reputable ones, at that. Sam’s Club ring a bell? Yeah…no kidding.
While I can’t blame site owners for being leary of SEO to a certain extent, the reality is that their refusal to seek out a reputable and experienced SEO only dooms the site to fail. Marketing costs money – Internet marketing is no exception…monthly subscriptions for “SEO Consultation” will almost NEVER provide the desired results. Sorry if I’ve busted the bubbles of some small business owners out there. Wouldn’t you rather know now…before you waste another penny on consultations you won’t benefit from or go bankrupt?