Why SEO’s are Hated and 50 Things You Can Do About It

This is the ultimate game changing guide for SEO’s to improve the perception and reputation of the industry.

SEO’s, and really even digital marketers in general, have a problem. No one likes us. That’s putting it mildly in some cases. The poor reputation has nothing to do about the outsiders, it’s what SEO’s have done (or not done) to ‘earn’ it.

At a recent networking event, I was asked by a fellow business owner what I did for a living. I proudly said something to the effect of:

“I run an SEO agency that helps businesses grow online.”

You know what his response was? You might have guessed it since you are most likely an online marketer yourself and have probably heard the same thing. He said:

 “Ahh…You’re one of those.”

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

No, I didn’t pull a Jerry Maguire and just flip out on him, but it did make me realize one very important thing. I was fighting an uphill battle just by being associated with the SEO industry.

It was the final nudge I needed to launch Workado (a transparent campaign management tool that we built for our agency).

I knew I wasn’t the only one that had to deal with our poor reputation, so it got me thinking about ways in which my fellow SEO’s can help change the perception of our industry.

Collectively, if we all adopted a ‘code of ethics’ we would all reap the benefits. Here’s a pretty massive list of 50 things that you should be doing to help change the perception of our industry:

1. Easily Explain What You Do – >> Tweet This <<

This can be difficult for some people, but you have to ‘dumb’ things down. If you’re talking about link building and optimized content, you are going to go right over their heads. Even with they are nodding at you. Tell them you want to make sure the website content speaks to the visitor so they are more likely to convert which will help get people talking about them instead.

2. Show What You Do – >> Tweet This <<

Sometimes it isn’t just about Google Analytics and the latest keyword ranking report. Show them what you actually did for the month. If you don’t feel comfortable or don’t think it will be enough…you’re probably right. Document EVERYTHING. We used Workado in-house before deciding to launch it publicly to report on these things and keep the team organized. Sometimes clients just need to know what it is they paid for.

3. Show Your Results –  >> Tweet This <<

Combine the above report with Google Analytics and whatever performance tracking metrics are important (see the next bullet point) and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. Early on in a campaign when results aren’t exactly ‘impressive’ having the second bullet point above works well!

4. Do Things That Matter –  >> Tweet This <<

Stop spending time on repeated directory submissions and other outdated tactics and instead focus on how you can generate quality content. Content that’s 2,000+ words with supportive imagery, visual content (infographics, hilarious memes even), etc. It takes some effort, but even in boring industries it’s possible.

5. Align Your Work and Results with What the Client Wants – >> Tweet This <<

If the client is after more leads, don’t just focus your reporting on keyword rankings. Conceivably you can show them how more traffic leads to more leads, but if you can setup goal conversions for quote form completions – do it! If you’re working on an e-commerce site, they’re probably more interested in sales versus traffic numbers so make sure you have access to this information as well.

6. Be Proud of Where You Work – >> Tweet This <<

If you work from an office, let clients know! So many times their perception is built around someone working from home in a basement somewhere. It will lead to legitimacy. However, even if you are working from home – explain the advantages. Maybe you have a team in multiple locations and you didn’t want to be restricted by the talent pool of a single city. You can let them know you have less overhead and you can pass along those savings to them. Don’t hide from wherever you work, be forthcoming with the ‘why’ and you’ll find it doesn’t matter. Our agency went from an office with 8 people, to deciding to go remote which immediately allowed us to bring on 2 more team members. Thanks to this book for helping make that happen.

7. Over Communicate – >> Tweet This <<

Calling and emailing your clients regularly is MUCH better than nothing at all. Even if results aren’t coming as nicely as you’d hoped, this is even MORE of a reason. Chances are those results aren’t coming because you need better content. In order to get better content, you probably need to get them involved. Which brings me to #8…

8. Get Clients Involved – >> Tweet This <<

We would schedule monthly meetings with clients (either in office or over the phone) and we called these Help Us Help U (HUHU for short and pronounced ‘who who’) meetings. Our HUHU’s were very productive and we always had an agenda. There are ALWAYS things clients can be doing to help their own efforts and you’ll be surprised at how much they want to take part if they just knew what to do.

9. Support Your Clients – >> Tweet This <<

Does your client have an event coming up that they need attendees for? How about a charity or fundraiser? Contributing to these things goes a long way to secure your revenue for the long term why also positioning you as a really good person/company.

10. Go Above and Beyond – >> Tweet This <<

Don’t just do what you’re contracted to do…help them in other areas. It can be something like setting up a Google Alert and social tracking for their brand and letting them know about things people are saying. Find a bad review online? Let them know how to handle it professionally. See that their domain is coming up for renewal and make sure they know how to renew it. These little things don’t take much time and can be a life saver in the eyes of a business owner.

11. Tell Clients You Care – >> Tweet This <<

Letting clients know they are important is critical for long term success. Sometimes you just have to tell them how much their business means to you.

12. Show Clients You Care – >> Tweet This <<

Sometimes just telling them isn’t enough though, your actions speak louder than words. Dropping off donuts to their office every once in a while, or sending them a gift for their birthday can help you show that you’re thinking about them.

13. Invite Clients to Webinars – >> Tweet This <<

Continued education is important. Inviting prospects and clients to webinars and showing them different things they can do (such as how to interact and engage people on social) can really go a long way to them helping you get better results while giving them insights into how the industry works.

14. Invite Clients to Seminars – >> Tweet This <<

Like the webinars above, but if you are a part of any local chamber of commerce’s or networking functions – they will also typically have educational opportunities. You can invite your clients. This gives them the idea that you are well respected in the industry. This obviously makes them happy with their purchase decision and they get to boast about how they work with you.

15. Drip Educational Content to Clients – >> Tweet This <<

Setting up a drip system is an important way to hit the inbox of clients every couple weeks with educational content. It’s a valuable ‘touch’ as we used to call it. So get a free MailChimp campaign setup and put together some helpful content catered towards your clients (not how SEO strategies necessarily). Something like “7 Ways to Get the Most Out of 1 Single Piece of Content” will help them to know not only can they use their content for a blog post, but maybe even use it for their own drip campaign to increase sales. If you can give something that spawns an idea, you’ll get the credit.

16. Read Blogs – >> Tweet This <<

Google Reader isn’t in play anymore, but setup a reader (I LOVE Feedly) and start subscribing to a great list of blogs (here’s 101 inbound marketing blogs to get you started). This is not only good for self-education, but also for great ideas! The Feedly app is on my home screen and is something I review every morning when I wake up and at the end of the day as well.

17. Read Books – >> Tweet This <<

I have read some great books on all spectrums of online marketing and entrepreneurship over the years. As long as you continuously think about how the ideas on those books relate to your situation you’ll come out of a good book with 20+ great ideas you can start implementing immediately. Have a notebook or your phone nearby to take notes and write them down as they come to you.

18. Stay Up-to-date with Changes – >> Tweet This <<

By reading the latest blogs, you’ll know when a massive Google update is coming. There are usually some tweaks you’ll need to make to how you go about doing things. If you’re still building links with the same anchor text – you’re way behind the times.

19. Pursue Continued Learning – >> Tweet This <<

Adwords has a certification program. I felt the same thing needed to be in place for the SEO side of things. I wanted a test I could give to my employees to see where they were at and where I could help direct them for more education. So I started creating a certification program that will be launched here on Workado soon. It was built to help SEO’s stay up-to-date on how to actually implement industry best practices. It will be a free way to ensure you, and whoever you have working on client campaigns knows the industry best practices.

20. Don’t Hijack Sites! – >> Tweet This <<

If a client leaves you, don’t try keeping their website under wraps. This does NOTHING, but give off a bad impression. You aren’t going to get more money for it, they are going to tell everyone they know, and you are just going to look incredibly bad.

21. Dress to Impress – >> Tweet This <<

If you are meeting with a client or prospect in person, at least dress business casual. Showing up with a beanie, a beard that isn’t trimmed, an Iron Maiden t-shirt and khaki shorts is not going to help the cause.

22. Respond to Email – >> Tweet This << If they send you an email, don’t wait a week to respond to it. Try and respond by end of business. Even if you aren’t able to do anything just yet, let them know you have received the email and will look into it.

23. Answer the Phone – >> Tweet This <<

If they want to talk to you about something, take the call. Now I know some clients can go overboard with this so use your best judgment. Ignoring their phone calls is just going to upset them.

24. When Times are Tough, Face the Fire – >> Tweet This <<

These can be the toughest calls to handle, especially when results aren’t quite there yet. Let them know what you’ve been doing, better yet if you can show them (see #2 on this list) and be confident in what you’re doing. Often times they will feel better just having been heard.

25. Don’t Over Promise – >> Tweet This <<

I know it can be tough selling SEO these days when you are competing with seemingly millions of so called experts. However, the moment you try telling them you can get them millions of visitors and millions of dollars, you are setting yourself up for failure and ensuring the business community continues not to trust anyone in the industry.

26. Set Realistic Expectations – >>  Tweet This <<

In your conversations with prospects, you should be setting the table for the campaign and giving them some indications as to what their existing situation looks like. If they have a brand new website, have hundreds of spammy backlinks – don’t be afraid to tell them the harsh realities of their situation.

27. Use Real Data – >> Tweet This <<

If you are going to be showing visitors ‘hits’ and not ‘visitors’ you need to let them know what a ‘hit’ is. I have had a mom and pop local business tell me their web guy says they were getting 50k hits per month. Given they had no online presence at all, I knew this was not the reality. They showed me some fake reports that were put together in Excel as ‘proof’. As ESPN would say, “C’mon man!”

28. Don’t Charge Clients Without Them Knowing – >> Tweet This <<

Seems obvious, but I’ve heard from business owners who end up getting random additional charges billed to them when they had no idea. If you are going to charge for customer support calls, you need to let them know in advance. I’m not talking about just some small font in the original contract either!

29. Be Upfront About Pricing – >> Tweet This <<

We will be going into much more detail regarding pricing structures in future blogs, but you need to have a straight forward pricing presentation. Let clients know exactly what they are paying for, and how much they will be needing to pay. If you are going to charge hourly (which I don’t suggest), then give them a range of hours with a “not to exceed” clause so they aren’t shocked when they see your invoice.

30. Don’t Nickel and Dime Customers – >> Tweet This <<

Helping a client setup their email signatures, or renew their domains can seem tedious. However, it is a legitimate problem most non-tech savvy business owners face. Give them a hand and you’ll have a customer for a lot longer than if you were to charge for the 10 minutes it would take you. What’s worth more to you? 10 minutes of billable time or several more months of payments?

31. Talk Nicely About Others – >> Tweet This <<

It can be tempting to join in the bashing of another provider (or anyone for that matter) when the prospect or client is letting his frustration be known. However, all you should really say is that you understand and explain how you will be able to overcome those frustrations. Do not feed the negativity as it will just leave them filling as though this is what to expect in this industry.

32. Implement Best Practices – >> Tweet This <<

As a general rule of thumb, stay away from the blackhat techniques. Don’t stuff sites with keywords, or hide keyword using the same color backgrounds, or even use several heading 1 tags (or style h1 tags to regular font size) as you are only risking more damage than good. Short term gains might be had, but you risk massive long term losses.

33. Stay Organized –>> Tweet This <<

This can be trick when you have several campaigns going on. Using a campaign management solution like Workado, can help you keep organized with all your client’s tasks every single month of their campaign.

34. Know What’s Going On – >> Tweet This <<

When a client calls you unexpectedly to discuss their campaign, you better have an idea of what is happening. Even if you are not the one specifically working on their campaign. This is again where some sort of a tool or system in place will help everyone be on the same page.

35. Report Problems First, Don’t Let Clients Find Them – >> Tweet This <<

We once had a client that went through a rebrand and ended up finding an old video on a third party website discussing their old company name. This client got upset with us because they somehow felt we could control that and we should have let them know about it. Although these things are outside your control, you can setup Google Alerts, or I’d highly recommend Mention, to watch for branded terms and inform the clients if there are things they might want to know about.

36. Don’t Work Only at Night – >> Tweet This <<

If you are a solo SEO and a night owl, it can be nice working at night. You don’t get distracted and you can easily focus on work. However, unless you are also willing to take phone calls from clients during the day, it usually isn’t a good idea. Having some overlapping hours is important.

37. Work Well with Third Parties – >> Tweet This <<

Often times clients have their own web developer or IT person that they’ve worked with for awhile. You are inevitably stepping on some toes here so you will need to make sure you have quality relationships with their vendors as they can be huge assets to your campaign. Winning them over will help ensure a long and healthy relationship with the client.

38. Share the Knowledge – >> Tweet This <<

Learn a new tactic or strategy that you’ve found successful? Share it with the community. I know this can seem like you are arming your competition, but believe me – there’s enough business to go around. You are ultimately just positioning yourself as an expert while at the same time building trust and credibility not only in the industry, but to business owners as well.

39. Use a Professional Contract – >> Tweet This <<

Having a thorough contract can save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were fortunate to have such a contract when we had a client make updates to their site and they also figured ‘more SEO’ would help so they hired some backlink spammers to build more links.  These things dramatically impacted their results in a negative way and they tried coming after us for losses and future losses. Luckily our contract language prevented this. I know some SEO’s who have no contract, or a simple one page scope of work arrangement. Although it may seem easy, having a professional contract gives off the impression that you mean business and are indeed professional.

40. Use a Professional Proposal – >> Tweet This <<

We used to go back and forth on how to best present information. We dabbled with tools like Proposable (though we liked it, clients didn’t seem to). We also spent hours on end with Power Point presentations. Ultimately, we came up with a presentation process that we delivered the proposal through and then went straight to contract. You might have your own process to deliver a proposal, but whatever it is – just make sure it’s done professionally. Use Fiverr.com or a site like Elance or oDesk to work with a professional at an affordable rate who can really pretty it up.

41. Practice What You Preach – >> Tweet This <<

We knew an important part of the sales process was that we needed to be able to rank for keywords ourselves. When we had attained page 1 for “Small business SEO” that helped add tremendous credibility. When you are competing against SEO’s for rankings, try localizing your focus at first and going from there. You need to make sure your site itself is also optimized. Basically, make sure you are your own case study.

42. Be Forthright – >> Tweet This <<

Hiding things from clients can come back to haunt you. If you outsource work to third parties, let them know which of the things will be outsourced (content writing, web programming, link building, etc). This helps you later when you have to have a conversation on these topics and you might need to say “I don’t know, let me look into that.”

43. Stop Making Excuses – >> Tweet This <<

When it comes to getting work done, or getting results for your clients – stop making excuses for why it hasn’t been done or the results aren’t there. They don’t want to hear how you’re sick all the time, or any other excuse you are coming up with. They just want their frustration heard and want to know that you are going to work to resolve the problem. So embrace it and comfort them by letting them know you have a plan.

44. Get Speaking Engagements – >> Tweet This <<

We held monthly seminars through a great networking platform here in Phoenix called NetworkingPhoenix.com. In addition we would speak at Chamber of Commerce events for North Phoenix and North Scottsdale where people who were interested in learning how to do SEO for their business would attend. Naturally we would get a few leads, but more importantly it allowed us to invite clients and prospects and show them that we were trusted by great organizations.

45. Organize Events and Invite Clients – >> Tweet This <<

This can be tricky to pull off, but if you are able to organize an event this makes you look great to clients and prospects. We held a poker event at a local sports bar and we donated all the proceeds to a charity. We partnered with a video company, a branding company, and a printing company to provide prizes and had sponsors for food and drinks.

46. Have a Professional Business Card – >> Tweet This <<

Sorry, but a flimsy VistaPrint card or a perforated homemade business card is not going to get the job done. Whenever I received these, I immediately through them in the trash. If you can’t invest in your own business, I don’t feel comfortable doing business with you. Other business owners feel the same way.

47. Have a Professional Website – >> Tweet This <<

You might only specialize in SEO, but clients feel you are so closely related to web developers and designers that it is expected you at least know how to make some basic updates to their site when needed. If your website looks like it was built 10 years ago, you are hurting your chances of landing legitimate business.

48. Have Professional Collateral – >> Tweet This <<

Similar to 46 and 47 above, you need to have a professional piece of collateral. Work with a designer, don’t try to do this yourself. Try limiting the text and showing as much as you can visually. All you need to let people know is you can help them, but so many SEO’s try to stuff everything they can into their brochures. Break them up and get multiple brochures if need be. I saw a tradeshow banner at a networking event that was literally filled from top to bottom with text. I couldn’t believe it…the thing was 8 feet tall and almost 2 feet wide and was just completely covered in text. If you think anyone is going to read it, you’re crazy. If people are taking pictures of it, it’s not because the content was so powerful it moved them, it’s because they want to laugh and blog about it later.

49. Try and Understand Where Clients Are Coming From – >> Tweet This <<

Look at your presentation, your emails, and your communication in general through their eyes. Chances are they have no idea what you’re talking about from a technical standpoint. Chances are also really good that they have been burned by a bad SEO experience in the past. So speak to those things by letting them know you completely understand where they’re coming from and you have a plan to help them. They don’t need to necessarily know about the 404 error pages you’ll fix and the robots.txt issues blocking certain pages.  Demonstrate your understanding, but don’t go into detail.

50. Blog – >> Tweet This <<

This is the number one thing I tell business owners they need to be doing. I tell SEO’s the same thing. Blogging helps you practice what you preach (#41 above), builds credibility for you, and allows you to demonstrate your knowledge. Our SEO agency received more traffic through its blog than any other method, so it’s worth the effort. They don’t all need to be 4,000 words like this blog post is, but shoot for at least 1,000 words. It’s hard to really make an impact with 500 words. 2,000+ words is ideal. In fact, Neil Patel ran an A/B test for QuickSprout and came away realizing that the average page 1 result on a SERP contains over 2,000 words!


Let us know what you think in the comments below or @WorkadoApp on Twitter. Please help spread the message to your connections so we can change the perception of our industry collectively! How else can we help to change the perception of the SEO industry? I’m sure there are more, so what ideas do you have?

13 responses to “Why SEO’s are Hated and 50 Things You Can Do About It”

  1. […] SEO that produces results! SEOs can sometimes get a bad rap thanks to a few blackhats in the bunch. Justin McGill points out 50 things you can do to be a better […]

  2. Sunday says:

    Hi Justin,
    The list in invaluable! It sure is a guide that will prove game changer for SEO perception.

    It is unfortunate that black hats and grey hats SEOs have made genuine SEO practice perceived as deceptive.

    I agree if as many SEOs would apply these tips then the industry would somehow begin to be perceived as “helper” and not as “ripper”.
    This comment also shared in kingged.com

  3. LOL Justin. It’s really annoying sometimes.

    As I’m in the Philippines, a lot of business owners that I talk to doesn’t just say “Ahh…You’re one of those” because they have a lot of other negative phrases and sentences combined that comes after that. It does take time to educate them but its totally worth it.

    I really enjoy this post, but I would’ve loved to see you elaborate #1 a bit more as there’s always room for improvement on that one haha.

    I’m actually about to release a guest post about the bad reputation of SEOs from the Philippines, hope you could check that out when it’s out. 🙂

  4. Hey Justin,

    When I first started reading about SEO about 4 years ago, I was pretty dumbfounded. But when someone told me that this is what they specialized in, instead of saying “ah, you’re one of those”, my response was more like “You’re heaven sent to a lot of us”. SEO was no joke to me at first up until I started reading more and learning more about it. Now there are a lot of internet marketers that try to stay away from it like the plague, and yes it can be intimidating at first, but once you get the foundation of it, it isn’t so bad at all. There are, on the other end black hat SEO which has given SEO a bad reputation, and the only reason is that people tend to abuse it. But if a lot of us start following these tips, then hopefully it will help to get rid of the bad reputation! Thanks for the share Justin! Have a good one!

  5. Lawrence Berry says:


    I must say, this is a very long, well though-out post. You have really broken down the formula for many SEO’s who are struggling because of the “bad reputation” that many SEO’s get. The truth is a lot of people do not know what SEO is and how it can trully help them and their business. A lot of the things described here are things that have to do with character and professionalism. Being polite, not talking down about others, telling the clients about mistakes and not letting them find out all depends on your character. I once read a quote that ability gets you to the top, while character keeps you there. Also, to break that bad reputation aroma, as you said, show them what you can do and how it will help them. Create value. Good post!

  6. Mike says:

    That’s true if you are solo SEO you can work at night to achieve your business goals. I think industry need a change if more educated people will join SEO industry the perception about SEO will change in mind.

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