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El Dios de Cobra. In Memory of the passing of one of America's greatest photographers, Jorge Otero.

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Today in History:
1878: Progressive Era reformer Grace Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska.
1869: The Suez Canal opened after ten years of construction.
Asheville, NC

Web Marketing Index / Search
Web Marketing
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Web Marketing

SEO Firm Problems and Prevention

There are a multitude of companies out there, promising you the moon for your websites search engine rankings. Sadly, many of them are not delivering what they promise. Even worse, some of the techniques employed can bring your pages rank down or even cause your page to be excluded from the listings if the actions taken by this company (in your name) violate the policies of the search engine.

What then? Well, not much but firing them, reporting them to the search engine and asking forgiveness and reinstatement, and starting over. When it comes time to fire them however, many problems can arise. A little foresight in the stage of hiring an SEO company, can make a lot of difference if it ever comes to this.

Two areas of potential problems in an SEO/Client relationship are the actual ownership of the work that has been done, and the definition of the services that will be provided. In ownership of content issues, imagine that you pay a company to optimize your website, and page by page they change the code, add keywords, perhaps even realign the navigational structure of the pages. Perhaps through some dispute, you terminate the services. The next day you come to your website to find that all the work has been undone, and you are looking at your site as it was before you hired them, and payed them their fees. Seem ridiculous? It happens more often than you think. Looking back to the late nineties, I can remember meeting clients who hired a web design firm to create their website, reached a wall with them, and as part of moving on suddenly discovered that they didn't even own their own domain name! They had no recourse but to politely ask the individual or company to turn over the rights to their domain name. Since they were for one reason or another 'on the outs' with these people, the results were mixed. I am glad to say that most of the individuals involved acted responsibly, but I can also recall a few instances where my new clients had to start over with a different domain name.

Ownership of Content

This is an area of Search Engine Optimization that needs to be discussed during the sales process. If the company you are dealing with is vague in this stage, that should raise a red flag to you as the consumer. Ownership depends on how an SEO firm operates. If you pay monthly for a number of vaguely defined services, or if you pay per click without access to logs of where your visitors specifically come from, this should raise another flag that there may be some work-ownership issues if the relationship is terminated. Also remember that a contract with an SEO firm can end for many reasons - your dissatisfaction, the firm closing shop or transferring ownership, a company contact vanishing on either side of the table, etc...

Undefined Services

Search Engine Marketing is a confusing industry and unfortunately some firms use this confusion to their unethical advantage. The easiest way to avoid being taken advantage of in any circumstance is to understand what services you are buying and pay per service. Paying per click or position can work out as long as the SEO firm keeps you in the loop about the services used to generate these results. Not knowing can lead to poor lead quality, overcharging, questionable tactics, and short-term results.


You should always own the work if an SEO firm works on code (pages) within your website, by optimizing your existing site pages and/or adding new content that becomes a part of the existing site. Firms that operate this way should always give the client ownership of the finished product. If you hire a firm to do work to your existing site, make sure you have ownership rights before you begin, preferrably in a written contract. This way, if you end the relationship and the work changes or disappears, you have a legal recourse (which still is much less than desirable, but it is an option for you where none existed before).

External Sites

In a different type of marketing endeavor, an SEO firm creates a new, optimized site that they promote (ethically or not), intended to generate new traffic to your existing site. Firms using this technique are inclined to charge for each visitor they pass through to you. Many SEO customers like this method, which features a minimal up front investment, and few changes to the existing website. Another benefit is that hopefully any penalty for unethical tactics will be levied against the new site, not the existing one. One drawback to this is the ownership of the new site that is created. Read the contract carefully and ask what happens if you want to stop paying per click. Do you own or can you buy out the marketing site? Also determine how much a click costs and for how long do you have to pay for them? If you are unable to eventually own the new site, there is another flag. One common unethical practice is for the SEO company to sell these created marketing sites to your competition if you change SEO firms. I am not trying to say that your SEO firm doesn't deserve to make money. They do. The work is meticulous, repetitive, and labor intensive. They need to be paid for it. The point is that they need to be accountable for the charges they bill you for, to ensure that it is a cost effective strategy for your business. In an ideal world, they will make you lots of money, share some of it, and everyone is happy. The real world unfortunately can be different

Pay-Per-Click Accounts

Ownership for a program such as this amounts to the credit card which is used for bidding charges. If you pay an SEO firm a set fee for bidding in and managing PPC engines for you and they pay the charges to the PPC engine, you will never have ownership over the account. If you wish to continue your account with a PPC organization after leaving an SEO firm, the charges need to come from your credit card. If the SEO firm has all it's clients under one big account, don't expect them to be excited with that idea. But it should be possible for them to create an account solely for your business. If you can persuade them to use your card, make sure you obtain the username and password for all accounts for your records. If you do terminate your relationship with your SEO firm, be sure and visit the account and change the contact email/information to yours as well as the password to one which is not know to anyone not authorized to represent you. At, we prefer to have all charges billed directly to the customer. For one thing, every time money changes hands via a credit card, a small percentage of the transaction is charged to the processing company. By following a direct path, the monies are used most efficiently.

In many cases, By signing up for a pay per click service, you are paying an SEO firm per click the directs visitors to your website, and the SEO firm is then enrolling the site in a pay-per-click search engine program like overture or Google Adwords. Basically, an SEO firm will charge you x amount per click and this charge includes the maintenance and setup costs for creating an account and bidding in per-click engines. If you choose this model, be sure you know what phrases are being bid on, have a cap on monthly cost, and have a sense of what your keyword phrases normally cost in different PPC engines. Some key phrases have clicks as low as .10 cents in Overture. In this case if you pay $1.00/click, but all the phrases being bid on are under .25 cents, you're paying .75 cents/click to your SEO firm for management. Also, if your SEO firm is bidding on potentially popular but untargeted phrases, you could be paying for a lot of non-buying traffic.

The solution here is to understand the reasoning behind the services being rendered to achieve your desired result in this type of campaign. Tracking your conversion rates to be sure your per-click return on investment can be justified is also important. At, when we set up pay per click services for our clients, we charge a flat fee for creating the account, and a monthly fee for managing it, with non-scheduled maintenance or modification billed hourly. The costs-per-click are paid directly to the PPC engine with the clients credit card, and our clients have access to and are encouraged to review and modify their accounts with our guidance, and eventually, on their own. If ultimately a client ends up taking over the responsibility of management, the monthly fee ceases. We encourage all of our customers to learn the methods and to be as involved in the process as they wish to be.

Directory Registrations

Yahoo! and some other directories require annual fees, and if your SEO firm has billed you for this without using your card for the recurring fee, you may not be notified about the directory listing expiration. Usually, resubmission is not more costly than renewal. Once again, the easiest solution to this problem is having the recurring fees charged to your credit card.

Paying For Positions

Another SEO package with abuse potential is the pay for position contract. Google, Yahoo and most others offer premium sponsored links which will appear above the regular search engine results. At Google the cost for this is $10,000 minimum. So before hiring someone to magically make you #1 everywhere, understand what it would cost to pursue those efforts yourself. For this type of campaign you can expect a lot more assistance from the ultimate vendor (Google, Yahoo, or whoever). It may be much cheaper to contact them directly than to use an SEO firm.


The SEO industry is complicated and can be confusing, so be very wary of vague and simple search engine marketing solutions. You don't need to become an expert, but if an SEO firm is not willing to educate you about what they are doing, beware. Get a thorough contract from your SEO firm that explains services, specifies work ownership, provides termination provisions, and your ultimate results will be much more satisfying.

Good Luck!

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