Let’s be honest, most of us are scared of SEO agencies.
We’ve heard too many horror stories.
Of people being bamboozled, misled, ripped off and left with sites riddled with dodgy back links, poor optimisation and woeful rankings.
So what do we do?
How can we learn to trust SEO agencies again, and more importantly how can SEO agencies Suck less.
Today, I’m chatting with Mathew Cocciardi, who was a little burned by his SEO agency experience – and sharing some hot tips on how to ensure, if you’re looking for an agency, you find a good one.
And if you are an agency you sustain a good reputation.
Tune in to learn:
- What led Mathew to seeking an SEO agency for help
- What you should have set up before contacting an agency for SEO assistance
- The key things to look for when choosing an SEO agency
- How important is it for you as a customer to know SEO terminology
- “Red flag jargon” you should look out for
- How you can participate in the ongoing process
- The best way to know your money is being spent well
- Alternate models: What they are and the benefits of each
Listen to the podcast
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And big thanks to Amy for her lovely review.
Mathew Cocciardi is a developer who turned into SEO and is now responsible for the organic visibility of Berlin based travel startup, Omio (formerly GoEuro), across the globe. In the past, Mathew has helped some really popular brands like trivago and Flipkart grow organically.
Mathew also hosted the super famous webinar series, in association with SEMrush, “SEO Surgery in India”, and now hosting another series called “Indian Search Marketing Academy”. He’s the founder of SEOSurgeon.in, the brand he uses for his SEO consultancy services. When not busy reading SEO articles or setting up his own SEO experiments, you’ll find him spending time with his daughter, or planning his next trip.
Connect with Mathew
Kate: Let’s be honest, most of us are a little bit scared of SEO agencies. We’ve heard too many horror stories. Let’s be honest, most of us are scared of SEO agencies. We’ve heard too many horror stories of people being bamboozled, misled, ripped off and left at sites riddled with dodgy back links or optimization and woeful rankings. So what do we do? How can we learn to trust Search Engine Optimization agencies again? And more importantly, how can SEO agencies just suck a little bit less? Today I’m chatting with Matthew Kashati who was a little burned by his SEO agency experience, and we’re going to be sharing some hot tips on how to ensure if you’re looking for an agency, you find a good one. And if you’re an SEO agency or someone working in one, you maybe get some tips on how to sustain a good reputation and keep your customers coming back for more. Hello, my name is Kate Toon and I’m the head chef at the recipe for SEO success online learning hub for all things related to Search Engine Optimization and I love SEO. And today I’m talking with Matthew Kashati. Hello Matt.
Matthew: Yeah. Good. Okay. How are you?
Kate: I’m very well. It’s lovely to have you here. I need to do what I always do and start by reading out your illustrious bio. Are you ready?
Matthew: Fire away.
Kate: It’s always a bit awkward when people read out your bio. So Matthew left a family business to pursue a passion business. Sniper’s then opened in August, 2009, almost 10 years ago now. Matthew has grown the business into a significant player in the paintball industry. He caters to around 8,000 customers a year as well as hosting Victoria paintball tournaments. Matthew also now helps organise the Melbourne SEO meetup, which started as SEO journey and led him to the recipe for SEO success. So yeah, Matt, we’ve known each other for how long now? A couple of years, three years?
Matthew: Probably even a little bit longer. Three or four years maybe. It’s been a bit of a journey. I think you hit us probably down towards the low point of it all at the time too.
Kate: It was a low ad. So I remember when Matt joined the course about, I’d say three or four years ago. I think you’d been hit with a little bit of negative SEO, hadn’t you? Or some things weren’t going on. Let me stop telling your story for you and let’s start at the beginning. So you had this business and you employed an SEO agency. What led you to seeking out an SEO agency in the first place?
Matthew: Well, we looked at the industry. We were a bit late to the party so there were a lot of established businesses in our industry already. We looked into it. I don’t think many of them were doing online very well at the time so it was a bit of an opportunity for us to try and enter the market in an area that we had an advantage. So we’re willing to throw a bit of budget at digital marketing and we saw our SEO and website development as being a real opportunity there but we didn’t have any knowledge of that at all. So that was how we approached it. So we came in with a bit of money to throw around but not enough knowledge necessarily of of what we were buying and I think that was one of the challenges. So we started going through how do we find it, but probably made a few mistakes early on [inaudible 00:03:28].
Kate: Yeah. So that’s an interesting point. Because many people listening will be in this position. They don’t really understand SEO. They’re happy to pay for it. How did you go about finding an agency? Did you get a recommendation or how did that all work?
Matthew: Lot of research still. It’s not something I’d just pick the first one out of the phone book or whatever. So at the time we thought we were being pretty clever. We found some keywords that seemed to be very competitive and then looked up who was performing in those keywords and then tried to backtrack it to the agencies that were delivering it and we thought that was a very clever way to go about it. And we probably put too much faith in those ones. We still met with the few at the time and when we’d gone, we were fairly confident with and they had some very important, very illustrious clients on their list. So everything looked on paper to be fantastic. But it wasn’t really as it seemed on the surface, shall we say.
Kate: Well, I actually think not a super intelligent way of trying to find a good SEO agencies look for keywords that you want to rank for or that your competitors are ranking for or even just other industries and go, who did that work? Who got some there? And then you do all those other due diligence things. You say, well, what other clients do they have? What testimonials do they have? And a lot of it also is about the vibe of the person you meet. Do they seem transparent? Are they talking gobbledygook? How was that first meeting? Because obviously to a degree, you didn’t know what questions to ask. You were just like, can you make us rank number one? And they were like, yes. What questions did you ask to try and validate them? Can you remember?
Matthew: Probably one of the main ones that we were looking at is we went in with an agenda. So we said, look, we want to rank for this term, which at the time was for us painful Melbourne. And we were looking at how they were performing with equivalent terms in other industries and that was going really well. You’re spot on. That was probably the limit of our questions that we had a lot of background knowledge on other than how have you performed for other clients. But I had no sort of way of saying, look, how do you go about it? And then separating good from bad. So at that stage I wasn’t talking about, how they did their back links or what their processes were in other areas because I had no knowledge of that myself and that was probably the biggest challenge.
Kate: Yeah. And at the end of the episode, we’re going to go through a couple of questions that we think might help people who are in the same position. So you hired them and, we won’t go into many details. Obviously we’re definitely not going to name names, but it was a fairly substantial monthly fee and I think as well they made you sign up to a contract for a period of time. Is that right? Is that how it works?
Matthew: Yeah. So it was quite an expensive one, particularly as a startup when you are limited in your budget for advertising. It did include a fresh sort of redo of the website. So they rebuilt it in their in house system so it wasn’t a WordPress website or something like that at the time, it was something that was unique to them, which probably should have been a flag as well. So it was one of those ones where it was learning a little bit on that problem.
Kate: Yeah. And again, there’s another classic, isn’t it? That the company that says host with us and we’ll buy your domain and we’ll build your website on our proprietary system so no one else can ever fix it. But again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and it seems such a relief to find an agency that will offer an all in one solution. So not only will they help you with your SEO, but they’ll help with a website and the copy and the Google ads. It’s like, yes, I don’t have to think about this anymore. And when you’re in that startup mode, you have to divide and conquer.
Kate: And it’s also a lot to do with what you are good at, what you enjoy. For example, I did my own finance. I think this is an equivalency. I did my own finance for a long time. I set up zero. I did a pretty bad job of it. And then I got a bookkeeper and an accountant, and I am happy to give them money to do the work because I have no interest. But again, I need to know that they’re doing it properly. And that’s the hard thing. So let’s think about this. When did you start to see red flags? When did you start to get an icky feeling in your tummy?
Matthew: Really I didn’t. I had a relationship with them for a long time and I didn’t see it coming. So we actually had a massive crash in their rankings on the day they came out to film a video testimonial at our site. So we went from using that keyword I mentioned before, paintball, Melbourne. We were in position two at the time. And then we went to page 10 I think, with our best performing keywords. So up until that stage, there was no red flags. The interaction was smooth. We were performing well, we were getting good leads, right up until we weren’t.
Matthew: And that’s the really scary thing with SEO. As a small business growing, you’ve got staff, commitments, and rents and all of these things that are coming out little on your personal expenses. And it was like turning our cashflow off of the wall. It was a horrible time. So there was no gradual, there was no red flags. There’s probably stuff I could’ve looked back on and said, that should’ve been a warning. That should’ve been a warning. But at the time I took them at face value and the performance was there so we continued.
Kate: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. I’m going to come back to that in terms of lead gen diversification because you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. And I know, I know a lot of people who put all their eggs into Google ad words as their basket and that works great for them. But gosh, the money they have to pour into that and they have no other lead gen sources. So they don’t pay their big wads of cash to Google every month and they miss out. So we’ll talk a little bit more about that at the end. Okay. So it was all going well then you had this big crash and then obviously at some point you decided to start learning a bit about DIY SEO. So what was it that made you decide to do that? Why did you decide, actually I am going to learn about this. What drove you to it?
Matthew: Look, it really was a fact that I realised the impact that that crash had on our business at the time and the fact that I had no understanding of what happened. And I wasn’t being given clear answers by then so I didn’t know when that thing happens, you get told, this is a Google thing, there’s still bounce back, we’re fixing it, we’ve got your back, all of these things but at the end of the day, your instinct is that something has gone dramatically wrong and you’re not getting an answer for it. And there’s a level of frustration. So I knew I couldn’t just pick up and move to a different agency because there’s no guarantee that things would be different. Probably the best analogy, it’s like taking your car into the mechanics and being told that the flux capacitor is out.
Matthew: There’s no way, unless you know enough about cars to talk shop, to understand the difference between the real and the rubbish. I’m not doing all my SEO at the moment to be honest but the main thing for me was to get enough knowledge to go in and tell them exactly what I wanted, have an understanding of the process as they’re going through and take a little bit of responsibility for, I guess the performance and see even if you’re not doing it yourself.
Kate: From all the thousands of people who’ve done the course, I remember when I started it, a lot of SEO people were like, it’s terrible, you’re going to ruin it. Everyone will be able to do it themselves. But the truth is that a lot of people will do the course simply so that they can have better conversations with their SEO agency or be a better client to a degree. That isn’t exactly what happened with you though, is it? Because you did begin to ask questions and go, hey guys, how come you’ve done this and how come you felt these backlinks and why is that code in my site serving ads and blah, blah, blah. We had some funny findings, didn’t we Matt, when we went through your site. And so you started to ask them a few questions and what was their reaction to being asked a few questions?
Matthew: This one was the second. So then we moved on to a different agency from the one that we had the crash row. And these guys rebuilt the website using WordPress and everything was looking golden. But I’d stayed the course of doing my own research, shall we say. So as I got through the course with you, that’s when I started to look at some of the things I was learning about. And there was just some oddities. It wasn’t things that were hurting us yet, but being they had not already been burned by we had practises in the past I started to ask questions. So I fired off an email with 10 questions about, okay I need to understand what’s happening here and why you’re doing this. The email I got back was really short actually which was simply, I think you’ve add groaners, it might be time to move on.
Matthew: Which was a really old one. I think I’m one of very few people that have been sacked by an agency as a [inaudible 00:12:28]. And it was really just kicking back from asking questions about weed redirects and it was just some really odd behaviour that I didn’t understand. So I’m glad I asked the questions, but probably the thing I learned from it is where to look and just have a look under the bond a little bit and understand what’s happening.
Kate: Yeah, it’s interesting. I actually got fired by my accountant last week in a similar scenario because I started, I’ve never really taken a really close look at my fingers which is terrible. I shouldn’t admit that, but I’m starting to really forecast and tracking. I was like, hey, how come this has been assigned here and this has been reconciled to that. I thought we’d agreed this and I got a notice saying, yeah I think you’ve outgrown us and so you’re fired. And the thing is, it’s a weird thing, isn’t it? Because I don’t think you were in any hurry to do the SEO yourself. You just wanted to understand it and have an honest conversation. Anyway, so let’s move on. We’ve all had bad experiences or many people have had bad experiences with SEO agencies, but lots of people have had really good experiences as well.
Kate: This episode is definitely not out there to bag SEO agencies because there are amazing ones. And I think that comes down to a lot of, the main issue I think is miscommunication both from the SEO agency and from the client. The client doesn’t know what they want, they don’t understand the metrics, they don’t understand what a good result is and they don’t understand what it takes to get a good result. The SEO agency isn’t transparent, doesn’t tell them how they do things, doesn’t give them a realistic framework and say, yeah, it’s going to take a year and it’s going to have this impact because they want to win the clients and either they slightly over promise. So we’re going to go through this in a bit more detail, but if you were giving advice for someone tomorrow who’s thinking about hiring an agency to get some SEO assistant, what would you already have set up website wise before you went to them, and digital marketing wise. What ducks would you have in a row before you went out and hired someone?
Matthew: Look, I think it depends on what you want. I think probably one of the first things is to understand that the web development isn’t straight up SEO. While, some places do both I think you need to understand the difference with them. So you can come with a website design and you can have, I guess your marketing docs lined up and then get to work on the SEO side if that’s what you want. But I think having an understanding of what you want to achieve, there’s nothing wrong necessarily with an agency going from the ground up, building your website with an SEO tilt to it, but I think it really depends on what you’re wanting to get out of it. Whether you want to separate the two roles. But an understanding of what the difference is is probably the starting point for me anyway or would be now.
Kate: Yeah. So I think that’s a really good point. So I think people do mix them together and I think they’re quite different disciplines. So I think yes, you probably need a strong developer who can build you an SEO friendly site to begin with. And any of the platforms these days are pretty good. We won’t talk about those. We’ve done other episodes on that, but if you’re going to build a WordPress site, it’s making sure it’s speedy, it’s crawlable, that the right plugins are in there. You’ve got security and backup. We’ve got an SEO plugin and you’ve understood the basics. The site doesn’t take 27 minutes to load. Then an SEO agency it’s a lot more to do. Lots of them will do a little bit of on page optimization for you, but they won’t generally optimise the whole site for you.
Kate: They may pick a couple of pages that they’re going to try and rank. And then a lot of the work that an SEO agency does is actually off site. It’s building back links, it’s building relationships, it’s looking for opportunities who had researched reporting. I do think there’s a degree of separation and I’m also a little bit of a person when it comes to suppliers about not trying to find an all in one solution and about having different people with different skill sets and disciplines. Maybe that’s a trust thing. Eggs in a basket. I like to have my eggs in lots of different baskets, but that’s a different point. Okay. So I was going to say that you’ll have at least a website there and hopefully enough understanding of that website to feel fairly confident that is okay. Then you’d go to your agency. You’re trying to find a trustworthy agency. And I know this is the million dollar question, but what would you look for? You tell me your things, I’ll tell you my things.
Matthew: And this is probably coming from the negative experience, but really the transparency and the willing to work together is a really key one for me now. I’m working with a few different people like you say. So I’ve got someone differently doing the DIV side of it. I’ve got someone doing ad words and I’ve got someone doing the SEO side. And to be able to sit down and have a meeting, set goals and really have an understanding of the work that’s being completed and how they all fit together is probably the most important and what I was missing early on. It was probably an ignorance that I was very comfortable with, letting someone who I felt was more skilled than me just do the work and I’ll pay them the money. But that would be probably my most critical thing is to go in there, have an understanding of what’s being done and being able to see the results and see that in the reporting side of it as well.
Kate: Yeah. Okay, cool. I agree with all of that. I’ve got a long list here though, Matt. So I’m going to see what you think of mine as I read. My number one tip is to not go into Facebook groups and go, do you know anybody who’s good at SEO, and get 300 people responding saying, oh, you should check out Sue. Sue’s lovely. She did my SEO, she’s really nice. And it’s like, Gayle who recommended Sue doesn’t know what SEO is. So how is Gayle a good judge of what Sue’s done anyway. Gayle could be Sue’s sister. We don’t know what affiliations are going on there. Facebook groups are not where you find great SEO people.
Matthew: I agree with that. Absolutely.
Kate: And the other one is ignore the greetings of the day emails from Sanji who says, your site’s a fraud. We have found, and this is, we have found many mistakes in your website and we can get your number one ranking by tomorrow if you pay us this much money.
Matthew: I am sceptical that some of them aren’t actually from Australia.
Kate: I think they might. I actually got one from the other day from myself so [inaudible 00:18:48] and I was like, wow, I know I’m a bit skitzo but I don’t remember writing this email. So any SEO agency worth their salt does not have to solicit for work in that way. Yes, there’s always a bit of cold calling. I’ve had cold emails from copywriters and graphic designers, but generally they must work though because why do people keep sending them? I don’t know. It’s terrifying. Anyway, ignore Sanji and greetings of the day. Ignore Facebook groups. My next one is forget the whole ad words partner thing. So lots of people would go, oh, we’re an ad words partner. And it’s like, oh that means they’ve got the secret relationship with Google. All it means is they’ve done their ad words qualification. Google does not have an SEO qualification. Knowing about ad words is not the same as knowing about SEO. Do you agree with that one?
Kate: I know sweet FAA about Google ad words. I could have a pop at it but it’s a whole different discipline and something I’m not remotely interested in. So I have another person who looks after that whenever I do. Okay, I’ve got more. I’m going to keep going. The other one I think is really important is the tummy feeling and the trust and is the person you meet with going to be your contact moving forward. Because often they will wheel out some smooth talk in white tooth Schnick suited Giza to do the sell and then you never see that person again. And the person you are left with is a 21 year old account manager who isn’t able to talk to you in the way that you understood. Did you ever have that experience or was the agency small?
Matthew: No, they were fairly big agency. I had a reasonable relationship with the account manager at the time, but it certainly wasn’t the person that I had the initial meeting with. I think having your relationship with your contact at that agency and the way that relationship works is a huge part of it. They’re the ones who are going to be calling a lot of the shots and where the transparency side of it comes from. So that relationships probably important than the relationship with the company itself, I would say.
Kate: Yeah, totally. They’re the ones who are going to be ringing in a panic saying, my side’s dropped. So do you understand them? Do you get a good feeling from them? So important. I do think our guts tell us a lot. And I think another thing is you talked about transparency. I think flexibility is really good. So often SEO agencies are these very strict packages, 10 optimizations with 10 keywords and this and this to get two blog posts and a bloody blah. It’s like, do they have the flexibility to tailor a solution to you because that solution might not be right for you. If you’re a plumber trying to do some local SEO, it’s going to be a lot harder than someone else in a much less competitive niche. So understand the package and see if there’s flexibility in it.
Kate: I think most SEO agencies in my experience will ask you to commit for a period of time. And I think the reason for this is twofold. A, it takes awhile. If you want to move the needle for any site, some little things will make a quick difference. But generally to build up that authority and that EAT, expertise, authority and trust, and the links and whatever, it takes three to six months to do anything. So I don’t think that’s a reason because a lot of people go there, what if we sign up for six months and it’s like, well, I would want you to sign up six months. Did you have that experience Matt?
Matthew: Yeah, and we were fine to be on a contract. So we did sign up for a 12 month contract. Part of that was because the web development was built into it as well.
Matthew: I think probably the flip side of that too is the red flag if they’re not doing that. If someone said that they’re going to get your results in a month, they’re not doing something legitimate necessarily. If someone’s going to pour a heap of money to really low quality backlinks, you might get a spike and then say, oh look, there you go, that’s what we’ve done. But that’s not going to be a solution that is going to benefit your company in six months time and can be quite dangerous. So I think having an understanding the fact that good SEO takes time does certainly reflect in a contract period to to lock you both in and say we’re both in this for the long haul, no one’s cutting corners. We both want to be here and making money in six, 12 months time.
Kate: That’s it. You don’t want to, in two months time they’ve gone and you’ve got no one to answer to. It’s a commitment from both sides. They’re committing to help you and to be there throughout the ups and downs of the Google rollercoaster and to help you. I don’t think commitments an issue. I do think that you need to talk about the kinds of results you’re looking for because again, some of them are new listeners. I think, well I just want to get number one ranking for this keyword, this keyword, and this keyword. Ranking is everything but it’s also not everything. You can get ranking for a keyword that delivers traffic to your site that isn’t going to convert. I know that sounds really odd but if I get to rank for number one for copywriter, is that going to convert for me?
Kate: Possibly not because the people typing that in might want to be copywriters, they might want copywriting books or training, which happens at about five years ago, I didn’t have. So you really have to think about that conversion in 10 and think about not just ranking, but traffic and conversion. They need to look at your figures and go, well currently your site has a conversion rate of about three percent so if we deliver you another thousand relevant customers, how much more money are you going to make, and that should help you make the purchase decision as well. Did any of the agencies go through that finance process with you? So what’s your average cart value? What does the average customer spend? How many people do you need to us to get to your site to hit your monthly targets? Did they ever talk about it?
Matthew: They probably did loosely. And this was probably a mistake that I made. So we’re talking about how they can improve. But I think as a customer there’s certain things that you need to do as well. So all we need in saying, I want to rank for this keyword. That’s how I’m going to measure your success, that’s what I want you to do. Go out and get me that. So I probably wasn’t open to those conversations as much as I should have as well. And you’re absolutely spot on. If you’re saying, I want to be ranking one for these keywords that’s 1,000 hits a month, but they can get your 10 that are 250 or whatever and you go, well, that’s a far mater solution, particularly if they are high converting keywords.
Matthew: And that’s the way that two way conversations really important. We were talking about before being able to sit down. Some of these guys are really, really good guys, and girls that need to flip. Some of these agencies and people are really, really clever at being able to identify traffic and being able to say, look, I think we can really hit this low hanging branch quite quickly and therefore you’re making money while you’re building and it’s a really smart way to do it. Now I’ll be honest, I wasn’t ready for that conversation. I went in there saying, do it this way, do it my way, go out and do your thing. But I think that’s really important to have that strategy side of it and to see that come through but also being open to that conversation as well.
Kate: Yeah, totally. This episode is about how can agencies circle us, but it’s also about how can you circle us as a client. And I had a terrible client, he was my husband, and he was obsessed with ranking for French lessons, Sydney. And I was like, you know what, that’s a good keyword but there are so many other keywords that could deliver traffic, probably more traffic because they’re longer tail, they’ve got more conversion in 10, they’re going to be easy to win four straight away. But he was having none of it. He was my worst ever client and also say he didn’t pay me because he’s my husband. So I know that bad client and it can be really hard as an SEO agency to explain these things to people who just don’t get it.
Kate: So it is really hard for SEO if you say to them, look, it’s not all about ranking. They’re going to look at you with a blank face and go, yeah, it is. If you say, well, you know, what’s your conversion rate? They’re going to go, I don’t know. I think we talked about a few things. I think the biggest thing looking for a good agency is not really about the agency, it’s about you as a client. Understanding as to a degree, you don’t need to become an SEO expert, you don’t need to be able to replace the flux capacitor yourself. But you need to know that the flux capacitor works what it does, and you needs to be able to tell whether the flux capacitor is working or not. So Matt, in this situation I can pretty much guess your answer, but how important do you think it is for people to educate themselves and know the terminology with SEO before they approach an agency?
Matthew: Okay. I mean now I’d have to say it’s a huge part of it. Most reasonable sized businesses are spending in excess of $1,000 a month, which is an equivalent of a pretty serious purchase over the life of the business and the percentage of your weekly take. And early on it was, I guess I was ignoring that side of things and that’s how I got involved with the SEO meetup and that’s what drawed me to the recipes for success course.
Matthew: And just being able to have those conversations that we were talking about without going in there and driving it with 10% of the information that you need to have those conversations. And it must be frustrating as a good agency to, I would have been an absolutely horrible client for a good agency when we sat down in that first meeting. To sit down and to be dictating wrong matrix and say, that’s how I’m going to measure you. It must be incredibly frustrating. And that’s part of the thing too I think is getting out of your own way and being able to have the proper conversations about what you want. At the end of the day you want traffic because you want conversions because you want sales.
Matthew: So to be able to work back from that and say, look well, I’m looking for sales. That’s at the end of the day what I want out of my SEO. So to go in there and to tell them that what I want is ranking for this particular keyword is incorrect. I just think that that’s my way of getting there and that’s why I’m pushing that button. And I think that’s how I’ve been able to transition a little bit, just to say, look you’re more open to different things and to talk about things like longer tail keywords, which are easy to hit and and how you get the interaction between SEO and things like ad words and inhale that whole ecosystem plugs in together is a huge part of I guess understanding that world when you’re spending that sort of money, and a lot of us are spending huge money on it.
Kate: Yeah. I think we’ll talk about money at the end quickly. I think that’s so true. You don’t go to the agency and dictate how they get you the results. You tell them the result you want and they can explain to you how they’re going to do it. So as you said, I want sales, tell me how you’re going to do that. And then let them come back to you with their strategy and say, well look, we’re going to focus on this and then we’re going to do a bit of this and we’re going to do better that. And I think this is what we’re going to talk about next is the openness and transparency. We were talking before the episode about red flag jargon and things that make you go that now would make you shudder.
Kate: When I find especially, I speak to some people and I don’t think they even mean to do it, but they’re like, well, we need to optimise your robot’s TXT and get your site like XML integrates with Google search console. And then after we’ve found that we’re going to look at casing, and the average punter is sitting there going, what the hell are you talking about? What’s casing? What’s the robots? What? And I think that the SEO agencies don’t necessarily need to do that. That’s what the things are called. But there’s other ways of expressing it. So I find often red flag for me is when people can’t explain what they can do simply. I think it’s an Einstein quote, isn’t it? If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it. What are other red flags that you had or you would consider a red flag now with an agency?
Matthew: Well, with the first one, they had their own intrinsic system. So they called it click magnet or something like that and they wouldn’t actually say what was beyond the curtain. If you’ve done a little bit of research on SEO, a lot of those terms that you were throwing around wouldn’t be as scary as they would seem for someone who has no knowledge of them. But you want to hear a little bit of that. You’ll want to go, okay, these guys are the best thing.
Matthew: They all want that nerd. You want someone who’s sitting there who gets riding under the bonnet and, oh yeah, you’ve got a bit of that and we can tweak that and to get a bit excited about. But that was probably the scariest thing made looking back in the [inaudible 00:31:29] business. [inaudible 00:31:30] oh, you’ve got your own magic little system that no one else is using. That’s not how it works either. So that was probably the biggest red flag as far as jargon goes. It’s made up jargon that no one else was using that isn’t even [inaudible 00:31:47] terms at all. So that was probably the scariest thing looking back for me.
Kate: I think the secret sauce thing is the biggest flag for me. I have been doing SEO now for gosh, awful long time, 18 years or something, and I’m still looking for the secret sauce. I’m still looking for the magic juju, the button that I press. And some will, as I said, make out that they have a special relationship with Google. No one does. I’ve had John Mueller on the podcast twice. I think he’s lovely but he’s not giving me any secrets. Thanks John. And even with my course, it’s something I say right up front in all my sales material. I’m not teaching you anything that you can’t find out on the internet. I do not have secret sauce. I do not have a sprinkle and a special thing that I do that’s going to make your site rank. It’s a process.
Kate: It’s tried and tested. Some things have a bigger impact than others. Some things are quicker than others and it’s just stepping it through. And what my course does is teach people that in a way that they understand it, but there’s no secret juju. So I think that’s my biggest thing when someone says, we have a proprietary methodology. No, they don’t. They’re doing what every other SEO person is doing. Maybe they do it in a particular way, maybe they have some link building sites that they have or a private blog network, but there’s no secret sauce. People, there isn’t. It’s just smart people trying stuff. So yeah, I think that’s a big one.
Matthew: Sorry, just to get going. I think that too, that there’s no one magic bullet. So if they’re going out and ranking it because they’ve got some special source of backlinks and that’s all they’re doing, then that’s not a solution either. And I think that’s one of the really important things that I got out of the courses is how those different elements interacted with each other and tie together. You’re spot on, you can look up about a lot of these things and you can understand site speed in isolation and you can understand keyword research in isolation. But I think one of the really good things about it is to understand that ecosystem and how different things are part of the same whole. That that was my takeaway anyway.
Kate: Taking that holistic view and also not seeing SEO as a checkbox to be techs and separate from the rest of your marketing because that marketing, everything you’re doing is helping with branded SEO. Every email you send, every networking event you go to, all your Google ads. All of it plays into ranking and SEO and trying to separate out as a separate beast. It just doesn’t work. You have to take a holistic view. And taking a holistic view of SEO segue into how do we take a holistic overview of our relationship with our SEO agency. A lot of SEO agencies, once you’ve signed on the dotted line, it’s like they deliver your report once a month and that’s it. You don’t get to participate, communicate.
Kate: And one of the reasons that’s always put me off ever working with an SEO agency, obviously I was one, was what are the things that some SEO agencies do is they’ll write articles on your behalf and you don’t get to see them. Some agencies won’t even tell you where they’re building the backlinks from. Obviously you know now how to find them out. But I’ve had people come on the course go, Oh my God, I’ve just found this article on the site that’s been written by my SEO agency. It doesn’t sound like us. It’s got typos in, it’s not on [inaudible 00:34:45]. We never even got to see that. So how do you get involved in the discussion? How do you participate in the process? What’s your tips on that?
Matthew: I think there’s reporting and there’s reporting. It’s a top one. You want to have that two way interaction and you want a nice report at the end of the month to understand what’s being done. I think all agencies pretty much would send a report but some of them are going to be very simple, automated, very simplified reporting. And that’s going to tell you very little like you were talking about. You really want an understanding of what’s happened that month and then you can dig into it a little bit further. One of the agencies I went with would give me an example of a back leak that was generated that month because I didn’t want to share where the rest of the backlinks were coming from.
Matthew: But that’s our website that they’re impacting there for good or bad. So I think it’s a matter of that. I think the flip side of that is if they’re spending the whole month giving you an absolutely automized 15 page report on everything they’ve done, they’re not out there doing the work either. So it’s always going to be a balancing act of communicating what they’ve done as clearly as possible. But you don’t want to get in their way in necessarily being there for every little step of the process or you might as well do it yourself. So it’s somewhere in that grey that you want to be living in my opinion.
Kate: Yeah. And also just have a few tools of your own Google search console. It’ll give you a complete view of most of your backlinks. It will give you some keyword ranking and click through data. So at the very least be checking the report they’ve given me against Google search console or you can buy one of the softwares and pay 100 a bucks a month to have your own tracking web. I don’t know if that’s interfering. I think it’s just monitoring to a degree, but that’s what I would do. I also think that the problem with a lot of the reports that SEO agencies develop is they just give you a state of play. But the important thing to say, so this is what we’re going to do differently next month. So this is how things are going.
Kate: This is the click through rates, this is where we’re ranking. So for next month to improve on this, our plan is to blah, blah, and blah. That’s what I want to see because too often I see clients who get reports, they read through them and they’re like, yeah, what am I looking at? I don’t know. So I think using the data to inform and talk about next steps, and having discussions about next steps. I also think that there’s a lot business owners can do to support their SEO agency. As you said, making sure that the Google ad words campaign is integrated. You’re not trying to rank pay for terms, that you’re also trying to rank organically number one. I think that’s a bit of a waste of money. People might disagree, but is there any activity your doing like coming on a podcast or going to an event, keep your agency in the loop because maybe they can use that. But again, it depends how close you are with the agency and how communicative they are, I guess. Okay.
Matthew: Well certainly working with backlinks but probably the other one to mention there too and in a I guess five back to the red flag section. There’s a lot of Google things that are attached to your website, and that goes for the ad words and stuff as well. But search console and these things you can have access to and really should, it’s your site, it’s your property. And there’s a huge amount of information that flows through that without you needing any paid tools, and that’s a really good time to spend a little bit of time in every month and just to spend 20 minutes, half an hour going through some of that and you can have a look at where your traffic is coming from and sometimes you’ll see things that don’t make sense and then that’ll drive some of the questions you can talk to your agency about as well.
Kate: Yeah. And if any agency is like, no, don’t look at it or we’re not going to give you access. Definite red flag. If they get itchy about the fact that you’re asking why is this happening or why have I got backlink from here, again another red flag. Because if they’re not doing anything dodgy, then they shouldn’t be afraid of talking to you about it. They may be doing things that you don’t quite understand the benefit of but hopefully they can explain that to you. Do you know what I mean? So some don’t understand why you’ve gone to the trouble of installing occasion plug in and doing that, you just don’t understand it. But as long as they can justify what they’re doing, and it’s all about trust. At the end of the day with any supplier, and this is so important to say, it’s not just SEO agencies, it’s copywriters, designers, developers, hairdressers.
Kate: I had a terrible haircut a few months ago. A lot of it is trust, a lot of it is gut, and a lot of it is learning by making mistakes. I guess we’re just trying on this episode to help you make a few less mistakes than we’ve made. So let’s talk about money. So we mentioned earlier that solid, basic SEO, grand a month. Possibly I’d say a fair bit more now. And again, I see a lot of fake people on Facebook saying, yeah, I could do your SEO for $150 a month and I’m like, what the hell? How much for an hour? What the hell can you do in two hours a month? I can’t do sweet FA in two hours a month so what are you doing. To write a blog? How long does it take to write a blog? A couple of hours to build a relationship with someone that’s going to give you a really good quality backlink, that could take hours. So in terms of rates, how do you know if you’re getting value for money each month in your opinion?
Matthew: I’ll let you know if we’ll figure it out now. It’s going to be different for every business, every industry, depending on all factors like the competition and how hard it is to rank for certain things. You may find that you’re in a industry that’s got extremely competitive online positioning. And it’s going to be a case then of pay up or step back because it’s a whole different game. For us in particular, I guess I can speak from that experience. We’ve got the ability to have a lot more customers come through, so where we’re not at the limit of our capacity. So when you look at, okay, so what’s the cost of acquisition of the next customer or the next step up. And then you say, well, okay, to make that make sense, I need three more groups a month or five more groups a month.
Matthew: And then you can work back from that. Then that’s how it all tackled it a little bit in the past. And then you’ve got something really to measure it on as well and saying, look, okay, so [inaudible 00:41:09] let’s say SEO to two grand a month, but I’m not getting enough extra customers through. Maybe I’ll try and find that sweet spot and dial it back to 1500 or something like that as well. So I think it’s a tough one and I think it’s a bit dependent on your industry and your business goals, and capacity. There’s no point paying a premium for customers that you can’t accept either. So I think that’s something that can be scaled as your business grows as well.
Kate: So important. This is it. You could be paying two grand a month in a highly competitive industry and because it’s so competitive, that whole time that we’re spending is achieving not very much because it’s a competitive industry. You can spend two grand a month and you’re not in a competitive industry and boom, you’re on fire. I think you’re so right, it all begins with the money, not the ranking, the money. What do you want to earn each month? How many of the things that you sell do you have to sell to make that money? How many people on average buy the thing when they hit your site conversion rate? Therefore, how many people do you need to get into the top of funnel, the top of your site to make that happen? That’s not just for paid SEO services but it’s something I teach on the course around content marketing.
Kate: Like you’re coming up with a new blog post of this key word and if you get to position one, you think you get this amount of click through. Is it therefore worth making a video for that piece of content or an infographic or a checklist or paying a copywriter because you could get that number one ranking and that’s going to deliver people to your site month on month, year on year, and they could convert. It’s thinking about the money and working back from that and then going to the agency as you said and saying, this is the result I want, tell me how you’re going to do it. So I think that’s the thing, not being like Matt. Don’t be like Matt, that’s going to be the main for this episode. I’m joking. I’m the number one ranking for this golden keyword and if you don’t get it, I shall cry and cry and stamp my feet.
Matthew: Well, talking to me, I’ve made all the mistakes and we can dig through them all one at a time.
Kate: Poor Matt. And that’s very brave of you to come in and talk about this because I think the other thing that surrounds this whole conversation is a lot of shame. When you have been a started, when you’re building a business it’s incredibly hard. That’s why lots of people don’t do it. And you can feel like a fool if you had a website built that you thought was SEO friendly and isn’t, or you spend 20 grammes on an SEO agency and find out that all, your links are coming from Azerbaijan, and you don’t want to tell anybody that, unless you’re in Azerbaijan, that it’s awesome. It’s embarrassing. And that’s one of the biggest feelings I have when I find people come on the course, they’re like, I got duped and I feel like a fool and I thought I was pretty good at this stuff and I’m not. Do you know what I mean? I do think there’s some shame there as well. Do you?
Matthew: Well, yeah. And I can certainly speak to that. And I think when I spoke to you originally, I’m not sure if you remember, but I was trying to find the solution. I was in that place where I was just over the whole thing and I’m just like, okay, I’ve been slapped around and slapped around and slapped around trying to find a way to be good at this as a business. And I’m pretty sure I just said, look, I’m interested in doing the course but give me a call because I’ve had enough rubbish out there that people have just spawned me crap. And we had a good little chat, but it was very reassuring to have an actual person that could talk normal language and all of that stuff. But now look, we went through all that. Other areas of the marketing you’ve got a lot more control over as someone who’s just good at a business.
Matthew: I started a paintball field not because I was good at SEO, it’s because I could give people a really, really good time and I was passionate about that. And so you’re sitting there and all of a sudden you’re competing on a whole different platform that’s not what you’re about. I was confident that I could give people a good time and get good reviews and have happy customers and all of those things that I think going into a business you assume will be enough, and then you’re forced into this world where you really don’t know the game you’re playing. So, yeah, absolutely. You sit there and you can feel like you’ve failed in your marketing and that stuff but I think that’s where it does make a lot of sense to take some steps to educate because that gap in knowledge is what hurts you.
Kate: Yeah, it is. And I think the main thing that when we talked was I said, I didn’t offer any guarantees. That’s I think a big problem as well. Any kind of guarantee is a bit misleading because yeah, Google is changeable, the world of search is changeable, humans are changeable. So guarantees are another little red flag as well. So to wrap up, I think what’s ironic about this whole experience with you is that now you are a raving SEO fan. You run the Melbourne SEO meetup.
Matthew: I run loosely.
Kate: Well Peter and if he ever goes. So you went to the dog size, you’re one of them to a degree now, aren’t you?
Matthew: We’re not doing any of the talks and stuff. I still wouldn’t call myself an SEO expert. There’s still a huge amount of knowledge there that I can tap into, but I enjoy it a lot more. I do a lot more research and read blogs and all of those things. You keeping a company often with your podcast while I jog and these things. So you can continue to absorb information with it. And one of the reasons, there’s far better SEO people in that meet up than I am, but there’s also a lot of people who are coming from where I was from who turn up to these places and that’s where I feel I can have the biggest impact.
Matthew: So people are like, I’ve been slept around the small businesses and performing because we get SEO to work online and they’re trying to educate themselves. So for me, I guess my involvement in the made up is a little bit of a pay it forward. But yeah, it is something you can get sucked into and it’s a little bit addictive. I think when you get those little wins and you see it a little bit of a sustained increasing traffic and you starting to get something right and it goes the other way. It’s not always a kick down. It’s something you can get a bit of a kick out of it as well.
Kate: Yeah, I love that. And I think no one should really call themselves an SEO expert because we’re all hopefully still learning. There’s so much to learn. SEO is such a huge topic. In course that I have because I can’t cover everything, it’s seven weeks. It covers the basics. How you get to the point where you can do fairly good SEO, but of course you’re not going to be doing SEO at the level of someone who does it full time for a career, for a big brand that has been doing it for 50 years. Of course, not 50 years, 15 years. It wasn’t around 50 years ago. I’m not that old. So yeah, I think that constant learning is so important and yeah, it’s a nice little geek out, isn’t it?
Kate: Not just from getting the results, but I think one of the things I see a lot on the course is little epiphany moments where people go, ah, that’s why. Now I get it. And I love that. That for me is the goal, the empowerment, the education. And as I said, many, many people finish my course and go off and hire an SEO agency, but they get it and they understand and they don’t ask the dumb questions, and they do ask the dumb questions because they have the confidence and I think that’s so important. So I think at the end of it, it’s all about education people, which makes it sound like a giant plug for the course but it’s not. The reason I wanted to do this episode is I do feel that SEO agencies have got a bad name and it’s a shame because there are some amazing people doing amazing work, and the reputation of the industry has been shattered a little bit by all these dodgy people and I just wonder how we [inaudible 00:48:46] it back. It’s hard, isn’t it?
Matthew: Well, a lot of that’s going to be the customer. So by getting educated, you’re going to be choosing better agencies, there’s going to be more better agencies or that’s where they’re going to differentiate themselves. But at the moment, if everyone was like, I was at the start and is going in with best of intentions but not the knowledge, it’s going to be the ones who promised to rank in a month and all of these things that are of course going to seem more attractive on paper. So I think more businesses that have some understanding of SEO, the more we are going to be able to separate the the good from the bad and hopefully then they become the more successful ones, because that’s [inaudible 00:49:31] really.
Kate: Yeah, they’re like the cream rises to the top because they’re getting the customers and the oven spy away. So yeah, to a degree you get what you pay for, you need to choose someone that has a reputation to protect. Anyway, we could go on and on and on. And if there’s anyone listening who is right at the start of the journey, I do have a little freebie, the SEO Nibbles course. So Google SEO Nibbles, not nipples. You can try that. You’ll probably get something very dodgy. And at the end of that little three day course there is a little checklist of questions you can ask a SEO agency just to make sure that you’re getting a bit of a vibe about what’s good or bad. But yeah, hopefully this episode will help the SEO industry, especially in Australia. There’s some amazing people in it, and you’ll meet many of them at the Melbourne SEO meetup as well so I’ll include a link to that in the show notes. And Matthew, thank you so much for your time and sharing your story.
Matthew: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Kate: Fabulous. So as you know, at the end of each show, I like to give a shout out to one of my listeners, and this week it’s the wonderful Amy Y-Hoon and she said, I always look forward to Kate’s podcast. She says great information and her guests have a wealth of knowledge on the topic of choice. See that map, wealth of knowledge. So thanks to Matt and thanks to you for listening. If you like the show, please don’t forget to leave a five star rating and review on iTunes and Stitcher and I think Spotify, I think we’re on Spotify. I can’t remember. Your review will help others find the show and learn more about the lovely world of Search Engine Optimization. You’ll also get shout on the show, and don’t forget to check out the show notes for this episode at the wwwtherecipeforSEOsuccess.com where you can learn more about Matthew, check out the useful links and leave a comment on the show.
Kate: Finally, don’t forget to tune into my two other podcasts. Yes, I have two. What an idiot. I have three. The hot copy podcast, the podcast that copywriters, all about copywriting and the confessions of a misfit entrepreneur which we’ll be revamping and having a second series starting soon. So until next time, happy SEO. Boom.