Posted February 27, 2007 12:08 pm by with 19 comments

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Once again, today we see the ‘classic advice’ that the #1 thing to look for in an SEO agency is one who ranks, this time from Dave Davies of Beanstalk Inc. It’s been done before, but let’s just see what’s on the “search engine optimization” SERP today.

Hm… Wikipedia entry, Google Webmaster Help Center, and four sites offering search engine submission services. What’s left? Bruce Clay, SEO Chat, High Rankings and a site I’ve never heard of, but I think they do more than just search engine submission. I think.

Yeah, that ought to cover the SEO industry. 😉

On the plus side, Dave does indicate that the title and header tags are a good place to find keywords that the site is targeting. (Other people offering this advice often say ‘make sure your SEO ranks’ without telling you how to figure out what phrases he’s targeting.)

He also makes an exception for newer websites, citing as an example . . . why, it’s us!

The only exception to this rule is if they are running a new company or website and have a proven track record from the past which can be used as their reference. In this case any consideration would require research into the individual, company, and circumstances. A good example would be Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim. Prior to starting Marketing Pilgrim he had been involved with two other SEO firms. When started it didn’t rank well. He was still a great SEO consultant with a solid track record of success. [emphasis added]

What? Research the background of an SEO/SEO company you wanted to hire? Dude, I Googled “SEO,” and they came up. Research done. (By the way: thanks, I’m sure Andy appreciates your kind words.)

Okay, okay, </rant>. The rest of Dave’s advice is pretty solid: look at what the SEOs promise, include & guarantee (or how they back up their work), and avoid companies that utilize black hat tactics, don’t do link building, automatically generate content, tell you to build several sites or offer to submit your site to search engines.

The moral of the story? Maybe more SEOs should be targeting the term “search engine optimization.”

Andy’s Update: Dave has published another article clarifying his original comments.

  • now what i think an interesting question would be: what if an online marketing agency simply doesn’t regard its own site as the highest priority, the highest priorities being the websites of its customers…

  • “Search engine optimization” has never been a great term to target. There are too many resources out there, targeting the same term. I’ve often said that those that rank for the term, might have too much time on their hands. 🙂

    I do appreciate the kind words in the piece. That said, I’m not actually targeting that term. I’m going for the bigger prize “internet marketing consultant”, which is more lucrative and targeted for me (and we’re #5 and #6). 😉

  • agree 🙂

  • I think its a bit niave to choose an SEO firm based purely on their rankings, however I’m always suspicious of the SEO company with no basic optimisation on their own site

  • I’ve seen this argument on forums before – people outside of SEO expecting SEO companies to rank for SEO terms.

    But…I’ve never tried to rank for SEO terms. I remember talking to John Scott years ago who indicated internet marketing terms converted much better.

    Now I don’t try to rank for anything because I have a strong base of happy clients and have no need to aggressively chase more.

    I also think it’s worth noting that not every company trying to rank for SEO terms necessarily has client interests at heart. After all, if they are dedicating so many resources to ranking for themselves, is this at the expense of clients? In some instances, I think it clearly has been.


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  • Well hello all, Dave Davies (author of the article being bashed) here.

    Here is what I wrote (as noted above):

    “… Too often when I take a look at the SEO’s website and research their targeted phrases (usually pretty obvious when you look at the title and heading tags) I find that they don’t even rank for their own phrases.”

    I am NOT saying that you need to rank for “seo” or “search engine optimization” to be a good SEO which was even mentioned by Jordan above when he wrote, “On the plus side, Dave does indicate that the title and header tags are a good place to find keywords that the site is targeting.”

    I’m saying that an SEO should be able to rank for the phrases they’re targeting. I’m not saying what they should target (that’s between you, your offerings, and your conversion data). And I should also note that I’m not saying this is the only thing to look at, just the first thing. The article goes on to list other points to consider.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Hey Dave, thanks for your response.

    You did say, however, about ranking for those phrases: “This is clearly a big strike three (in this case I wouldn’t even give the SEO firm a strike one or two).”

    So the other criteria on the list, which I did say was pretty solid, wouldn’t really matter if you’ve already ruled them out.

    Also, these people probably can’t tell what’s a good keyword phrase and one that no one is actually using. “We’re ranked #1 on Google for ‘optimization for search engine visibility.'” What they don’t know is that there’s very little competition and no searches on the term.

    Thinking about your points further, perhaps slightly better advice would be to look at their clients’ rankings for targeted keywords. That is, if you can get a list of clients. I know some companies (like many of SEOmoz’s clients) don’t want their SEOs telling the world they’ve hired them. Still has the same problem as above, however. Hm…

    PS–I’m a ‘she.’

  • Sorry about the gender confusion issue there. My bad.

    Glad you had a chance to respond and fill me in on your thoughts. I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one which is why comments are enabled on this blog. 🙂

    I think it is important for SEO’s to be able to rank their sites, you disagree. I’m sure there are bigger debates in the SEO-universe than this one. I can’t apologize for my statement as I think it’s perfectly fair to judge a dentist by their teeth. Might not apply in all cases but for lack of additional information, it’s a good starting point.

  • We get at least 1-2 inquires per day for SEO or related services because prospects found us by searching. So go ahead and buy in to the advice that SEOs don’t need to rank well on such terms. It just means more business for me.

    As far as ranking well as a requirement for selecting a vendor, the agency should at least do well on their niche terms but I agree with Jordan that client results are more effective.

  • I would judge a dentist by the teeth of his children 🙂

  • LOL. Good point monchito.

  • Yeah right monchito, what if the dentist’s own teeth are crap? I’d say no thanks.

    “internet marketing consultant” eh Andy? Sounds like a invite for some fun. 🙂

  • Thanks for posting the link to the clarification Andy.

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  • We’re located in Denver so I go for SEO Denver but I agree with Andy. The biggest issue that we see from clients is they don’t know “search engine optimization” they know they need more visitors, more conversions but potential clients who find us using the term seo or search engine optimization are usually guys wanting a mortgage or 1041 site…hmmm

  • sorry, make that 1031 exchange 😉

  • Well Said DD:)

    Anyhow, i think the most important thing is to rank best on the keywords you are trying to hit at. Though the fact remains that people who are commissioning SEo firms would really look at their ranking FIRST(empahsized), before the track record of that company.

  • Great article, I feel as an SEO Specialist that if an SEO firm cant even rank themselves for their own terms effectively, then thats a pretty good indicator that they will not be able to rank a clients site, although it goes without saying that the competitiveness for most SEO related keywords is pretty fierce-on the other hand I have seen a lot of examples that loosely equate to the plumber whos own home has a leaky faucet.