The Clueless, but “Whitehat”, SEO

Almost three years ago I did a blog post as a response to Shari Thurow and a column she had written stating that Blackhats were worthless, shady criminals. In it she stated:

“Unfortunately, I have been an expert witness in legal cases involving SEO fraud. Clients were not fully informed about the SEO methodologies utilized to promote the site. One case in Europe involved the SEO firm stating (in writing) that they followed all of the terms and conditions set forth by the search engines.”

And I responded to that in my post – pointing out that hat color had nothing to do with talent and/or “bad” SEO:

Whoa there Shari. These are called crooks and criminals. Not blackhats. A blackhat is not defined as someone who lies to their clients or utilizes methodology without their knowledge and consent of a blackhat nature. Those are scumbag seo’s. And there are tons of them. There are plenty of talentless hacks charging companies shitloads of money for “pure whitehat” seo too.

Even further, there are talentless hacks being paid shitloads of money by clients in arenas where blackhat is rampant and they don’t even understand the techniques the competitors are using because they have no experience with them themselves, and not informing clients that it makes them a less effective seo for them. Some seo’s are shit seos and their fucking hat colors have nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, what we do is complicated and we have as many snake oil salesman in our industry as lawyers do. Clients come to us most times because they *don’t* know SEO, so it can obviously be an uphill battle at times for them to find a good one.

Even Google isn’t much help in finding a truly talented SEO, stating:

“While SEOs can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways. Practices that violate our guidelines may result in a negative adjustment of your site’s presence in Google, or even the removal of your site from our index.”

If I knew nothing about SEO, then what I got from that paragraph is that I simply need an “ethical” SEO [read Whitehat as we all know Google was referring to Blackhats in that paragraph] and things should go smoothly.

But the problem is that Whitehat does not necessarily equal knowledgeable and talented. In fact, sometimes a Whitehat SEO can do a lot of damage to your site and/or your budget. Even though they are following “the rules” laid forth by Google, that doesn’t mean they have a clue about the technical side of things or the ability to read between the lines/talent on the marketing [read getting links] side of things.

I have a friend who does mostly local SEO that sent me a recorded conversation between themselves (a Whitehat SEO who we will call the Clued In SEO) and a local competitor (also a Whitehat SEO who we will call the Clueless SEO). After hearing it, I’d take my chances with a Blackhat over the Clueless SEO any day of the week. I actually feel bad after hearing it that companies are fooled by these kind of folks every day into believing they know what they’re doing – and paying them for it.

And frankly, after years of doing highly competitive, national level SEO, I think I forgot just how little you need to know to convince someone with no knowledge of our industry to hand over their hard earned cash to you. I almost felt slightly ashamed to have the same career title as the Clueless SEO.

As soon as I heard the recording, I asked my friend if it would be okay if I transcribed it. Partly because it is funny [due to the lack of knowledge someone claiming to be an SEO had] to those of us who do this for a living and partly because I think it is alarming this person is an SEO with multiple clients. This is the ignorance we must fight against to keep our industry’s pride.

No names will be mentioned in the transcript below. I don’t know the legalities of it and it isn’t worth figuring out to me.

The back story on why this conversation took place is that The Clued In SEO’s client claimed to have received a call from the Clueless SEO claiming that the Clued In SEO’s firm “wasn’t doing anything” for the client and that any and all ranks they had were a result of having originally used the Clueless SEO’s firm – almost a year ago. [shakes head]

The Clued In SEO decided to stand up for themselves and call the Clueless SEO to confront them on what they’d done.

***All comments in [brackets] are by ME and were not a part of the call.

Here is what happened…

(Clued in SEO speaks with the receptionist of the company [this firm has enough clients to have a receptionist? sigh... you'll understand why this saddens me by the end] who puts him through to the Clueless SEO)

Clueless SEO: Hello?
Clued In SEO: Hi. What’s your name?
Clueless SEO: *states name*
Clued In SEO: Hi *name*, my name is *states his name*. How you doing?
Clueless SEO: Good.
Clued In SEO: We just had a meeting with one our clients *says clients name* and he told us someone from *Clueless SEO’s company*, I’m not sure who, had called him and told him that our company had done zero work for him since we started with him last year. And I’m just calling to see if that’s something you guys said, or if he’s mistaken?
Clueless SEO: Well, I don’t think that really matters at this point.
Clued In SEO: Well it does matter. If a company is going to go around and slander our company. It does matter. To us obviously.
Clueless SEO: Listen, if you think you’re going to call and harass my company, I’m gonna tell you something. You didn’t do anything for him. If you wanna tell me one single thing you did for him him, I’ll be happy to tell him.
Clued In SEO: Ok, are you familiar with…
Clueless SEO: Look, he told us you rewrote 30% of our code.
Clued In SEO: Who told him that?
Clueless SEO: He told me you said you rewrote 30% of our code.
Clued In SEO: You know when clients try to talk geek speak, they tend to not accurately say what was actually said.
Clueless SEO: All I’m saying is that everything we did for the SEO for the website… we had him ranking on top. The reason he dropped down a little bit [when the client was with the Clueless firm] is because we changed it from *states old title tag* to *states the new title tag they had put in place*. Everything that has been done in there – we did. All I did was reiterate to him that I did not see anything from the SEO standpoint as far as optimization on the website that had been done.
Clued In SEO: Ok, do you consider…
Clueless SEO: I don’t know what you did, but, from a standpoint of SEO the pages and what you did to the sitemaps ain’t been working. There were pages that had been changed to pure HTML that we said had to be changed back to PHP.
Clued In SEO: For what SEO…
Clueless SEO: I don’t really know what you did. I don’t know what you charged him. I really could care less. That has nothing to do with me. Ok? I’m just telling you, he asked me about this… he asked me about the rankings… he asked me what was going on and I told him what I saw in the website. That I did not see any code at all changed.
Clued In SEO: You’re well aware that links are a big part of SEO, probably the biggest part of SEO, and that it’s not just code right?
Clueless SEO: *silence*
Clued In SEO: Are you familiar with…
Clueless SEO: I… I… We’ve been in business twelve years, ok?
Clued In SEO: Yeah, everyone has. Listen, are you familiar with external link development?
Clueless SEO: Ok, you know what? I’ve been doing this for a long time. I don’t need you to call me in this context. It’s not your client. This guy has been our client for ten years. Ok? I know him.
Clued In SEO: It’s not your client. He is our client. He’s been our client for almost a year and will continue to be until that year is up. I’m just correcting you.
Clueless SEO: I’m just telling you, he asked me a question and I told him what I saw. Ok? I don’t know what you did for him and I don’t care. I really don’t.
Clued In SEO: If you don’t know what we did for him… (Clueless tries to talk over him) Excuse me, Sir, if you don’t know what we did for him you probably shouldn’t say we did nothing for him if you don’t know what we did for him.
Clueless SEO: I never said that. I never… I never said that.
Clued In SEO: Ok so you didn’t tell him that we haven’t worked on his site since obtaining him as a client. So, he’s misspeaking?
Clueless SEO: *silence* From an SEO standpoint, as far as any type of code that has been changed on there, on the website itself, to help with the rankings, I see nothing that has been done, that is all I told him.

[Here's where it gets downright hysterical and sad, all at the same time...]

Clued In SEO: Did you look at the link growth? The links pointing to the site since we took him over and the growth of those links.
Clueless SEO: The links to what site?
Clued In SEO: To his site.
Clueless SEO: From where?
Clued In SEO: Are you familiar with link building? Inbound links? Is that anywhere in your SEO…
Clueless SEO: Inbound links are useless.

[blinks... is... is this guy serious?]

Clued In SEO: In… bound… *Clued In sounds like he is in a state of shock as he says this*
Clueless SEO: I mean anybody can read Google, inbound links are useless, especially if they weigh less than…
Clued In SEO: Do you know who Matt Cutts is?
Clueless SEO: I don’t know and I don’t care.
Clued In SEO: *laughs*
Clueless SEO: Read Google material.
Clued In SEO: From like 1993 or from 2010?
Clueless SEO: First of all, inbound links don’t mean anything. Only reciprocating links have weight.
Clued In SEO: Oh my god… I’m sorry man…
Clueless SEO: The only time it is going to have weight is if it weighs more than your website.

[I feel bad being called an SEO at this point]

Clued In SEO: False. You’re absolutely false. I’ve been to four SEO conferences in the last year. The best in the industry… Matt Cutts speaks at these. Matt Cutts is the head of Google Web Spam.
Clueless SEO: Ok, you know what? I’ve been to the SEO conferences, all the SEO stuff, about 99% of it is a bunch of BS.
Clued In SEO: Ok. *laughs*
Clueless SEO: We read directly from the uh… sources. Read Google. Google will tell you inbound links are useless. The only way a link works is if it weighs heavier than your website. And weighs substantially more, it can help your website. So, you’re telling me just linking out to a bunch of people and that will help? And just links going out to a bunch of people? I mean it has to be relative as well. The information has to be relative for that link to have weight.
Clued In SEO: Not relative. Relevant. The link has to be relevant.
Clueless SEO: Well, look…
Clued In SEO: And I’m saying inbound links. Not outbound links. Not from the website to others sites. I’m saying from other websites to your site.
Clueless SEO: Where are the inbound links coming from?
Clued In SEO: From other relative sites. Relevant. Dang it, you’re screwing me up now. Other relevant sites.
Clueless SEO: *laughs* Alright well listen…
Clued In SEO: Listen, I want a quote… so you’re saying inbound links don’t help in SEO?
Clueless SEO: I appreciate you calling…
Clued In SEO: *laughs* Alright man – good luck.
Clueless SEO: Like I said, I don’t know if you’re having an issue with the client. You can call him and speak to him.
Clued In SEO: I definitely will. I just think it’s poor business practice to go around telling people slanderous things about a company when you’re not even aware of what the company does. Like if you honestly had in front of you all the work we’ve done or not done and presented it to him and said “hey we can do better” then that would be…
Clueless SEO: Don’t call me. Show it to him. Tell him.
Clued In SEO: I’m calling to verify that was the case, that you said that, before I talk to him.
Clueless SEO: Call him and talk to him. I don’t care what you’ve done for him. You know, I’m not calling you to tell you anything, so don’t call us and tell me anything.
Clued In SEO: You can call me anytime.
Clueless SEO: I told him what I felt like I saw, okay?
Clued In SEO: When we got him almost a year ago, he was ranking number four and five on his keywords of interest. Today he ranks number one on almost every single keyword. We’ve got about twenty five keywords that we’re focused on. He ranks number one on almost all of them naturally and in the local box. Are you saying you’re responsible for that from when you had him last year?
Clueless SEO: Absolutely. He was ranking that way before you took him over.
Clued In SEO: We have screenshots and we have tracking systems that prove otherwise.
Clueless SEO: I’m not talking about that. He dropped a little when we changed the name of the site.
Clued In SEO: Ok, so you changed it and then you…
Clueless SEO: You even told him you did the redirect on it. You didn’t do the redirect on it.
Clued In SEO: A canonical redirect. Do you know what a canonical redirect is?
Clueless SEO: Well, look, I’m just saying…

[headdesk]

Clued In SEO: No, you don’t.
Clueless SEO: I just told him what I saw, ok?
Clued In SEO: Fair enough. I’m not trying to belittle you. I just find it very offensive that…
Clueless SEO: *laughs loudly* You won’t. Trust me. *laughs*
Clued In SEO: I know, you’re an SEO God. I’m sure.
Clueless SEO: But look, if you have any issues with anything that was done on the site, talk to him about it. That has nothing to do with me. You guys can discuss whatever you want. Okay? Have a nice day.
Clued In SEO: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

(Both hang up)

If you’re a small company who doesn’t understand SEO? Read about Small Business SEO before you hire anyone. Please. For your own sake and for ours so that firms like this have less of a chance to put a shadow on our industry as a whole.

Oh, and Matt? Maybe it’s time to redo those “how to hire an SEO” tips to be more clear that you’re not just looking for an “ethical” [read Whitehat] SEO… you’re looking for an SEO that actually knows what they’re doing [oh, and insult to injury? "Google Certified" is plastered all of the Clueless SEO firm's site - y'all should really update how Adwords certification can be displayed as well]. Because in my opinion a Whitehat who doesn’t have any clue what they’re doing can actually be the most dangerous SEO of all.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

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