What I Learned After 8 Months at an “SEO agency”

True story: my boss fired 70% of his staff to save money.

If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. After firing the majority of the staff, the remaining 30% had to take on the remaining clients. This spreads employees too thin and keeps clients from receiving what they deserve. The whole thing was “tripping over dollars to save pennies.” What put some extra cash in my boss’s pocket that day will cost much more in the future.

Sustaining healthy client relationships should always be the main priority for an SEO agency. However, many of the marketing agencies out there only care about signing on new businesses instead of taking care of our own. My old boss actually encouraged us to report fluff back to our clients when we didn’t have enough time to produce actual results for them. That’s the opposite of what a good SEO firm should do. A more sustainable business plan focuses on growing existing clients into bigger ones and garnering valuable references.

Here’s a quote from the agency owner:

“It’s all about retention, if we can keep 60% of all the business we bring in, it does not matter who gets results.”

Let’s break down that business plan. Client portfolios are spread as thin as possible across employees, so they only have time to do the minimal amount of work. As long as 60% of the clients think they are getting a good service, it doesn’t matter. Note that I say “think they are getting a good service.” 100% of clients are getting subpar service, it’s just 40% of them are smart enough to walk away.

You ever try to run a race with your shoelaces tied? Working at that “SEO agency” was like running a race with shoelaces tied. When I showed up, things were a mess.

  • Clients were 3 months behind on content
  • The 4 employees each spent 3 hours a day creating social media posts for SEO, despite social media having no impact on SEO rankings
  • Client reports took 3 days, were inconsistent, and incomprehensible.
  • Every single blog and a majority of the articles were not optimized at all, no alt text on images, no internal links, inconsistent formatting, broken pages, keyword cannibalized pages, over optimization and terrible readability.
  • Several clients were threatening to leave due to lack of results.

After I signed on, I was able to clean up the mess by:

  • Working with a friend with strong content marketing skills to get clients 3 months ahead of content schedule.
  • Automating social media processes, freeing up time and creating better posts.
  • Automating client reports with an affordable, white labeled online tool. Clients received consistent reporting and had access to the information 24/7.
  • Fixed existing content to include internal links, consistent formatting, appropriate alt text, and readable content. This “SEO agency” delivered broken pages and over optimized content.
  • Saved them about $200k in annual residual money by keeping clients. I talked angry customers off the ledge by explaining our improved processes and executing.

What a mess, right? If this is how the bosses treated clients, you can only imagine how internal operations were going.

I left that agency knowing there is a better way. Instead of hustling for a quick buck, I wanted to create an SEO agency different from the thousands around the country. Each marketer has a cap on the number of clients they can take on, so nobody is spread too thin and no client is forgotten. Only experienced SEO operators with best-practice knowledge are allowed to take on project management. Finally, we strive for complete transparency with our clients so they know exactly where their money is going.

This is the way SEO is supposed to be.

Dear Google,

  • Market Share of Search

  • Market Share of Mobile OS

IDC: Smartphone OS Market Share 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012 Chart

  • Market Share of Browsers (us) – 43%

We don’t really have a choice, do we?

As long as links are manipulated, many businesses will fail.

When a website has bad links and gets punished for it, people can get mad.

When a website has natural links and their competitors win with bad links, people can get mad.

Website Punishment is Not The Answer

It makes no sense to punish a website for links, there has to be a better way. Punish the webmaster, not the website.

You preach for webmasters not to worry about links, however, if one can be punished by them and one can inherit a site that has them (knowing or not?), falling in rankings can seriously make people worry. Links are a webmasters responsibility, not businesses, the business should have no tie to a link profile, the webmaster should.

The way things are today when an uneducated webmaster doesn’t check a backlink profile, he’s in jeopardy of wasting a lot of time and money.

Suggestion for Google Search

License Webmasters, make webmasters take credibility for their own links. How? Make every business that wants to rank in Google, get their license to Google (Current webmaster can have a timeframe).

A license to Google should require some solid form of identity: social security number, a copy of a passport, license number, EIN, IDK something. Once webmasters are accountable for their own links, they would refrain from building manipulative links and they will think carefully before linking to someone. Unlicensed users links shouldn’t count. Google can help the search community without punishment. Isn’t the goal to create a better user experience?

Top 5 ranking sites should receive a congratulations letter with a Google Webmaster License request,


“Congratulation your website has made it into Google’s top 5 for several awesome terms in your market.

[You rank for your brand, more terms!]

Keep up the great work!

Notice: In order to maintain your credibility, Google asks that you add your Google License number into your webmaster tools account. Don’t have a Google license? Get one here”


Encourage us to do better and reward us for good work, don’t punish.

In the real world, people incorporate their businesses, it helps consumers from being cheated and protects people. In this case, it will encourage better user experience for all.

Transparency – we are with our personal information. Can you imagine working on a project for an entire year only to find out the previous webmaster created a crappy link profile, it’s a bummer.

Punish the culprit, not everyone else!

Perhaps my suggestions are not the right solutions, but I can tell you that punishing people isn’t right either.


Yours Truly.

Thumbtack.com – Is Google Making Money on Organic Search?

Recently, the company Thumbtack appeared on two of my client’s organic result pages.

I added my client to Thumbtack thinking, nice local citation. About a week after setting up the citation, I get this:


Unnatural link building scheme


Hi [client],


You can get 30 more points if you add a link to your Thumbtack service profile on your personal website. Instructions are below.


Your profile will feature a profile badge.


Let us know if you have any questions,

– The Thumbtack Support Team




1. Copy and paste your profile link to your website with a description of your profile

<a href=”https://www.thumbtack.com/mo/kansas-city/personal-injury-lawyers/“>legal</a>


If you would prefer to add a button or a badge instead of a link, you get one here.


2. Once you are done, respond to this email with the URL of the link, badge, or button.

I’ll verify the link and will credit the points and badge to your profile. 


This Strategy Violates Google’s Link Building Guidelines

The points they offer to clients who provide the links helps them rank in their system. They then ask for credit money in order for clients to bid on quotes with five others. Each credit is valued at $1-$5 based on the vertical.

My clients who are personal injury lawyers would have to pay ~$10 to bid on a lead with 5 other firms.

Google Investment

Further research shows that Google’s invested $100 million in Thumbtack:

Link removal is bull shit

Looks like this profile was built and still dominates after all the Penguin updates.


Questions: Will Google punish a site if they have their hands in its pocket?

It remains to be seen whether Google acts on the information I have provided when I reported Thumbtack’s link acquisition tactics.

Have any of you come across a similar situation?

It seems to me that despite Google’s continuous protestations that organic search results are independently determined and not manipulated, this appears to be a way for Google to make money on organic traffic.

By providing companies in which they have a direct financial investment with superior positioning, Google can avoid the appearance of organic search results manipulation.

Thumbtack’s advantage in this case comes not from Google actively assisting them, but because Google permits them to violate the standards that punish our sites.

Thumbtack, in essence, has an exemption from applying white hat SEO tactics. They can be confident in pursuing tactics that allow them to rank without any fear of potential consequences.

Google Antitrust Issues

While antitrust efforts in America against Google’s abuse of its dominance in the search market have gone nowhere, there seems to be a more robust regulatory framework in Europe.

Hopefully, the antitrust challenges to Google’s modus operandi in Europe will wake up the Federal Trade Commission.

Lastly: http://thumbtack.pissedconsumer.com/ (Angry Consumers Abound)



The only links on this page that are actually Not Followed are Google’s links…

I mean Thumbtacks link…


Yelp Will Help For Gelt

Yelp is a scamIt is not the first time I hear about Yelp’s greedy extortion type tactics come to light. This company has been at it for years, in fact The Huffington Post dedicated an entire tag to it on their site “Yelp Extortion“. What exactly does Yelp do to reviews? Well, if you want your reviews to stay you might have to pay them. Everyone knows that getting reviews is a B**** especially when you are doing the right thing by your clients. When you make a client happy they want to leave you reviews, if your client asks to leave you a review on Yelp you might want to reconsider where you send them to leave you that review.

Why Am I Venting?

Yelp tries to act like they are a moderated review site and that they make sure only “REAL” reviews don’t get flagged, here’s the thing. The only way Yelp will let a review stay is if the user that left the review is an active reviewer on Yelp AND if the review was left on a paying account. If you don’t pay Yelp most of your reviews will get flagged.  Just a few days ago I got off the phone with one of my clients that has tons of reviews from all over the web. The second I mentioned Yelp reviews he got upset and I cannot blame him.

My client had 21 reviews on Yelp, until that one day when Yelp contacted him to upsell him a featured listing, they told him “since you have all these reviews you will really benefit from getting your listing featured…” My client did not want to invest at the time, guess what happened next? 20 of his 21 reviews got flagged, he was furious and they said there is nothing they can do. It’s a shame that they do such bad business, can you imagine two years of real reviews only flagged after you say no to an upsell.

Do Not Trust Yelp

Conclusion On Yelp

Do not do business with Yelp. If you do and you get a ton of good reviews, what if one day you decide to stop, who’s to say you will keep your reviews? Clearly they are only looking out for their own interests. If you want to get reviews on Yelp make sure you pay them otherwise kiss those reviews goodbye! I for one have decided to boycott them as a review site, they’re nothing more than a directory.

If you want to get your local business visibility and more reviews be good to your clients (unlike Yelp) and ask them to leave you a review on Google, after all Google owns 90% of search for products and services. In my opinion Google should deindex Yelp instead of scraping their biased pages for reviews.