When Site Strategics CEO Erin Sparks spoke with special guest PJ Christie, CEO and Founder of Search and Convert during episode 313 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast, the main topic was ethics (or the lack thereof) in the practice of SEO. Here’s what we learned:
PJ Christie: His Background and Experience
PJ Christie is the founder and CEO of Search and Convert, referring to himself as a reluctant CEO. He works with business owners and agencies to provide SEO, PPC, landing pages and web analytics. Why a reluctant CEO? In his words…
“I never took a business class. I didn’t get an MBA. I’m not particularly good at hiring and firing people. But here in Austin I’m considered one of the top SEO providers, and there’s just a point where a business needs to be built around that. But I’m also the sole owner of my company and I can tell you this: If I were interviewing CEOs and somebody with my background came in, I wouldn’t hire me. And yet I’m the only one dumb enough to do it. So that’s what I mean. Luckily, I have a great team to help run the company and so I still get to do a lot of my own SEO work because there’s no one more senior than me to do it.”
SEO Then and SEO Now
Like many SEOs, PJ fell into it by accident. He was working with Smallbox, a website development company in Indianapolis, and clients were asking about visibility because people couldn’t find their sites. But then when they presented the client with a plan for SEO, suddenly they didn’t want to spend money on it. Smallbox then started doing 3-5 hours of SEO work for free on each project. Because they also put their company name at the bottom of each site they developed, they soon found themselves ranked #1 for Indianapolis web design thanks to all those juicy backlinks. The company grew and made an impact in that market. But it was easy in those days because you didn’t have to make connections between a particular search term leading to an actual sale. Google didn’t consider all of the keyword searches private.
Once it became more difficult to show this keyword leading to this interaction and this sale, people began to wonder again about the value of SEO. What is the right amount to spend on it? For PJ that forced him to gravitate towards running ads after doing SEO for five years. With ads, he could provide a little bit more transparency into client spending and what they were getting out of it. He’s one of the few people who will run organic campaigns alongside paid campaigns. This brings things up to the present with multitouch, first click attribution, last click attribution and so on. That’s what really sets PJ apart with his approach today.
Why SEO Needs More Ethical Practitioners
There are people who say they know SEO, but there is no certification. PJ is certified in Google Ads. There is no certification for SEO. Then again, there’s no certification to play guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band either. PJ does well because people trust him in the sales process thanks to being so straightforward. He looks at their Google Analytics and what their opportunity is. He’s doing due diligence on the research side. Sometimes they say, “Well, we were just getting ready to sign on with this company and it’s a six month agreement and it’s $3,000 a month and they tell me they’re going to do a content strategy and they’re going to write all these blog posts.” But then the agency never gets around to doing all that work. But they certainly get you on autopay and paying those checks. Autopay is a big red flag! Too many agencies simply don’t deliver on what they promised, and clients get burned over and over again – this is a big part of what gives SEO a bad name, ethically speaking.
Nobody is going to come in and save a small or medium-sized business except the owner. There is no SEO person who is going to sell your product for you. All they can do is just get you the visibility, giving you the chance to compete. If the SEO work is sending you people but you’re not converting them into customers, that’s on business operations, not the SEO. The business owners have to take responsibility, but they don’t always like hearing that.
Sometimes SEO gets a bad rap because there are people who are saying they do it that don’t really know how to do it. But more importantly, it’s not built in the foundational web development for designers, developers and business owners. Just look at how often the situation occurs where a developer has launched a site and just didn’t uncheck that box that says not to spider the site for indexing purposes. It happens all the time.
Just Tell the Truth and Move On
You might run an audit for a client and discover 200,000 identical title tags because of automatic page generation. It’s an expensive technical problem to solve. The client might decide the issue is not worth resolving. As the SEO consultant, you just have to give the client the unvarnished truth and see where it goes. The problem can be fixed with a technical software solution, and it’s worth doing. Retire those pages that aren’t adding any value so the most important pages can get the SEO attention they need to get results that matter. Part of the issue is that SEO is as much technical as it is creative. If you’re going to “content” your way through the problem then you also need to “technical” your way through the problem. And it really just takes a balanced approach. The kinds of clients that do well with PJ’s program are the ones that say, “Great, let’s just get in there and fix it.” And then there are those who will probably move on to a lower-cost provider who will tell them more of what they want to hear, as opposed to the truth. Tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
Connect with PJ Christie, Founder and CEO Search and Convert
Twitter: @SearchNConvert (https://twitter.com/SearchNConvert)
Search and Convert Website: https://searchandconvert.com
Search and Covert Facebook: @searchandconvert (https://www.facebook.com/searchandconvert)
Search and Convert LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/search-and-convert/about
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