SEO Mistakes: Who owns the domain?

This article doesn’t call out a company by name, although I have a couple hunches. Note the warning signs:

  • Cold-calling.
  • They promote a domain other than your actual domain.
  • The other domain is owned by the SEO.
  • They wanted to charge for SEO traffic for each click from the domain that they owned.
  • The phrases that they are able to rank for are low-traffic, very specific phrases that the business could probably rank well for anyway.

Ugh. I’ve talked to quite a few people who were taken in by similar stuff in the past. One person refused to pay the “rent” on the domain that she had paid to optimize, so the SEO took that traffic and sold it to the client’s competitor. Companies like this are part of the reason that SEO has gotten a bad name with some people.

13 Responses to SEO Mistakes: Who owns the domain? (Leave a comment)

  1. It’s a sad reality of the SEO industry that there is no method for consumers to measure quality. I would estimate that around 50% of our current client base and 80% of enquiries are on their 2nd or 3rd “SEO” firm – I’ve seen (and had to fix) all manner of “SEO” work.

    It’s all very well when the bad SEO tactics mess up – it’s fairly clear cut dealing with clients in that situation.

    The issue arises when a client wants you to take them on, but doesn’t want to remove the dodgy SEO stuff that is working (just now). You know it will end up hurting their site and you know if Google decides to penalise them for past SEO work while you are working with them they won’t understand and will end up putting 2 and 2 together to get 5.

    Fortunately, client management is becoming more and more sought after skill with the SEO industry, and something that the cowboys find hard to replicate (or rather, fake)! 😉

    Amusingly as I run a few of my own sites on my own time as well, I see the spam that SEO companies send to webmasters – wide range of stuff from fairly legitimate pitches to link farms to promoting doorway pages!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt started getting:

    “Dear Matt, I just found your site and think it’s great! But I see you aren’t listed on Google….”


    “Dear Matt, I love your site! I was hoping you could do me a favour? If you could link to my client’s site ( I would link back to you from my site (ww* As you know, Google rank sites based on inbound links…”

    My favourites are the emails that tell you the secrets to SEO. Better than any forum I think you’ll find. 😉

  2. “It’s a sad reality of the SEO industry that there is no method for consumers to measure quality.”

    Isnt it the same reality as picking out a firm for web design and development?

    The same rules of thumb apply:
    Ask for portfolios of work, case studies and references from existing (and verifiable) clients.

    Verifiable past work should be a good indication of future work.

  3. Caveat emptor

    Opportunist are everywhere. My favorite is the selling of PPC results as natural results, mostly in Yahoo!

    Rarely do I let the telemarketers give me a spiel, but when it has to do with SEs I want to hear it. Typically it is quite entertaining and sad at the same time.

    One in particular wanted to offer me a permanent position at the top of Yahoo! I played dumb and said I would like that and let him go on. I then confessed I was well versed in the SEs and what he was trying to sell me were in fact PPC results. He remained defiant and claimed a special relationship with Yahoo! I then explained I knew those were Overture results. He still stuck to his guns. Then I logged into my Overture account and gave him the bid prices of his sample KWs he had given me.

    This is all sad because I know less informed people will bite and think they are getting something they are not. I think there is value in PPC management, but I think the service provider needs to spell out that it is PPC management and nothing more.

    For other SEO pitches I’ve had I usually ask for examples. Some times they show stellar results. i.e. a highly sought KW in a very competitive market. The issue here is how do I know they are in fact their client. If you ask to speak to someone at the company being showcased often you are told they do not discuss their marketing or the contact is away on holidays (which are reasonable explanations.)

    I guess the message here – if you do take on an SEO get them referred to you by some you trust.


  4. Matt, although I understand your frustration there seems to a be a number of things related to this sort of services that you apparently don’t understand. I will be happy to explain them in more details to you next time I see you (or drop me an email) but some of the basics are:

    1) The request for this sort of service (and similar) is HUGE – most often fueled by the major media-agencies (non-SEO) and large marketing departments that have very limited, or no way at all, to make even the slightest changes to their websites. I know they would probably be able to easily rank well for a lot of the phrases that is sold to them on external promotion domains if only they did not have to deal with a 18 month implementation time, 10 lawyers to approve everything and a bunch of old-school editors that don’t think you need to actually use the words in your texts that people search for! So what should they do? Oh yes, I know, buy AdWords, right? 🙂 Oh, but wait, they want to be in the organic results too (ya know, that spot in the middle that still drive about 2/3rds of the click throughs…) and Google don’t offer any PFI. So tell me again, should they just give up on it or “fight”? What do companies usually do? Sit back, pray and hope for the best? 😉

    2) This kind of service is often sold with a 100% transparency so the client, up front, knows exactly what he is getting and paying for. I personally hate sneaky telemarketers too but that, in itself, has nothing to do with the service-type – that’s a question of sales-, business- and client-ethics. I think you’d be surprise to learn how many of the companies that sell this sort of services that are actually highly ethical when it comes to their relationships with clients. You just never see those companies in the press – and articles like the one you linked to – but you DO meet them around the many conferences you attend, Matt – I know that for a fact hehe.

    3) Selling traffic is nothing new – Google does that too. In fact, many publishers do. If you buy a keyword with AdWords you can tap into that traffic. The second you stop paying the traffic stops and your competitors can gain it. There is nothing wrong or unethical about that in itself. To me, it comes down to business ethics again. If you pay someone (an SEO) a fixed fee to build you a website and get it ranked I agree that you should own the result – the domain and the pages, but if you pay a raw CPC for the traffic that comes from the work done (by the SEO – or AdWords) then I don’t think you have the rights to anything after you stop paying. That is true for AdWords as well as any other CPC (or other performance-) based marketing. To me, it’s a question of honestly, transparency and not trying to hide to your clients what they actually get and pay for.

    4) It is a common misconception that CPC models in organic SEO always have to leave the ownership of the domain used in the hands of the SEO (I know you, Matt, are not making that direct conclusion here, though). When I’ve been providing services like this I have always offered the client the option to own the domain. It does off course have a price and a pure CPC model usually doesn’t wok for this. Also, CPC models are sometimes implemented directly on the client’s site. For example, we start out measuring the average SE-traffic to a client’s site and then agree on a CPC on all the extra SE-traffic we can drive from optimizing their own site. Again, everything we do on the site will be 100% transparent and usually done with a great deal of involvement from the client’s engineers. Sometimes we go even further and charge based on conversions and sales rather than CPC. Such deals come at a price, though. I may be a SEO but I am not stupid 🙂 If I help companies make lots of money you can be sure I will contract my fair piece of the cake but I don’t see how that is more unethical than any other solid business in the world.

    Also, I think there are a few stupid comments made in the article you reference, such as:

    “With all due respect to the size of this company, I found it hard to believe that they could service the numerous SEO clients they were recruiting in a very meaningful way.”

    What? How can you conclude that a large company will give less good service than a small one. Does that mean Google with AdWords, being much larger, is even worse? Off course not! Does it mean that McKenzie and other large consulting firms are not any good? Off course not! Some small companies are really good. Some large ones are too. Look at the quality of what you get instead of just the size… What is it with people and that size obsession …? 🙂

    Anyway, sorry for the long post – I guess that’s what happens when you get up too early on a Sunday morning …

  5. Great post Mikkel.. 🙂

  6. sounds like tr*ffic logic. but mikkel is right. clients want no risk cost per click seo. no risk, no reward.

  7. Thanks for the info Mikkel that just cleared my thoughts lol

  8. Hi Matt,
    what do you think about nofollow attribute.

    I’ve one main domain with some sub domain. What happen if I link them reciprocal or in a other pattern?

    I want address my visitor without to be banned… in a ethical manner
    Please can u tell me any suggestion?

    Sorry for my bad english.

  9. Yes, I got a call from one of those, twice, same lady. She almost crapped her pants when I showed her all of our important websites already rank highly and I told her that we don’t do any SEO at all. We just put up content that helps our users and hope people will keep visiting and linking to us. And we have been rewarded by Google and others for actually having a quality website, as well as visitors who tell others about us. 🙂

    There are so many people trying to trick the system. If they would just build a good website, they might have some better long-term success. But I guess that would take too much work, huh?

  10. Doese it means the search engine will check the domain’s owners before index it?

  11. I don’t know what business school some of you people went to. Personally, if I put my own time and money into optimizing a site about blue widgets and it begins to receive traffic from (you know who) and I decide to redirect that traffic to another blue widget site that is willing to pay for it, well isn’t this still a capitalist country? And if that person decides not to pay for it anymore why should I not sell it to a competitor? This is Business 101
    Would you do the same with a popular phone number?

  12. That seems pretty messed up that an SEO would sell traffic to a competitor. At first, I very much so feel that at the very most, the SEO should have done nothing, but stop it, even that… Well, everyone has their own tactics, but for “punishing” a business so severely…

    I suppose MySpace would sell their Advertising traffic to whoever pays most and first too though, I’m sure Yahoo or MSN wouldn’t mind getting their hands on MySpace if Google forgot the “rent.” Maybe that’s not wrong, what would MySpace be to do, cancel all advertising to wait for their old time homie to come back, because the memoires were so sweet?

    Friendship works both ways, if the client isn’t courteous enough to pay on time, why should the SEOptimizer be any better? You can be nice in business, but just as in life, people will try to stab you in the ribs and sell your kindness for drugs, then overdose, making you murdered and an unsuspecting accessory to accidential euthanasia. It’s so hard to be nice these days, but I believe it’s the right way, so I try anyway.

  13. I have a few outgoing links on my site – they are not “paid for” links.

    Do i need to put in the nofollow attribute ??

    If there is no “nofollow” – does google assume that i am getting paid for those links..

    yes or no.