Before You Hire an SEO Firm, Read This
Oh, That I Could Just Fly Away and Forget All This!
Before Signing a Contract Be Sure You Understand the Service
Toward the beginning of this year, I was approached by a Search Engine Optimization company (which I will not yet name) about contracting for their services. My site is over 600 pages, and I had not yet finished switching it over from FrontPage 2002 to Web Expressions 4. The redesign was taking longer than I thought it would, and I was getting discouraged. I was also losing traffic during the overhaul, but wasn't sure I wanted a lot more traffic while the site was in transition. I was following an E-Book step by step on how to make the change, and one step was to make sure I had at least two copies of my site before I started operating on it. I was supposed to have a working copy on my computer on which to make changes and a backup just in case. When I was finished with each file, I was to upload the changes to the live site, file by file, as I made the necessary changes. On top of this was the regular updating I needed to do of prices and products.
It was during this transition that the SEO salesman called me. I had once hired a firm years ago that had helped me, and it did improve my traffic, but I'm aware that the search engines are always changing their methods and I know I wasn't caught up, so I was susceptible to the sales pitch. I figured SEO was one big job I might be able to hire out, but I questioned the timing. I expressed my concern to the salesperson -- that the site was in transition and I was still working on it. I did not want my work impeded and I was afraid the site was not ready for optimization yet. He said it wouldn't be a problem. My gut instinct told me that he was wrong, and I should have listened to that. Unfortunately I went ahead and agreed to have six of the pages optimized. It was a very bad decision.
This hub has been up for a few weeks now, and I do want to encourage you to read all the comments that have accumulated, since many SEO people have given a lot of instruction on SEO in their long comments, making the comments just as valuable as the body of the Hub. I want to thank all of you who have made these contributions to the value of this page.
Did I Get Taken for an SEO Ride?
Once the salesmen signed me up and took my money, I was contacted by a woman who identified herself as my customer care specialist. I explained I wasn't ready for her to start yet. I still needed to make some changes to the six pages before she started her work, since she wanted my login information. I had fears that she could break my site if she added changes through FTP while I was still using Front Page Server Extensions (FPSE). Obsolete as they are, I still had some components that only work with the FPSE and I wanted to get more important changes done first before working on those components.
I had signed up in January, and my Customer Care Specialist (we'll call her CC from now on) called me every week asking when I would get the URLs and keywords I wanted to optimize for to her. I really didn't want to give her access at all, but she assured me she had Expression Web and would only make changes through the programs FPSE. Finally, in March, I gave her access and the information she needed and she said she would let me know when she had actually made changes and what they were.
Yesterday I got the list of changes, along with the instruction that I was only to make changes on the server -- not on my computer. This was something that was not explained to me would be a result when I signed up. I was very upset. Not only was it impossible for me to start operating that way, but now I can't upload changes I made to the structure of the site's organization that were planned for when I finished the individual pages, without losing either days of my own work or all the work she has done. The person who signed me up and assured me there would be no problem was wrong. CC explained that he could not possibly have known how irregular my situation was when he made that assurance, even though I had tried to explain. He did not mention how they worked. The last firm I hired did not work that way.
I called CC today to discuss the situation. I know I'm her customer from hell, something I don't enjoy being. I suggested maybe I could paste in her changes to each page before making my changes or that I could download the file from the server as she left it so that I could work on what would be essentially the same file she had changed and then upload it again when I had finished. She insisted I should work on the server and then save a copy on my computer. I'm always afraid if I work on the server and the connection goes out or times out, I won't be able to save the changes. It happened a few times when I used to work on the server. She said all I'd have to do is log in again and I wouldn't have lost anything, but I'm not sure I believe that. It seems to me that I hired her to do a job for me, and now she's telling me how I have to do my job. I understand she's afraid I'll louse up something she's done if I don't do it her way and then if might reflect on her work. So we are butting heads at this point. Had I known about this condition, I never would have hired this firm to do the work. But that's now water under the bridge. Now it's my job to figure out how to solve the problem.
For those of you who know SEO, I'm also wondering about something else she did that I really don't approve of. She added some links to the very bottom of these pages, under the navigation I have in place, that aren't honest. Example. The link text says "math books." the link goes to "educational gifts." I asked her why she did that instead of making the "math books" link go to a page of math books. She said she has to use the key words for the page as the anchor text, but she wants google to see other pages I did not have her optimize. It seems she's hoping these links are so far down that no customer would see and use them. But I've read time and time again that web sites should be designed for people -- not for search engines. These links would seem to violate that principle.She says if I tell her where I want the links to go she will change them. Seems it would be easier to just change them myself, but she really didn't like that idea. I will grant she probably knows more about SEO than I do, and she did do some things I didn't do right,like putting the Google analytics code on all 600 pages. I was confused on how to do that. But I know more about where I want my traffic to go on my site and which pages are most important than she does. She is optimizing six pages. I'm still working on optimizing about 500 more. I think she'd rather this site was static and I'd just stop doing things to it.
So here I am. I believe I made a big mistake in signing up for this when I did, but I also believe that the salesperson misled me without really knowing what he was talking about. I was wrong in not getting him to be more specific, but I wasn't really sure which questions to ask. Now I would ask how his customer service specialist's services would affect how I would need to work. I would explain that I did not want to work on my site live on the server and ask if they had a problem with that. Then if CC told me I needed to do make changes only live on the server, I'd have have something to fall back on when stating my objections to CC.
How Should I Fill Out the Survey?
CC sent me a link to a survey I need to fill out before she starts doing whatever it is she is supposed to do on a monthly basis. The survey asks whether she has optimized the site, how satisfied I am with the service, and if it's been explained to me what I have to do so that I don't overwrite the changes.
I have mixed feelings about how to respond to this survey. It's designed so that most of what I have to say reflects on CC and the job she did. I think she probably did what they expected her to do and what she does for most customers who aren't in my particular situation. I just am not happy because this is not what I expected to happen. I would hate to have my feedback impact CC's job. It was the salesman who really misled me, although CC didn't tell me before she started that she didn't want me to work off-site and upload changes. Probably her other customers not in my situation weren't concerned about that. I would have stopped the whole thing right there had it come up.
On the other hand, I'm not happy with the job that was done and how it has presented me with a new problem to solve instead being the solution I had hoped for. I want to be fair, but I don't think I should pretend I'm satisfied when I'm not.
I would appreciate your feedback in the comments, both on how to handle the survey and on any solutions you might see on solving the impasse on how I should make changes, if you are familiar with the programs I'm using. I'm hoping I can make CC see that my copying what she had done on a page to my computer before working on it and then uploading the file again when I'm done is essentially the same thing as making the changes live and then saving it to my computer. Or am I wrong about this? I'm no programmer and I hate coding. That's why I'm using these programs in the first place. I'm probably not as technically competent as CC, and that's why I don't want to make my changes on the server and possibly mess up a live site. She thinks I'm just making extra work for myself. What do you think? Am I being unreasonable? Or have I been taken for a ride?