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The SEO Experiment

By Snap Agency December 8, 2013

This content originally appeared on Talknbusiness.com, written by Nathan Hartnett. It has been preserved on Snap Agency’s blog.

SEO Experiment – Part 1

4 E-commerce Sites, 4 Different SEO Contracts; What Will The Results Be? Is Cheap SEO Dead?

“in this new age of Google penalties, we’re wondering if it’s still even possible to get a good search engine boost”

While we tend not to focus as much effort on backlinking as others might (preferring to build good keyword rich content on our sites over time instead), we realise that we are currently in a unique situation. We have four e-commerce sites that we started last year, all with product, all with some content, and all with similar competition metrics.

This got us to thinking. Why not trial a few different SEO providers, and see what results we get from the different websites over the next three to six months, and share the results with you? Finding quality SEO providers on the cheap using outsourcing sites can be daunting and not easy to do, as well as fraught with risk. In our experience, most of them are dodgy, and in this new age of Google penalties, we’re wondering if it’s still even possible to get a good search engine boost from some of these little providers.

When it comes to the outsourcing itself, we only looked at 5 star providers, whose feedback showed positive results from other clients (where the phrasing of the feedback suggested that previous clients had seen significant improvements in their rankings since using the company). Additionally, we looked for companies who had received feedback that met these requirements post September 2012 (after the major September Google updates).

We also contacted all of our short-listed potential suppliers (of which there weren’t many left), and asked them abut their methodology. Any supplier who response included profile links, angela and paul links, blog commenting, or any other spam style linking was removed from our short-list  We particularly looked for companies who created and maintained web 2.0 properties with quality, updated content that would then link to our money sites, as well as other techniques that we feel have potential to add positive helpful content (like using videos, slideshows etc.). Out of hundreds of offers, we narrowed it down to just a couple, and our experiment will consist of the following:

Site 1

This first website will just receive the basic treatment that our sites usually get. A one off payment of $50 to a particular provider that advertises in the warriorforum.com. Their methodology seems to be centred around continually producing web 2.0 properties, which has worked for us in the past, but of late we have noticed that the content is not that great, and is one of the reasons we’re looking at other options. We will include it here though, as for us it will be our “control” site.

Site 2

This website will be getting some SEO love from a contractor found on Elance.com. At a cost of $250 until the site reaches page one for its primary keyword, only time will tell if they can actually get it there.

Site 3

Using an SEO contractor from Odesk.com, this site will begin its journey to page one (fingers crossed) for a massive $100 per month, while working on the site for seven hours per week.

Site 4

With another contractor from Elance.com taking the reigns, they believe they can get the site to page one for its primary keyword for a fee of $400.

The Jury Is Still Out…

Will these providers give the rankings a boost? Or will some of them get our site(s) penalised? Is budget SEO dead? Stay tuned over the next few months as we update you, and let you know which site wins, and whether or not paying the money is a waste of time.

Why I Hate Link Building

At the end of the day, Google wants the most relevant sites at the top of the pile, and it wants to be able to use backlinks as a way of measuring how many other relevant sites “vote” for yours, and give you high rankings in return. While this is a noble goal, and one which they will probably achieve one day, it doesn’t help us who live down in the trenches. If you do exactly as Google says (and only what Google says) but your competition bends the rules and successfully knocks you out of the rankings, then you’re out of business. This is why we have to continually test and measure to see what works, even though forced link building is not what Google wants. We look forward to the day when this is no longer the case, but we’re not convinced that day is here yet, despite the turmoil of last year’s Google updates.

It’s Not All Bad Though

Some of the providers here have told us that they spend a fair bit of time trying to connect with relevant sites, as well as providing helpful content in forums, posting good, helpful content in online communities, and trying to do other traditional forms of online PR. This is the sort of link building we prefer, as it actually adds meaningful content to the online community, while also building links. Of course, what an SEO company says they will do and what they actually do don’t always match, but can hope! In the end, only time will tell if any of these companies can achieve what they say they can, and also whether they do it using methods that will last (and not penalise the sites they are working on). We’ll keep you updated over the coming months!

SEO Experiment – Part 2

Site 1 – “The $50 warrior forum contractor”

Well, before everyone says “I told you so”, we should mention that this contractor had been successful for us in the past, but due to Google’s massive updates over the last 12 months, we were concerned about continuing to use them, despite their claims that they had changed their methods. Suffice to say, the site that we gave them (and some other sites that they had been working on) has been penalised. They claim that this is not the case, but we started another site in the same niche, and are already ranking in the top 50 for all of the primary keywords using our own method, while the site they are “working” on is not in the top 600 results for any keyword at all.


Site 2 – “The $250 Pay For Performance Elance Contractor”

This contractor has been quite good so far. We haven’t paid them a cent yet, but they have consistently provided excellent weekly reports with all of the links they’ve generated for the site, which is really important, as this means we can get them removed in future should we be penalised for any of them. More importantly though, the site is ranking in the top 50 for its primary keyword, and is one page 3 for three other secondary keywords. This contractor is on a pay for performance basis, so they won’t get their $250 until the site reaches page one for its primary keyword. So far we’re very happy with this contractor.

Success – so far…

Site 3 – “The $100 per month Odesk Contractor”

After two months of getting some pretty average reports and no movement from the site, we have ended this contract. We’re not a big fan of pay-by-the-month SEO, where the contractor benefits from taking longer to rank the site, and we really couldn’t recommend this method.


Site 4 – “The $400 Pay For Performance Elance Contractor”

These guys have been doing okay as well. They managed to get the site to the top 50 for its primary keyword, but it has since slipped back to around the position 60-70 mark. The jury is still out on these guys, but they still hold some promise.

Moderate Success – so far…

Conclusion So Far

Clearly the pay for performance model seems to be the way to go for outsourcing SEO, but it’s pretty difficult to find a contractor who will do it. We personally have been taking back control of our link building lately, and have so far been getting better results than any of the above contractors, but it’s still early days yet.

Given the low competition nature of the niches that the contractors were given, we find the results to be a little lacklustre in terms of how long it’s taking them to rank the sites, but we definitely prefer contractors who take their time over those who rush the link building process, as to do so would be inviting Google’s wrath.

So what can you take from this?

  • Outsourcing SEO can be done on the cheap
  • Outsourcing your SEO is risky
  • Pay for performance, not by the month
  • Negotiate your terms
  • Don’t rush your link building plan

In full:

Firstly, outsourcing your SEO fairly cheaply is still very possible, but it is a minefield. Watching a site get penalised is no fun, although you can still re-enter that niche successfully so long as no additional competition has entered the market.

Secondly, if an SEO contractor isn’t willing to work on a pay for performance model, don’t bother with them, as there are still those out there who will, and can do a good job. Make sure you “tighten the reins” though, as even our Site 4 contractor wanted payment for getting the site to the top 100, even though this is pretty easy and pretty useless. We negotiated them down to a small initial payment upon reaching the top 50, but clearly the Site 2 contractor’s terms were the best.