According to a Forrester study and Search Engine Land, “71% of consumers begin their journeys by using a search engine to discover new products and services, and 74% reported using a search engine for consideration and purchasing.”

If you’re not showing up in those results, you are not only not in the race; you are not even on the field. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in. Once you begin to recognize the priceless nature of your online reputation, the next natural question is: How do I get to the top of Google? The answer is a lot of work, done continuously.

Effective SEO positions your website so that you connect with customers and search engines. That means, in addition to design skills, you also need good copywriting and some psychological understanding of your audience. In other words, whoever is optimizing your website needs to grasp what resonates with your customers. This is no cookie-cutter activity.

Because of the general lack of understanding about the science of SEO, and the rampant cultural appetite for instant gratification, an entire industry of SEO scam artists has sprung up. These scammers are preying on the underinformed who are looking for a cheaper, easier way. The results are mediocre at best and devastating at worst. These scammers can waste precious financial resources of a business and, by association, undercut the reputation of an otherwise reputable industry.

For real success, you should be asking your potential SEO company questions. If and when you see sales pitches that include the red flags that I list below, run as far and fast as you can.


The SEO industry is continually changing and evolving. Due to a large number of variables involved, specific guarantees are dicey at best. Any reputable SEO knows this and will be transparent with you about why their numbers are merely an educated guess. A good SEO will speak in “averages” and time frames (i.e., “Most clients rank within X time frame, but it could take as long as Y”).

Instant Results

As with anything promising immediate results, there is usually something else that is at risk of being seriously harmed. SEO is no different. To get seemingly instant rankings, agencies would likely have to use tactics that violate Google’s policies. While these strategies might work briefly, the collateral damage when the search engines catch on (and they will, sooner or later) end with your website being banished to invisibility. Regaining rank and credibility after such “instant results” can take months, or even years.

A Monopoly On Top Rankings

This is the holy grail of SEO. Yes, the goal is top rankings, but total domination for every keyword imaginable is unrealistic. Considering the number of websites fighting for top spots, even if you are doing everything right, only one will walk away with the gold. Based on logic alone, this makes no sense to promise, but it doesn’t stop many from trying it anyway.

Costs That Sound Too Good To Be True

It is fascinating how willing people are to waste money for a “great deal” instead of paying a little more for quality, even when the stakes are incredibly high. In my opinion, anyone charging less than $500 per month for SEO is either an amateur or is taking your money and running without providing enough ethical effort to generate real search engine results. And that’s for a noncompetitive industry with few geographical competitors. SEO costs for a more competitive industry should easily start at $1,000+. Either way, the risk is too great.

As far back as 2012, a survey of over 600 SEO agencies rated the most common monthly retainer price range in the U.S. to be between $2,501 and $5,000.

Why the cost? Simple logistics. You need to produce a lot of content to compete on Google. The amount of time needed to produce and distribute that content is substantial. And, that doesn’t even take into account the amount of time needed to research what to write about in the first place. A good SEO company will research what your potential customers are already looking for so that you can build content that answers the questions that your customers are already asking. Otherwise, you’re just throwing mud at the wall.

SEO is not a mindless endeavor. You earn your rankings, and there is no corner-cutting. Copywriting skills and quality website design are the prices of entry. Someone has to do the work, and that either costs you time, or you pay for someone else’s.