Why There Are Little to No SEO Case Studies Out There

Tommy McDonald
Originally from Ireland.. currently chasing the sun in Spain. I've been involved in the SEO industry in one form or other for the past 5 years. You can find me rambling about my SEO experiences, theories & opinions on SerpLogic.com
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    This is a guest contribution to Ahrefs blog. Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ahrefs team.

    Have you noticed how few SEO case studies are really out there?

    I’m serious.

    Take a minute and think about the last time you saw a comprehensive SEO case study that showed traffic growth, website interaction, conversion rate metrics and most importantly, how much money the search engine marketing campaign brought in.

    You might recall seeing one at some point, but I’m willing to bet that most people reading this just said the following:

    Wow, he is right. I can’t think of the last time I saw something even close to that.”

    What do we see instead? Ranking reports.

    Every SEO company loves to show off SEO ranking reports that show a bunch of keywords ranked in the top few positions. The keywords are always blurred out because they don’t want to expose their clients, their websites and their niches.

    Ranking reports alone don’t prove anything. Notice that no SEO agencies every show a ranking report and then also disclose the links that they used to achieve those rankings?

    Showing only ranking reports is useless, and this is why:

    • If you were to see the actual report, you would see that most of the top ranking keywords are brand terms, like the business name or the naked URL. These terms rank with just good onsite optimization. They are terms that usually don’t bring in buyers.
    • What if one of the keywords was at the number two position when the SEO company took the client on and it then moved to the top position after 8 months and only after the previous number one website was penalized. That number one ranking suddenly isn’t impressive at all when you know the true back story.
    • Keyword rankings don’t indicate that there is any money being made. They don’t prove that there were leads generated, phone calls placed, or that the SEO investment made the business any money.

    There are many reasons why we don’t see SEO case studies.

    Here are the most obvious reasons (hint: I saved the best for last):

    1. Most SEO providers are lazy

    It isn’t that most SEO companies are horrible at what they do, they are just lazy and don’t want to take the extra time to put together detailed case studies.

    The amount of businesses looking for a SEO company (or a new one because they got burned) is always going to be high. New businesses are started every single day and in order to compete you need an online presence, so search engine optimization is in demand.

    Also, with so many bad providers out there it creates another huge segment, which is businesses seeking a new option because they either didn’t get the results they were promised or the company tanked their website.

    The SEO industry is booming, but personally I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to shy away from showcasing abilities with detailed case studies.

    2. Most SEO providers wouldn’t know an analytics report if it slapped them in the face

    This is a major problem. I recently consulted with a company that was looking for a new provider because they weren’t seeing any sales come in. The business owner told me:

    I don’t understand it. The current SEO company is building our traffic up every month. We have been with them for 12 months and the first month we received 1,200 visitors and now we are at over 200,000 visitors a month but sales are almost nothing. It doesn’t make sense.”

    I thought he was exaggerating the traffic numbers. I assumed the SEO company was lying to him, but sure enough, those numbers were correct.

    But there was a big problem.

    Those 200,000 visitors from the previous month were all referral spam (here’s how to cure it btw).

    After all the fake traffic was filtered out the website was receiving about 80 visitors a month and the average time on the site was a few seconds and the bounce rate was at almost 100%.

    The sad reality is that this SEO company most likely wasn’t trying to pull one over on the client. They probably genuinely believed that they were doing a great job and increasing the traffic. Opening up Google Analytics and selecting the date range will show all the traffic numbers. They might have had an intern looking up this and entering that data into a report template.

    3. Most SEO providers only understand ranking reports

    This relates back to the fact that SEO companies are so stuck on ranking reports. It’s all they know. It takes zero effort to understand or analyze a ranking report. For example, a tool like ranktracker.com produces professional reports and the only thing you need to do is input the URL’s and keywords. It handles everything. The simpler the report, the less explaining that is required.

    Note from Tim: Ahrefs has a decent rank tracking tool as well. 

    Any business owner can read a ranking report and understand what is going on.

    They see the keywords, the positions, the movement over the last month and the movement over the entire campaign. You could be completely oblivious to what SEO is and fully understand a ranking report.

    If an SEO company starts to put out detailed case studies that break down every aspect of how the SEO campaign improved the business it is going to spark a lot of questions from potential clients.

    • Can you do this for my business?
    • What kind of results should we expect? Similar to these?

    There isn’t a shortage of SEO customers, so why go through the trouble of putting a case study together? Because it shows that you actually give a crap about the client.

    If you want long term clients and want to stop scrambling to fill the holes when a client leaves, then start putting together case studies that show you understand how a business can justify paying your company money every month. It’s time for a major wake up call within the SEO industry.

    4. Most SEO providers don’t know how to structure and manage an SEO campaign because they outsource 100%

    How can someone put together an SEO case study when they couldn’t rank a website to save their life?

    My company does the actual “work” for some of the largest SEO companies all over the world. They have huge advertising budgets and win awards for sales volume, but guess what?

    They don’t know SEO.

    They know how to sell and they have amazing sales teams, but if you told them that they needed to rank a local website in order to save their business they would be closing their doors.

    I know my company isn’t the only outsource provider in the game, but I do know one thing: we deliver great results, which allows our customers to keep selling and not have to use case studies to pull clients in. They are great sales people and they have a good partner doing the service.

    But what about those clueless companies that are reselling Fiverr gigs?

    If you knew how many SEO agencies that portray themselves as industry leaders are throwing together five gigs ($25) and charging their clients thousands of dollars a month it would blow you away. If someone is using Fiverr gigs, do you really think they understand SEO or even care enough to put together a case study? They can’t do it, therefore they don’t.

    5. Most SEO providers would be out of business if they put together a case study of their actual results

    This is the reality of the current SEO industry.

    There are far more disappointed and dissatisfied customers than there are happy customers that rave about their current SEO company. The fact that there are more bad companies than good SEO providers is the main reason this industry has a black eye.

    There are some small boutique agencies that have a few clients and they remain satisfied because they do very comprehensive work and do a hell of a lot more work than just blasting a link package at a website.

    These companies tend to fly under the radar. They aren’t spending millions of dollars on Google AdWords campaigns and they don’t have call centers or send out mass spam emails to sucker business owners in. They keep the same clients’ year after year and in the event that they are able to bring on one more there is usually a referral waiting and ready.

    The companies that come up in a Google search and the ones robocalling and email spamming are the ones that the unsuspecting business owners hire and they are the ones that either don’t care that they are providing a crap service or they don’t know any better.

    Either way, they aren’t in the position to put together a case study. The results would look like crap and showcasing their “work” would do more harm than good.

    6. Most SEO providers do not want to admit that they build links or sell links.

    Building links to game the search results is against Google’s terms of service.

    Want to know something?

    Every single SEO company is building backlinks. 

    Links that aren’t naturally occurring. Links that aren’t the outcome of “compelling content” and all of those other fancy terms.

    SEO companies have relationships with editors and writers to drop links and they all have their own private blog networks that they use to give their clients’ websites a boost in the SERPs. Nobody is going to come out and publicly admit to doing this.

    This is hands down the number one reason we don’t see a lot of case studies.

    Links are the most important SEO factor, yet no SEO company can admit this part in a case study.

    Imagine if a large SEO company published a thorough case study and mentioned that they paid a contributor on Forbes $1,000 for a link and dropped a few dozen links on their private blog network to get their results?

    Heads would spin and Matt Cutts would probably come back from his extended leave of absence.

    So, what is the answer?

    It really all boils down to the fact that there is a never ending supply of businesses that are seeking out SEO and unfortunately they don’t know what to look for or how to differentiate a good company from one that is going to take their money and underperform.

    So, it is ultimately up to the SEO companies to decide to rise above.

    With all this being said, it is time for a change within our industry.

    I’m in the process of launching a new personal blog, and I plan to fill it with real case studies that show the good, the bad and the ugly of SEO. I believe full transparency is the future of this industry and it starts with us.

    If you are in the SEO industry I encourage you to join me, and commit to producing more case studies. Together, we can help eliminate the “snake oil salesmen” label that some business owners automatically associate SEO companies with.

    When full transparency becomes the norm, it will push the low quality providers out of the picture. The cream will rise to the top and the bottom feeders will be left fighting for the scraps.

    This post might piss a lot of the self proclaimed “SEO gurus” off, but frankly, I don’t care. The only people this post will upset are the scam artists that don’t have a clue about SEO and those that are ruining websites and businesses rather than helping them.

    Let me know what you think of this post in the comment section. I welcome intelligent and well thought out SEO discussion any day.

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