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I was recently contacted by someone who does SEO who said that he focuses on similar businesses in my country and sent me a list of other local companies he is working with and their apparent increase in ranking. We agreed on a price to have him optimize 10 keywords.

I then don't hear anything from him for 3 weeks, so I sent him a quick message how things were going and an hour later he sends me a 1 page document with 4 elements he wants me to change. The changes also appear to simply stuff the titles with keywords and take away all descriptive information of the actual pages themselves, so the users don't actually know what the pages are about.

It looks like something he just put together in just a few minutes. If you hire someone to do your SEO, how much time would you expect them to invest every month? Is it typical do very small changes at a time like this to see how search engines react, or would you want to try to get a lot optimized the first month?

How much keyword stuffing in the title is acceptable compared to letting the user know what the page is actually about to increase clickthrough rates?

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Okay, so there's a lot here to unpack, but I've done SEO myself and have worked with and selected/rejected a lot of vendors over the years, so I can give you some factors to look at.

First off, looks like you got swindled. This guy, from what you're telling us, is a complete hack. Over the years of managing websites, many such SEO "consultants" have reached out to me, and the vast majority are complete swindlers. The only time I'd get any actual professionals is if I put out a public call on LinkedIn for an agency or freelancer - but that's not unsolicited email.

At the very least, you should have done a couple of things first. Googled the guy or his agency. Reached out to his supposed clients and asked them what their experience was like. And finally, checked for yourself if they do indeed rank for all the keywords he bragged about.

In the future, if you don't get any leads from your connections on LinkedIn or elsewhere, best to search for an SEO agency that has a good portfolio in your locality, and reach out to them yourself. Then let them pitch you. You'll probably pay more but you'll get actual services.

A website to be optimized for SEO has a purely technical component (robots.txt, canonicalization, structured data, etc.) and a content component (title tag copy, keywords on page, copy for image alt text tags, etc.) And every website has things that can be done immediately (optimizing title tags, hreflang implementation) as well as farther-reaching factors (climbing SERPs for keyword rankings).

When I was hired by a medical software startup website to do technical SEO, it took me about 40 hours to complete. At the end of the project, I provided an itemized list I had completed for them, and the time it took to do each task. I also kept in contact with my client to ensure I had the right info at all times, and to provide brief status updates.

So this is a minimum of what you should expect from any vendor. And this was just a technical setup and optimization job. The job you hired this guy for - optimizing pages for SERPs and tracking the results - would take more time, and thus more contact. It is unacceptable to take a client's money, disappear for three weeks, and then send them a page with a few findings.

And what findings, at that. Stuff the title tag with keywords? Bad for both search engines and users; even the tags themselves will look nonsensical in search results. You want to include the keyword(s) in the title tag, but you don't want to stuff. It has to appear natural and to make sense. This guy is going to do way more harm to your site than good. You might lose rankings, lose visitors, or even get penalized with these sorts of practices.

You will unfortunately not get your money back (another thing - don't pay upfront), so my advice is, cut your losses and cut him loose. Don't take his advice, either. Find a reputable SEO agency or consultant, and consider this a lesson. Predators are everywhere, and you must be vigilant.

Good luck out there!

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  • Thanks for the answer. Maybe I wasn't clear in my question. He didn't want me to delete description tags, he wanted me to change the title tags from something that would describe the page to something that just had keywords. For a contrived example, if I had "About our team - ACME bakery - someCity, someCountry", he wanted me to change it to "Best local donuts, fresh baked breads, bakeries in someCity".
    – Mike
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:25
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    Ah I see @Mike, I'll modify the answer. Regardless, a bad idea, for all the aforementioned reasons. This is a technique from 15 years ago that hasn't worked in about as long. Most of these swindlers use outdated techniques like that. Even if there is a quick boost, it will be very temporary. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:34
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I would agree with Henry's assessment. But I think you may need an example ... in several categories, the business listing of google business provides some important considerations for specific categories, and you may fall into one.

  • Service Businesses

  • Hotels: Can show class ratings and list the amenities offered by the hotel.

  • Food and drink businesses: Can add URLs to their profiles for online orders, reservations, and their menu. They can also add menu items directly. Health and beauty businesses: Can add a booking button to their profiles and update their menu of services.

For example within the category of hotels, google offers free booking links ... https://support.google.com/hotelprices/answer/10472393?hl=en ... currently for me they are below the paid links and above the natural search listing and under a view all, which is a better experience than the natural listings. They are also featured in Google travel, which is google's travel platform/business model. This travel section of Google is valuable for businesses related to travel ... perhaps even better than the natural search results.

So I would expect someone going thru the business profile to communicate on all of the features he could get from google related to your site. Sending a list of misleading titles does not seem helpful in fact it is the opposite of what google is telling people to do who want to work with google to get more business.

I agree and respect that answers should be self-contained, but for reference purposes of what time and energy somebody who is doing SEO spends and what communications to expect ... Chris has a walkthrough video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCe3Li4Tkhc ... which represents his planning and communications in regards to his business profile.

Competitor research

Researching competitors online does not require much communication;

If one considers the joke of a bear and two men in a tent. One of them starts putting on their shoes and the other man says you can never outrun a bear. His response is I don't need to outrun the bear only outrun you.

Well, to get above the competitors one only needs to outperform the competitors, so competitor research needs to be done and the business owner really can not appraise the SEO used by his competitors.

But in this case he has stated he already knows the competitors.

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