In recent years most former SEO agencies have become Google Partners that is they buy enough Google Ads to be eligible for that badge in the first place.
Can they actually help you with your organic search reach aka SEO though? Aren’t they just “alleging a special relationship with Google”? Let’s find out!
For more than a decade Google has a helpful page for starters called “Do you need an SEO?“. One of the crucial parts of it has been the “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.” warning:
The “guaranteed rankings” and the “priority submit” expressions are pretty dated SEO lingo by now. They stem from the ancient past. You can ignore those.
Nobody is stupid enough to use such phrases anymore to lure Internet newbies. The “special relationship” – an expression introduced by Google – is more than relevant today though.
In a bizarre twist of events now Google itself offers special relationships to Internet marketing agencies when they buy lots of Google Ads.
How to become a Google Partner? Pay Google!
For many years we were told not to claim to be buddies with Google as that would be misleading potential clients. Sounds like common sense. Yet Google changed that credo.
In recent years this is what exactly happened on a large scale. You can now easily align yourself with the ever growing Google empire.
A few years ago it was still a badge that would say “Google Adwords certified” or something similar. That distinction has gone lost after Google introduced the Google Partners program.
Most business people who visit agency sites might not be aware of the fact that Google Partners are in no way supported by Google when it comes to organic search aka SEO (search engine optimization).
Yet on most agency sites that’s exactly what is alleged. I have found a good example of this wide spread practice on SEO.com (full disclosure: I have been an affiliate of SEO.com in the past):
It’s a win win situation for both Google and Internet marketing agencies. Google gets a steady stream of money and agencies can brag about their special connection to the Internet giant.
The only ones who don’t really benefit are the clients who want to have their website optimized for search engines – which nowadays means mostly Google.
The partial screen shot I have posted above is taken from SEO.com as you can see. It’s the highest ranking search engine optimization company on Google (currently #5 from here).
It’s right there on the SEO.com homepage and the wording they use is strikingly similar to what the Google article asking “Do you need an SEO?” says. I highlighted it in red.
They are in no way an exception though. You see those badges all over the place. Even agencies I considered very trustworthy sport them in a misleading way by now.
You can’t solely blame agencies of course. It’s very hard to place a Google Partner badge on your site without making the impression this partnership also applies to your SEO services.
For Google it’s simply a good way to keep Google ads budgets high and make sure agencies are dependent on them for their reputation.
What are Google Partners experts on? Google Ads.
Aren’t Google Partners more knowledgeable and able to connect with Google employees to fast track their clients to the top of search results? Not really. They can and do buy ads though.
The Google Partners clearly explains the currently five options Google Partners specialize in (see also screen shot above):
- Search Advertising
- Mobile Advertising
- Video Advertising
- Display Advertising
- Shopping Advertising
What the screen shot does not state is also self-evident. We only talk about buying ads on Google services not with other vendors.
Effectively you just pay the agency for a bot that spends your money on autopilot most of the time. Yet the agency gets a significant amount of the budget itself. On the other hand
It’s about making your website visible and findable on the actual search results themselves. They are called organic because you don’t have to pay Google for such reach.
Also the wide spread click fraud does not apply to organic results. Studies show that more than half of ads are never even viewed by a human being.
No matter whether the click has been done by a human or a bot you have to pay for it. Google claims to ignore fake clicks but it does often not work.
Join the rebel alliance!
In a way traditional search engine optimizers like myself are the rebels who bug the seemingly omnipotent Google empire. We don’t let us dominate by the search engine and its business model.
In the beginning we weren’t meant to just convince people to buy ads from Google. We were striving to allow website owners to exist without the need to pay for traffic.
Personally I consider buying ads and optimizing for organic search reach a conflict of interest – like being your taxi driver and driving instructor at the same.
Why would I shoot myself in the foot and teach you how to drive when you can pay me instead for driving you around on a regular basis? That would be idiotic.
There is no incentive to optimize a website for organic reach when you can get easy money by solely being the middleman between business owners and Google Ads.
I also do not use Google Analytics anymore because I do not want to support Google data collecting and sharing policies. They track you all over the Web using multiple means.
I use the self-hosted open source solution Matomo instead. It’s focused on privacy and you don’t send the data to the actual company at all.
I am a bit of a radical even among the rebels though. In the early days we didn’t have Google Ads yet and SEO was about helping people to optimize their actual website.
Even later on when Google started pushing Ads it was just a temporary means of getting traffic until the actual optimization worked.
Many search engine optimizers also used Google’s then called Adwords for keyword research to find out whether Google’s keyword tools actually disclosed useful numbers. They often did not.
Long story short SEO has never been is still is not about buying traffic from Google. Pay Per Click ads are just a means to make Google rich and to remain dependent on the gatekeeper.
When you decide to buy traffic from Google you actually waste funds you could have used on search engine optimization. Like a drug user you will always have to pay to stay high on Google.
You can optimize your website to make it rank instead. When investing in SEO you could actually improve your
or create content in the first place. Your product descriptions are not content. Something that has value by itself is actual content not simply packaging. Think bottle vs liquid inside.
Live by the Google, die by the Google!
Search engine optimization the way I practice it not only helps you with search but also with social media and direct traffic.
It’s also important to make sure that the people who arrive on your site actually find what they seek and do what they should do like
- sign up
When you solely rely on Google Ads you may end up broke sooner or later. That’s one of the main reasons startups fail. They mainly buy traffic from the gatekeepers Google and Facebook.
They fail to establish their brand, build an actual audience of regular users because they trick themselves into believing that they can ask Google and Facebook to deliver fresh traffic forever.
Your “target audience” is finite though in many cases, especially when you offer a highly specialized SaaS (Software as a Service) product.
When you push your ads to the same people over and over you’ll get ignored after a while. You need to establish
by sharing, engaging and outreach or in short SEO. Yes, that’s the explanation of the modern SEO acronym to me. I’ll elaborate on that in another post.
The same thing applies to small businesses that have only a local reach. After a while everybody knows you in one way or another.
Who are you in the eyes of search users? Are you that company that has to use ads to get people to visit them or are you a company you already like and others recommend as well?
When I use search I tend to click familiar sounding names in the results. The same applies to ads on a side note. I’m not alone, even Neil Patel relies on brand building.
Reliance on fresh traffic from Google is a recipe for disaster in the long term. You live by the Google and you die by the Google.
For many small business the “1000 true fans” business model is perfectly sufficient. You don’t always need a steady stream of new people.
Of course I refer to faithful customers. For example I am with the same barber for more than a decade. I don’t need to look up Google every time I want a new haircut.
Are you a friend of the Google empire?
In general it’s not a good sign when someone’s main selling point is being a friend of the Google empire. In the middle ages it was called nepotism.
Nowadays it’s a bit like being a doctor who is partnering with the pharma industry. Who is s/he really working for? What’s her or his goal?
I’d rather look for someone who is truly independent and does not have to resort to such alleged relationships. It’s self-evident really isn’t it?
Of course there are still some knowledgeable SEO experts working for agencies that are Google Partners but you can never know as on outsider.
Also the incentive to keep a client paying for ads for years might be more tempting than ensuring the long term success of organic SEO efforts. Thus
some ethical agencies have stopped offering both Google ads and organic reach optimization at the same time.
They have either split and run two separate agencies now depending on the business model – just like you would split up a company offering taxi fares and driver’s licenses.
Some agencies simply offer only Google ads by now. This way the wrong impression of being buddies with Google does not mislead potential SEO clients.
Others simply focus on organic reach via search engine optimization and alternative ways of improving your organic reach. Think social media and direct traffic.
You might want to consider such a step when you won an agency or work at one before your online reputation might suffer.
Do you depend on Google Ads?
Ideally one day you can run your website yourself without continuous ad spend and only occasional or low level SEO activity unless you pay for
Those tasks can be performed by your team though without an external agency once you have taught them social media and content best practices or they’ve read the above linked guides.
Your website is well optimized and the evergreen content is good enough to earn links when the SEO is done holistically and with due diligence.
I had clients a decade ago who still benefit from my link magnets to this day. What did I do? I just created evergreen content and well optimized pages that still rank high.
Of course you still depend on Google when solely relying on organic traffic from the search giant but you can embrace other means of gaining traction as well.
Optimization for search, social media and direct audiences is not mutually exclusive. Often it’s the same people using different tools.
Buying ads sadly often means not optimizing your site at all. At best dedicated landing pages will be created that are just trying to convert one time visitors.
Visitors who return and thus so called retention are the ones to look for and after. Forcing new people down the sales funnel can ostracize them for good.