Why are good web designers and SEO advisers so hard to find?

15 August 2011 By Northern Lights

Why are good web designers and SEO advisers so hard to find? image

This year has been one of great disappointment in finding and working with good web designers and SEO advisers.  It seems we are going through another cycle when the ‘techies’ are disconnecting with businesses.

Why do we say this?

1.       Poor responses to website tenders

Last year we put out a tender for one of our clients to build a new website. The responses were so poor we went out a second time and eventually found someone who has done a good job.

In the process we had

–          Tenders that made no attempt to address the brief

–          Failure to meet deadlines

–          Being precious – not wanting to be briefed as a group

2.       SEO advisers can’t – or won’t – talk in plain English

About six times this year we have been recommended a good person to work with who is great at SEO (search engine optimisation – the process that helps Google and other search engines find you and rank you highly).

Each one has come in and given their views on a client’s website/blog or ours, given a completely different verdict about the issues – and criticised what everyone else has said or is doing.

Everyone sounded convincing initially but the more we delved, the more replies were contradictory or impossible to understand.

3.       The SEO market is very secret

We suspect one of the biggest problems is that we really want to understand the technical side of what advisers are recommending.  That will help us to do social media more effectively.

But those who are technical don’t want to share their knowledge, because inevitably we will gain more skills and not need them to help us on some things in the future.

This is short-sighted.  The rules of the internet are changing daily – as fast as we and our clients understand today’s rules, we will need help on tomorrow’s.

It was around 15 years ago when every ‘normal’ business started to realise they needed a website.  What a depressing time that was.  Business people did not have the language to ask the questions of designers, let alone understand the replies.  As a result the market was flooded with appalling websites in Flash with bouncing balls, gimmicky introductions and distracting games.

As everyone began to use websites more, business leaders started to take control of the website brief – and we now have sites that deliver business results rather than satisfy a designer’s ego.

We are in this same place now on SEO.

For our own business, we’ve decided we are going to get technical, understand the process and we can then help our clients deliver results in plain business language.

In the meantime, there is a massive market opportunity for any ‘techie’ who is really business-focused.

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Written by Northern Lights


  • Victoria,
    Couldn’t agree more with you especially on point two, I find it impossible to see who is correct. The obvious way is to get 3 SEO specialists and the two that concur are correct however you get three totally different view. Read a book that’s a 4th story, study the subject and you end up with a 5th view etc etc. no one seems to know what the rules are even the pure designers and developers.
    Oliver Corrigan
    Carrwood Park

  • I would like to take the time to give a view of this argument from the other side. As an account manager at a Leeds based web design agency with over 8 years experience, I have worked with many different PR and online marketing companies. In recent times, we have been working less and less with PR and marketing companies because of the hassle of them acting as an often unecessary “middle-man” stuck in the past with little understanding of the work we do. Where possible we now work directly with our clients, advising them 1 to 1 on the best way to market their business online, resulting in a much better end result, whether that’s a website, SEO etc.

    This addresses point number 1. A lot of tenders we receive are complete rubbish, full of flowery language and do not contain the core aims of the client. In a lot of cases we will turn down a tender because we don’t want to jump through hoops for yet another general marketing company blocking interaction with the client.

    Now regarding SEO – quite often we have marketing companies who we work with, and who we don’t, ringing us up, expecting to have a 30min conversation over the phone and suddenly know all there is to know about SEO, free of charge of course. Point 3 about it all being secretive is ridiculous! There are literally hundreds of thousands of SEO articles, blogs, websites, seminars and more, all dedicated to SEO and up-to-date practices. If people bothered to look for the information they want, they will find it!

  • Hi Jim
    Really pleased to be challenged and hear your views – and I am absolutely sure you are right that we need to listen to what you are saying. Clearly as Oliver there is a disconnect going on and there are always two sides to every issue.

    I promise you that no brief for a website that we are involved in will ever have ‘flowery language’ – it will always be cleary focused on business goals, clear definitions of target audience and understanding of their issues.

    You are right about there being a lot out there to read up about on SEO – I’ve just spent my holiday doing that and will be writing a number of blogs on my learning so far over the coming weeks.

    Food for thought here, thank you. And perhaps we could meet up sometime to discuss more!

  • I am the Marketing and BD Director for Eversheds (international law firm), based in Leeds with a firmwide remit. Having recently employed a very good SEO organisation which has delivered tangible results (try searching on “international law firm” in google and see who pops up first – we didn’t even feature in the top 20 pages previously) My thoughts on this discussion are as follows –
    1) its complex and no one action is the silver bullet (particularly if looking beyond google to other search engines) and looking from international perspectives
    2) its ongoing both in terms of (a) everybody is doing it and if you don’t stay ahead then competitors will overtake – so not a one off investment and (b) its constantly evolving due to the very nature of digital media and the internet
    3) agencies who sell this service are selling the intangible and furthermore it is an expensive post transaction service (ie pay up front, pinkies crossed and hope for the best – v few guarantee results due to previous points) and therefore high risk and clearly also highly emotive (judging by the comments so far!)
    4) due to all the above and much more demonstration is far more powerful than assertion, so good agencies should be able to demonstrate how they have helped others (blindingly obvious perhaps, but few do in my experience).
    5) Its a highly competitive industry (all the more so for other agency work drying up) and the agencies who pitched to you Victoria no doubt also see you as a potential competitor so don’t want to give the crown jewels away. Also, due to the complexity of the issue, the fast moving nature of the beast, the high levels of competition, the fact it’s such a dark art all inevitably make opinions very subjective. As such, it’s no surprise that there are contradictory viewpoints. In fact, I would be surprised to see the opposite – industry wide agreement on the right approach!
    And there is lots lots more no doubt….

  • You are taking a fantastic step to ‘get technical’ and build a greater understanding of SEO for you and your clients. A good SEO provider would almost always insist on this anyway. With absolute transparency, clarity of objectives and effective measurements to assess progress, any company is already one large step closer to engaging all its staff to achieve its goals. How can that be a bad thing? In your own business, is it ever NOT important that key people at your clients be engaged in creating and communicating the message? Given how you comment that you are now asking your business develop an understanding of the mechanics of good SEO, I think I can guess the answer to that last question….

    So why the discrepancies in quality and message? Whether working in SEO or PR, manufacturing widgets or even just baking a cake, rarely – if ever – are the inputs exactly the same, nor will the outcomes be identical. So too will there be wide variation of SEO recommendations and outcomes. This is reflective of the quality and variety of the skillsets, and of the engagement or thoroughness of the people involved.

    Your SEO provider should combine a number of skill traits, some of which are commonly found together; many of which are not, and yet all are critical for success. In very short summary, the SEO provider needs to be both creative and articulate yet analytical and technical; be engaging and consultative yet be a single-minded, competitive perfectionist; they need to have great attention to detail as proven completer-finishers, but be able to see and be part of the ‘blue sky’ strategic thought processes….

    So when you find an SEO provider with such a multiple personality disorder (!) in front of you, with such disparate, yet reassuringly complimentary and demonstrable skills, don’t then make the mistake of taking them purely on face value… A capable and reputable SEO provider will also provide objective guarantees for outcomes. To back these up, they should offer a heavily contingency-based engagement model. In other words, a substantial part of the SEO provider’s remuneration should be ‘contingent’ upon achieving a set or subset of objectives. The guarantees provided should be objective in the sense that all of them can be verified using widely-available, reputable and independent, 3rd party services. To not offer this should ring alarm bells.

    Thank you for posting this article and inviting comment. My background is in business technologies and in case you hadn’t guessed, I spend much of my life demonstrating multiple personalities to make contingency-based engagements successful. I’d be delighted to talk further if my thoughts and experiences could be of value to you.

  • A bit late to the party… but my experience as a web designer/marketer during those early days was completely different to the one you describe. Many potential clients who came along were obsessed with the latest and greatest fads – flash intros, bouncing this, spinning that – in fact, trying to entertain rather than communicate and engage. Those clients failed miserably in their efforts. Clients who listened and trusted us achieved far more. An analogy which cropped up time and again was that of an architect or a structural engineer – imagine bringing in one of these to an important building project, communicating your desired outcome and then ignoring the very advice you’re paying for.

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