Confessions Of A $100/Month SEO Client: Part II

Last month’s post on the realities of low-cost SEO for small businesses seemed to hit a nerve and got some great responses. One of the best was from a Bill Trott, the owner of Bill’s Pest and Termite in Phoenix, not to mention a guest star on Discovery’s Property Wars.

Bill Trott

Image courtesy of Bill’s Pest & Termite

Here’s the email Bill sent:

Re: June 10th Blog – Interesting blog…I’m a SBO and stumbled across your blog in my attempt to get a glimpse into that other world of SEO. I read the feedback/comments and while a few responses were spot on, most (from a business owner perspective) were less than accurate. There seems to be a void of misunderstandings/lack of knowledge/stereotypes/trust between small business owners and SEO Professionals. Interesting when you consider we share the same goals.

From my experience one simple key to success for SEO Types would be to listen more and talk less, at least initially.

If down the road you wish to share the experience(s) of a SBO’s road from a $120,000 a year YP Disaster to several SEO Rip-offs and the slow (ongoing) successful recovery hit me up. I suspect my perspective would be of value to your readers and the feedback would assist in charting my future course.

How could I say no?

Here’s the transcript from my conversation with Bill:

NAP Citation:
Bill Trott, Owner
Bill’s Pest and Termite Control
PO Box 43076
Phoenix, Arizona 85080

How long have you been in business, Bill?

I’ve been in business for 16 years. Started out myself in a truck. Had to do it face to face, knocking on doors, mostly realtors. It was hard work, but it paid off handsomely. Practically overnight, I went from one truck to 5-6 trucks. I worked my way up to where I was spending $10,000 per month on yellow pages ads. They were full-page ads for the Phoenix metro area. That was about ten years ago.

When did you realize the Internet was going to be important for your business?

I was out there working and got completely caught with my pants down. Seemed like it happened overnight. Around 2005 to 2006, the calls from my yellow pages ads disappeared. I was paying more for those ads than I was bringing in. And US West/Quest wouldn’t budge on price. I had to hire an attorney to get out of my contract. The problem was, I had all of my eggs in one basket.

Everybody said “go to the Web.” So I hired an outfit to build a site. Thought I was pretty smart. Bought a GoDaddy domain and got moving. The problem was the web developer kept raising their rates and I had no control over anything. Even worse, I wasn’t getting any business from it even though they were supposed to be getting me on the search engines.

So I hired another outfit to build and host a new website — about $6K + $160/month. I figured out how to track what the website was doing and I soon discovered that the ROI wasn’t there. By then I knew a little about SEO, so I hired another SEO outfit, paid them upfront and never heard from them again. That left me with a bad taste in my mouth, which already tasted pretty bad.

So, once you had been burned by the SEO/Website game (like so many other small businesses), what did you do?

My greatest pleasure in running a biz is every Friday handing a check to my employee. The bigger the check, the better. Knowing that one of my guys can take his family to circus this weekend or buy braces for his daughter because we did well is a great feeling. I need to make wise decisions to keep giving my employees the peace of mind that comes with getting a paycheck.

So I had to educate myself.

So, you taught yourself SEO?

Yep. I went to the Warrior Forums, SEOMoz, etc. I learned how important keywords were. I looked at the content the SEO guys had put on my site to target certain keywords. When I read it, it sound like the writer had no idea what he was talking about. I don’t want my customers reading that. So I rewrote everything myself. I learned how to tag pictures, h1s, h2s, page titles, the works.

And what happened to your organic traffic as a result?

I went from about 12 views/day to 200 on a good day.

And how did that increased traffic turn into business?

Probably tripled my business based on dollars banked. And as my Internet business has grown, I am definitely seeing more competition for the big keywords. With the increase in income, I started investing in local radio ads so I didn’t have to rely on Google. Good thing too, because I got hit on May 21st by a Google update. My traffic is down about 50%.

What do you think happened?

I was using Backlinks Genie. That’s what one of the forums told me to use. What I didn’t realize the pages I was promoting, I was promoting with one keyword. I learned a lot of things in life the hard way. Now I am trying to learn about link disavowal to fix the problems.

About how much time each week do you spend on SEO?

I easily spend 20 hours/week on SEO. I am generating a good income from my website.

Besides SEO, what other local digital marketing do you do?

I pay Yelp $350/month, Kudzu about $550. The ROI on Yelp is great. It pays for itself. That said, I do have an issue with Yelp — my customer reviews got filtered. We try to get a lot of reviews from our customers, so when they don’t show up it’s pretty frustrating.

Do you do any email marketing?

Not much. I find it pretty intrusive. The only thing I do is send customers a reminder about their yearly warranty. I did do a newsletter a few years back, but it wasn’t bringing extra business.

What do you think of mobile marketing?

I see the trends, not just with me but with my kids. Youdesign is the mobile template I switched to. I am thinking about building an app for realtors so they can schedule an inspection in one step.

What about social media?

I have a fairly active Facebook page. But Twitter was another mistake. I hired a company that specialized in local Twitter marketing and now my site has been marked as a spam site by Twitter.

What do you have planned for the next 6-12 months on the Web?

More of the same. I want to stay on the cutting edge of Internet marketing. Radio is good, but we are going to see dramatic changes when the Web takes over radio. The good news is part of my radio ads go out over the stations’ Web streams.

What advice do you have for marketers who want to get your business?

I get bombarded every day with SEO people who have the miracle cure. Sound like car salesmen. People call and say, “Hey you don’t have enough h1 and h2 tags so you’re losing money.” The Fear Factor approach.

I’d say I get two calls per day from Internet marketers and I hear the same sales pitch over and over. Instead of the car salesman pitch, educate me. I know that if the guy’s talking 90 mph, he doesn’t know what my needs are. You need to evaluate the problem and listen to the customer, instead of trying to sell them.

And, of course, what everyone really wants to know is: When are you next on Property Wars?

Not sure, but stay tuned to Discovery: Property Wars.

Be sure to check out the awesome theme song at the end of Bill’s video: YouTube Preview Image

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column | Search Marketing: Local Search Marketing


About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

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  • Ben Wright

    Wow, could not imagine a greater follow up post Andrew. This dialogue with Bill is gold for all small business owners AND search marketers.

    Could not be better advice for many in our industry when he said, “I know that if the guy’s talking 90 mph, he doesn’t know what my needs are. You need to evaluate the problem and listen to the customer, instead of trying to sell them.”

    A great example of that is how Andrew asked simple questions and let Bill talk about his business. Most small business owners are very passionate about what they do and this is the best way to find out what their true needs are… THEN address how you can help them get satisfy that need.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I have worked with many site owners that have been burned just like Bill was and it’s always so disheartening to hear of SEO “experts” that actually make things worse for their clients. If you don’t really, truly know what you are doing and actually want to help other business owners out why are you in business in the first place? It’s good to hear that Bill still understands the value of SEO and took it upon himself to learn what he needed to know. Many site owners would just call the whole thing a waste.

  • Chris Mack

    It’s so hard for small business owners to navigate the SEO world. There are so many people (including legit web shops) who don’t know what they’re doing but promise results. I hold out great hope for marketing automation software which lets the small business owner do it themselves (Iike Bill) but not have to spend anywhere near the amount of time on it as he did.

  • Brittany Botti

    Great interview…it’s a shame that there are so many companies that claim to specialize in web development or SEO that just prey on small business owners. It’s definitely best to work with the companies that take the time to educate you instead of just telling you what you want to hear. I wouldn’t trust any web company that promises quick results and miracle cures.

  • Doug Montgomery

    That’s what’s so troubling about this. The SMB’s need to focus on improving their business from the inside, not spending 20+ hours a week doing SEO.

  • James Tucker

    I am so happy to see articles relating to the small business owners perspectives here on Search Engine Land. This man’s experience isn’t an isolated one. There are literally thousands of small business owners losing thousands of dollars everyday on SEO and SEM firms. While Search Engine Land is great for SEO and SEM professionals I have always believed it to be more important to Small Business Owners to get a better understanding of how online marketing works. The more informed a business owner is on the subject the less likely they will encounter roadblocks and pitfalls like Bill did.

  • Daniel C Berman

    These types of stories of small business owners learning how to market themselves online, need to be told more often. Bill’s story is a cautionary tale to all marketers as well as encouragement to small business owners that it is indeed possible to survive and thrive with the internet.

  • Vik Chhabra

    $550/mth to Kudzu?

  • Andrew Shotland

    Nice Caleb. My real motive in writing these articles is to get these guys free SEO advice :)

  • Terry Wall

    Hi, Andrew! As you well know, I was on the SEO/SEM side of things for many years. Now I’m a SMB, or as “Bill” calls it a SBO (which makes more sense, by the way), and when I’m in my office, I’ll bet MY phone rings twice a day from folks peddling their SEO/SEM wares. In the few times I actually take the call, it’s amusing to joust with these people, especially after telling them I’ve been on that side of the business and likely know more about it than they do! But listening skills are typically not their strong suit and I wind up just ending the call. Then are the “press one” robo calls, which I don’t answer at all. Unfortunately, too many of these companies are under pressure to drive volume (a.k.a. “churn and burn”) to listen to what a business owner really needs. Just my $0.02.

  • Vermont Design Works

    Bill isn’t alone with those calls from supposed SEOs. I say “supposed” because I believe they are blackhat/webspammer types. First of all, they’re weasels and liars who call up reading a script that says they “work with” (as if they’re partners) Google/Yahoo!/Bing and then say that they have “openings” in the top positions… We get these calls and we’re a web design/development and SEO firm! We’ve actually gotten 2 after-hours voicemails about 6 months apart that were from two different guys but were clearly reading from the exact same script. I immediately knew that every word on the second call was verbatim what I’d heard 6 months earlier.

    It’s really sad and disgusting because we get calls from worried clients (SMB owners) who say I got a call today that says I need this or that. Most infuriating, to me, is when people tell them they need “meta keywords” to rank in Google. For that reason we often put in a few obvious ones just to ease their minds, but it’s such a waste of time.

    These are clearly shysters, so it’s difficult to understand how they stay alive, but I guess it’s a volume game – trick a small percentage of people and hit them each up for several hundred dollars per month and you can pay the bills I guess. Sadly there are just too many business owners out there who aren’t like Bill and will keep falling for the schemes and scams. Not sure that’ll ever change.

  • Chris Mack

    Agreed. But the SEO world is just so full of promises, and often lacking in results. Marketing automation software will ease the burden of learning SEO because it automates the basics, whilst still teaching the business owner about good practices so they don’t get taken for a ride by consultants.

  • David Perkins

    If all business owners were as savvy as Bill has become, all SEO professionals would be out of business. It’s sad that he had to come by that knowledge the way he did, but it would be nice if most business owners had a sampling of Bill’s understanding of web marketing. Of course, that’s OUR opportunity as professionals to educate. Bill is 100% right; we can’t try to shoehorn our services into every business model. We have to listen to what the business owner’s goals are and what he or she thinks the business needs, then try to determine whether or not we can help.

    If we disagree with the owners’ ideas, that’s when we need to educate and try to steer them in the direction we think will most benefit their businesses. If that can’t be done, then maybe that business is just not supposed to be your client. And, it’s always possible that they’re right.

  • Colleen Lynn

    I get so much SEO spam that I almost didn’t believe today that a real client needed my help. I initially thought the email was a trick just for me to reply (about 5 other SEO real spams came in within a short period). It is very good to hear from a small business owner. This man’s story is amazing. Several of my small business clients are extremely active in SEO as well. I am sure to send out cautionary notes when important Panda updates come out and remind them of best practices. It’s a role change for me, an important one. They are not reading Search Engine Land!

  • Peter Odryna

    Andrew, nice article. Especially the depth of information from Bill. I have a dozen friends that could have benefited from this advice over the past few years. I especially applaud your presentation format because it hits home for so many people.

    p.s. The only reason I came across this article is that we at SocialEars are working with a client that is making the transition from SEO optimization to content based inbound marketing. Your article came to the top of the analytics process as a very widely shared article regarding SEO. Congrats!

  • Nick Ortiz

    So, did he drop the YP completely, or just reduce?

  • Steve

    A great article and interview, exposing the reality of being a SEO in a sea of “flakes.”

  • Heather Cuthill

    Oh boy, does THAT sound familiar! We were burned by both SEO people and by website developers. The third (and last) time was when we decided to hire an inhouse programmer. We also began educating ourselves in much the same way Bill did, and now we use the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained by helping other local SMBs fix technical problems and improve SEO on their websites. As a result, the local online community functions better, we forge valuable relationships with other business owners, and we keep learning more and more! All good.

  • Dana Jaunzemis

    Bill’s story highlights the complexity of communicating the essence of a small business like only the owner or key employees can. While many have stated that Bill should not have to spend 20 hours per week on SEO, what he is really doing is spending 20 hours per week communicating value and customer service online which for many small businesses cannot be outsourced because they are the ones who truly understand pest control. If Bill were not spending his time learning the online world, would he have realized the need for an app for realtors?

    Bill is the epitome of the E-Myth concept … ‘work on your business, not in your business’. Way to go Bill!

  • Jenny Halasz

    Wow Andrew, what a great story! *waves*. This is exactly why I got out of the big agency game a couple years ago and started my own thing. It’s really sad to me how few options SBOs have… and Google is making it harder and harder to compete. I guess my number one advice to all the SBOs out there is – never hire someone who calls you. The good SEOs have enough work that they don’t have to prospect or cold call. My business is 100% referral. Sort of like “never hire a lawyer in a hospital”. If they’re chasing you, they’re not any good.

  • Andrew Shotland

    Jenny, “never hire someone who calls you” I totally agree.

    I am sometimes reluctant to say stuff like that because it sounds kind of snobby – “Oooh a good SEO shouldn’t have to do outbound…”, but there’s a way to do outbound in a way that’s not intrusive. Write informative stuff on search marketing news sites for example :P

  • Matt McGee

    No worries, Andrew — I said it for you already:

    Point #2 — “Don’t hire anyone who contacts you first.” :-)

  • Andrew Shotland

    well played Msquared

  • Jenny Halasz

    Nicely put, Matt. Yeah, I know it sounds snobby. But those of us who are good at what we do either get enough referrals or write on sites like this one. ;-)

  • Ben Wright

    Jenny, Great point… but you have to start somewhere. Even SBOs have to get out and hustle to get their first few clients.

  • Jenny Halasz

    True, true. But they don’t cold call hundreds of people a day and sound like they’re reading from a script. At least they shouldn’t.

  • Frank Goley

    Really enjoyed this. I really agree with Bill about an SEO listening to the client and really understanding the client’s business, strategic direction, objectives, goals, etc. Then and only then can a marketing strategy be researched, developed and implemented. First and foremost I am a business consultant so when I speak with clients about SEO, I first talk about them, their business and vision. Then I talk about Web Design and Web development because good SEO is all about good design, usability and structure. Then and only then does speaking specifics of SEO strategy make sense in my book. SEO is pretty simple once you have all the technical parts handled. Good, targeted, relevant content. That’s it.


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