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The lack of regulation and transparency around the Australian SEO industry is allowing shonky operators to continue unfettered and damaging the reputation of the entire industry.


The Australian SEO industry is in urgent need of an overhaul, with the lack of regulation and transparency allowing shonky operators to continue unfettered – damaging the reputation of the entire industry and causing some businesses to avoid SEO altogether for fear of being ripped-off, according Nathan Elly, head of the Melbourne branch of global digital marketing firm Digital Next.

Digital Next is a full-service digital agency which specialises in SEO, web design, and pay-per-click advertising.  Established in the UK as a no-contract service in 2008, Digital Next has offices in five countries across the globe. Its Melbourne office, which was opened in 2014, services small to medium businesses across a range of industries.

Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a website on unpaid search engine result pages.

Mr Elly said he didn’t believe the SEO industry deserved the bad reputation brought upon it by some “bad apples,” as he had witnessed the fortunes of many businesses turned around in the course of a few months as a direct result of an effective SEO campaign.

He also acknowledges a number of new agencies growing naturally off the back of good transparent work.

“We have seen SEO do amazing things for businesses – for instance, one of our customers went from $20,000 a month in sales to $350,000 a month in sales over the course of four months, just through increasing their Organic Google ranking. I’m not sure there are many other marketing avenues that are quite as effective,” Mr Elly said.

Despite this, many “sharks’’ in the burgeoning Australian industry were targeting small businesses to take advantage of their lack of knowledge of SEO practices.

Mr Elly said small businesses were being locked into SEO contracts of up to two years, with retainers ranging from $250 to $3,000 per month. Many had no way of getting out of those contracts when results fell far short of those initially promised.  

 “Unfortunately, most of our clients come to Digital Next after being burnt by SEO companies who prey on small businesses.  Many come to us after they have been paying for services for 6 to 12 months and not seeing any movement or any accountable work,” he said.

He said aside from Google’s best practice guidelines for all SEO companies - which many did not adhere to - there was no external regulation of the SEO industry in Australia. This was due mostly to it being a “young industry”, as well as its ever-evolving nature.

“It’s like asking people to govern something that they don’t fully understand. Also, its constantly expanding, and they don’t understand the mechanism. The mysticism of search rankings can be compared in some capacity to the recipe of Coca-Cola,” Mr Elly said.

Mr Elly said there were a number of measures that could be taken to improve the SEO industry and begin  to restore its reputation in the eyes of customers.  

“Firstly, the industry needs to get rid of lock-in contracts. If an SEO company is confident of the work they do, there is no need for a contract.  At Digital Next we go month by month with all of our customers, and that works fine,” he said.

Mr Elly also said the onus should be on SEO agencies to educate their customers about SEO, rather than leaving them in the dark about the process.

“Transparency is vital. At Digital Next we have regular meetings with our customers, where we explain to them exactly what we are doing to achieve their results. We give them the chance to ask questions about any aspects of SEO they are unclear about. Given that SEO is not always smooth sailing, the more clients understand, the more they can see what you are trying to achieve,” he said.

Mr Elly said also recommended the formation of a trusted industry body as another step to cleaning up the sector.

“’I think there should be some kind of industry association which can carry out due diligence checks on SEO practitioners. Because they would actually have that inside industry knowledge to judge work and judge methodologies,” he said.

For more information, please go to www.digital-next.com.au.
Digital Next is a Digital Marketing Agency based in Melbourne. Its tailored solutions include PPC Management, Web Design & SEO.
For more information, go to www.digital-next.com.au.
For more details, interviews and photo opportunities with Digital Next please contact:
Sonja Viduka at SoVi Communications on 0425 718 662 or email info@sovi.com.au.