Are SEO Agencies in South Africa Wasting your Money?

Written by
Luke Marthinusen

For as long as search engines have been around, digital marketing commentators have been predicting the death of SEO, and in turn the SEO agency. Is this gloomy destination a foregone conclusion? Are they right? What does this mean for your website?

Keep reading to find out why SEO is one of the best investments you can make into your business.

SEO is not a simple book of tricks that you can learn once and apply all the time. It's something that you need to stay up to date with — something that is constantly evolving and progressing. If you fall behind, you will have a ton of catching up to do.

Google algorithm changes

It is true that Google is continually updating their search algorithm in favour of a more natural approach. These updates are rolling out at a faster pace than ever. In 2018, they reported an incredible 3,234 updates — an average of almost 9 per day, and more than 8 times the number of updates in 2009.

The same thing happens every single year. Officially, there are just a few "core updates" that are released every two or three months, which is what most people hear about. In 2021, for example, there were three core updates. However, Google's algorithm updates take place every single day, with thousands being completed within the span of a year.

That being said, SEO agencies in South Africa and globally have been fine tuning their strategies to these ever more frequent algorithm changes from Google for years. In addition, the best SEO agencies have continued to deliver results for their clients.

Google continues to put human beings first

The latest Google algorithm update was the Product Reviews update, which is especially relevant to B2C companies and how they approach their SEO. This update targets any low quality reviews and ads.

For example, if a website reviews a product, but simply copies most of what other websites and reviewers have stated, it will hurt your website and push you down the rankings. You need to make sure that your product reviews are unique, and take a different angle compared to others.

Google will always be updating their algorithm to ensure that its search engine throws out the most relevant and highest-quality results. That's why you can't just "learn SEO and put the book away". You need to always stay up to date with what's going on in the world of Google.

Can South African SEO agencies adapt?

So the question is not "will they survive", but "how will they adapt?" And for the businesses currently working with or in the process of selecting a South African SEO agency: "Is my SEO agency agile enough to adapt to these ever more frequent changes? Or will I pay for outdated SEO strategies until my SEO agency catches up with the Google algorithm changes?" [If they ever catch up!]

These concerns are valid. I believe that many SEO agencies in South Africa are wasting their clients' money when it comes to organic searches. I very rarely consult with businesses that say things like, "My organic search is knocking it out of the park, and I love my SEO agency." That being said though, there are some excellent SEO agencies that stay on top of Google updates and always manage to get their client's pages ranking highly.

What is an SEO agency really?

So let's just be clear here on what organic search is, and what we are talking about here. Most SEO agencies in South Africa, and globally, provide three services. They might call them different things but without getting into semantics, they fall into one of three areas:

  1. Boost organic traffic on search engines of which Google owns 87% of organic traffic.
  2. Build, manage and optimise paid search ads of which Google owns 73% of market share.
  3. Build, manage and optimise paid social media ads and content promotion across various social media networks.

I believe that search agencies can easily continue to provide services 2 and 3 for their clients. But be wary of services designed to boost organic search traffic.

Be wary of the SEO agency promising organic search results

As I mentioned above, most SEO agencies can't keep up with the rate of change Google is bringing to market — no one is sitting at their desk reading each of the 10 daily algorithm updates and adjusting their work accordingly.

The business processes and optimisation methodologies of all but the best SEO agencies can't change at the same rate as Google. It's an entirely subjective opinion but I'd say most SEO agencies in South Africa are 2-4 years behind Google with their offering. Some international companies are far closer to Google's algorithm updates, but they also cost significantly more.

So to be clear, services 2 and 3 can be provided, but be wary of services designed to boost organic search traffic. And be even warier of SEO companies focusing only on search rankings, without concern for the bottom-line impact on your business.

The SEO Agency Modus Operandi

Commonly, SEO companies will tell you that it takes six months to see results in organic search, but will happily take your money. After month six they shrug their shoulders and say "your industry is difficult, it's not our fault."

You'll find most of the sales pitches include statements like, "we can get you results ASAP." Once you've signed and in the first six months, the tune will change to "you need to be patient." The sad truth is that these results never really come.

How to avoid the trap

I agree that delivering results is not something that happens overnight. But as the Chinese proverb says "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Your SEO agency should be able to show you data every step of the way that indicates a trend towards success. Success and bucket loads of high-quality traffic are not something that magically appears in month six of your SEO retainer!

If you do decide to go on a journey with an SEO company to increase your organic rankings and traffic, be clear about the results you want to see before you engage a service provider. Be clear about what your business needs and what it can afford.

Don't start the discussion with an SEO agency before you have identified the ROI you require. Give them this ROI, explain how it works, let them build it into their proposal, and hold them to their promised results if you decide to partner with them.

Never sign a retainer with an SEO agency unless there is an exit clause for non-performance.

A word on Content Marketing and Writing

Your SEO agency is not you. It's hard to really understand, educate and sell in your unique industry. SEO agencies largely produce generic content that is not relevant and often a menagerie of existing content that is already widely available on the web.

If your content is supposed to sell for you, all but the best SEO agencies are going to fail at this. Oftentimes it's best to write your own content and send it to an SEO agency to have it optimised. No one knows your business and industry as you do. Putting your own ideas out there with content marketing will prevent Google from punishing your site for plagiarism.

Final thoughts

I'm sorry if you're an SEO agency in South Africa or globally and you are reading this. I hope you are one of the good ones, the very few good ones.

I have just had too many discussions with clients and potential clients frustrated by the same thing - an inability to provide organic search results despite promises and significant sums of money being handed over every month. 

In the coming years, I believe we'll see fewer SEO companies around. Instead, we'll see integrated marketing consultancies offering a range of services including, business and process consulting, content marketing, inbound marketing, user experience and customer experience design.

These services will be much more dependable for revenue and lead flow, and yes, the organic search results that we all chasing.

Here is a list of good SEO agencies in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg too.

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