The Ugly Truth About SEO Agencies in Dubai UAE

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Thinking of hiring an SEO agency in Dubai UAE to get your company’s website or blog on the first page of Google? Read this first to discover the ugly truth about how SEO has drastically changed in the past few years and how SEO agencies in Dubai UAE are still charging large fees for SEO techniques that no longer work and may actually harm your website’s rank in Google Search.

Key points:

  1. SEO is dead.
  2. Content marketing is now responsible for 90% of your website’s rank in Google search results.
  3. SEO agencies in Dubai UAE are still charging you money to do obsolete SEO practices that harm your website and may prevent prospective customers from finding you on Google.

One of the most popular and expensive digital marketing services offered by agencies in Dubai is search engine optimization (SEO). That makes sense, since getting found by prospective customers on search engines like Google is more important than ever these days. But is that money well spent?

My experience working in Dubai makes me doubt that it is. After working with several SEO agencies in Dubai and going undercover as a prospective client at many others to evaluate their practices, I have been forced to the conclusion that all or most SEO agencies in Dubai are scams. Anyone who understands how SEO has changed in past few years would say the same thing.

But don’t worry, in this post I’ll tell you everything you need to know about SEO to get your website found on search engines and to avoid wasting money on SEO agency scams.

SEO Definition

In case you need a reminder, search engine optimization (SEO) is the branch of digital marketing that tries to get websites to appear on the first page of results on search engines like Google when users search for relevant keywords. So if you’re a cake bakery in Dubai, the goal of your SEO might be to make your website appear on the first page of search results when someone in Dubai searches Google for “birthday cake dubai”.

The good old days

Way back in 1996, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University named Larry Page had a revolutionary idea: to build a search engine that ranked websites based on how many other websites linked to them. Counting inbound links was an ingenious way to estimate websites’ popularity and quality. He named his creation “Google”.

This revolutionary inbound linking algorithm catapulted Google to global dominance. But unfortunately, clever website owners found sneaky ways to trick Google’s algorithm. Instead of creating great content that other website owner’s wanted to link to, they bought links, exchanged links, put links on fake sites and low-quality article directories, and inserted links in spam comments on other blogs and forums. These tricks artificially inflated their website’s value to Google’s original algorithm. Soon, these devious tricks to cheat Google were turned into a formal industry called SEO.

Google’s SEO Apocalypse

Then in 2011, Google’s web spam team got a new sheriff named Matt Cutts. Cutts led the charge to crack down on the SEO cheaters. He completely overhauled Google’s algorithm, and in doing so destroyed the SEO industry forever. He oversaw the development of highly sophisticated algorithms that could tell which links were earned with high-quality, relevant, valuable content, and which were not. He set up massive ranking penalties for sites using SEO cheats. He also introduced a variety of other metrics to determine the ranking each website deserves, most of them related to content popularity and quality.

Here are the two major consequences of Google’s 2011 SEO apocalypse:

  1. All the techniques that SEO agencies used to use to cheat and trick Google into giving mediocre websites high rankings don’t work anymore. In fact, getting caught using these old tricks now results in huge ranking penalties from Google.
  2. Websites with the best content are now rewarded with higher search rankings, and websites with low-quality content are now aggressively penalized with lower search rankings.
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People often summarize these two facts with the phrase “SEO is dead, content is king”. That means that only websites with truly great content have a chance of rising to the top. It is no longer possible to to “cheat” like in the good old days—to use SEO to get a bad website on the front page of Google search results if it doesn’t really deserve to be there.

Is SEO really dead, or just neutered?

To be clear, the saying “SEO is dead, content is king” is a slight exaggeration. The truth is that about 90% of ranking highly on Google today is determined by the quality and popularity of your content, but the other 10% is still determined by certain more traditional SEO techniques. That includes HTML meta-tag optimization, site architecture, site loading time, and keyword research, for instance.

The key difference between these few remaining effective SEO techniques and the harmful ones is that these ones are not tricks or cheats; they just help Google understand what your page is about and improve your site’s user experience.

The remaining effective SEO tactics are pretty easy to learn and implement. If you decide to implement content marketing for your business, then I encourage you to also make sure whoever is responsible for it also knows how to build the few remaining effective SEO tactics into your content. If you have the time, you can easily do it yourself too. You can learn how to do modern SEO yourself using various online guides, like this one.

Did SEO agencies in Dubai UAE adapt?

Google’s transformation has effectively destroyed the old SEO industry. That’s because the new SEO is 90% content marketing and 10% conventional SEO tactics, and content marketing requires completely different skill sets and business models than the old SEO.

Some SEO agencies have adapted better than others. Many of the largest American SEO agencies, for instance, have successfully transformed into content marketing agencies. At the other extreme, the Indian SEO industry has been permanently crippled, since most Indian SEOs cannot write content in US or UK English well enough to succeed at content marketing.

What about the SEO agencies in Dubai UAE? Have they successfully adapted to meet the demands of the new content-driven SEO? When I first arrived in Dubai last September, I assumed that they must have. Here are a few short anecdotes about how badly I was mistaken. 

I found an SEO agency in Dubai that calls itself a “search optimized content marketing agency”. Because of this, I was sure that they understood everything I’ve just told you about the SEO apocalypse and the content marketing revolution. So I started freelancing for them.

The first assignment they gave me was to optimize the website content of a hotel in Casablanca. The first day, I wrote high-quality, original content for the client. But to my great surprise, when I showed the SEO agency’s director what I had written, he told me that his clients didn’t pay enough to make it cost-effective to spend the time necessary to create high-quality, valuable content like that.

He told me that instead I should insert as many keywords as possible into the client’s existing low-quality content. That’s called “keyword stuffing”, and it’s a classic SEO cheat that can get a huge ranking penalty from Google’s new algorithm. When I asked about the possible ranking penalty, he shrugged. His clients didn’t know any better, and his agency was profitable. He had no incentive to change his business model, so he didn’t.

I wanted the money, so I completed a few more keyword stuffing assignments. Eventually I realized that he had no idea what content marketing was or why it was important. He just knew it was a popular buzzword in the US and the UK that had overshadowed his entire industry. So he had put it on his company website just to stay relevant.

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More recently, I did some competitive market research on the SEO agencies in Dubai UAE. I pretended to be a prospective client and sent emails to about a dozen SEO agencies in Dubai asking about their prices and SEO practices. Most of the agencies had low-quality old-fashioned content on their own websites, so I didn’t expect much. Sure enough, the SEO practices they described in their reply emails were just as bad.

But there was one company that stood out. Their website was well-designed and the content had relatively few grammatical mistakes. Everything about them seemed more professional and competent than the rest. I expected that at least this company would be smart enough to not use obsolete and potentially harmful SEO tactics.

However, after several emails back and forth, I realized that I was utterly wrong. They told me that for 4,000 AED a month, they would write four “high-quality articles” monthly and post them on “relevant blogs and forums”. That sounded suspicious to me, so I asked to see two sample articles they had written for previous clients. Both of sample articles they sent me were were the opposite of high-quality, valuable, likable, shareable, and actionable. They were horrendously written sales pitches full of grammatical mistakes.

But the real shock came when I googled some phrases from the articles to find the “relevant blogs and forums” they were supposedly posted on. Amazingly, the agency had posted them on a low-quality article directory. That’s an old SEO trick called “article marketing” or “article directory spamming”, and it’s now heavily penalized by Google. In fact, here’s a recent YouTube video of Matt Cutts himself advising against using article directories for SEO:

So have SEO agencies in Dubai adapted to the new content-driven SEO? Sadly, no. Every single one I’ve encountered is still using obsolete SEO tricks that don’t just not help websites rank well on Google anymore; many of the tricks they’re using actually harm websites’ search rankings now.

Don’t waste your money on the obsolete and harmful practices of SEO agencies in Dubai. They will evolve eventually, but only when clients like you start demanding it. Until then, you and your company deserve better.

What you should do instead of hiring an SEO agency in Dubai UAE

So what should you to SEO your website? The simplest answer is this: forget about SEO and ignore Google; instead, just focus on creating and distributing relevant and valuable content that your customers and potential customers will love, content marketing style. Content marketing will give you 90% of your SEO results anyway.

If you can find someone to help your company implement content marketing who also understands the few remaining useful SEO tactics (yours truly, for instance), that’s ideal.

If you have a clear and compelling reason to get people onto your website, for example to generate leads, then you can also pay Google to place a pay-per-click (PPC) ad next to the organic search results. This is a great solution for companies that don’t have an established audience online yet but are willing to pay a nominal fee to get eyeballs fast. Just make sure that the ad is converting traffic efficiently enough to generate more revenue than it costs. (Conversions optimization is a huge topic, so we’ll save for that another article.)

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