Have you ever been lied to?

Of course you have, and when you found out — it probably hurt. However, if you owned one of the companies whose story I’m about to tell you, the real pain was felt in their bank accounts.

I’m talking about a huge financial loss — in the thousands of dollars … monthly.

I operate a company that helps roofers generate quality leads.

In the normal course of a week, I’ll talk to multiple roofing contractors in North America and they all want to talk about their marketing — specifically their online lead generation.

It would be easy for me to tell you a happy story about rainbows, unicorns and pixie dust (or at least a story about an owner that shattered his former sales records once he got enough visibility in search engines) but this isn’t that story.

This story is about trickery, mischief, deception, and fraud. Oh, and lies. Lots and lots of lies. If you own a contracting firm or are tied in some way to the profits and losses of that firm, this is definitely for you. The only roofers who might not benefit from this are if you’re not now — and you don’t think you’ll ever want or need to get business from your website.

Even then, I’d encourage you to read this because many if not most roofing sales today start with an online search. If you’re not found in search engines, for most purposes, your company doesn’t exist.

Now, if you’re seeking to grow your roofing company a little (or a lot), listen closely.

Why? Because you’re online now. You have a website. You’re reading about how to get business from social media. Maybe you’re running Google AdWords, Facebook or other pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Perhaps you’ve hired an SEO firm to help you.

If you said “yes” to any of those, then this story could have happened to you. It’s possible that it’s happening to you right now.

The Mark

Until recently, the worst case of a roofing contractor getting ripped off happened about two years ago when the owner of a West Coast firm wrote to me with his story. He had a website, but it didn’t produce much. One day he was contacted by a huge company that sold him on building and marketing a new website.

Of course, there was a sizable upfront fee and a large monthly commitment for the marketing. But the promises were so powerful: “You’ll be on the first page and blah, blah, blah.”

He paid, and nothing happened.

His site was invisible for important keywords, and the marketing they promised, for whatever reason, didn’t work. The phone wasn’t ringing and he wasn’t getting very many opportunities. He called to complain that he was going broke, and they responded by telling him not to worry — “The contract ends after a year and you can quit then.”

He was in a difficult situation. If he stopped paying on the agreement, they’d sue. He said, “I’d have done just as well flushing the money down the toilet.” These type of stories hurt me — and they’re all too common. Just to hear them is painful, because it doesn’t have to happen.

I said earlier that his was the worst scam job I’d seen until recently.

Not long ago, a sales manager for a well-established, regional roofing contractor called and said that despite its great reputation, the company struggled a bit with the transition from getting business from the phonebook to generating business from the Internet.

Like so many others they’ve been seeking a way to get their phone to ring like it used to.

Today, however, most contractors need to be found where the market is looking for products and services. They need to be visible in search engines like Google. The Internet is a whole different world from directory ads and to many, it’s confusing. The rules are always changing.

It’s to your advantage to have someone guide you through the dangerous parts. Or at least the parts where you can blow a whole lot of cash and not accomplish much.

If you can relate to any of this, it’s probably because you’ve hired a person to help you with online marketing. Maybe you’ve hired someone multiple times. Perhaps you have someone working to help you now.

In some cases, you’ll hire someone who’s honest, understands search engine marketing and can help. In other cases, you may end up hiring someone who talks a good game but fails to deliver.

Or, like in this case, you hire a search engine optimization (SEO), or SEM or social media expert, several months go by, and the results are thin at best. Or in the worst case scenario, you find you’re being robbed by the people you’re working with.

Why does it happen? Well, the short answer is that you didn’t know what you didn’t know — and the scammer figured that out. You were, in grifter’s terms, a “mark” — easy pickings for a professional thief.

Online Marketing, Simplified

No matter what you’ve heard about having your site rank in Google — the process is really straightforward and fairly easy to understand if you know what to look for.

Google regularly “crawls” every website they can find on a regular basis. If you have a site now, it’s almost certain that Google knows about it.

As it crawls the web it’s gathering data for the search engine.

On your site it collects metadata, which includes the title tag and a variety of other bits and pieces of information. It analyzes the content on your pages to see if it’s original or simply copied from someone or somewhere else.

Further analysis determines if the content is of good “quality” or not as well as the speed of the site and whether or not it’s mobile friendly. The information determines where the site belongs in the index of all websites. So the very heart of getting your business found on Google and getting online leads is to have a site that Google thinks is one of the best for the keywords you want to rank for.

While there are at least 200 factors that determine the rankings, one of the big ones is the “authority” of your site. How strong is your site compared to others like it? Authority is gained when other people like your site enough to link to it.

As long as Google has been around, backlinks have been the key to gaining authority.

However, all links aren’t the same. Links to your site are more valuable if the site linking to yours is a quality site itself. The links are more valuable if they’re from a relevant or related industry site.

So links from your roofing association are very valuable, as are links from directories of roofing contractors. When high-value, relevant or related sites link to your site, your authority increases. As your authority goes up, so do your rankings. If our sites are of equally good quality, but you have more authority than I do — your site will rank ahead of mine.

A Forensic Analysis

I described earlier getting that phone call from a roofing company sales manager. He said he hired a company to help with search-engine marketing, but when the contract expired, he decided to try something different. The new agency spoke convincingly about their ability and expertise in getting businesses ranked and making their phones ring.

They built a new website upon getting hired, and their job included managing the Google AdWords account (PPC ads) and their SEO.

But seven months into the process they weren’t getting any calls. The agency was billing them for more than 100 PPC “clicks” on their ads each month, plus additional fees for SEO. Monthly fees totaling more than $5,000.

So at their request, I started digging. I ran reports to see: what pages Google indexed; their quality scores and site content; how well their site was optimized for SEO; any backlinks they gained; what keywords they were ranked for; and how their PPC advertising was working.

What I found was frightening. The agency talked about what they were doing, but in reality, they weren’t doing anything (other than billing the client).

An advanced tool I used showed me that the agency wasn’t running PPC ads on a regular basis, even though they reported doing so.

I asked the contractor to help me access their Google AdWords or Analytics account and was told by the agency, “Sorry, that’s proprietary info.”

However it’s provided by Google to the advertiser for free, so we asked again. This time, we were told that the client information was in a management account and if she showed it to us, we’d also see the information from other clients.

The client asked why they couldn’t see their own ads when they search for them and were told, “Google blocks them, so you don’t accidentally click on them.” They actually don’t.

There were very few keywords that they ranked for at all — and many of the ones that did show up in Google for weren’t terms that would generate leads for a roofing contractor. To be fair, they did rank for a few good terms, like ‘commercial roofing NJ’, but they weren’t ranked on page one, so no one would find them even if they searched the term.

The backlinks report showed that the only links they had came from one of their materials manufacturing partners. The links were of limited value and on their own wouldn’t help the company rank highly in search engines. That takes a diverse collection of quality backlinks to your site.

My report showing on-page optimization of their site revealed that not even the most basic things were done to prepare the site for Google. The content itself was thin and in many places it was duplicated from one page to another. A total no-no if you want to win the Google game.

The agency said, “Google loves your site — it’s optimized perfectly, and we don’t understand why it’s not ranking better.” Another blatant lie.

As I looked deeper, I became convinced that the agency was defrauding them. They were billing the contractor for work they never did. They continued to bill for PPC ads and SEO that they weren’t doing.

The statements they made were all lies.

Knowing the Unknown

As I laid out my case for how badly they were being ripped off, it was clear that this happened because the contractor didn’t know what they didn’t know. They didn’t know what questions needed to be asked and answered to prove your competence. The agency, ethically challenged as they seemed to be, took advantage of this.

Sadly, the lies continued to the end of the relationship. The morning the contractor canceled the project, the agency reported that there were more than 25 clicks that had come in on the ads from that morning.

But since we had already built a new site, our analytics were tracking from the moment we switched to the new site. There was one click — and that click was mine. I needed to test where the ads (which happened to be running that day) would take someone who clicked.

I’ll conclude by saying that being a contractor is hard enough without having to defend your firm from thieves or incompetent freelancers. What with regulations, taxes, etc., the last thing you need is to get robbed by your marketing partner, right?

It’s important to state that most of the difficulty in getting your business ranked well in Google and being the dominant roofer in your marketplace doesn’t come from hiring someone who cheats you. In my experience, that’s pretty rare.

Most of it comes from incompetence. Most of the freelancers and small marketing agencies simply haven’t learned what works and how to do it properly. If you ask for proof of their prior successes, they usually can’t offer you any.

Much like “Chuck in a truck” is working the same neighborhoods you are, these folks are selling something they simply can’t deliver.

Is this happening to you? Look on page 44 for some critical questions to ask when hiring a marketing partner. Remember, these fairly simple questions will create a discussion that will tell you a lot about the person who’s trying to sell to you. If you can meet face-to-face, you’ll learn much by watching their eyes as they answer your questions. You’ll communicate clearly that you know what it’ll take to get the results you require.