When Your SEO ‘Prospect’ Is Your Competitor

In the office, we occasionally get SEO proposal requests from existing clients and strangers who found out about Ion Global and its SEO service from searching the web (not too long ago I helped set up a page for a Hong Kong SEO service in the website). Sometimes it takes a long time before we hear their feedback about our proposals. Sometimes we don’t. Which is normal in any business, right?

But I guess it is normal in any business that sneaky folks try to dig out company methodologies and re-brand them as their property. They can come in different shapes and sizes, cunning enough to systematically steal your work that’s a product of several late hours in the office.

It’s not that I noticed someone is perpetrating the same in the work that I and my present/previous colleagues did. This type of systematic theft is an art performed by experts, polished by long experience of engaging with competitors. Scott Buresh has an article that describes how his SEO proposal ended up in another prospect’s (not his initial prospect) desk, re-skinned with the logo of the company of a certain “Mario Vargas”, a name familiar to him. Not long ago, “Mario Vargas” approached him and asked for an SEO proposal for his website and pfft he went once he got hold of the proposal.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But any company property being copied feels far from being flattered. In the SEO business, where one company already filed for bankruptcy, a lot of wannabes who don’t know business ethics, are out to build their website, copy contents from the work of others, including list of clients, blog entries, SEO techniques and renamed tools in order to gain foothold of the marketplace. This has done nothing but further tarnish the reputation of the whole SEO community, in addition to the traditional white hat vs black hat debate.

So how do we address these things? Taking some ideas from Scott’s article, we must be vigilant and look for ways to monitor competition.

1. Visit competitor web sites.
Have a list of competitors and visit their website: news, blogs, white papers, services, testimonials, everything. Contents from these websites might be plagiarized from our website whose articles spent days and numerous revisions, only to end up the company name search-and-replace’d by these people. Tools like CopyScape helps us monitor these copycats though we must not rely solely on these tools; our must be the ultimate tool to monitor all these. Be careful to enter their website by entering their URL directly and not link from a page called “List of Competitors to Monitor for Plagiarism”.

2. Monitor competitor’s marketing efforts.
We used to encounter a subtle attempt by a local competitor (of a lesser scale) trying to steal away traffic intended for us. By using the search phrase ion global in their Adwords campaign. When I spotted it, I reported it to my boss, who angrily sought advice from our corporate lawyer. Google responded to our complaint, ruled in our favor and removed that trademark keyword from that competitor’s campaign. Google normally allows advertisers to use competition-centric keywords (this works in their favor, financially) until the other party detects the unfair business practice and lodges the complaint. So monitoring our competitor in its marketing effort not only gives us idea what it’s doing but also ensure that what it’s done is not coming from us.

3. Copyright your contents.
I like this line from Scott:

I am not a lawyer, but I recommend that you copyright all of the materials on your website, your proposals, and your sales materials. Do it before you make them public. If someone copies your materials and you have the official copyright (and the person is worth anything) you will likely get a lawyer to take the case on contingency.

4. Verify the business.
Check local phone listings, verify if that person is using a corporate e-mail address or if necessary, sneak into the office lounge whose address is found at a prospect’s name card. (I know the last option is an overkill.) Sometimes, personal meetings is not enough. Verify first before spending time composing the proposal and disclosing sensitive information such as SEO methodologies.

Personally, I’d rather not engage an offending party in online flaming or burning the lines exchanging expletives, it’s not going to help at all. A class suit could probably cost more than what I really wanted to happen. Getting involved in a local SEO group will definitely help raise awareness. Being on our own will only likely create rumor mongering and black propaganda.

So the next time someone asks for a proposal, be certain this is a potential business instead of a potential information burglar.