Fast Food Logos

SEO Fast Food: I’ll Take #1 Ranking with That, but Hold the Fries

Sometimes it seems like people think SEO is the fast food of online marketing… Potential client pulls up to the order window.

Sometimes it seems like people think SEO is the fast food of online marketing…
Potential client pulls up to the order window. “Yeah, um, I’ll take first place ranking for that extremely competitive key term? But, uh, hold the long tail.”
The optimizer on the other end of the speaker starts calculating costs, time and manpower. “Of course – and you want that when?”
“Now, please.”

SEO – Fast Food Style

Think about fast food for a moment. For many people, fast food smells good, looks good, tastes good, and it’s cheap. – But it’s not really good for you, is it? Tons of calories, lots of fat and not much nourishment. Well, fast food SEO is much the same, and it comes with a lot of fine print. So much for holding the fries…

  • We’ll submit your site to thousands of search engines 1
  • We’ll get you on the front page of Google 2
  • We’ll build you a sitemap so the search engines can see it 3
  • We’ll do all this for $49.99 a month 4

Fine print:

If you don’t get results, it’s not our fault and you can’t blame us.

  1. Yes, we know this is useless, but you don’t
  2. For noncompetitive, we-get-to-choose terms
  3. Of course, you don’t need a sitemap if your site layout is clean, but we’re not going to tell you that
  4. Anything extra will cost you an arm and a leg – and maybe your first born, but we’ll discuss that later.

Can’t Get A Star SEO

Cost: Cheap

All right! We’ve moved up a notch in the SEO restaurants to serving a side salad with the specialty house dressing of unknown links. You get your search engine submissions, your sitemap, and your front-page ranking for ain’t-crap terms, but that’s not all! We’ll throw in a boatload of links just for you. This delightful package is yours for just $59.99 a month!

Looks good, smells good, tastes good, it’s cheap… and it has that magic word in it: links. Do you know where those links are coming from, though? Often, promises of thousands of links mean just that – thousands of links. In other words, you get quantity, not quality:

  • Automated submissions
  • Crappy directories
  • Links buried so deep you wouldn’t find them in a million years

… but lots of them, so… bonus (notice the sarcasm).

One Star SEO

MICHELIN Guide meaning – Very good in its category
Average Cost: Fairly inexpensive

Now, the meaning of stars for restaurant ratings all depends on the place doing the rating. For instance, the Dallas Morning News says a single star is “fair”, but “the experience is generally disappointing”. The MICHELIN Guide, however, says a single star is “very good in its category”. Yeah… we’re going with that one.

One star SEO isn’t so craptastic as the above examples and it’s still cheap. These purveyors of optimizational (new word!) delights generally lay them out like a cost buffet. Each step of SEO has a price; you can choose what type of optimization you want done.

It might bring you traffic. It might even bring you a little bit of targeted traffic. Chances are, however, that the traffic won’t continue to build and your site will be hungry again. This isn’t a statement against the one star SEO firms; they do what they can, but you can only do so much with a little here and a little there.

Choosing a one star SEO firm isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s like eating at a family restaurant – it depends on what you’re looking for. One star firms are for those who a) have a tight budget or b) aren’t serious about optimization.

★★ Two Star SEO

MICHELIN Guide meaning – Excellent and worth a detour
Average Cost: Expensive

If you’re looking at two star SEO companies, you’ve become serious about feeding your website good traffic. You also have to have a strong marketing budget; it doesn’t come cheap.

Your two star SEO company will start asking intrusive questions like, “What goals do you want to reach with this campaign,” and “what kind of SEO have you done in the past”. These questions are equivalent to “Would you like a glass of wine with your meal?”

They lay out three course meals, each necessary for a great dining experience. SEO becomes a set of “phases”, starting with the first course, or the SEO audit. They hand over an in depth benchmark metrics report with all the flair of an experienced maître d’, along with recommendations of what wine would go well with your main course (the campaign).

Specialists in their field – professional, technological maître d’s – two star SEO companies provide a long lasting meal of nutritious traffic for your website. Hormone-free, non-genetically modified, organic SEO.

★★★Three Star SEO

MICHELIN Guide meaning – Exceptional and worth the journey
Cost: If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it

There aren’t many restaurants that warrant the MICHELIN three star rating; there aren’t many SEO companies, either. Vibrant ambiance, gracious service, delectable menu and an award-winning chef are all part and partial for this type of company.

The guiding rule for those wondering if they should hire a three star SEO company is, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” Gone are the monthly or quarterly reports; the chef is doing his job, it’s reflected in your company bank account, and if you want to know whether your traffic is up, you know how to get into your analytics.

If you’ve signed up with a three star SEO company, you get the full treatment – the tasting menu and a matching glass of wine with each small, savory course. Here, you don’t tell the chef, “Wait a minute, I don’t need all this. I need…” It is assumed that, since you came to them, you obviously don’t know what you need – that is, after all, why you came to the professionals. You have a job to do, and that job is to enjoy the meal, as it’s served. Including the petit four between meals & a sommelier for your 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Now, this description may sound forceful and a little rude. However, by the end of the meal, your site is full of traffic – good, quality, tasty traffic. It smells good, it looks good, it tastes good… and it’s wonderfully nutritious.


Why the analogy of the restaurants? Your website is a traffic-guzzling machine with a bottomless pit for a stomach. It’s always going to be hungry for more visitors; to be more succinct, you’re always going to be hungry for more visitors.

You may be looking at how many unique visitors you’re getting and think, “Gee, it’d be nice to get up to 1,000 per month.” However, once you get there, you won’t celebrate for long. In a couple of days, you’ll be looking longingly at that 2,000 a month mark, or 4,000 and so on.

The thing to remember is, you won’t get there with fast food SEO or can’t-get-a-star SEO. Look at what you need to accomplish, how much you’re willing to spend, and how important increased traffic is to you… before you ever go shopping for an optimization company.

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11 Responses

  1. Yeah, it’s crazy. People want Steak but can only afford to pay for 99 cent tacos from Jack in the Box. Just to follow your analogy. I agree with knowing what you’re hoping to get out of it, your budget and how much traffic is worth to you but I think you also need to think of timelines. Often times small businesses have very short time lines and that more and likely means they’ll need to spend more in the beginning to get off the starting line.

  2. Great analogy, SEO-Restaurants. It’s almost the same thing if you think in that way. Customers should understand that SEO is a long process, you can’t do it over night.

  3. Interesting analogy. It’s true that you get what you pay for when it comes to fast food and SEO services. The vast majority of the SEO companies simply mimic popular trends and do what everyone else is doing – very few account for changing search engine algorithms or do anything to provide lasting long-term value.

    The sad thing is you can’t really blame them for this; site owners that hire them probably want a one off- cheapo deal where they pay 40 or 50 Dollars a month to get X number of visitors each month. Neither the webmasters nor the SEO experts look beyond a few simple metrics to determine the success of their campaigns and they suffer in the long run because of it.

    1. Ah.. the hard truth of supply and demand, right? Demand – cheap, quick, based on numbers results; supplied – fast food SEO. Then again, I think the problem also comes from the number of so-called SEOs (<< read "snake oil salesmen" here) telling site owners that the fast food will be as nourishing and tasty as three star. So, it's a two-fold problem; many site owners still don't see the real value in SEO, and many snakes say it's fast and cheap.

      Thanks for commenting, Alex! Come back again!

  4. Awesome analogy and extremely spot on for each tier of service. It’s unfortunate that a lot of hype (useless numbers and figures) and good marketing convinces people to go with one star SEO companies that look like three star…..

    Our industry is full of people that feed the fast food SEO perception which is a brilliant juxtaposition. There will always be the fast food SEO mentality amongst people who don’ t truly understand it, but the hope is that going forward more and more people become aware of the ‘fine dining experience’, and what a true SEO company is suppose to provide.

  5. I work as a web designer and this is a great way of looking at the entire SEO department. All too often sites come to us after having already had SEO placed on their site and are in a complete mess, require a lot of time to sort out and a lot of man power to ensure that it starts to see the results that they were originally hoping for.

    What I find very strange about the SEO world, is how some companies don’t seem to be able to keep up with the ever changing and developing algorithms, yet still provide SEO services that just don’t work. It’s frustrating to say the very least, however working for a company that has taught me everything I know about SEO, I realise I’m in a privileged position to be able to cast a critical eye over what others do.

  6. What a delicious post!

    Your excellent explanations of the different grades of SEO connected very well for me. I entered the SEO game after a long career in restaurants, the last 8+ managing fine dining.

    1. Ha! Eldad, then you know what I’m talking about. Especially given the fact I was in the hospitality industry throughout my college years then on for an additional 10 years after that. I went as far as Co-owning a restaurant in my 30’s in San Francisco. Then like any other cook who gets C.T.S. (carpal tunnel syndrome) I had to change careers. 😉 So what did I decide to get into? LOL working in the industry & the rest is history!

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