A Marketing Company Commanded an Intern to Teach SEO for Them for Free


Internship wants me to teach myself SEO, do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for 5 clients, no one at company knows SEO

I began an SEO internship in the beginning of 2020. The internship is at a small digital marketing company, less than 10 people. No one at the company knows anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
The internship is unpaid and 15 hours a week. At the end of the interview they told me they want me to teach myself SEO, and that no one at the company has any idea how to do it. They want me to teach myself SEO, while doing SEO for 5 of their clients, soon to be more, and then teach my boss how to do SEO, all while not getting paid.
While I have improved traffic to some sites it is hard to say whether I am solely responsible for these results. I feel as if this isn't really an internship, because I am googling everything and figuring it all out online.
My boss comes to check up on me once an hour or so and ask why traffic to certain sites is decreasing, and to tell me another assignment he has for me.
My question is is any of this normal? How did you learn SEO? I am very new and self taught, any advice is appreciated.
108 πŸ’¬πŸ—¨

what company is it? Ot sounds like they are taking advantage of you. Can you find a paid or different internship?

discokitty6627 ✍️
I feel like you are right Idk if I wanna say the name of the company but we are located in northern New Jersey There seems to be a lot of pressure on me to deliver results quickly. I don't think anyone here knows that noticeable SEO results take months, not days

I'd like to leave a helpful comment but you lost me at "[t]he internship is unpaid". As a general rule, employment is supposed to be a two way street: you receive money in exchange for your time and/or expertise/labor.
Without delving into how on earth a digital marketing company with around 10 people can exist without someone knowing "anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)", it seems they're wanting you to acquire a skillset they themselves don't have, wish to take advantage of that…and not pay you.
So, for me, normal or abnormal regarding an unpaid internship isn't something I can respond to knowledgeably because I wouldn't work for someone without getting paid. As for how anyone learns SEO, you're already doing it. You're Googling things, joined an SEO forum and presumably you're reading the opinions of others who do SEO. The "certificate" you get from that education is to see organic website traffic increase from the baseline you started from.
If you're able to show results though, I'd renegotiate my situation with them. That's a knowledge set they need and that they should be paying for (because you can bet they're charging the customer for it).

discokitty6627 ✍️
They told me they don't want to start paying me until my skills are the same quality as other areas of the company

Same quality as…the other SEO assets they have (which is none)?
It's your time you're giving away for free but ask yourself: how do they intend to measure the "quality of your skills" when they are not knowledgeable about those same skills?
Sounds like crap to me but you're the only one who can judge.
discokitty6627 ✍️
I think they mean they want my SEO to be as good as their videography, photography, etc. which is actually really good But that isn't quantifiable
Trouble is you have to reply with "I think they mean". You don't know and their assessment isn't objective in the least. It'd be entirely their opinion and, in the meantime, they expect you to provide hours for free.
Others have pointed out the fact they're not teaching you anything (kind of the point of an internship) and, as an intern, I'd be exceptionally surprised if you have a non-compete contract clause (if you have a contract at all). If you do choose to continue this situation, I'd make damned sure the customers know who is doing the actual work…so that when you eventually do get fed up with the situation, you can go to them and offer to do the same job you were doing directly for them.
You owe this "employer" nothing and it sounds like they're taking advantage of you. If they start asking you to document what it is you do and why and still haven't offered to pay you…quit on the spot.

Leave, because what you're doing is slave labor, not an internship. An internship is where you have someone there that already knows what they're doing that can teach you. You're wasting your time, their time, and putting extra stress on yourself trying to meet demands that can't be met.
I'm pretty sure an unpaid internship for a position where you have to teach yourself the skill the internship is supposed to be for isn't legal, either.
If you actually want some help with learning SEO and need a professional that's available and able to answer your questions, PM me. I don't mind helping someone who's new at this.
None of that sounds normal. An SEO internship where you are teaching yourself how to do it. You could do the same from home and not have the stresses of management. Definitely using you to help them out with something they don't understand. I'd find out if they are getting paid for those 5 clients. You do their SEO while they make money and don't teach you anything. Dodgy shit
Nobody should be learning SEO at the expense of real businesses. I'm sure they are not being honest and upfront with their clients and telling them they have some intern learning Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on their sites.
You should leave the company. Today. I would probably be tempted to send an email to each of those clients too and tell them what exactly they are paying for.

Exactly, this the most worrying thing. You have too be really shady business if you cede responsibility for clients to unpaid intern working 15h part-time.


Like everyone else said leave. I would also report them to the department of labor. An unpaid internship is only legal if the primary beneficiary is the intern. If the employer is the primary beneficiary then the intern is considered an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act and is entitled to minimum wage. You are receiving no benefit from this job. You can learn SEO on your own without providing slave labor.
It's not normal, no. If you have nothing else going on and can spare the time, then give it a go for as long as it suits you. You may learn a few bits and bobs from practical, hands-on experience and having to solve problems you can't imagine yourself.
But the second it gets in the way of your personal life, your career, or finding a better opportunity, then get out of there like it was on fire.
Change agency. The whole idea of an internship is to learn from people that know stuff. You got scammed.
This is not a normal scenario, although a very similar thing happened to me in an internship a long time ago.
You're right to think that this is odd/wrong. They are essentially just using you.
I was in this position when I first started. Although I didn't learn much about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) while I was there, I learned a LOT about project management and aspects outside of the SEO world that actually became beneficial later on down my career.
However, I did try and get out as fast as possible once I stopped drinking the koolaid which propelled my growth and skills exponentially.
EDIT: Oh, but I was being paid. Absurdly low, but you should at least find a paid position. This place is 100% taking advantage of you.
Some companies in marketing are shit. They are using you as free labor, run and find better place. When I joined the industry (full-time paid), for the first few months I assisted other SEO users, received a lot of internal training (with dozens of one-on-one hours), and only after that got responsibility for the first client. Generally, novices in IT should have 3-6 months to get to the speed – sadly, some folks in the marketing industry doesn't adhere to that.
I've been in marketing for nearly two decades. I've run multiple agencies and know many good and bad ones, large and small. I recently fired one that I inherited from another team for being very similar to what you're describing.
No agency worth a damn would ask you to do this. It is an immediate red flag that should walk you right out the door.
Here's the thing: digital agencies are easy to make. You can get a few people together, pitch a few clients with buzzwords and trumped up experience and make some money. Pretty soon you've got a few junior people working for a pittance and are running a business, delivering the impression of results. But it is very hard to sustain this.
Your agency likely can't sustain the loss of one or two clients. All that needs to happen is for them to realize that the SEO services are coming from an unpaid intern and they'll drop your employer like a bad habit. This is probably why you're unpaid. Many small agencies are like this in a predatory fashion.
I can't speak to the legality of an internship where the employer clearly doesn't know what they're asking you to learn, but I can say definitively it is a waste of your time to try.
By definition and uhm LAW, shouldn't they be teaching you at an internship, especially if it's unpaid? Hell to the no.
Pros don't just giveaway their processes and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)s. That's worth 5 figures easy. 1 to 1 training is more valuable as well.
And you're expected to develop these assets? If no one else knows SEO in the company, how can you know if you're doing it right?? f*ck all that noise.
Are the clients being charged for the Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? That's f*cked up too if so. They shouldn't take work they don't know how to execute on; contract it out and whitelabel the work ffs.
Are they all the same kind of client? You need to adjust your playbook for local SEO VS eCom VS multi-location or national brands.
I'm expanding my business and looking for a Virtual Assistant (VA) or intern and I would never treat an unpaid employee like that. Maybe it's just because I still remember that experience from college, lol.
It may be worth it to you to stick out for a few months for resume experience, but I'd plan to jump ship.


β€’ Quit! Today. Do not pass go! Run in fact. They are messing with businesses and misrepresenting their services. You don't want to be caught up in a lawsuit if you or someone in the company makes a mistake and the client's business suffers a loss. Besides they are shits and are using you.
β€’ Invest $50 on a domain and hosting on Namecheap. Use some free keyword research tools, write some content yourself based on those keywords. Build a DIY WordPress website. (Who cares what it looks like, you are learning?) Get free images from Creative Commons.
β€’ Spend those 15 hours a week watching Brian Dean, Holly Starks, Darryl Rosser, Matt Diggity (no comments please from people who disagree on coaches, this stuff is free). They also have blogs and newsletters. Sign up. Read them.
β€’ Start testing on your own site(s)
β€’ At the same time look for jobs in the field you want. If it's SEO and digital marketing, learn the lingo and apply for entry level jobs. Do some freelancing if you need to for money.
Note: I am not talking out my a$$. I did this years ago. Spent hours a day following the, now mostly debunked, gurus of the day. Tested on some affiliate sites, learned the lingo and got a job with a company part-time as their digital marketing manager. Small town, dazzled them with my "knowledge". Fast forward 8 years and I am a marketing expert in a niche field and can offer my services for a pretty good hourly rate. I learned most of what I know while being paid by a company who knew less than I did!

Hello, read your message that, you are expertise on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Marketing, is it possible you to share, your complete details, like, direct contact and which country you based in please?
Lol just plug in some keywords on a WP site and you are at top page google… wtf you talking about? don't make this sound as simple as you have. Do you know anything about how this works?

That's a ridiculous comment. Did I say anywhere that by "plugging in some keywords you are at top of google?" No. I was encouraging OP to learn by testing on his/her own sites and not on those of paying customers. You don't learn by theory. You learn by testing.

If they don't know anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – how did they get into selling it < this is the real question…
Unfortunately, this is why some people have a negative view of SEO – they hire companies like this agency and hand over hard-earned money for no good reason. Sorry – not trying to make you feel bad but you are getting the rough end of the stick here. This is not normal, not fair on you or the clients.
The point of an internship is to learn something and hopefully gain actual on-the-job experience. If this particular internship isn't providing either for you, what is the point of staying there?
It seems like they are just trying to use you to get some free SEO spec work as well as have you knock out the miscellaneous "grunt" work that no one else wants to do, or currently knows how to do at the company.
Also… hourly check-ins for site traffic? That's unrealistic. Building up SEO is not like making instant noodles, it doesn't just magically happen.
This is not normal, it sounds like they treat you like a slave, but even slaves get fed. The one thing good about this is you get to use their contents to test out anything you learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and since you are not paid, there should be no consequence even if you mess up. If I were you, I would just experiment with everything I learn and move on, the experiences you gain can be used on your resume for your future jobs.
LEAVE. SEO best practices are always changing and if you're googling everything, it means you're not learning how to do it correctly or even how to think and adapt when the rules change because of the platform.
Internships need to provide you with learning opportunities from mentors and leadership and if you're self-teaching, that's not an internship.
The fact that no one at a digital marketing agency has any idea about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a massive red flag. SEO is an incredibly specialised field of work, but any decent digital marketer has a good level of basic understanding.
The fact that they want you to teach yourself SEO so you can teach someone else, all while not receiving any compensation is reason enough to say thanks but no thanks.
That place sounds awful.
This isn't shocking, most companies don't understand SEO, even ones who say they do it. I'm doing a podcast about this later.

discokitty6627 ✍️
What is the name of the podcast? I'd love to listen!


I'm going to play devils advocate here. While I don't necessarily agree with what they are doing, I will admit that SEO comes with many years of experience and self teaching. There is no person who has the crystal ball and can teach you everything you need to know. The thing is, you aren't qualified to earn paycheck for a skill you don't possess unless you're working at a no brainer job assembling widgets for abc corporation. I'm not talking about you specifically, just generally speaking. If this is something you are doing for college credit, then you should take this opportunity to learn as much as you can and try not to think about the benefit the company is getting from it. To be blunt, most people do all the heavy lifting for the company they work for, and rarely see any additional compensation. At the end of the day, you are going to have to self sustain in this industry. There is no job that holds the hand of their developers or SEO specialists. If you want to survive, you have to find your intrinsic motivator and push to absorb as much as you can to stay relevent. Look at this as an opportunity to refine your ability to self teach. That being said, a good starting point is to analyze your top competitors in the industry of each of your 5 projects youre working on. Try to identify what they are doing to rank at the top organically. Also, help your boss understand that the results of SEO are not seen immediately. Metrics are a lagging indicator of your hard work. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something that requires a lot of effort up front and can pay high dividends in the long run. It takes time for your implementations to pay off. I can go on and on and would gladly share with you more of my findings throughout the years if you have any questions. Just try to disconnect your feelings and understand that the task they have asked you to do is going to be for your own benefit in the years to come. You are refining your ability to self teach. Its a skill that many people don't possess, and it will separate you from the pack.
Quit the internship as soon as possible. You aren't getting paid, you aren't getting trained, you're just being taken advantage of. The fact that your boss keeps asking why traffic to certain sites is decreasing is the biggest red flag of all. They have no idea what they're talking about and it will only get worse from here. Trust me on this.
I've worked in my fair share of marketing agencies. This one is a shitstorm.
Normal internship
You are to bring something new to your internship not doing already existing job.
This is good, very good. Get books and also leave documentation, spreadsheets and progress. Document the shit out of everything you do (make copies for yourself).
During college I did internships throughout Jr & Senior semesters (including summers) … Theatre For New Plays, Public Affairs office for University and then Library of Congress … Each one I was assigned projects along with other responsibilities. You can walk away with a new skillset, teach them and have major additions to your CV.
Oh another digital marketing agency selling SEO services and doesn't know any SEO, shocker Advice: GTFO! Sorry, this really annoys me as its very common and gives the whole industry a bad name.
Anyone can teach themselves the theory behind it but putting it into practice is a different ball game. If nothing but the experience, being able to test and learn without using your own money and something to put on your resume helps then stick at it, if money is the motivating factor leave
Get out. You should not be working unpaid. And even if you don't mind not being paid, they should at the very least be providing you professional training i.e. sending you to courses, paying to educate you on the job they're trying to make you do, etc.
This is coming from someone who got into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) from a social media internship at a company where none of my co-workers knew SEO either. Googling stuff for a few months isn't going to cut it.
Edit: This isn't to say that you can't be self-taught, but it's going to take you far longer without proper guidance, which they're clearly not providing you. So unless they start paying you for your time and/or get someone knowledgeable to catch you up to speed fast, you might as well teach yourself on your own time since you're not getting paid either way.
Congratulations you're now an SEO. Tell them you need to be paid Β£60,000 a year
This! This is hilarious!
Professional marketers to lazy to read or research hire an unpaid person to read entry level things for them. I bet the leadership there brags to their friends about unpaid staff doing a critical marketing piece like this is a smart strategic thing to do.
What happens if you do out of date, extremely common bad advice, black hat suggestions and totally nuke their rankings?
"My question is is any of this normal? How did you learn SEO? I am very new and self-taught, any advice is appreciated. "
No, it is not normal, I learned SEO by practicing on various websites I created. The best thing you can do is ask them a month to prepare and listen podcasts, ted talks and read articles about the subject. Create your self a strategy and stick to it.
This is really a bad situation. Don't be upset. When I was a beginner in this field, I completely scare of how to do it and who can help me. Then I search for blogs in Google and also take the help of YouTube videos. After a long time, get a good idea about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).


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