SEO or CIA?
Your SEO provider may be using cloak and dagger techniques that could harm your company’s ranking and reputation:
How to achieve greater transparency and better marketing results
By Todd Mumford
Search Engine Optimization is nearly as old as the Internet itself, but the SEO industry remains shrouded in mystery. This is unfortunate because undercover — and sometimes underhanded — Internet marketing practices can hurt your business. James Bond, Emma Peele and Jason Bourne are sexy, intriguing fictional characters. Make certain that your real-life SEO provider passes the test for honesty, integrity and transparency.
The first step is to educate yourself about SEO. There are lots of ways to increase your website’s visibility, but none of them is magical and few are guaranteed. The Internet is littered with postings from business owners who “need 200 links NOW!” and who “MUST get page one rankings in 30 days!!!”
Ignorance is Costly
When I see service requests like those, I become alarmed. I fear that some well-meaning, but misinformed CEO is about to spend money on an SEO campaign that will yield disastrous results.
A Florida-based real estate developer, for example, acquired more than 400 links in 3 weeks. He was deliriously happy until he found out that 399 of those links originated in India and didn’t improve his rankings in the U.S. or Florida.
The developer hired a new SEO provider but didn’t change his directive: fast results by any means. He got the results he asked for — hundreds of new links — and one he didn’t expect: a one-year ban by Google from its search engine results, a penalty imposed by Google for using unfair, unscrupulous SEO tactics.
The developer spent more than $50,000 to get booted off Google.
To date, this story has no happy ending. Rather than learn from his mistakes and work with an SEO company that could restore his website’s credibility and rankings, the Florida real estate developer gave up. He decided to become an Ohio real estate developer instead and, because he’s afraid of SEO and all Internet marketing strategies, his new website is buried on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Knowledge is Free
Don’t let this happen to you. Acquaint yourself with the basics of SEO by reading a primer such as “The Beginners Guide to SEO.” Read up on Google’s Panda and Penguin updates. And then ask your current or prospective SEO provider questions such as these:
1. How will you obtain links for my website?
Your website’s reputation depends on the type of company it keeps. If you are linked to a website with a poor reputation, your rankings will suffer. If links to your website are irrelevant, your rankings will not improve. If your links are purchased or forced, you may face penalties.
If an SEO provider promises only “white hat” techniques and talks about “organic links,” that’s a good start. But ask for details. And make certain that you understand them.
Don’t settle for evasive or unsatisfactory answers. SEO is geeky but it’s not rocket science. You have a right — and a need — to understand anything that affects your company’s reputation and profits.
2. How do you choose and use keywords?
Find out if your SEO provider is using keywords relevant to your target audience.
The owner of an ecologically safe water sanitizing company recently boasted that he didn’t need SEO because his company already ranked number one on Google.
This was technically true: if you typed the company’s name into the search engine, it came up first because it was the only company with that name.
But, as you probably know, that’s not how most people search. They might type “water purification” or “clean water solutions” into a search engine box, but not the name of a company until or unless it’s known to them. Apple ranks high as a computer company rather than a fruit because the company is so well branded but, until your company reaches that level of recognition, you can’t depend on visitors to search for it by name alone.
Your company’s ranking depends on how well your SEO provider uses a variety of keywords. Find out which ones they use, how often and why.
And weigh the success of the strategy, ie, is your site traffic increasing based on the keyword strategy?
3. How do you help me outrank my competitors?
If you are in a highly competitive industry — weight loss, for example — your SEO provider faces greater challenges in achieving higher rankings for you than if your business falls within a narrow niche — massage therapy for 5-year-old harlequin Great Danes.
A reputable SEO provider will acknowledge challenges and work hard to overcome them. A less reputable company may aim for a shortcut: artificially raising your rankings by lowering those of your competitor’s.
These efforts can take various forms, including pointing bad links to your competitor’s site, posting negative fake reviews about your competitors or duplicating your competitor’s content and reporting the violation to Google.
You might not care about such practices — until your site becomes the one penalized. If it happens, you can’t blame your SEO provider. The fault and its repercussions will be yours alone to bear.
Lift the Veil
Many SEO providers like to operate under a veil of secrecy. This does not necessarily mean they are doing anything wrong. They may just like the secret agent aura that stealth affords them. It’s cooler to be Jack Bauer or Sydney Bristow than just a nameless Internet marketing guru.
But you’re not paying us to be cool. So force us to lift the veils off our computers and open the curtains to our campaigns.
If what you see is the Wizard of Oz, take your business elsewhere. If what you find is a technological wizard, seriously interested in improving your company’s long-term visibility with ahead-of-the-curve methods and ethical strategies, stick around.