We all know how hard it can be to find a good auto mechanic. We ask our friends – “do you know a good mechanic that I can trust?” The problem is that while most of us need cars to get around only a handful of us know enough about them to do our own repairs. We go to mechanics. They know what’s wrong, how to fix it and how long it will take (and therefore the cost). We don’t, and some of them, unfortunately, will take advantage of this for their own benefit. The same things go on in internet marketing, and SEO especially.
The truth is that not too many people know about SEO – especially the people most likely to hire an SEO company to improve search visibility for their web site. They’re busy running their businesses and living their lives. It’s easy for those of us who make a business of SEO to see just how little the average business owner or webmaster knows about the information and techniques involved. Some SEO companies are using this imbalance of knowledge to swindle their clients.
Aside from being dishonest this is not a wise business practice. What happens if any of your clients does their homework and finds out you sold them a contract based on misleading promises or flat-out lies? It certainly won’t bode well for your reputation, and you can say goodbye to that client.
I’ve created the following list in the hope of educating the readers who might be considering hiring an SEO company while perhaps convincing some less-than-honest SEO’s to change their ways. If this blows up your spot – well, sorry to rain on your parade, but you’ll have to learn how to make money and be honest at the same time.
1. Guarantee X number of page 1 Google rankings by a certain date.
This is probably the most frequently used ploy on the list. It’s also one of more obvious empty promises. For one thing, SEO companies are safe to offer this (it’s easy to achieve) so long as they can sell their clients on it. The problem is: the number of rankings a site has doesn’t mean jack. The point of SEO is increased traffic – not increased rankings. All of the page one rankings in the world mean nothing if they don’t refer traffic.
2. Guarantee page visibility on Google page one within X Number of Days.
Similar to the empty guarantee above, this one is a real doozey. It’s painlessly easy to achieve, and painful for clients once they realize it. I know of one internet marketing company in particular, who shall remain nameless (for now), who offers this guarantee within a week’s time. When asked whether they mean the organic or sponsored section of Google results their reps reply: “page one is page one – what’s the difference?” Nice try, guys. Let’s hope few people are falling for this one.
3. Pad a contract by pulling the “Google Sandbox” card.
It’s generally a safe bet for an SEO company to tell you: “well, your traffic hasn’t gone up at all, but your site is brand new. It’s still in the Google sandbox.” This is a nice way to work in an automatic extension on SEO contracts for new clients. Don’t get me wrong: SEO does take time. However, an honest SEO company who knows what they are doing will have a plan of action for the early months to get you some targeted traffic while they build your site’s link popularity and the search engines begin to trust your domain.
4. Blame shoddy work on Google trust issues.
I’ve unfortunately heard this one used on people with my own ears. It went something like this: “well, we’ve been doing a lot to optimize your site, but nothing we do seems to be pulling up your rankings – which is why we believe your site has lingering trust issues due to previous spamming. Google doesn’t trust your site.” While there are certainly cases in which this may be true it is usually not the case. It’s more likely that the SEO company just hasn’t found an in-road to gaining valuable search rankings for your site. It can be tough for certain topics, but a good SEO company will discuss the prospects with you before they get started and be honest about what you can reasonably expect.
5. Sell less-than-savvy clients on “search engine submission.”
Anybody moderately familiar with modern search technology knows that major search engines no longer need to be “told” about your web site. Search engine crawlers make their own way around the web, and if your pages are getting link love they’ll be found, indexed and, possibly, will start showing up in search results. Dishonest SEO companies will sell their clients on “submitting your site to thousands of English-speaking search engines.” Think about it: how many search engines have you heard of? How many have you used? Not too many, right? You’re not alone in that – 90% of search traffic goes to Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Not to mention many of those “search engines” are a big source of spam once they get your contact information – which they require to “submit” your site.
That said, there are sitemap submission options with both Google and Yahoo! that allow webmasters to aid crawlers in indexing all of their pages. It won’t make an enormous difference in rankings, but it’s worth the few minutes it takes to stay on top of these.
6. Sell every client on a “site rebuild.”
With the age of the web (if 15 years can be considered “aged”) there are plenty of sites that will need, and will get, an overhaul. Many methods used to develop web pages in the early days are now no longer viable, don’t compete aesthetically and functionally with the latest sites or are, for a variety of reasons, not SEO-friendly. For this last reason SEO companies often suggest “site rebuilds” to their clients as a preliminary SEO project – they clean up the code, perhaps update the design a bit, improve load times, use links for navigation where there were images and more.
While this work is, in many cases, a very wise first step in tackling SEO concerns for an existing web site it is far from being mandatory. The trouble, once again, is that SEO companies are in the know while most of their clients are not. If your SEO says to you, “your site won’t rank well unless we rebuild it” chances are you’ll believe it. Prod a bit on this one, though – ask for specific references in terms of how your code will be more optimized for search after the rebuild. Not every site needs to be rebuilt.
7. Run out the clock with ineffective work.
Most SEO companies charge between $100 and $300 per hour for their work. This seems like a lot of money to new clients, but the idea is that most SEO’s have so much experience, research, technology and general know-how in their toolboxes that it’s worth the cost. The problem is that it can be hard for a client to know whether the SEO company is using their time efficiently. If they take two hours building 50-100 free directory links (which are not the best) the client’s money is probably not being well-spent. Do a little research on the current best SEO practices, and ask your SEO company to report on the work they’ve been doing. If they tell you they spent two hours building links ask for a report on the links they added. Overall, be prepared to question their methods and ask for proof.
A Brief Closing Comment:
I do not intend to make the case that most SEO’s and SEO companies are engaged in deceptions like those outlined above. Most, in fact, are quite open and honest about their methods. That said, there are some whose profit motivation clouds their ethical judgment, and honest SEO’s should continue to fight the good fight and out these tactics for the benefit of all.