Archive for April 6th, 2011


What Gives SEO Its Bad Smell?

No question about it. If you ask 100 randomly selected web business owners what they think of SEO and you’ll get something like

Isn’t that some sort of scam?

They never deliver what they promise.

Big rip off.

What’s an SEO?

Why such a negative perception? Well, it could be because for every legitimate, principled, realistic, and effective search engine optimization provider out there, there seems to be 15 fly-by-night, promise the moon, sleeeeeezy telemarketer-spam email-jumping monkey banner ad Super Duper Guaranteed Wealth Generator Miracle SEO Hero. This situation comes as no real surprise. SEO is an arcane, difficult to grasp concept that erupted onto the scene so recently that nobody‘s got much of a track record. All anybody knows for sure is that if they want to rank #1 in Google for some Pot of Gold Keyword, they better themselves some of that SEO stuff. And that sort of environment breeds quick-buck con artists.

So how do you know if the SEO guru you’re talking to is legit? How to do you know whether or not you can trust them to help improve your search posture instead of creating a huge freaking nightmare of search engine penalties, sunk costs, and hard feelings?

The strategies that work for all the other contractor businesses are valid here too, of course: get references, educate yourself on best practices, stay involved in the project, and so on. Still, there are some pretty clear red flags to watch for.

Before you sign a contract, does the SEO

  • offer to submit your site to 1000s of search engines (Ridiculous—there are only three or four worth worrying about and none of them are likely to need a submission.)
  • offer to submit your site to 1000s of directories (Outdated tactic—unless you have some very industry-specific directories in mind, it’s a more or less useless exercise.)
  • promise unreasonably fast results (Good SEO takes time—months usually.)
  • promise specific ranks (Nobody can guarantee a rank on a competitive keyword.)
  • choose non-competitive keywords as performance metrics (Anybody can get a good rank for keywords nobody ever uses.)
  • claim some unprovable “association” with Google or other engine (Google doesn’t like SEO, let alone get in bed with them.)
  • claim high-profile past clients without verification (Well, I did once do some SEO work for Best Buy…. no really.)
  • offer nebulous “case studies” (Four out of five clients retired to the Bahamas within a month of cutting our check!)

Once the project begins, does the SEO risk search engine penalties by

  • placing hidden links to themselves or other clients on your site
  • acquiring backlinks from bad neighborhoods
  • producing spam in your company’s name
  • stuffing keywords into meta tags, titles, or content
  • creating new SEO pages that have no useful purpose otherwise

And one last thing. Before you hire anybody to do your SEO, you should really try to understand just what is realistically possible. Which keywords you can really expect to be competitive with. How much traffic volume you can legitimately expect. What impact that traffic might truly have on sales. And most importantly, just how long it actually takes to see beneficial results.