Who doesn't want to rank at the top of Google's search engine results? Especially if they can do it for free.
Hence, search engine optimization which is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in search engines via the "natural" or "unpaid (organic)" search results (Wikipedia). And what business owner doesn't want to rank highly for "free." So it's not surprise that many time-strapped small to medium-sized business owners look to outsouce their SEO to trained professionals.
But when it comes to search engine optimization, Google doesn't share their exact algorithm for determining where you rank so there is no assurance of ranking first or even tenth for that matter, not even when you hire a "world-class" SEO company.
That's not to say that all SEO companies are out to rob you of your hard-earned money but you do have to be careful of who you decide to invest that hard-earned money with. A simple Google search for SEO companies will yield thousands of results offering "incredible" or "fast" results for attractive low monthly fees or even a simple one-term purpose. But be careful. As Hubspot's ebook on "How to Spot Bad SEO Services" states, "many of 'these' professionals' and SEO experts are counting on clients' SEO ignorance to get quick cash without delivering long-term sustainable SEO improvements. Even worse, some of the practices used by SEO firms can actually hurt your business in the long run.
We have personally seen far too many of our own clients get swindled by bad SEO companies who overpromise and seriously under deliver. And that is why we're going to give you 10 ways to spot a bad SEO company.
Hubspot put together a phenomenal ebook that lists out the Top 10 Ways to Spot Bad SEO Services. We'll give you the brief overview but if you want more details you can check out the full ebook.
- Making Promises that are Too Good to be True. Many business owners are tempted by firms that guarantee top rankings or specific traffic increases or who claim they'll improve your position in as little as 30 days but investing in SEO really is a leap of faith. Beware of SEO companies who make these types of promises. Reputable SEO firms don't offer guaranteed #1 rankings, fast results or any other type of promises that sound too good to be true. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google (Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEO software company SEOMoz). SEO is not a quick fix marketing tactic. It is a slow boil process designed for long-term growth and improvement. If you want immediate placement, you need pay-per-click search engine marketing.
- Using "Black Hat" SEO Techniques. At an SEO practitioners fingertips lies a myriad of ways to achieve higher rankings but not all of these techniques are acceptable methods. Bending the accepted rules is considered "black hat" SEO. Common black hat SEO tactics include: keyword stuffing, doorway pages, invisible text and linking schemes. Even major brands get burned by these tactics - just ask J.C. Penney who got caught in a black hat SEO nightmare after the 2010 holiday shopping season when Google discovered their link-building scheme.
- Targeting the Wrong Keywords. Any SEO firm can come up with a comprehensive keyword list but not all relevant keywords for your business are appropriate for your SEO campaign. When iti comes to keywords - you want long-tail keywords that are geographically focused.
- Employing Shoddy Linking Schemes. High-quality inbound links to your website improves your website's authority and search engine rankings so SEO are certainly going to promise inbound links to your website. While you want inbound links to your website, not all inbound links are valuable and some can even harm you. Paying for links or creating link pyramids can get you punished by the search engines. Other bad link-building practices include: email link prospecting, link trading, automated link building, rapid link building and using one phrase for all links.
- Promising to List Your Site in Hundreds of Online Directories. Don't let an SEO firm promise to list your site on thousands of online directories. Sure it's inbound links but most of these directories are not considered authoritative, high-quality sites. "If your SEO firm is spending their time on directory submissions, they're not spending time doing the real, hard work that improves your search rankings - like building high-quality inbound links or creating lots of high-quality content" (Hubspot).
- Redesigning Your Site or Creating New Pages without 301 Redirects. If your SEO company is creating new pages or restructuring your website, make sure they using a 301 redirect to point the search engine spiders and visitors to the new page. 301 redirects preserve the existing URL but automatically forward traffic to the new page. Without the 301 redirect you lose all the existing search engine juice from that page.
- Focusing on Metadata Instead of On-page SEO. Metadata is the information within the code of a website that tells search engines what the webpage is about but it's different than what the human viewer sees on the page. While it sounds like something you want to have tweaked, most major search engines don't pay attention to metadata anymore when calculating page ranking. It is still good practice to have it but it won't boost your organic rankings.
- Creating Bad Content. They say content is king and it certainly is when it comes to SEO. You want content that is light on keywords a
nd heavy on value. Avoid companies that recommend the following content strategies: content scraping, keyword stuffed content and posting fake reviews. Google is now downgrading sites using "shallow" or "low-quality content." A study by the SEO software maker Sistrix found that the top-25 sites most associated with low-quality content had lost 70%-90% of their search engine visibility after the change (Hubspot). Besides high-ranking content that doesn't get visitors to do something on the page is a waste of time.
Photos courtesy of:
Black Hat Fedora: Ker Communications
Frustrated Guy: Web Services.US