Beware the SEO Sharks are Circling!

I feel really really sorry for small business owners these days. They have every so-called expert (think business coach) telling them “you need a website and make sure it can be found on Google”. It  sounds soooo easy…. a magic bullet that will solve all their problems.

Having been involved in the Web development/search engine marketing community since the late 90s I feel in a pretty lucky position to know what works and more importantly… what doesn’t!

Unfortunately this is not the same position most small business owners find themselves in, sadly leaving them extremely vulnerable to a range of online sharks and harlequins.

The Game Is Getting Harder… and Easier!

These days getting a website put together is pretty straightforward and relatively cheap. The same cannot be said for online marketing… it’s getting tougher and tougher, which in turn means it’s getting more and more expensive.

Google continues to keep changing the game and the big brands have finally clued on to SEO and are throwing massive amounts of their marketing budget to all types of search related activities.

SEO Is Not Rocket Science!

Now anybody who knows anything about SEO will soon tell you that beyond the basics most of your success will be determined by knowledge, experience, smart technical decisions (i.e. selecting the right software) and more than anything a lot of hard work.

A lot of the tactics used (think link building) are a monotonous and boring slog, but at the same time necessary and extremely profitable if done right.

A good SEO will also tell you that once you know which keywords to target, and your “on page SEO” has been completed, success will generally come down to “he who has most quality links wins”.

Link building is hard work and it’s because of this I thought I would start exploring the opportunity of speeding up my development process by outsourcing some of the early stage search engine marketing legwork (i.e. that I don’t want to do) to a “reputable” local SEO company for my new online store.

My main criteria for hiring such a company is that their service fee is reasonable and the quality of work being performed is ethical and will in no way damage sites future reputation.

Unfortunately, what I discovered has convinced me to do it myself and train somebody up to perform the repetitive low-level tasks.

Using an SEO Company Could Be Dangerous

A typical path for most small business owners looking for SEO services is:

  • rely upon the advice of a local website developer (hoping they actually know what they’re talking about), or
  • head straight to Google, search for “SEO” and start making enquiries.

It is perfectly logical to believe that any SEO company that is able to rank in the top 10 for a term like “SEO” would have to know what they’re doing and be worthwhile contacting…. surely!

I thought I would test out this process and turn to Google to see what it threw up.

After spending some time speaking with a number of sales rep’s on the phone and then following it up with my own research on the tactics that they are engaging in, I have come to the assumption that most of them provide little more than the basics, charge like wounded bulls, and are basing their success (and indeed their own rankings) on a lot of dodgy cross-linking tactics between their customer sites.

It’s sad that most of the companies that rank highly  for a competitive search term like SEO have resorted to sneaking adding links onto their customers sites back to their site, with the aptly suspicious anchor text of “SEO” or “SEO Company”.

Don’t believe me… do a search for “SEO” on Google.com.au, make a list of the domain names that rank highly and do a backlink search of their domain on Yahoo (search for linkdomain:companyname.com.au -site:companyname.com.au).

Visit a few of the sites that are listed as linking to the company site, scroll to the bottom and check out the “SEO” links in the footer.

I can’t understand why any small business owner would agree to advertise to the world (and competitors) that:

  1. they are using an SEO company, and
  2. who the particular SEO company is.

Absolutely crazy stuff… and unfortunately I bet these poor customers are none the wiser on what’s actually going on and have no idea how valuable these “little links at the bottom” are to the SEO company.

And if that isn’t bad enough, when you dig a bit deeper it looks like some of these “reputable” SEO companies are actually going a step further and basing a lot of their link building tactics for customers on cross-linking their customers sites!

This is a recipe for disaster! Do you realise how easy it would be for Google to wipe out the entire “network” of customers with one click?

Bags not answering the phone when the shit hits the fan!

What Should a Small Business Owner Do?

If you’re a small business owner do yourself a favour and at least learn some basic information about how to conduct an SEO campaign. I’m not saying that you should do it yourself, and that all SEO companies are bad, but at least do some research on ethical link building campaigns. Make sure you go into any meeting with your eyes wide open with questions about how the company you are looking to work with go about building links.

Here are a couple of articles to help get you started:

If this isn’t a viable option, see if you can hire yourself a really well-regarded SEO and pay them whatever fee they ask to act as a consultant to help you find a long-term search marketing company to work with. It would be worth every cent!

Do you have any bad experiences with an SEO company? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Dangerous indeed – steer clear! I firmly believe the best SEO you can get is through building sites that are relevant, interesting and accurate – exactly what customers are looking for. Messing with Google is only a short-term strategy, but good content is something that will build you life-long link-juice. (Unfortunately, this isn’t an easily packaged service that I can sell to clients!).

    SEO companies are forever contacting (read: spamming) my clients promising a #1 ranking – but not one of them has noticed that we already achieve this without their ‘expertise’.

    • Too true James.

      I must admit for most of my recent site launches I have pretty much ignored Google and low and behold they are my number one traffic source. Although, when I say ignore, I am pretty much talking about link building. It would be negligent in the extreme if you didn’t do some basic keyword research and set up a good “search engine friendly structure”.

      If you market your site on a range of different channels success will come your way, even on Google.

  2. Good post, an area I’ve never seen much written about is SEo for shopping carts where it’s often difficult to get some decent keyword rich content into the top level pages without it looking silly. The first couple of releases of my site were purely designed for SEO, and it worked very well, however the trade-off was the visual design and usability of the site.

    I now design it the way that makes sense to a user not a bot and try to keep it visually pleasing, ironically it seems to work just as well so maybe designing for Google just isn’t necessary.

    Interestingly, another consideration has to be the market your in, having hit No1 for certain terms I now find that all the previous search term research gave pretty ambitious traffic expectations and the view from the top isn’t quite as rosy as I thought it would be. Its pretty easy to get to the top of a pile that no-ones searching but I’m sure the hard sell SEO companies will never mention that.

    • Great insight Sean – Nothing beats experience.

      Optimising a website (or shopping cart) really isn’t rocket science (unless you have a duplicate content mess). Those who are most successful generally see Google as one of many traffic sources.

      So many people think that SEO is the be all and end all. If you get it right it really is a wonderful traffic source… but if it is the only thing you’re concentrating on you’re facing a recipe for disaster.

      For anyone looking at engaging an SEO company here is a good tip: – If they do not talk to you about initially running a PPC campaign they probably don’t know what they’re doing and just see your business as more money in their bank account. A PPC campaign will quickly tell you if a keyword phrase is worth investing in.

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