The SEO Minefield

I met and sat with an account manager from an online digital marketing company about 3 years ago, discussing how we could drive our business forward through SEO and PPC marketing.

Search engine optimization

After a back and forth discussion of our marketing needs and the services the company could provide, we were presented with a package that looked very similar to the one below:

  • 10 Keywords
  • 20 Backlinks A Month
  • 10 Press Releases
  • 30 Retweets
  • 50 Facebook Shares
  • On Page Optimisation
  • 1 x 500 Word Article
  • Above Article Submitted To 20 Article Directories
  • 20 Directory Listings

£xx.xx

The account manager’s presentation (at the time) was very convincing: he thoroughly explained the benefits of the package, namely higher web rankings in Google and an increase in website traffic and customers.

What’s more, the account manager even showed proof that their current clients were enjoying a great increase in rankings and traffic and there would be no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy the same level of success. It almost sealed the deal in our book!

We were thoroughly impressed: the rate sounded very feasible, the package looked really hefty in terms of value, and the promise of increased rankings and traffic was too good to resist.

We verbally committed to the service. We were all set to go ahead…UNTIL we spoke to another agency about some website changes a few days later. We thought we might as well get a second opinion and asked them to look over the SEO package.

The response was like a bucket of cold water pouring over our heads: avoid the service at all costs!

The other agency, which we’ve been working with on our website for quite some time now, explained that most of the services included in the package were against Google’s guidelines – particularly the link building which would probably come from low quality spam websites according to our guy.

We all know the end-result of breaking Google’s guidelines and getting caught red-handed: a blacklisted website. And for a hard working business like us, we didn’t want any part of that!

To say we were confused was an understatement, I couldn’t understand how a company personally met us at our offices and attempted to sell us a service that could ruin our online visibility.

We didn’t let mere words sway us this time around so we did a bit of research ourselves – and discovered that the second agency was correct. Our research uncovered piles of complaints – how their sites saw a massive increase in traffic and rankings… only to get slapped by Google months down the road.

We did not go ahead with the SEO package needless to say, and instead we proceeded to work with the second agency on PPC campaigns that have brought us great success.

3 Years Later, And Its Still An Issue

It’s been over 3 years since we were presented the poor SEO service and I had just forgotten about it with barely an after thought, that was until I learned how a friend’s website got the hammer from Google, gravely affecting their business’ online presence and bottom line.

The SEO disaster that we barely dodged 3 years ago came flashing back. Is it possible that SEO companies are still offering the same sneaky and spammy services…and people are still falling for it!?

I spoke to my friend to get the full story:

It turns out that they hired an SEO company 9 months ago, seeking to boost their SERP rankings, traffic, and sales. And for a short while, it seemed like they were on the right track.

They bagged Google’s top spot for many of their target keywords within months, followed by an increase in site traffic and sales.

Business was good and everything was going as planned – until my friend got an alert in their webmaster tools account. Google declared that my friend’s website was engaging in webspam – resulting to their site getting black listed and receiving manual action from the Big G.

A quick look at the services they got from the SEO agency they worked with showed why – article directory submissions, 50 social bookmarks, 5×500-word spin-ready articles…it looked ominously similar to the services we were offered 3 years ago.

And just like that, their website – their biggest online traffic source – was gone.

Yes, there are SEO “experts” and agencies that still offer the same outdated, spammy, and very risky services. And you could very well fall for this trap if you’re not sure what tell-tale signs to look out for when shopping for SEO services.

But worry not, that’s exactly the reason why I decided to write this post: to show you how to spot poor SEO services and avoid them for good.

Minefield

How To Steer Clear Of Poor SEO Services

One might argue that SEO is all about getting the right links and targeted traffic to a website, and there’s a lot of truth in that. However, there are a myriad of ways to generate those links and clicks, and as long as the methods used are in line with Google’s guidelines, it could work. So instead of providing a list of link-building methods and guides (which I’m not an expert on), I have compiled a list of important things to keep in mind when speaking to an SEO company:

1. Rankings CANNOT Be Guaranteed

Google, the most popular search engine around, operates through an algorithm that uses over 200 factors – some of which are known but most of these factors remain a mystery, making it impossible to guarantee rankings. So if any agency guarantees you a first page ranking within 3 to 6 months, alarm bells should start ringing.

Google isn’t a perfect engine to be fair. It does have loopholes that some SEO companies unfortunately use as a quick-fix for rankings. It could work in the first 2 to 3 months, but we know what happens to Google’s loopholes – they get fixed and those who took advantage and gamed the system get into deep trouble.

Such ‘churn and burn’ SEO strategies may work if you’re looking to cash in quick. But if you’re a legit business that’s in it for the long haul, these “guaranteed 1st page” services will hurt you in the long run.

2. Facebook Likes & Twitter Retweets Cannot Be Bought

Wouldn’t it be nice to add 500 retweets for one of your posts and 500 Likes to your Facebook page for rock-bottom prices of £5 or £10? Of course that would be nice! But consider this: is it really possible to guarantee that people will retweet or Like your website and its contents?

Now consider this. Facebook, in 2013, estimated that 5.5% to 11.2% of its user accounts were fakes. That translates to at least 67.65 million fake accounts at the time, and you can bet that the figures have increased since then. But that’s not all: The New York Times reported during the same year that 4% of Twitter users, roughly 20 million during the report, are fraudulent.

Are you still wondering how SEO companies can guarantee retweets, Likes, and followers on social media?

Yes, these fake accounts -zombies in social media if you will -are created by companies that sell new followers to clients and advertisers who want to build a massive following in a short span of time.

It sure looks nice to look at your Twitter profile with 11,678 followers and your FB page that garnered 9,568 Likes. But once a fake account has followed or Liked you, that’s it – you will not get any engagement from them. Worse, there are tools that measure influence on social media. And having a ton of followers but very low engagement to show for it can reflect badly on you and your business.

Moreover, ordinary people – including your target audience – can check how legitimate your followers are for free. Think about the impression your social pages will create once a potential customer realizes that your followers are all fakes.

3. Question Any “Link Building”

Not all links are created equal. Links from high-authority websites that are relevant to yours can be a total game-changer – boosting not just your site’s SERP ranking and traffic but even your brand’s exposure and social signals. As you may have guessed however, earning these links require a lot of effort.

Alternatively, one can build links the spammy way, generating thousands of links to a site in a short span of time and it only requires pressing a few buttons. But you can have as many of these links as you want and your site won’t budge – and it will probably get penalized by Google.

Building links is what SEO companies do, and there are agencies that have come up with creative, white-hat ways to build quality links that really aid in rankings and traffic. But there are companies that still engage in spammy link building and they can get your business in deep waters.

So my advice: ask how they’re going to build links to your site. Do they have a content plan to help generate buzz for your brand? Will they leverage existing industry relationships you have? Remember, you want to EARN links from real people not generate links with a bot or software.

4. SEO Is Not Some Magic Code

Realize this: SEO is not some “geeky” technique or code that can be applied to your website to boost it up the SERPs. If an SEO company tries to sell you an SEO service but will not explain what they’re doing, it’s more than likely they are trying to game the system.

5. Ask To Be Kept In The Loop

This is closely linked to the previous point: A good SEO company will be more than happy to keep you updated on what they’re doing. They won’t hide behind a “secret sauce” or “industry secret” when discussing SEO campaigns if they’re not up to anything fishy.

And if you think about it, legit SEO companies must regularly communicate with their clients. After all, online digital marketing is as much about connecting and building relationships with your target audience as it is about earning Google’s approval – and they need your expert input and industry knowledge to take care of the former.

FInding SEO services

Shop Around

Here’s the biggest lesson we learned from that meeting 3 years ago: don’t hesitate to shop and ask around. If we didn’t care to ask for the second agency’s opinion, our website – its traffic, rankings, and everything else linked to it – would’ve probably taken a beating from Google. For SMBs and start-ups especially, such mess-ups could prove to be a business death knell.

So again, don’t hesitate to seek the opinion of and discuss with at least 3 SEO companies. This allows you to have a clearer picture of what you’re getting and compare all candidates to find the perfect fit.

In Conclusion

Don’t get this wrong: The SEO industry is not a total con where you need to keep a close tab on your SEO guy otherwise he’ll rip you off with spam. That’s not the message I’m trying to send. There are great SEO companies out there that were warmly recommended by business friends and we’ve even worked with a few.

This article is mainly to serve as a reminder to SMB’s to choose wisely, and do their own research beforehand when shopping for an SEO service and don’t enter into contracts with a blind leap of faith…only to be bitterly disappointed in the end. You work tirelessly to keep your business running in good shape, you should find an SEO agency who is willing to do the same.

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