A big worry I hear from a lot of small business owners revolves around hiring someone to perform site optimization services for their business website.
Almost everyone who’s been online for any length of time can tell stories of colleagues (or perhaps even themselves) victimized by bogus SEO service providers — who charged an arm and a leg yet delivered next to nothing in terms of real business results.
It’s Wild Out There
Anyone who’s seen a few Westerns probably has an image of gullible townspeople, gathered around a patent medicine salesman’s wagon, listening in rapt attention as he extolls the virtues of some magical elixir guaranteed to cure everything from insomnia to athlete’s foot.
Of course, none of these amazing remedies actually cured anything. The snake oil peddlers realized early on they could make a fortune by bottling worthless ingredients, promising naive customers the moon, and selling their concoctions at a premium price.
Just so with some SEOs. They package together worthless “services”, promise their clients amazing results (which they cannot possibly deliver), and charge an exorbitant fee for the whole mess.
So how can you tell the difference between a snake oil seller and a real SEO?
Let Common Sense Be Your Guide
Here are a few tips to help you evaluate if the provider you’re contemplating has the potential to provide a real service, or if they’re simply peddling miracle cures off the back of a buckboard wagon:
- Gravitate toward firms focused on improving your sales and revenue. Remember, it’s revenue, not rankings, that pays the bills. Unless maybe your mortgage company accepts rankings reports in lieu of cash, that is. But until that happens, you’re going to want to focus on business revenue as your goal, not rankings. If all your SEO firm wants to talk about is rankings, their interests are not aligned with yours. Find a different firm.
- Avoid anyone whose services consist primarily of submitting your site to “thousands of top search engines” every month. Now, don’t get me wrong: just because somebody says they submit your site to search engines as a small part of a comprehensive optimization package, this doesn’t mean they’re a bad firm. I’m talking about situations where this is the main or only service a firm offers.
Why is this bad?
Well, to start with, there aren’t thousands of search engines worth being listed in. Think about what search engine you, your friends and your relatives generally use. I’ll bet even if you have a very diverse set of friends and relatives, you won’t come up with more than (at best) a handful of engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN, maybe AOL or Ask, and perhaps one or two niche engines. Aside from pointless bragging rights — what’s the use of a ranking well in a search engine no one uses, or even knows about?
In the second place, submitting your site is unnecessary. It’s not harmful, just not needed. Representatives from the major search engines have all said they’ll find your site faster and more reliably through links pointing to your site.
Submission per se is not a problem. When submission is the only or the primary “optimization” technique, you’d do well to look elsewhere.
- Gravitate toward companies who tell you the hard truth. The snake oil salesmen promise miraculous, immediate results with no extra work on your part. The true professionals will tell you it’s going to take time and effort. You may have to make changes to your site — possibly extensive changes. All this hard work may not sound as attractive as effortless overnight success, but it’s the truth. I dunno about you, but I’d rather have a service provider who gives me the unvarnished straight scoop than one who sells me a bunch of pretty fairy tales. Living in Fantasyland might be fun for awhile, but it’s a heck of a lot less profitable than the real world.
- Avoid firms who guarantee rankings. I’ve heard some claim a “special relationship” with the search engines that allows them to place sites at the top of the results. The fact is, no SEO company has a relationship with any legitimate search engine that allows the SEO to dictate search rankings. Others claim they’ve developed some sort of proprietary technology that allows them to place pages in the rankings at will. Unfortunately, no matter how persuasive and plausible their sales pitch might sound, there’s no such technology. Bottom line, no SEO company can guarantee you any specific rankings.
- Gravitate toward firms that take a balanced approach to site optimization. There’s an old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Unscrupulous firms and unskilled practitioners tend to zero in on one aspect of optimization as the “end all and be all” of online success. Usually it’s the easiest thing for them to do (these folks really don’t like hard work). Sometimes it’s simply the only thing they know how to do. In any case, the site that only needs one thing for optimization is as rare as hen’s teeth. The fact is, for virtually every site on the Internet, effective optimization takes a balanced approach. Content, site architecture, usability, links, code, navigation, advertising, public relations, etc. — it all works together to build a strong, well-performing site.
Anyone who tells you the only thing you need to succeed is get more links, or start a blog, or write more content or whatever, is selling you a bill of goods. Building “success” on one factor only is like building a stool with only one leg. You can try it, but the results won’t be very stable. Find a firm that recognizes the need for balance.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course, but I hope it will prove useful as a start. If you’d like a “second opinion” to help verify your SEO firm’s recommended tactics and strategies, contact us to find out more and arrange for a site audit report. We’ll give you the straight scoop.