Top things to look for when considering Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization conversations generally lead to many of the same core questions. 

Unfortunately, most of them are usually the result of misleading advice or solicitations. SEO has developed into such a large conversation in itself that it is now an industry riddled with misconceptions that have given it somewhat of a bad reputation. And that’s fair. It’s not the whole truth, but it is not untrue nonetheless (double-negative). There are simply bad apples in every industry. There are bad lawyers who practice law. There are bad mechanics who fix cars. There are even doctors who operate on the wrong body parts.

That is on them. It is on each and everyone of us to perform our own due diligence and research in order to be as informed as possible going into discussions.

SEO has it bad because many people in the “industry” are bad salespeople from other walks of advertising that are struggling to get by, or who simply got canned at other sales jobs for not knowing what they are talking about or outright lying to potential clients.

I’m sorry that I’m not sorry for saying it.

For years, I’ve been rambling off a list of things for people to look out for when considering search engine optimization efforts. I always meant to write it down, and fortunately Google finally went ahead and did it for me. See below, right out of the horse’s webpage.

From Google: 

  • Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.Amazingly, we get these spam emails too:

    “Dear google.com,
    I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories…”

    Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for “burn fat at night” diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.

  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.
  • Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.Ask for explanations if something is unclear. If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or “throwaway” domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google’s index. Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it’s best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to “help” you. If an SEO has FTP access to your server, they should be willing to explain all the changes they are making to your site.
  • You should never have to link to an SEO.Avoid SEOs that talk about the power of “free-for-all” links, link popularity schemes, or submitting your site to thousands of search engines. These are typically useless exercises that don’t affect your ranking in the results of the major search engines — at least, not in a way you would likely consider to be positive.
  • Choose wisely.While you consider whether to go with an SEO, you may want to do some research on the industry. Google is one way to do that, of course. You might also seek out a few of the cautionary tales that have appeared in the press, including this article on one particularly aggressive SEO:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2002002970_nwbizbriefs12.html. While Google doesn’t comment on specific companies, we’ve encountered firms calling themselves SEOs who follow practices that are clearly beyond the pale of accepted business behavior. Be careful.
  • Be sure to understand where the money goes.While Google never sells better ranking in our search results, several other search engines combine pay-per-click or pay-for-inclusion results with their regular web search results. Some SEOs will promise to rank you highly in search engines, but place you in the advertising section rather than in the search results. A few SEOs will even change their bid prices in real time to create the illusion that they “control” other search engines and can place themselves in the slot of their choice. This scam doesn’t work with Google because our advertising is clearly labeled and separated from our search results, but be sure to ask any SEO you’re considering which fees go toward permanent inclusion and which apply toward temporary advertising.
  • What are some other things to look out for?

There are a few warning signs that you may be dealing with a rogue SEO. It’s far from a comprehensive list, so if you have any doubts, you should trust your instincts. By all means, feel free to walk away if the SEO:

    • owns shadow domains
    • puts links to their other clients on doorway pages
    • offers to sell keywords in the address bar
    • doesn’t distinguish between actual search results and ads that appear on search results pages
    • guarantees ranking, but only on obscure, long keyword phrases you would get anyway
    • operates with multiple aliases or falsified WHOIS info
    • gets traffic from “fake” search engines, spyware, or scumware
    • has had domains removed from Google’s index or is not itself listed in Google”