Competitive search visibility can make or break a business, and that fact has many sales teams drooling for a piece of the action.
I’ve seen salesmen’s jaws drop when learning of the huge profits attainable by selling a service that is actually legitimate, and won’t land them in legal hot water. Yes, it’s fair to say that SEO is the salesman’s wet dream.
Pitching SEO like a real
Whether the unlucky target of the stereotypical, greasy salesman is the recipient of a cold call proposing Web services, or has been passed to the sales team of one of tens of thousands of fly-by-night, cookie cutter SEO operations, the tone is the same: overconfident, aggressive, and fast talking. Very fast talking, because we all know that coffee is for closers.
Salesmen love simple metrics
That sales guy in the back room doesn’t know what it takes for a Web presence to succeed, so he needs easy to grasp, easy to demonstrate concepts for his sales pitches. He knows enough about SEO to sound convincing. He’s a specialist in tapping into client emotions, and uses the right lingo to cast illusions of SEO supremacy.
But his prospects often know less about search visibility then even he does. Perfect.
Instead of complicating an SEO sales pitch with confusing details, seemingly logical illusions work best to gain the confidence of his mark. After all, it’s much easier to dazzle a naive—and I mean that in the least insulting way— prospect by presenting rudimentary performance indicators than it is to try describing the search visibility benefits of Web usability, structure, semantic markup, content strategy, content marketing and Web analytics (let alone understand them).
So, dear consumer, without further ado, here are the 3 favorite lies that the SEO salesman loves to sell you on:
Lie #1:You need hundreds more backlinks!
Backlinks play a major role in search visibility; it’s true, we all know that. The role they play, however, isn’t a part of a numbers game, but a quality game.
Novice SEOs/pro salesmen love the directory link package because there’s no work involved (it’s outsourced), the markup is huge (sometimes 10x), and they can easily use false logic to demonstrate its value.
All a salesman has to do to prove his supposed point is open a backlink checker and compare your domain with that of one of your competitors that happens to have thousands more backlinks. It doesn’t matter if those links are mostly site wide hotlinked images, or from scraper sites or anything else. Only the numbers are meant to dazzle.
The truth is, hundreds of directory links can’t compete with even 2 or 3 backlinks from authoritative websites, no matter how relevant he says those few hundred directories are.
Certain directories do help with a website’s search results, especially for visibility in business listings, but they number much fewer than even 100, and for true organic listings, their value is negligible.
You are the weakest backlink!
And so, dear client, that I want—and can do—the best for:
Do you really want me to spend a few hundred dollars outsourcing some directory submissions to India or anywhere else and charge you $1000 to $2000 for a worthless “service”? Say it with me No, I don’t.
What do you want? You want me to add value to your site with content strategy and improvements to usability and structure. Compelling, original, useful content teamed with a cunning marketing strategy is the best proactive method of acquiring the types of links that actually help rankings. But that actually takes planning and talent; sometimes a problem for the sales team turned “SEO Company”.
The next time a client tells me that the other SEO company says they’ll get them 500 links, and asks how many I can get them, I’m going to curl up into a ball and gently cry myself to sleep.
Lie #2: The pages of your site should pass W3C validation!
Fool’s gold at the end of the rainbow
Snake oil salesmen love this one.
Running a webpage through an HTML validator is so easy that a monkey could probably do it.
Any syntax errors in the page’s markup result in a big red banner displaying their number, opposed to a page that passes validation, which boasts a reassuring Congratulations over a green banner. So official looking! “We must fix these errors at once, right? Then the search engines will love us, right? Right?” Wrong.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m a huge fan of the World Wide Web Consortium and Web standards. I’ve been manually coding websites according to strict Web standard guidelines for several years, and Web pages I code pass validation. I can assure you though, that passing W3C validation isn’t part of my SEO strategy.
Many Web standard practices do help search visibility, but valid HTML isn’t an accurate measure of Web standard compliance. Far from it, actually. The validator is merely a syntax check, alerting the developer to deprecated HTML elements and errors.
Semantic HTML and website accessibility, on the other hand, are examples of Web standard recommendations that add value to on-page SEO, but they’re much more difficult to understand, achieve, and demonstrate, so they have less visual impact on a sales pitch.
Lie #3: Top rankings Are All That Matter!
First place garbage is still garbage
Let’s imagine that the outfit our eager little salesman works for is able to somehow achieve rankings that are anywhere near competitive or have conversion potential. Are their clients’ sites being optimized in a way that compliments content strategy, or do keywords get thrown into content similar to ink flicked against a canvas?
Competitive search visibility is worth only as much as the number of visitors that take action (and hitting the back button isn’t the type of action I’m talking about).
If visitors are greeted with keyword crammed, unintuitive, valueless marketese and fluff, they’ll like bounce off the site and never return. Yeah, it can be really lonely at the top.
Many other lies are told by SEO-wannabe salesman, but few bring his company as much profit for little work as the ones I mentioned above.
Lie #3 Top rankings Are All That Matter! and its associated keyword littered garbage content and title tags, take up most of the company’s time (when they can pull themselves away from the cold calls) but they can’t really get around that one. They need to get some first page results for their poor clients to avoid being sued.
Just about the time that the elation of first page results (for what are usually less than ideal keyphrases) wears of, the client starts to realize what an atrocity their site has now become.
What we can do as professionals
Business owners, desperate for more business, sometimes lose site of the big picture regarding their web presence. They become so enamored with the idea of beating their competition in the natural search results that they lose focus of everything else. This is the perfect time for snake oil salesmen to swoop down and catch their prey.
Remind your clients that the best SEO is practically invisible, and done properly, won’t harm their brand, it will help it. Remind them that SEO tactics worth their salt for longterm search visibility also improve their site’s usability, not detract from it. Show them data and metrics, but encourage them to hold on to their common sense. Remind them that if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
Remind them of the value their site should offer, and how far that can go to helping both their rankings and their bottom line.
Early this week, a good chunk of the SEO community went on a virtual lynching of Joe Rozsa, an SEO from Columbus, Ohio. A blog post by Mike Halvorsen—a reputable SEO from the same city—quickly became a good example of how not to react to public outrage when your misdeeds are being scrutinized in an online social space.
For those of you who missed it, Mike Halvorsen’s popular post includes several of the emails he received from Joe Rozsa requesting that he stop using certain variations of the terms ‘Columbus SEO’ on his website. It seems Joe felt he could threaten Mike with legal action for using a name he claimed to own the trademark for.
Aside from the fact that you can’t trademark the combination of a city name and an occupation, I think what really hit a nerve within the SEO community about Joe was his sickeningly manipulative dialog, his condescending tone, transparent lies, switching from falsely threatening legal action to playing the role of victim, and his chiming into the thread with sarcastic and patronizing remarks. He should start a PR company.
Professional misdeeds can put a real dent in your online reputation. You can either carefully try to hammer out that dent with honesty, or carelessly blowtorch it into a gaping, irreparable hole that sinks your ship. Unfortunately for Joe, he was overzealous with the butane.
Two long, agonizing days of reality-checkitude for Joe finally resulted in his version of an apology to the SEO community.
The apology is a faint glimpse of a step in the right direction, but still misses the mark by a wide margin, and I doubt it’ll get him any respect from the SEO community. </understatement>
Tough love from Dan: An online reputation management crash course
In a comment on Mike’s blog, Dan Cristo expertly summed up what’s wrong with Joe’s ridiculous version of an apology. What’s cool about Dan’s comment is that he seems to genuinely want Joe to learn something and grow from the experience.
I just read your, “Apology to the SEO Community” featured on your websites homepage. Buddy… That is the worst apology ever. You spend all 6 paragraphs defending your actions and making excuses.
First you make the excuse that the keyword doesn’t bring much traffic. You then attack Mike by implying that his motives didn’t match his words. Aka. calling him a liar.
Paragraph 3 you defend yourself some more. Paragraph 4 you blame your attorney. Paragraph 5, you blame your humanity – as if you yourself are not responsible, rather it’s your humanity that made you “goof up”. Paragraph 6, you apologize to the people who have, “Taken this personally” and “Who are upset” with you defending your company name (which really isn’t your company name).
Joe… You didn’t “goof up”. You were being a bully and you were angry. You made a choice to act like you did. It wasn’t an accident. It was a decision. You’re not sorry at all for being a jerk. You’re not sorry for bullying people. You’re not sorry for making SEO’s look bad. You’re not sorry for tarnishing SMX’s reputation.
You are sorry for not registering your own company name, and you are sorry people are calling you out for what you did. That’s what you apologize for, and that is why the apology comes across fake and insulting.
Look. I don’t think you’re a bad guy. SEO is hard, and reputation in this business is priceless. I’d hate to see your entire career crash and burn because of one (rather major) mistake. So, I am going to help you out here with your personal brand reputation. “Take my hand… If you want to live!”
- Take down that BS apology letter and rewrite it. Stop defending and passing blame. Acknowledge that you wanted to defend your rankings, and your dealings with Mike were wrongly executed. period.
- Track down every single person who has commented in this thread and apologize to them personally. You’re an SEO – you know how to search, find them on twitter, facebook or via email.
- Delete your comments on this post. They make you look like a fool.
- Perform an act of kindness – Donate time, money or services to a charity in Columbus.
Why do I care enough to help you help yourself? Because you’re an SEO, and it’s not easy. Especially when the community has targeted you (Don’t for a second think you’re a victim, or you didn’t deserve it). So accept the beating and turn this into a positive thing. Heck, maybe SMX will have you speak about brand reputation management next year, but first, you’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do.
How cool is Dan Cristo for that constructive comment.
Ryan Frishkorn also made a great point in his comment on Mike’s blog:
…if he was so worried about distinguishing himself from other businesses, he would have chosen a truly unique name that didn’t include the industry name he was trying to monopolize. It’s like naming a web development company “Internet Web Development, Inc.” and then trying to bludgeon everyone you can find via search engine results.
Just another reason I think exact match domains are overrated.
Joe, a lot of us have been dragged through the mud for our mistakes in the past, and those of us fortunate enough to grow from these hard knocks (brought on by ourselves) look back in retrospect and might even be glad we were given a chance to grow.
I, along with everyone else, have used exact match domain names in the past, but for the most part (with some minor exceptions) I’ve abandoned them in favour of more brandable solutions. If an exact match domain and brandability coincide, then great, I’m obviously all for it.
If you’re looking for an opportunity for quicker, stickier indexing, as it stands, an exact match can carry you farther and quicker for cheaper. But for how long? When the day comes that Google blows your house of cards down, you’d better have a serious backup plan.
Losing a spot to an exact match domain often means nothing
While online marketing is in many ways different from traditional marketing, both share some common traits on the path to success, and one of them is opportunity. Another is competence.
If a competitor ranks above me with an exact match domain, but the site is garbage, it can make my compelling, well structured, usable site look that much better in comparison. If my competitor’s site isn’t garbage, maybe it deserves to be there, and I can stop looking for a scapegoat to my indexing dilemma.
In my opinion, the debate over the fairness of exact match domains is moot. It’s really a question of which exact match domains represent a brand, and which are clearly taking advantage of search engine favoritism while adding little real value to search results.
If your company’s name is New York Bus Tours, and you’ve scored the domain name, you deserve top placement. Whether people are searching for companies that provide your service, or for your actual brand, it’s clear that you should be somewhere at the top.
Until search algorithms refine their evaluation of exact match domains, let’s keep in mind that—At risk of being told to shove my quotations book up my you-know-what—often in life, it isn’t what happens to you, it’s how you react to it.
Don’t like the success of that exact match domain sitting atop your placement on page 1 of Google? You can weaken, grumbling that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and buy a domain with underscores instead of dashes, or something-even-more-spammy.com (no, it doesn’t exist, but give it time) OR add more value to your site, to your business, and to your longterm digital presence.
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