Search visibility can be very profitable for any business, but equally important is how it’s achieved.
What to avoid: keyword spam and content-farmed backlinks
A closer look at the websites of many SEO companies—and their clients—shows that without keyword spam, they’re often left only with massive—and often weak—backlink campaigns and exaggerated search visibility guidelines taken out of context as their main strategies.
Also watch out for:
- Monthly maintenance plans: These default plans are usually much more beneficial to SEO companies—not their clients. There are exceptions, but that’s what they are; exceptions.
If you continue to make payments, be sure to know what you’re paying for—and make sure it isn’t content farm linking campaigns.
- Mini-sites: Mini-sites drive traffic from one or more exact-match domain websites to a main company website.
This is frowned upon by Google, and according to Matt Cutts, exact-match domain names will be losing more search result favoritism in the near future.
There are legitimate uses for mini-sites, but driving traffic from exact-match domains isn’t one of them.
- Other tricks such as passing off HTML validation as an SEO benefit and other lies that SEO salesmen love to tell.
Why do the overwhelming majority of SEO companies use tactics that are below par? Because doing it right takes more time, staff, and know-how, and doing in wrong “justifies” what they love to call monthly maintenance.
Why avoid the cheap SEO tactics?
Getting to the top of the rankings is important, as long as you aren’t sacrificing your website’s content or brand reputation.
While spammy, “over-optimized” sites might rank for their keyword targets (for a while), often the results are achieved with some collateral damage: Content modified with unnatural, keyword-repeating text and unintuitive and user-unfriendly navigation structure can kill the user-experience, and scream “unethical company, run!“.
Results are also often short-lived, as sketchy backlink strategies typically involve content farms passed off as “article marketing”, which expose reputation-damaging associations with what amount to as basically Web spam.
What to look for in an SEO company (or any company working on your website)
The areas of Web development that should never be ignored or tarnished with any search visibility initiative are the following:
- Web content strategy
- User-centric content marketing and copywriting.
- Web usability
- Information architecture
- Conversion optimization
- Web standards
Look for a company that demonstrates proficiency in these areas—they have profound effects on competitive search visibility, and if focus on them is lost, eventually, so might be your search rankings.
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.
Many SEOs have coding (opposed to marketing) backgrounds, and enjoy hours on end of alone-time in front of the computer. The stereotypical B movie computer nerd, glued to the monitor in mom’s basement and surrounded by Coke cans isn’t typically known for his social skills.
Not that B movie stereotypes dominate our industry, but I think you see what I’m getting at.
The ass-kissing, social climbing, or mutual m*sturbating nature of “link building” can be a real turn off to someone attracted to the more technical aspects of search. But the harsh reality is that building an online business is in many ways similar to running a brick and mortar operation; you need to develop professional relationships beyond your clientele if you want to succeed with your online ventures.
With some social skills (or at least interaction), your chances of discovering mutually beneficial opportunities and partnerships increase exponentially.
I’ll admit that I’d like to see Google put less value on incoming links. If unethical schemes for exaggerating a site’s worth were reserved to on-site tactics, some of us wouldn’t feel so bitter about the indexing advantages acquired by those willing to chance paying for links.
With all cards closer to – if not on – the table, quality content and site architecture would take on even greater importance in establishing a visible web presence.
But I digress.
For the time being, the right types of links matter – a lot. So let’s accept it. For now.
Visualize your Web site as a shop that you opened on the edge of town. If enough reliable tenants were to vouch for you, the landlord would probably trust you enough to rent you a choice spot, closer to the center of town.
With some connections and networking, chances are you’ll find a more visible section of online real estate from which to run your business; especially if you continue to nourish your inner geek’s appetite for the more technical SEO skillsets.
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Forbes Media has released the results of its “Ad Effectiveness Survey“, revealing the digital marketing preferences among senior marketing executives polled.
The survey, published yesterday was conducted between February 19, 2009 and March 19, 2009 in order to better understand behaviors and beliefs regarding digital marketing, and to predict areas of growth and weakness in the industry over the next six months.
Some of the highlights of the study
- Search Engine Optimization, Email and e-newsletter marketing are by far the 3 leading methods of digital marketing among respondents.
- Ad networks were the most unpopular, with 50% of respondents stating that the results did not meet their expectations.
- The tools considered most effective for generating conversions were SEO (48%), email and e-newsletter marketing (46%), and PPC/search marketing (32%)
- In the coming six months, half of the respondents expect that viral marketing (54%) and SEO (50%) will likely see the biggest increases. Ad networks see the highest percentage of expected decreases (52%).
Forbes Media includes Forbes and Forbes.com, the #1 business site on the Web that reaches 18.6 million people monthly. The results of the “Ad Effectiveness Survey” are available at www.forbes.com/adinfo/research.html
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