The SEO “reputation problem”

Part Two: So what about the clients?

In part one, I mentioned how being both a provider of optimization consulting and a webmaster/consumer of consulting services puts me in the unusual position of being able to observe the SEO industry from both points of view. And I have noted it's true SEOs have a poor reputation, at least in some quarters.

So I talked first about what I think SEOs should do to clean up the reputation of their industry. And how I believe their clients have an absolute right to informed consent. But, you know, with rights come responsibilities. Have clients done anything to contribute to the poor reputation of SEOs?

So now let's take a look at the client side of things.

Well, right off the bat I think site owners have to stop blaming others when we're the ones making scammers and incompetents successful. Unfortunately these days it seems a whole lot of business owners and webmasters are practically begging to be cheated out of their money.

There are way too many people who are way too ready to believe whatever sort of crazy promises and “guarantees” these unscrupulous people devise. Sometimes it seems the more outrageous the claims, the more people there are who are willing to fall for them. And let me tell you, that's pretty darned discouraging for the real SEOs out there.

But you know, it's really not all that difficult for business owners who are paying attention to avoid being scammed. Here are a few modest suggestions:

  • Don't neglect due diligence. If an SEO is making promises that sound too good to be true, they probably are (not true, that is). Don't hire someone because they tell you what you want to hear, no matter how attractive their claims. Honestly now, who do you think is more likely to be telling you the truth — the SEO who tells you there are no shortcuts or guarantees and the process will involve some time and a lot of hard work... or the one who says you can have top 10 rankings in seven days or less without lifting a finger for only $19.95? (Hint: in the real world there are no shortcuts or guarantees, the process generally involves some time and a lot of hard work, and it will almost certainly cost a whole lot more than $19.95.)

  • Educate yourself. You don't have to know every detail of site optimization. After all, you don't need to know how to build an automobile in order to buy a reliable car. But most people who set out to buy a car read reviews, check with consumer magazines and perhaps ask their friends or other trusted advisors for guidance. You do need to have some kind of basis for making your judgment. So when you get ready to learn more about SEO, the Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing ebook may be informative. Likewise, there are several discussion forums online where you can go for helpful, newbie-friendly advice: the Small Business Ideas forum at Small Business Brief, the HighRankings Forums, and Cre8asite Forums are three I've had personal experience with and would particularly recommend.

  • Don't believe in “secret sauce.” The best SEOs will be upfront with you about their techniques and will be happy to educate you about proper SEO practices. They're not afraid of giving you information because they understand its not just the technique itself, but also the skill of the practitioner that brings the great results. The unscrupulous ones will try to confuse you with jargon, hide behind “proprietary techniques,” and do their best to conceal what they're really doing (or in many cases, not doing, if the truth be told).

  • Don't automatically go for the cheapest provider. Do you honestly think you're going to get top-quality site optimization for $49.95 a month? Really? When you say to yourself, “hey, it's only fifty bucks; let's try it and see what happens,” you're only perpetuating the scam. That kind of thinking is the lifeblood of these people. Do your part to cut off their gravy train and you'll make things a lot better for everybody (except maybe the scammers).

  • Don't automatically go for the most expensive provider, either. Don't assume because a company is large and they charge an arm and a leg, this means they're going to produce the best results for you. Frankly, the industry is rife with stories of firms that spend more time promoting themselves than promoting their customers, and companies more concerned with their own bottom line than that of their clients. Ask for references, and check them out. Do some independent digging, too: try searching online for the company's name plus such things as the word “complaint” or “sucks.” You might be surprised at what you find. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions.

  • Get over your focus on measurements that don't matter. Higher Google PageRank won't automatically lead to higher rankings. High rankings on worthless keywords won't bring you more traffic. And neither high rankings nor traffic alone will pay the bills. That's how so many of the scammers and incompetents get by — they simply prey on people who can't see beyond Google. Focus on consultants who understand that it's conversions, revenue and profit that make the difference.

  • Be sure you understand what you're getting into, and accept the consequences of the decisions you make. If you tell your SEO you're eager to engage in an all-out campaign to get top rankings for high-competition search terms, and they advise you of the possible consequences, you have no right to come back later and complain if your site eventually gets penalized. If you tell your SEO you want to avoid any problems with the search engines at all costs, you cannot realistically claim they didn't do their job because they didn't get you a number one ranking for search terms such as “hotels,” “travel,”or “casinos.”

Do SEOs have a reputation problem? Yes, I'd say they do. There's widespread misunderstanding about what site optimization is all about in the first place. Many observers paint all optimizers with the same “scammer and spammer” brush, without any real knowledge of what reputable SEOs do. Often the detractors are so focused on the bad apples, they refuse to even listen to any contrary opinions. I can't see how those things can be true and the industry not have a reputation problem!

Are there SEOs who are scammers and spammers? Sure! And without a doubt the SEOs themselves need to do a better job of policing their industry.

But you know, in my opinion, the problem doesn't reside entirely with the SEOs. That's like saying it's the stores' fault if your credit card is maxxed out.

  • As long as we webmasters deny or ignore the words of competent, hard-working SEOs who tell us the truth (however painful)...
  • As long as we continue to eagerly hand over our money to smooth-talking con artists who promise us the moon on a platter...
  • As long as we neglect to learn anything about what's involved in legitimate SEO (or worse yet, assume there's no such thing as legitimate SEO)...

...we ourselves must bear part of the responsibility for the problem.

It's not just a matter of black hat versus white hat or good versus evil. See, to me it doesn't really matter whether the SEOs are wearing white hats or black hats or no hats at all, as long as site owners are wearing their thinking caps!

So, are you part of the problem? Or are you part of the solution?

August 27, 2007

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Before all else I'd say to know your target audience, especially what words a site's customers use to describe what that site offers, and how they might behave when looking for those terms. For those of us who think in keywords, needing those answers is a no-brainer. For the rest of the world, "keyword" may sound a lot like "special sauce."

Elizabeth: You're absolutely right!

Knowing your audience and using terms the audience will understand is indeed tremendously important, whether you're talking about optimizing a site or explaining the process of site optimization to a webmaster.

This is a great post. I don't no what all the fuss is about with Black Hat SEO and White Hat SEO. Their is a very thin line between the two practices. Your competitor is probably using Black Hat SEO to defeat you in the ranking race, along with an amazing linking, content building strategy.

So, what do you do when your competitor is doing the same SEO techniques as you and is right above you on Google?

Do you just stay there and do nothing? No. Most of us will think OUTSIDE the box to get that little edge. Eg. Buy one-way links(which Google hates), up your keywords density just over the limit. You know you are keyword stuffing, but people try to justify it as "keyword density". Crap!

They say, write content for your audience and not for Google. Garbage again! I consider Black Hat SEOs the White Hat SEOs who got caught manipulating the search engines. That's my peace and thanks, "Gabriel" Osagie Irowa.

It's all about writing great informative content. SEO is not an overnight process. It will take time so be patient and remember to always write first for your web visitors.
osagie irowa

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > Part Two: White Hats, Black Hats and Thinking Caps