With so much information being spread around the Internet via message boards, emails and articles, it’s no wonder that people have a tough time sorting out myth from reality when it comes to topics like search engine marketing. Add to this the fact that certain bits of information (say the inability for engines to spider dynamic pages) can move from being a myth to being a truth almost overnight.

Nonetheless, there are a few myths that seem to continue to be spread and that often pop up among small business owners that are trying to get enough of a grasp on search marketing to hire a professional to help them with their site.

Top Rankings can be Guaranteed by a Professional SEO

As with most forms of advertising, web site owners that are looking to hire a professional SEO often wonder what type of results they will receive in exchange for the fees that are charged to optimize their site. SEO customers often ask optimization firms if they are able to guarantee their work.

Money-back guarantees are often promoted as proof of SEO firms’ abilities. You may have received email advertisements from companies or individuals who claim they can guarantee you a top ranking in the search engine listings if you hire them to optimize your site.

The reality is that search engine algorithms change frequently and professional SEOs do not have any say in what these changes are. Realistically, no one can promise that a site that is No.1 today will remain in the No.1 spot after the next update. Achieving and sustaining top positions is an ongoing battle of trial and error, success and failure. There are no guarantees. Professional SEOs that follow “best practice” techniques realize this and use quality traffic, not site ranking as proof of their success.

So what should be made of companies that promise money-back guarantees for optimization services? They should be judged carefully and the guarantee should not be taken at face value. The guarantee is likely the result of one of three scenarios:

1.) The guarantee is offered on non-competitive phrases. Anyone can rank a site in the top ten for a phrase that only faces competition from ten other sites. Unless your site is optimized for phrases that will deliver targeted traffic to your site, a guaranteed top 10 listing will do nothing to contribute to your site’s success.

2.) The company offering the guarantee is a fraud. As with any industry, professional SEO has its share of shysters. Just because a company claims to have a money-back guarantee doesn’t mean that they will follow through on that promise. If the company demands full payment upfront and promises a money-back guarantee, consider it a double warning against doing business.

3.) The company really is THAT good. There are some professional SEO companies that are so good, that they make this promise and stand by it. Although they may occasionally have to make good on their promise of a refund, the price charged for services from these professionals is usually enough to offset the cost of the few refunds that they may issue. Be warned, these types of firms are the exception, not the rule.

Once I’ve Reached No. 1, My Work is Done!

Some webmasters may feel that once they have managed to optimize their site and achieve that No. 1 ranking for their most important keyword, the work is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Search engines change their algorithms and ranking methods constantly. It’s a rare site that manages to ride out the frequent changes and updates while remaining in the top positions. The listing that is ranked No. 1 today may be knocked out of the top ten listings tomorrow.

Maintaining a No. 1 position and growing the quality and amount of traffic that is delivered to your site takes constant monitoring and planning. Keep in mind that as your site moves into the No.1 position, you leave unlimited numbers of web sites behind you that are now vying for the position that you hold. If you want to continue to stay ahead of them, you’ll need to continue to work on adding appropriate and optimized content, building incoming, targeted links, and exploring new ways to tweak and update your site so that you can remain in that top position.

Hidden Text Will Help Me Rank Better

One of the most popular and enduring SEO myths is the idea that webmasters can improve their ranking by hiding keyword-rich text and links in their page code in order to increase their keyword density.

Many years ago, webmasters decided that a great way to increase the keyword density of their pages, without having to sacrifice the look or content of their site, was to add keyword text to the page that was the same color as the background. After all, search engines don’t view web sites the same way humans do, so it made sense that they would read and index the text without the human visitors ever having to notice it.

As with any SEO “trick,” it didn’t take very long for the search engines to catch on. Search engine spiders have since learned to match HTML text color with the background color so that they might detect this method of keyword stuffing. Nearly all major search engines now publicly denounce hidden text and cite it as grounds for removal from their database.

In addition to hidden text, the rise of link popularity as an essential factor in most search engine’s algorithms has led to the inclusion of invisible links. Webmasters will often use single pixel .gif files to link to other web pages in an attempt to artificially increase their link popularity score. Once again, the search engines have discovered this method and have publicly announced their intent to penalize web sites that make use of this method.

SEO Leads are not as Good as Traditional Leads

Traditional advertising companies often warn clients away from search engine optimization services because they do not fully understand the way that SEO campaigns work and they are reluctant to recommend services that they have not properly experienced.

Many believe that search engine optimization is simply about driving large numbers of users to a web site. They feel that these users are not as likely to become customers as individuals that have been reached by more traditional advertising methods.

The reality is that SEO leads are among the highest quality leads that can be delivered to a company. Proper SEO is about putting your web site in a position that allows it to be found at the exact moment that a web searcher is looking to buy. Search engine optimization does not deliver the casual visitors to a web site, it delivers an individual who is looking for you, who wants to do business with you and who is in a mindset that makes them most open to what you have to offer them.

Proper optimization effectively pre-qualifies traffic by promoting your site for the exact products and features that you have to sell. A properly optimized web site that sells used Volvos in Dallas will deliver users that are looking to buy used Volvos in Dallas. Analysis of search engine optimization campaigns often reveals higher returns on investment than any other form of traditional advertising.

FFA Pages Will Help Improve My Link Popularity

As link popularity becomes an increasingly important component in search engine algorithms, webmasters continue to search out new ways to gain incoming links. With a limited number of directories to submit to, webmasters in competitive industries often find they have a difficult time securing incoming links that will allow them to outperform the competition.

For this reason, many webmasters have spent time singing the praises of Free For All (FFA) pages as a way to boost your incoming link count and traffic. There are several problems with this theory.

1.) Few people even look at FFA pages. The majority of traffic to FFA sites comes from webmasters looking to submit their site, not from surfers looking to find your site. In addition, most sites that are submitted to FFA pages come from automated software, making it even less likely that a human being will view your site listing.

2.) Links on FFA pages have a limited lifespan. FFA pages are designed to carry a designated amount of links on each page. This means that as more sites are added, the older sites are deleted. Because links can be added and dropped so quickly, there is rarely time for a search engine to even pick them up.

3.) When it comes to link popularity, relevancy counts. Search engines are designed to not only locate and count links, but to judge the importance and relevancy of links. Thus, 200 links from FFA page that lists 100 other web sites that have nothing to do with yours will not be counted with as much weight as one link from a popular web site that is relevant to your site. Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
March 15, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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