Many website owners put the cart before the horse- anxious for search engine traffic and rankings, the first thing they do once their site is complete is buy a "submit to 1,000 search engines for $29" service. Unfortunately, what they receive is a tenfold increase in e-mail spam but no increase in search engine traffic.
Do-it-yourself SEO is a great way to go- if you've got the time to put in, anyone can effectively optimize a website. However, it makes sense to hire a professional when your time is better spent doing what you do best; running your business.
Where to start? Selecting an internet marketer can be a daunting task. There are a wide range of fee levels as well as different attitudes, strategies and experience levels.
A few pros and cons can help you in your search:
Con: Submit your site to 25,000 Engines
Any service that claims to submit your site to more than 4 or 5 engines is not submitting to search engines at all. Most likely, they are submitting to free-for-all pages or they are spamming directories. Currently, the only engines with significant traffic are Google and Yahoo and to a small extent Teoma (Ask Jeeves). You don't have to submit to any of these engines- they will find your site by crawling links to your site.
Pro: Directory Submission Service
There are professionals who will prepare and submit your listing request to the major directories as well as industry-specific portals. This is a valuable service-- a well-written description as well as a carefully chosen directory category can improve your chances of getting listed quickly and accurately.
Directory listings are valuable links that add to your link popularity and can send traffic in their own right. Many directories are still free but several have paid options that can speed your review. Directories such as Yahoo and Business.com are paid listings only. Directory submission specialists can let you know what options and fees are available.
Con: We Won't Change a Thing on Your Site
Companies that do their optimization "off-site" by building a mini-network of sites or pages on their own site that point to yours aren't really optimizing your site. They may send you traffic, but when you stop paying, the traffic goes away. You can do that yourself with PPC listings!
Other companies create software-generated "doorway" pages or "information" pages - these pages are often created with nonsense words sprinkled with keyword phrases and meant to appeal to the search engine algorithms. The key is that they are only for search engine spiders to see; not humans. They may work for a short while (if at all.) The problem is that these pages have no links pointing to them and aren't very important in the eyes of the search engines, therefore they are not very effective.
The most dangerous companies will tell you that you won't "see" any of their changes- they add hidden links, hidden text, and other tricky techniques designed to fool search engine spiders. Some create different pages that are shown to spiders than to people- this is referred to as cloaking. These techniques can and will eventually get your site penalized or banned.
Pro: We Can Optimize Your Site
A professional SEO is likely to work with you on keyword research, change your tags, your copy, possibly your links and other code on the page. They will optimize the page- making it friendly to users and search engines while making it relevant to the terms you have agreed upon.
Con: We Guarantee #1 Listings in the Editorial Results
No one can guarantee you a #1 listing in the search engines' algorithmically determined results for a specific term. The engines do not have special agreements with anyone that allows them to choose where your site will appear!
Read the fine print- often the guaranteed terms are "guinea pig" terms- words no one is searching or optimizing for that even a guinea pig could get you #1 rankings for! Remember that a guarantee doesn't mean they have to achieve the results- simply that they'll give you your money back if they don't.
Other companies guarantee rankings on PPC terms. That's easy enough, you just have to have a big enough wallet to be #1.
Pro: We Guarantee Improved Results
A good search engine marketing firm should be able to guarantee that they will improve the performance of your site in the search engines- you shouldn't be worse off than when they started. Really good companies should be able to improve your conversions, not just your traffic and rankings. Isn't that the ultimate goal?
Don't be surprised if, after a search engine marketer works on your site, your traffic figures decrease. Don't worry- traffic doesn't pay your bills; in fact it actually costs you bandwidth. The quality of the traffic you continue to receive should be improved- more sales or conversions in relation to the number of visitors.
The ideal situtation is achieved when you narrow your search visitors to people who are interested in your site and they are easily able to find the information they want. This is more likely to occur when you stop focusing on unqualified but high traffic keyword phrases and start focusing on terms that really relate to your site.
Go with Your Instincts
Don't let a search marketer change your pages for the worse- slapping keywords on the page here and there may improve your rankings but decrease sales. Optimization techniques should complement and improve your site and good SEO copywriting will improve the focus of the page without losing the marketing edge.
You should feel confident that the search marketing professional you hire knows what they are doing and is willing to explain what they will do to your site and why. There really aren't any "secrets" in search marketing anymore- you can spend a few hours reading at any of the major search engine forums to find out how things work. If a marketer isn't willing to tell you what they plan to do to your site to drive more traffic, you may have a mess to clean up later.
Ask for examples of the marketer's other work; it's the best way to see what they do and how. Don't just look at the ranking reports, take a look at the page and make sure it reads well and isn't using sneaky tactics. Above all, pick someone you trust!
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
March 15, 2005
Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.
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