Show of hands, how many of you have read through Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Mmmm, ok. go ahead and put your hands down.
Every now and then I find it useful to look and see what Google has to say to webmasters about their websites. It's been years since I was last in here and I'm amazed by the amount of new content Google has added to their webmaster helps.
One thing to keep in mind whenever reviewing information put out by the search engines is that the engines have a vested interest in being selfish. Sure, they want to be helpful, but at the same time the information they provide comes with a very distinct bias as to what will ultimately help them.
That doesn't make the advice bad, it just means we need to learn to sift what is really important from what Google wants us to think is important.
Today I want to revisit Google's Guidelines for selecting an SEO provider. Let's take them point by point and I'll provide my own analysis. You can click the link above if you want to read Google's expanded explanations.
Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.
Not all unsolicited emails are bad. I think it's a shame that email marketing has gotten such a bad rap, however I will admit it is mostly deserved. The danger with this kind of solicitation is that they are usually sent from SEOs that have done little or no research and are just pounding out slightly customized mass emails.
Typically these emails claim that your site "isn't ranking" or "could not be found" on the search engines. Of course, it begs the question how they found you order to send you that email. Often the claims will be legitimate in a very narrow context, stating they could not find you when searching for a particular keyword that may or may not be relevant or valuable to you.
Keep a healthy dose of skepticism when reading these emails. Most of the time you're better off just deleting them any way. But the same time, these emails are not all from spammers. Google's advice here to be wary is sound.
No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
I've blogged enough over the years debunking the myth of guaranteed rankings, so there is no need to go into it all here. There are things that SEOs can guarantee, but rankings are not one of them, outside of pay-per-click campaigns. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't expect results either.
Avoid any SEO that offers ranking guarantees. There is usually enough small print that allows them out of any type of refund or continued service. On the other hand satisfaction guarantees our something that SEOs can provide, if they are willing.
Be careful if a company is secretive or won't clearly explain what they intend to do.
SEOs that won't share their processes with you need to be avoided at all cost. There really are no SEO secrets, just different strategies that can be employed. Any SEO you are dealing with should freely share their strategies with you and they should be able to give you comfort that they won't engage in activities that are likely to get your site penalized by the engines.
The better informed you are as a client, the healthier relationship you'll have with your SEO. And knowing what strategies they'll be implementing will help you keep your expectations in line with the results as well.
You should never have to link to an SEO.
You should never have to link to anybody, period. This includes directories that exchange a listing for a link, suppliers, agents, etc. Don't get yourself in a deal where a link is required to be maintained at all times.
With that said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with anybody requesting that you place a link to their site, and doing so may be mutually beneficial. But linking from your website to another should always be a choice, and you should do it only when it is of benefit to your site visitors.
When you lose control of who you link to because of the deals you make, you can often times find yourself associating with some less than reputable websites. The last thing you want is for the search engines to ding you quality points because of your shady associations.
Doing your research is important, especially when you'll be investing thousands of dollars over several months for any marketing effort. There are a lot of companies out there that sound real good, say all the right words, but when push comes to shove they just don't have what it takes.
One of the most important aspects of choosing an SEO is not just knowing if they can do the job, knowing they operate their business ethically. I don't believe in "SEO ethics", but I do believe in business ethics. Your SEO should be upfront with you about what they are doing and why, and what kind of benefit you should expect from them. They should also let you know if any of their optimization strategies will bring any potential harm to you.
Of course, no one will tell you they operate unethically and unfortunately many people get sucked into paying these companies only to get shafted later on. Do your due diligence research. Find out about the company, and about the people running it. Cost of services is far less important than the potential cost of doing business with a rip-off artist.
Be sure to understand where the money goes.
There are a number of various avenues of online marketing where money can, and likely will be invested. From social media to link building to development of new architecture or content. The goal however, should be the same, to increase your exposure in the search engines and to provide a better user experience in total.
But you should be aware if the SEO is spending money purchasing links, ads or subbing their work out to a company in India. You're paying the bill so you have a right to know what's being done with that money and what results you can expect.
What are the most common abuses a website owner is likely to encounter?
Google provides two main cautions here. The first is to make sure that you own all the work that an SEO does for you. Don't engage in SEO services where you don't have a legal right to all work performed at the end of the contract, including content, pages, domains and links. Anything purchased as part of the optimization campaign should be yours to keep.
The second is the creation of junk pages that serve little or no value to your customers. There is nothing wrong with creating new pages to target specific keywords that are not targeted elsewhere on the site. The creation of these pages, however, must include full integration into the website, professionally written content, and nothing "hidden" that's there for anybody's interest but your own as the site owner.
Google's recommendations are largely sound. Remember, they have a vested interest in keeping their site free of spam and choosing a SEO that is committed to helping you grow your business, as opposed to just achieving search engine rankings, helps them as well.
There is not much here that isn't sound. Google's suggestions are pretty fair and balanced toward the business owner, and not just propaganda that serves their own needs. You'll be better off following these guidelines than not.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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