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.

Choose wisely.

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.

January 27, 2009

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.


This is interesting, I'm a little surprised google would be talking about SEO companies in their webmaster guidelines. Everything they say there is pretty much dead on though. There are a few decent SEO companies, although in my experience, most of them are definitely not worth it and most of them have no clue what they're talking about. internet marketing

As an SEO provider I agree with what you describe. It really isn't rocket science.

In fact SEO reminds me of fixing a telephone wire. Let's see, there is a green wire and a red wire... and that's all!

But - what I have found is when you do your best to be upfront with prospective clients (I even hand them a list of what I will do for them) they often get overwhelmed and back away from any work.

And as much natural as you can naturally - and google will reward you. In fact I find local business ranking in the top 5 is not that difficult to obtain. To keep - now that is another matter!

Miami Phillips

Why would anyone pay someone else for SEO when it so easy to obtain and maintain a high ranking? you can do a google search for SEO trick, tips, techniques and find everything you need to get top rankings? I guess if you are lazy or dont want to spend the time (or have money to burn!) you can afford to pay someone else but I will always spend a couple of mimutes per day to obtain and maintain my #1 google rankings.

Daniel, I have to disagree with you.

If the engine on your car is blown, do you take your car to a mechanic, or do you replace the motor yourself? There is a ton of literature out there that would help you swap the engine yourself, but most likely, you'd take it to a mechanic. SEO is really the same.

Yes you could do it yourself, but are you willing to invest the time and effort in learning how to do it, and then doing it? Your business needs running - and as a business owner you are better off (in most cases) spending your time taking care of business. If as a business owner, things are so slow that you have the time to learn a new trade, then perhaps you can do it yourself, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

When you get a cavity do you pick up a book on dentistry, or do you visit your dentist?

I have always wondered how many emails they must have received asking for advice or recommendations for SEO companies before they put up the Guidelines. It mush have been dozens every day!


James Svoboda
Minnesota SEO Services

This is really good information especially for me a newbie in this business. I will need to keep my eyes open. The guidelines are good, thanks for the info.

I have been searching SEO strategies for years but I see there comes a new strategy. So best way is paying a company whose profession is SEO. They will follow every new strategy for you.

very nice article. Seo is new to me, i learn something new every day which is great. I probably should check out the guidelines. Thanks!

@Scott : I would like to reiterate what daniel has said.....It is ok if you have cavity, you can visit a dentist, but regarding SEO, the net has so many info on it, and why would not I as business man take SEO in my own hands and do it.

I own the business, I must promote it, I take time read, learn it and do SEO myself.......

Remember from where did you learn about SEO when you started, you obviously would not have gone to university and studied it, you must have learnt it from the internet with some guidance.

I feel there is nothing wrong in doing SEO by ourselves,if done right, provided we have the passion and resources for it....

@tabsfiroz - You are absolutely correct that a person could learn everything they need to know about SEO by research articles online etc, however, you can learn more working with seasoned professionals that know the trade.

The problem with articles, is that not everything you read is correct, some writers know there stuff, but leave bits and pieces out, some think they know it, and give bad information, etc, and for someone who is not doing this as a profession, it can be hard to spot what to use and what to ignore sometimes.

I started off learning direct from a professional and used articles etc to supplement my knowledge until I got to a point where I was able to make my own discoveries etc. While articles, forums, etc, helped, they were not my sole resource.

I think that for it to be the right choice for a business owner to do their own SEO, you have to look at a number of factors, one of the biggest being how competitive is the phrase(s) they want to rank for. If its a small niche, then sure, go for it, but if it is more competitive, you will in most cases, probably get better and faster results using someone who knows their stuff...

... for a competitive industry, you would have to invest much more time into the SEO, and many business owners just don't have that kind of time to both learn and then implement.

(I do agree though, that it is possible that a business owner could learn it all and do it themselves, but I think in most cases, it would not make good business sense)

you said "I feel there is nothing wrong in doing SEO by ourselves,if done right..." and I agree with this - "If done right". I have had clients who did the reading, and learnt all they could, optimized their site based on what they read, and then came to us for help after they were destroyed in Google due to mass spam. They had read certain techniques that were SPAM that they thought were legit, and they also had implemented some old school stuff that worked back in the 90's but was now considered bad. These kinds of mistakes would never happen to a seasoned professional.

Doing SEO on the side while managing your business can be a gamble.

@Scott : Thanks for the detailed answer, you nailed it mate.... I posted that comment knowingly that SEO must be done by professionals, but for people who think they can do it, your reply answers them all.......

Thanks for bringing out the point about the junk relating SEO found on the net, I really do feel that it is getting on to me.....

Any way thanks for the reply and to Stoney who in the first place wrote about it........

Well Google like to make the rules - and it's certainly worth reading the webmaster guidelines.

Normally I tend to divide SEO into two parts:

This is the part of the SEO where you optimize your site, so it will be indexed perfectly by the search engines - and optimized with the right keywords for your market - using all the tags and tools allowed.

Some link building can be in the optimization but really a lot of link building is pure manipulation of the search results.

This part is where you start to move away from the white hat area - organized link building done by SEOs, organized link buying, cloaking ...

Actually you can come pretty far using the just white hat optimization stuff, but in a very competitive market it’s unfortunately often necessary to go to the dark side – and manipulate.

Steen Öhman
Öhman Research, Denmark

There is nothing wrong with the guidelines of the Google and also its not good for SEO either. But its a good guidelines to follow though. Thanks for posting its a good article.

can anyone tell me, how i can add sitemap in google?

It is probably a good idea to see what terms the firm ranks for as well. If they are good, then they should be up there in the top 10. There is a lot of free information you can get as well, but time is money so if you can find a good firm then it is worth it.

Interesting advice. I'm in the process of seeking a new SEO firm myself. Wouldn't you know that they are all the best (they'll even say so).

I also agree that no firm can guarantee top rankings for a desired keyword, but with a caveat. The English language contains numerous possible meanings for many words, one of these being the word guarantee.

If a firm is guaranteeing top 10 rankings in (anything useful), and giving this as a statement of fact, then this is a red-flag, since this is not something they can control. They cannot, therefore, factually say you can rely on a top ranking in a difficult phrase.

This should not be confused, however, with a firm which, although they do not promise "top rankings", will still "guarantee" position, thus assuming part of the financial risk based upon their own performance. In this latter case, the firm making the claim isn't actually promising results, only promising to bill according to their own results. (pay for performance).

This aside, I have serious reservations about the pay for performance model. If not implemented very carefully, the pay for performance model may cause difficulty for both the SEO firm and the client (in some cases, not all, I realize that for some it has worked, but I think these cases are the exception).

The SEO firm is dealing not only with the risks of Google algo changes, but also with site changes made by the webmaster, which may hamper the SEO's efforts. If the performance-based plan is based upon ranking of keywords, this is the main problem.

If, however, the performance-based plan is based upon a share of revenue, then the SEO is dealing with far more details out of their control (shopping cart changes, for example).

There are also risks which the client accepts in a performance-based SEO plan, but which many clients may not have considered.

1. It is quite possible for a performance-based SEO firm to rank a site well (short-term) by using simple black-hat techniques. Thus, the client is getting long-term damage with short-term results (and paying for it now and later).

2. A performance-based SEO may, in fact, do absolutely nothing for clients who seek difficult to attain keywords.

3. If the performance-based SEO is successful, you will probably pay MORE for the results then you would with a standard SEO contract. This is RIGHT, since an SEO willing to accept these risks should get a greater share of the success!

This (#2) happened to me, so I wished to share it with webmasters who are so enticed with the concept of performance-based SEO.

There is, in fact, money to be made by simply signing performance-based contracts with LARGE numbers of webmasters for large numbers of keywords. This was the form of the 12 month contract I signed with a company a year ago.

Of course with enough performance-based clients and keywords there will be a small percentage which will climb the rankings on their own. It's all a matter of statistics.

Now, the primary function of the particular performance-based SEO which I contracted was simply external link building in order to strengthen a poor backlink profile, but they built no links whatsoever. Instead, they had apparently determined that if they have enough contracts with enough keywords, that some of those keywords will, quite on their own, rank better over time with no intervention from them at all. Although this means a smaller amount of billing to the clients, it's a great ROI for the SEO if they do nothing.

So, in conclusion I'd like to say to any webmasters reading this to be very cautious in choosing an SEO firm (especially a performance-based SEO). Although it may seem that you "have nothing to lose by trying", this is not the case. Choosing the wrong SEO may prove detrimental.

As for myself, I've found the SEOMoz recommended list a good source of SEO firms. Though I still find it a bit perplexing how they can all be the best.

1. Be wary of any firm which PROMISES results (remember, guarantee may not mean the same thing, and may not be the red-flag you think, but be careful).

2. No SEO has a "magic" formula to achieve rankings.

3. An SEO should be able to explain to you what they are planning on doing, and how they will be doing it.

4. If you find a GOOD SEO (I'm trying to), tell other webmasters about them (okay, don't tell your competition). It is in your best interest to bring more business to your SEO firm, as it makes the scam-SEO firms that much less successful. Plus, you get to do a good thing for your fellow webmasters.

Just some thoughts. Thank you.

Well Google like to make the rules - and it's certainly worth reading the webmaster guidelines.

Normally I tend to divide SEO into two parts:

This is the part of the SEO where you optimize your site, so it will be indexed perfectly by the search engines - and optimized with the right keywords for your market - using all the tags and tools allowed.

Some link building can be in the optimization but really a lot of link building is pure manipulation of the search results.

This part is where you start to move away from the white hat area - organized link building done by SEOs, organized link buying, cloaking ...

Actually you can come pretty far using the just white hat optimization stuff, but in a very competitive market it’s unfortunately often necessary to go to the dark side – and manipulate.

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