The recent news of an SEO getting sued for lack of results got me thinking about the dynamic that SEOs and their clients need to have in order for any web marketing campaign to be successful. Unlike many other industries, the success of SEO relies heavily on the client themselves.
The SEO can't just "optimize" a site and have it appear in the search results. On-page optimization is just one of the many factors that the SEO can have influence on, but rarely absolute control over. As for the rest of the factors, the SEO has even less control, but can still provide some degree of influence--should the client choose to participate.
One interesting point about the lawsuit is that the "victim" says the SEO company misrepresented their abilities by claiming that the work they did would be effective.
Seikaly & Stewart claim that "the Victim Firms were duped into believing that the services to be provided by The Rainmaker Institute... would be effective in making the websites and related web pages of the Victim Firms appear high in the results of the most important internet search engines--most significantly Google--when key terms chosen by the Victim Firms to describe their practices and the services offered were entered in a search by potential clients."
Now I don't know about you, but I have never run across an SEO provider that claims the work they do would not be effective! There are many consistent aspects of good on-page optimization, but over the years, many of the ranking algorithm factors have shifted. Specific strategies that worked last year just don"t work today, and what wasn't a thought last year is a now a new Google ranking factor!
It's the SEO's job to keep up with algorithm changes and adapt their strategies accordingly. I would also argue that any SEO you'd want to work with is one that understands and mostly avoids strategies that they think could or should be penalized in the future. The big question is: If Google knew you were doing this, would they be happy?
A negative answer to that question may not automatically eliminate any particular tactic from the SEO's arsenal, but it's important for an SEO to know the true impact of what they are doing for their clients.
One of the accusations made by the victim firm was that the SEO company was engaging in strategies they knew to be a violation of Google's guidelines and would therefore damage the site.
The action is based on the fact that, at the time that the defendants were promoting this marketing scheme to the Victim Firms, they knew that the techniques they proposed to use were in violation of the guidelines already well-established and published by Google; knew that Google was moving rapidly to crack down on violators; knew that use of these techniques would not only fail to enhance the likelihood that the Victim Firms would rise in Google's rankings, but would actually be downgraded to the point where the websites being used by the Victim Firms would become "contaminated" for search engine purposes.
Unfortunately, this is true of many SEO firms. They engage in strategies that they know can bring penalties to the site. Many SEO firms that employ these tactics do so with the client's full knowledge and attempt to avoid detection. I can't image any legitimate SEO firms that knowingly engage in strategies they know will fail. They are either ignorant of good SEO tactics, or they are simply crooks. Either way, I would argue they are not legitimate.
More likely, such SEOs engage in strategies that, even though against Google's guidelines, are believed to continue to provide benefit to the client. Unfortunately, this company was either no longer flying under the radar, or Google got smart enough to detect what was going on, and they didn't see it coming. They should have!
The hazard of violating any of Google's SEO guidelines, no matter how small, is that at some point it may catch up to you. May. That could equal a penalty on the site(s) or just a devaluing of all such strategies implemented in the past. Either way, the client spent a lot of money on something that is only temporary.
So what went wrong?
Did the hiring company have misplaced expectations? Did the SEO company not reveal potentially harmful strategies they were employing?
Probably a combination of both.
Misplaced expectations are one of the biggest hurdles SEOs have to overcome. SEOs have to be confident that their services are effective, but marketing, by its very nature, is a crapshoot. There are no guarantees any marketing you do will be effective. Why? Because it relies on outside forces.
Successful TV ads rely on many factors such as when the ad is aired, how often, how compelling it is and whether it puts the viewer on the path to conversion. Some commercials work and some don't.
In SEO, Google is the outside factor. You can't just buy your way to a #1 organic ranking; you have to build trust, authority, credibility, etc. Those can be achieved the "proper" way, which includes good on-page optimization, site architecture, keyword research, content development, etc. This takes time and resources.
Or, rankings can be achieved via manipulating factors that give the illusion of popularity. This can be done by buying links or by belonging to secret groups that promote the content of its members in their social networks. This route is usually cheaper than the pure "proper" way. My best guess is that many SEOs do a combination of legitimate and manipulative strategies.
All said and done, however, it is the SEO's job to ensure the client is aware of the strategies being used, and the potential pitfalls of doing so. The SEO should also have full client buy-in on all the strategies that are being implemented. We like to think that good SEO is a partnership. The SEO can provide the strategies, but the client must be willing to go along with them.
If your SEO is handling every aspect of your web marketing campaign with little to no involvement on your end, they are doing you a disservice. Not to mention they are probably engaged in mostly manipulative SEO tactics. Successful SEO requires client buy-in, involvement and engagement throughout the campaign. The SEO can lay down strategy, but they cannot make every strategy work by themselves.
So before you sign any SEO contract, get informed. Know what kind of strategies they are using. If one SEO is cheaper than another, there might be a reason. Manipulation is cheaper than doing it naturally. Know what they offer, how the implementation will be handled and be sure to stay involved throughout the process so that the SEO work does more than get you top rankings, it gets you new business as well.
It's Google's job to rank websites. It's the SEO's job to know what Google likes. It's the client's job to make sure your SEO is helping you grow your business, not just search engine rankings. We like to tell our prospective clients, "We don't rank websites. That's Google's Job." Our job is to help you create a website that deserves top rankings.
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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