Recently there have been a number of posts on forums from clients of a certain search marketing firm. Google recently removed a large number of their clients from the results for using "inappropriate" techniques.

In reality a few simple searches in a few well known resources would have given anyone considering them plenty of information which should have caused them to pass on this company. Unfortunately anyone scammed by this firm didn't do good or possibly any due diligence before buying their services.

The company in question was using an extensive telemarketing plan to market their services. This alone should have caused many of those banned to do proper due diligence. They didn't. The short story is that any company that uses telemarketing or UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) to sell their services is likely not a firm you should be considering. Good consultants don't use these marketing methods because they are busy with referrals from established clients and leads from their marketing efforts. A cold call from a local company is less risky but I'd advise extensive due diligence before proceeding. Email from any company for anything is often a high risk of being a scam.

Questionable firms often host client pages on their servers, likely because they are protecting the client domain from banning due to "inappropriate" optimization and linking techniques. This isn't the only reason for hosting the optimized pages on their servers or domains. Some firms build sites and drive traffic to your site from them. One thing to consider when evaluating these services is that if you decide to leave this service they can sell the traffic to your competitors.

Lessons you can learn from the other sites that have been banned are:

1. If you do not initiate contact proceed with caution and do extensive due diligence

2. Use a forum's keyword search feature for discussion of the firm by name, url or consultant's name. You may find info about the firms techniques and services, client complaints and support. Keep in mind that what you find or answers to questions may be posted by a competitor or company personnel masquerading as an anonymous poster. Each forum has it's own guidelines for naming firms or consultants by name check the forum guidelines regarding links and forum etiquette.

3. Check the BBB and other like organizations. SeoPros is one organization that will answer questions by phone or email regarding both Member and Non Member firms and any services you do not understand free of charge or any obligation.

4. Be wary of firms where the pages are not hosted on your domain or they require additional domains to host the optimized pages.

How Do I Find a Reputable SEO?

Search Engines:

A search engine would seem like a good place to find SEO consultants. I don't agree that is the best way unless you have a good understanding of the services they'll be offering. A search identifies companies that do well for SEO industry terms. The terms you choose to search with may not be competitive. To determine the quality or competitiveness of a term you can search on Google using:

allintitle:your search term
allinanchor:your search term

The total number of results for these searches is at the top of the search. The higher the number the more competitive it is. Link text and titles are an important part of the optimization of a page so these two searches help identify the level of skill required to place well for the term assuming that more competition means it is harder to place it in the top of the results.

This info can be verified using Wordtracker or the Overture inventory tool. The more a term is searched for the higher the competition should be for the term. Note the Overture tool is not very accurate it has a lot of remote query skew in the data. It's best feature is it is free. There is also a free version of WordTracker but some of the features are disabled.

Niche Directories and SEO/SEM Organizations:

Any SEO doing proper submission should be in the ODP. They seem to watch this category closely and therefore mini-sites or those who do not specialize in SEO/SEM won't likely be listed in this category. I wouldn't advise not considering them at all but I would regard it as a reason to look much closer at the firms submission techniques and whether they are truly an SEO specialist.

There are two Organizations and one niche directory that list only SEO/SEM firms that I regard as recommended resources. SeoPros and SEOConsultants review SEO techniques, business practices and services. SEMPO does no reviews for Membership to the Organization.

Do Due Diligence Before Purchasing Any Services!

Below are a number of searches you can do on Google and Yahoo! which will provide information about a firm's status in the index and the techniques they use.

1. Checking for a banned site, doorway page strategies, and hidden text

Google: site:www.companyurl.com
Yahoo!: site:www.companyurl.com

Are they banned? Quite likely if there are no results. If a page is listed in the index but there is no link to it from the site then it is quite possibly a doorway page. Search engines have stated they do not like doorway pages. You should also find most of the pages on the site in the results. If you don't they may have indexing problems caused by poor link architecture or duplicate content.

A good way to check for hidden text and links is to select the page using the "Select All" option found under the "Edit" option in the browser toolbar. Invisible text and links will become visible due to the highlighting of the page. If a small square or rectangle is highlighted then run your cursor over it. If it changes to a finger it is a hidden link. Hidden links and text are contrary to the guidelines of all search engines.

2. Do they use long term link development techniques?

Google: site:www.companyurl.com -site:www.companyurl.com
Yahoo!: site:www.companyurl.com -site:www.companyurl.com

Google does not list all links to a site using the link:www.companyurl.com. This search is used to find all links to the firms site. It is very likely you will also find clients they have provided services to in the past. Go to the sites listed and you can get an idea of how they do link development and the quality of sites they will find for you. Be wary if they are linking between unrelated client sites or sites they own. This could be what is referred to as a link farm. A link technique which is frowned upon by all search engines.

Google: link:www.companyurl.com
*Yahoo!: linkdomain:companyurl.com

This search is important because it primarily lists high quality links to the site. The Yahoo! search lists all links quality of links is not really indicated by the search. This should be a good place to find clients and evaluate the quality of links they find for their link development services. This search on Google is generally thought to only return sites with PR (PageRank) 4 or higher. The higher the PR of a page the higher the quality and value of the link. PageRank can be found in the Google directory listing or using the Google Toolbar.

*Yahoo! has more than 1 method for checking links. The day we researched this paper the following syntax wasn't working as expected.
link:www.companyurl.com
link:http://companyurl.com

3. Search using company phone number and address

This search reveals mini-site and mirror sites. Sometimes results may include aliased domains so finding them under another domain doesn't necessarily mean a mirror or mini-site strategy is being used. Check some of the well known directories to see if they are promoting more than 1 domain for the same business. I suggest checking ODP, JoeAnt, Skaffe, and GoGuides.

You may find several unrelated businesses listed under the same address or phone number. Staying on top of the changes SE make is time consuming requiring specialization and ongoing research to provide effective services. Web design or development, copy writing and Internet marketing are related services a specialist often provides.

4. Evaluating Client sites and getting unbiased references

If they have a client list or you find a client site in the back link check look at the bottom of the client pages often the link text describes the services that were provided. If you identify a client repeat all of the above techniques using the clients info.

I would also recommend that reference requests be made directly to clients found using the techniques in #2. Due diligence is an important part of the process in choosing an SEO. References which are supplied by the firm are not likely to include clients which have had problems or were dissatisfied with the service. Most site owners will be happy to co-operate if you ask in a business like manner and tell them why you are asking them for a reference for the firm.

Conclusion

Due diligence should be done regardless of how contact was initiated or how you found the consultant. SEO's found through industry conferences and organizations are excellent starting points, but it would be a mistake to think that participation at conferences or organization membership is an endorsement or recommendation eliminating the need to do due diligence.
February 1, 2005





In 2000 Terry founded the SeoPros Organization as a means to improving consumer perceptions of the Search Engine Optimization Industry. From 2001 to present he has been the lead developer of its reviewed directory of SEO Consultants and RFPgenerator. SeoPros has become an NFP as a vehicle for development of the Industry and trade. His new venture Canadian Search Engine Marketing or CaSEM presently administers and continues to develop SeoPros' directory and RFPgenerator. CaSEM was formed as the provider of SeoPros Private Label Recommendation and Campaign Management Services.





Search Engine Guide > Terry Van Horne > Finding an SEO Consultant