The S in SEO does not stand for Sneaky. While not all digital marketing or SEO (search engine optimization) firms are sketchy, it does appear that many of them are.
Typically, they promise the world, act like SEO marketing is one of life’s great mysteries and either deliver no results or surprising results (surprising, as in fishy).
SEO companies that promise things that sound too good to be true usually are too good to be true. There are no shortcuts to good SEO.
The only way to rise in the rankings honestly is by creating a valuable website, promoting that site and practicing proven SEO tactics.
A valuable website is one that provides a lot of good, expert content on a given subject—whatever it is that your company does or sells.
SEO in a nutshell: You create a website, populate that website with valuable expert content, promote that website and measure the results (usually through Google Analytics).
No, SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can’t have good SEO without a good website. You can’t have a good website without expert content on that website.
In other words, you can’t have good SEO without a lot of work on your part (or on the part of the SEO firm you hire). No SEO firm can come along and transform your site traffic at the touch of a button.
No, paid advertising is not SEO. Paid advertising basically gets you listed high in the rankings for a fee. However, all this does is get people to click on your website. Once there, if they don’t find a valuable website, you’re still not likely to win their business.
No, they don’t know someone at Google or have insider information that’s going to boost your website’s rankings. Google employees don’t control Google’s algorithms, and even if they could somehow influence rankings, they’d be risking their jobs.
No, they don’t know exactly how Google’s algorithms work. Google representatives have admitted that the folks who create the algorithms don’t know exactly how they work. If the Google nerds don’t know, no one does.
No, metadata doesn’t matter. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore. Google’s spiders don’t take metadata into account for search rankings anymore, they only use it to preview the content on pages.
No, there are not thousands of search engines that matter. In fact, there’s really only one: Google. In search, Google accounts for about 90% of all searches. Bing and Yahoo account for about another 5% put together. You do the math.
No, you can’t fake links. The only links that matter are ones that are genuine, from quality companies.
If an SEO firm promises a bunch of links and sales leads, they’re likely paying for them and they’re likely fake links. Or even if the links are legitimate, they’re not likely to be qualified sales leads.
(Note: Google’s penalty for having a bunch of spammy links to your website is to characterize your website as a spammy site along with them and blacklist it—meaning it won’t show up in any searches until you get rid of the spammy links.)
No, SEO isn’t a mystery that no one can explain. While it’s true that Google’s algorithms are kind of a mystery that no one can completely explain, SEO is pretty cut and tried.
If an SEO company can’t or won’t explain everything in plain terms or the firm doesn’t ask you endless questions about your business, run for the hills.
An experienced SEO firm will outline issues and plans for both technical and strategic reasons…They should work closely with you to understand your business, sales, conversion strategies, content strategies, website tracking and page effectiveness, PR, marketing and overall growth plans.
Good firms become an essential partner in not only providing guidance, but planning, executing and reporting with your team. This covers all the technical details as well as working to reach your online company objectives.
Surprising (Fishy) Results
Some firms promise to deliver amazing results and then deliver them. All on their own, working in a vacuum. These are not the results you want.
Take the SEO wizard from Craigslist. This person increased a company’s site literally overnight.
According to Andrew Spotland of Search Engine Land, this miracle worker took a “newly launched domain with few backlinks, messed up NAP [the business name, address and phone listed consistently across the site] and generally bad juju” and turned it all around—in a day.
No one—no one—can increase a site’s internet traffic in 24 hours. Maybe you post a great article or infographic or video that goes viral? But short of that, site traffic doesn’t increase that quickly without something blackhat driving it.
Spotland writes that he was working for a company that hired an SEO “expert” off of Craigslist (no offense to Craigslist, but come on). The guru tripled the company’s website traffic literally overnight.
I went back to GA [Google Analytics], created a custom segment for non-U.S. traffic and compared it to organic search visits and guess what?
The location report in GA confirmed my suspicions—90% of the new traffic was coming from China, Philippines, Brazil and India. I dug a bit deeper and found that the majority of this new traffic was hitting the home page, staying for less than a second, and bouncing out.
—Search Engine Land
In other words, the SEO genius was “basically paying people to find the site and click on it.” This is akin to link farms during the early years of SEO.
With link farms, shady companies would create thousands of useless websites for the sole purpose of linking to customer sites, increasing the customer’s SEO. It was a blackhat tactic that doesn’t work anymore.
Sneaky Firms Do Exist
It’s unfortunate because sneaky SEO firms are cashing in on a service that can be elusive to customers at best, completely baffling at worst.
They’re con artists praying on companies that either don’t know anything about SEO or don’t know enough to spot a scan. It’s unfortunate. And all too common.