In the earlier years of internet marketing, the most common question I heard about search engine optimisation was, “SEO? What’s that?” Today I am more likely to hear, “SEO? We tried that and it didn’t’ work.”
The biggest challenge I now face with new SEO clients is cleaning up the mess left by their previous search engine optimisation company or individuals.
It’s not unusual to begin a project removing link farms, taking down doorway pages, stripping away clumsy optimisation tactics, cleaning stuffed keywords, rewriting titles and descriptions that barely make sense for search engines and re-writing content that doesn’t make sense to the users!
Most SEOers define SEO as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.
I see it differently. SEO is about:
- improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web page (not a web site) from search engines via natural resources, and
- maximising your outcomes and ROI on investment from the process.
One more point: SEO is not free. It can certainly bring great percentage ROI, but it requires investment, time and planning.
Optimisation needs to be understood differently to maximisation. Every single page on your website is a potential point of conversion. Every single word and every single part of your whole web exercise should be crafted with this in mind. SEO should not drive traffic to your website generally but to the individual pages that are closely aligned to your prospects’ interests.
Remember, search engines crawl, index and present web pages, not websites. And while some people think of SEO as the Holy Grail, it is, in fact, just a means to a business end.
The main ‘end’ purpose of SEO is to generate commercial benefit to a business. It’s not to generate traffic, although that might be one of the ways of execute the strategy.
Traffic is the primary ‘How’. Conversions, sign-ups, donations are the ‘Why’.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEOers out there taking advantage of the unknowing site owner, selling snake oil and giving SEO a bad name.
Here are eight warning signs that an SEO “expert” is trying to rip you off.
Scam warning sign #1: Asking you to invest all your budget in SEO.
While SEO can deliver a fantastic ROI, the reality is that Search Engines can change, your reality can change and SEO might not be the best option for your business in the future. So think twice before you invest a large chunk of your marketing budget in SEO. Think about alternatives to reach your clients. Consider pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, online coupons and starting a social media campaign.
Scam warning sign #2: “All search engine optimisation is about your home page.”
Every page of your site is a potential doorway. Users navigate via search, so map out keywords and selling propositions against URLs and try to offer the most relevant user experience in and out your website at all times.
Have every page of your website optimised for the particular subject you are describing. Having different meta tags for each page helps both users and search engines, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain.
Every single page offers a chance to convert customers. Why list your telephone number just on the contact page if you have buyers coming and landing on every single page?
Scam warning sign #3: “We will submit your site to 2,000 search engines!”
Google, Yahoo and Bing (let’s leave YouTube for the moment) are enough. Medium-smaller size search engines are usually powered by the big search engines, meaning if you are listed on the big three you will be automatically on the smaller ones.
In fact, the major search engines have been in this business for years, and they’ve gotten pretty good at finding sites themselves.
No need to submit, no need to pay someone to do so.
Scam warning sign #4: “Have your site optimised and promoted for only $29.95 a month!”
It’s simply unrealistic to expect good work from a professional SEO for such a small fee.
SEO is a long-term exercise base primarily on strategy. You need to build a base, go out, make good connections and relationships to your website, learn, improve, etc. This is simply not a free exercise. SEO is not a commodity as some companies might wish.
Does that mean that small companies with limited budget can’t do it?
No. It means that small companies with limited budgets need to understand the timeframes involved and question whether optimisation is the best answer for their needs.
Think about making incremental improvement to your web business using testimonials, new products, promotions, partnerships, constant updates in content, etc. That will help your rankings.
Or, if you’re insistent on optimisation, put extra effort into the start of the process, finding keywords with less competition but still with high value.
Scam warning sign #5. “We can’t tell you what we are doing — it’s a trade secret.”
Other than a few tid bits you uncover over years doing this kind of work, there really isn’t a whole lot of “secret” information. SEOers aren’t paid because they have some incredible secret wrapped up. They are paid because of the experience they have in dealing with the search engines, and the success they can bring to a site. They are being paid to offer the best solution in the context of your needs and reality.
If they can’t (or won’t) tell you what they’re doing, it’s probably because they don’t know and are trying to conceal this fact with smokes and mirrors.
Scam warning sign #6: “We know a guy at Google.”
I love this one, mostly because I know a guy at Google. I also know a guy at my local pub, but I still pay for beer. I know a guy at Telstra, and I still pay a monthly phone bill.
Trust me, Google is not going to risk the integrity of its search results just because someone knows someone. How naive!
Scam warning sign #7: Messing with keywords
Keywords are the soul of SEO.
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it.
Knowing how to use your industry jargon, important keywords and most searched keywords is important.
But here’s the key: understanding the difference between popular keywords and keywords that are close to the end of a buying decision can make all the difference to your ROI.
Example: When performing SEO for a travel agency in Australia, we were researching keywords and trying to decide the leading word. It came down to decision between “Travel” and “Tour”.
Although there were four times more people looking for the keyword “travel”, we opted for “tour” because using pay-per-click for testing, searchers typing “Tour” were 70 percent more inclined to convert.
For every person searching for “seo” or “sem”, there are probably 10 people searching for more obscure queries like, “How do I promote my business on Google?” You can see how our page about link building ranks for hundreds of related keywords.
Try to pick a market position you feel you can dominate. The #20 result for “insurance” produces traffic worth $0. The #2 or #3 results for “pet insurance” yields far more.
Scam warning sign #8: “We guarantee page 1 rankings!”
Nobody can do this. Nobody. Check out what Google says.
In SEO, there are no guarantees on rankings, traffic or any other measure. Think of SEO like advertising (that’s really all it is, just online). The best marketing guys don’t guarantee anything, either. Neither do doctors or lawyers. You hire these professionals based on the questions you’ve asked them, their past successes, experience, etc. SEO is no different.
Good SEOers are good because they have spent years learning and testing, and know the measures most often needed to produce results. So if anyone guarantees anything, they are only guaranteeing that you will be wasting your hard-earned money.
Lucio Ribeiro is Partner/Founder at The Online Circle Interactive, a full-service interactive agency that applies technical savvy, creativity and business accountability to internet marketing and effective cutting-edge solutions for the digital age. He was recently elected one of top 10 most trusted SEO/SEM professionals in the world by Marketing Today. Follow him on Twitter: @lucio_ribeiro.