Being able to recognize the difference between a healthy SEO campaign and one that puts your money and hard work at risk can determine the long-term success or failure of your project.
The following is a list of certain practices that should be scrutinized before you engage in a contract for any type of SEO (search engine optimization) or SEM (search engine marketing) work.
- The Use of Secret or Proprietary SEO Methods. Always ask detailed questions about the techniques an SEO company plans to use. If the company will not share this information or tells you they cannot provide details due to the proprietary nature of their advanced techniques, find another company. Never allow anyone access to your web pages unless you have a clear understanding of what they plan to do. Legitimate SEO professionals share the nature of their methods with their clients.
“Proprietary” simply means, “I don’t want to tell you what what I plan to do.” There are a range of techniques used in search engine optimization, but none of them are unique or proprietary. Each company may use a different mix of methods, but none of them are absolutely unique unless they are doing something that may jeopardize your site’s rankings if they are discovered by search engines. Beware of secret black hat SEO techniques that initially appear to work, but can get your site banned by search engines if they are discovered.
Read on to learn about other issues that should raise a bright red flag.
- Guaranteed Traffic. While one of the goals of every SEO and SEM project is to increase business by increasing traffic to a web site, you need to recognize that the only traffic that matters is “qualified traffic”. Qualified traffic is defined as people who are interested in the products, services or information you offer. 100,000 new visitors are meaningless if they are not interested in what you offer.
Guaranteed traffic is a broad term that does not necessarily focus on qualified traffic. I recently heard about a scam where clients sign up for Guaranteed Increased Traffic. Server logs are used to benchmark the number of page requests. It is real easy to set up a program that repeatedly requests pages from a site, which show up in the log files as increased visits and page requests, even though none of these requests are coming from users who are actually visiting your site. However, the IP address of the requesting party would likely identify the requests as coming from the same source and thereby would be easily recognizable as fraud. I recently identified on case where a person paid for guaranteed traffic and the log files did record 10,000 visits from a single IP address. That IP address was assigned to a server in Tokyo that did not have any domain names assigned to it.
A more sophisticated version that we recently saw involved a scammer who bought a block of pop-up ads from a high-volume porn site. The pop-up is set up to automatically load a page from your site when a porn site user visits a page that triggers the ad. This is indistinguishable from legitimate requests in your server log files. Each request will likely come from a different user and a different IP address.
If you are buying into a program that guarantees to increase the traffic to your site, make sure that you understand how the traffic is being generated and qualified.
- Guaranteed Top Ten Rankings. Make sure that the company is guaranteeing a top ten position for your selected keywords (not theirs) in Google, MSN or Yahoo. Your company name or domain name does not count. Both of these are usually unique and should end up in top positions. It is easy to obtain a top ten ranking for obscure keyword phrases that no one uses, so make sure that the guaranteed rankings top ten are for your selection of keywords, not theirs.
Make sure that the guaranteed positions are for organic placements in top search engines. Because no one has any control or influence with Google, MSN (Bing) or Yahoo, no one can legitimately guarantee any rank position with these major search engines. Top rankings in some smaller search engines are easy to obtain, but do not typically result in increased traffic to your site. The only search engines that really matter and will drive the vast majority of traffic to your site are Google, MSN (Bing) and Yahoo.
- Guaranteed Top Ten Listings in a Week. Always make sure that you know which types of services you are paying for. Once again, no one can legitimately guarantee a position in free search engine listings in any of the major search engines. Optimizing Web pages for better results in the free search engines is what SEO is all about. It is possible to purchase such a position in paid listings or pay-per-click listings, but that does not require any skill at all. Further note that as soon as a paid listing is not longer being paid, the listing disappears entirely. The major clue here is the brief time frame. SEO is a long-term venture that frequently requires several months before results are apparent. Sometimes the desired results are not realized due to a change in a search engine’s ranking algorithm. Sometimes there is an overwhelming amount of competition for a keyword phrase and your page may never achieve a top ranking.
- Google Agents. This term implies a special relationship with Google, which leads one to believe that the company has some special influence with Google. There is no such thing as a Google Agent and no SEO company has any special influence with Google or any other major search engine. There are business certification relationships that some companies have with Google (AdWords Certified Partner) and other pay-per-click advertising or pay-for-inclusion search engines and directories, but no one has a relationship that will benefit your site in the free search listings in any major search engine.
- We have a Way to Buy Top Positions in Google, MSN and Yahoo. Once again, this is referring to pay-per-click advertising and has nothing to do with search engine optimization. With pay-per-click advertising, your listing only lasts as long as someone is paying for the clicks.
- Monthly Submission to 50,000 Search Engines. Sometimes the ads are for submission to 750,000 or more search engines. For one thing, there aren’t that many search engines and the fact is that 95%+ of your traffic will come from the top three major search engines. At one time it was useful to submit a site to several search engines. Today, search engines are so efficient that you should never have to submit your pages and you will not see any benefit to submitting the same pages repeatedly. Most of the major search engines no longer accept automated submissions and may apply a spam penalty to your site for repeated submissions. If you have a brand-new site that you want to make the top search engines aware of, use the following links. Make sure you read the rules for submission.
- Uploading Your Site to the Search Engines. This scam usually implies that the company has some special relationship with a major search engine or they know a “back door” into the search engine that will get your site ranked faster. There is no way to upload a web site to a search engine. There are related shopping search engines, such as Google’s Froogle (now called Google Products) service, that allow you to submit a data file listing the products you sell, but that does not help your site in the free listings and has nothing to do with SEO.
- Content Pages For Your Site. We’ve seen this issue show up in the mortgage lending industry, the real estate industry and other competitive industries. The offer is for a site pre-loaded with lots of industry-focused content intended to draw search engines to a site, or an offer to add lots of content to your site. Lots of content is indeed provided, and it appears to be part of your site. But the content may actually reside on another server and appears to be part of your site because it is wrapped in an HTML frameset. The content may be useful for your users, but search engines know that the content does not reside on your site and therefore will not improve your rankings. Also, if the content is actually added to your site, but has been used on numerous other sites, the pages will likely receive a duplicate content penalty and will not rank well.
- Doorway Pages, Side Doors or Gateway Pages. These and many other creative terms are used to describe pages that are designed specifically as entry pages for search engines. A doorway page may look just like any other page in a site, and frequently duplicates the look of the home page. There are links to other pages in a site, but there are no obvious menu links from the site to the doorway page, and that’s how it is identified. Because these pages are designed primarily for search engines, they are very often laden with spammy content intended to artificially boost the page’s rankings. The problem is that search engines have designated this technique as spam and if a page in your site is identified as a doorway page, your site will likely be penalized. There are sometimes legitimate uses for floating or orphan pages that are linked to from banner advertising or other web pages. If you need to set up a floating page that does not contain links from other pages within the site, there are specific legitimate techniques that prevent search engines from indexing the page and thus it should not get penalized as a doorway page.
- Keyword Stuffing, Hidden Keywords or Invisible Text. This is an all-too-common technique that may temporarily raise your rankings&—until you get caught. The idea is to find ways to hide the repetitive use of a keyword phrase (keyword stuffing) in ways that are visible to search engines, but not to site users. The most common technique is to place colored text in a same-colored background. For example, blue text on a blue background, which is invisible to your users. Search engines never actually "see" a web page, but instead read the code, so they will see the keywords. Other techniques include the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to either place text outside the visible area of your browser window or set a font size to one pixel so that the keyword-stuffed text looks like a dotted line. Search engines can easily identify the first technique and will soon be able to identify the second and third. Don’t do it or allow it to be done to your site.
- Cloaking. Cloaking is a technique that identifies a Web page request from a search engine spider and substitutes a special page designed specifically for the spider. The page is optimized for a keyword phrase, which results in high rankings for that page. When a user clicks the link on a search engine results page (SERP), the user is served the real page. Sounds good? Only until you get caught. This method has long been identified as spam and can get your entire site banned.
- We Guarantee Results. Pay us half up front, and only pay the remainder when your site shows up in top ten positions. Sounds like a good way to reduce the risk, doesn’t it? Maybe. Make sure they know what they are doing and are actually going to do something to your web site. This is a variation of a common scam in the home contracting industry, where fraudulent contractors take a deposit from a homeowner and then disappear. There are legitimate requirements for deposits for some projects, but a guarantee that you will only be billed for the remainder if the site does well sometimes means that little of nothing will be done and the scammer only wants the deposit.
- Guaranteed First Page Results. The key here is the vague statement “first page results.” A Google AdWords pay-per-click or other paid listing will qualify and fulfill this part of an agreement without providing any type of optimization service.
If you are paying for SEO services, make sure you know what qualifies as a first page result. Also, make certain that your agreement states which keyword phrases will be used to optimize your pages. Once again, no one can legitimately guarantee a top position in free listings, because no one has any control or influence over the search engines or their ranking algorithms. There are, however, ways to make web pages rank very high for keyword phrases for which there is little or no competition. There is usually little competition for these phrases because no one, including your customers, are likely to use these keyword phrases as search terms. Always make sure that your pages are optimized for your chosen keyword phrases based upon the search terms your customers are likely to use when searching for the products, services or information that you offer.
The last point brings us back to the subject of framastatic fillrods. What do framastatic fillrods have to do with SEO? Everything. To demonstrate how easy it is to achieve top rankings for keywords that your customers will never use, this article was optimized for the search phrase framastatic fillrods.
The fact is that there is no competition for the phrase “framastatic fillrods”. It took exactly one day for the major search engines to pick up the keyword phrase “framastatic fillrods” from our home page and the two pages in this article and place us on the first page in the search results. This proves the point regarding how easy it is to obtain high rankings for obscure keywords that your customers will never use.
To verify how easy it is to obtain top rankings for obscure keyword phrases, try searching Google, MSN, Yahoo or any major search engine for the term “framastatic fillrods”. You’ll find that the only pages listed are either the ones you are reading or the pages of others who have linked to this article.
Also, although it is always a plus to have your company name or your domain name result in a first page listing for your site, a listing like this is pretty much a freebie and should not be considered a huge accomplishment, nor should it satisfy a first page ranking requirement in a contract. Most company names are fairly unique and every domain name is unique, so with some very basic optimization a good ranking is pretty much assured. Focus on the fact that most searchers will be looking for a product, service or information offering. Those keyword phrases are the only ones that really matter.
Most SEO professionals are very hard-working and use honest, ethical methods to optimize a Web site, but there are companies whose techniques need to be questioned. To avoid misunderstandings or deceptive practices, always make sure that any contract you agree to specifically states which keyword phrases your pages will be optimized for and make certain you understand the techniques that will be used.
Part 1 – Framastatic Fillrods and SEO Ethics
Part 2 – Framastatic Fillrods and SEO Ethics
Top Rank Solutions is located near Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona,
and offers services for customers throughout the United States.