False Promises Made By SEO Agencies:
On an almost daily basis I receive emails from companies offering to “optimise” my site. This often includes a guarantee to get my site on the first page of Google (even though I have already achieved that), to send more visitors to my site, to fix broken links, provide site analytics and get more authoritative links to my site.
What the hell is an “optimised site”?
I’m sorry to tell you that anyone who claims to have “fully optimised” your site for SEO or any other purpose is a fraud and is probably charging you a lot of money for little, if any benefit. There is no such thing as a “fully optimised” site as it’s like repairing the roads, the job is never done.
For example if you want to improve your conversion rate listening to the advice of a so called “expert” will have limited impact and needs to be validated through A/B and multivariate testing. Every site is unique and so a best practice may work on one site but there is no guarantee that it will work on your site.
80% of SEO is pure hype:
Since 24th April 2012 when Google released their “Penguin” update most of what SEO agencies do has become irrelevant. Even more worrying though is that a lot of what some of these agencies do may actually harm your ranking and they certainly can’t guarantee to put you on the first page of Google.
The old tricks don’t work anymore:
Stuffing your site with keywords, content cloaking and blasting blog sites with links to your site don’t work and are more likely to get you penalised. Even keywords are much less important than before as there is evidence that Google now evaluates the content on the pages that link to your site to identify what searches you rank for rather than relying on the keywords that are on your page.
Search engine algorithms are much better than before at spotting attempts to play the system and conversely are more adept at identifying good quality and relevant content. There are still SEO best practices, but these are more about avoiding mistakes than using any tricks of the trade.
What drives SEO rankings?
Part of the problem with SEO and why so many SEO scams are circulating is that Google and the other search engines don’t publish exactly what gets you a high page ranking. However, from what the search engines do publish and research carried out by genuine SEO agencies it is clear that it is a combination of quality external links to your site, social indicators (likes, shares, tweets etc.) and good content. As Google can differentiate between legitimate links and the spam that many SEO agencies create it really comes down to good content. So maybe SEO should be re-named content marketing?
Most basic tools are free:
For many of the genuine aspects of SEO there are free tools available that you can easily access. I’ve previously written a post on how to use Google’s Search Console. This is a great free tool that will answer most of the questions you may have about the performance of your site including; crawl errors (e.g. page not found – 404s), external links to your content, average page rank, clicks, impressions and structured data errors.
Google Analytics is also free and allows you to identify your most popular content and track page speed and conversion goals. If you have the time and resource there is no need to pay SEO agencies lots of money to identify where your problems exist.
Why don’t SEO agencies tell you this?
People have a made a lot of money out of SEO and continue to do so and so why would they admit they add little, if any, value? There may also be an illusion of skill for some SEO agencies that psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums it up nicely:
“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow
This is not only a waste of money it is quite dangerous for companies. By measuring metrics that don’t influence your bottom line (e.g. Likes and Shares), people can’t stop themselves optimising campaigns using such meaningless targets (see Cobra Effect).
A lot of investment has also been made into SEO and optimisation. Due to our tendency not to want to admit when we have made bad decisions (see Sunk Cost Fallacy), people often carry on with behaviour even when there is no evidence to support it.
12 SEO scams and how to spot them:
It is not possible to guarantee a #1 ranking on Google as their algorithms are far too complex for any SEO agency to play the system and definitely deliver a sustainable first place on Google.
They don’t detail how the will improve your organic traffic:
Many SEO “experts” claim they have “secret” SEO strategies and don’t detail what exactly they are going to do to improve your ranking or traffic levels. Any legitimate agency should outline in detail tasks they will undertake and agree some targets to measure their level of success.
For example in October 2016 I implemented a new content marketing strategy and by the beginning of 2017 my organic traffic had more than doubled. I knew exactly what my plan was and also had the analytics in place to measure the impact of my new strategy. Anyone who can’t tell you what they plan to do is probably thinking of using black hat SEO techniques that will get you penalised or banned by the major search engines.
Here are a few of the SEO scams that try to leave back links on my site on a daily basis. They don’t even have the intelligence to hide their intent.
Offer free trial SEO services:
Genuine SEO work is time consuming and takes days, if not weeks, to deliver results. No genuine SEO company is going to offer this for free and if they also ask for access to your admin area or hosting account I would be very concerned about their motives.
They have a special relationship with Google or an employee at Google.
This is definitely a scam as Google can’t be seen to have a “special relationship” with any SEO agency and so this will be a simple lie.
Offer to submit your site to hundreds of search engines.
In the UK Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for over 95% of searches and so why waste time worrying about other niche search engines?
Low priced SEO:
As I have already mentioned genuine SEO is time consuming and labour intensive and so anyone who offers to do it at a very low cost is either having you on or they won’t do a very good job for you. Concentrate on learning how to use Google Search Console and Google Analytics for free and you will save yourself a lot of money.
We understand Google Algorithms and are algorithm experts:
Search engine algorithms are very complex, dynamic and are frequently updated and so it is virtually impossible to understand for certain how they will rank your site for a specific search query.
We can submit your site to well-known directories:
Some SEO agencies offer to manually submit your site to various directories. This is another scam as this is the internet; the vast majority of people use Google not directories to find a service or a product they are looking for.
We can submit new content to search engines:
Continuously submitting your site to Google is a complete waste of time as it won’t influence your ranking. If you have new content you can submit it to Google for instance using their free Search Console.
We are partners with Google or work with someone at Google:
Google can’t be seen to partner with any SEO company and nor would any employee want to risk their jobs by illegally working with any such firms.
SEO companies that want ownership of your content:
You should never give up ownership of your content to an SEO agency as you should retain ownership of anything you pay for.
You pay for a monthly SEO package:
Monthly SEO packages can be a great money spinner for unscrupulous agencies. Before signing up ensure you have agreed a suitable number of hours per month that the agency will work on your site and get them to specify in detail the tasks they will undertake for you. Further, agree some targets for quality links and an increase in traffic to ensure you get value for money. Any agency that is not willing to comply with these requests is not worth dealing with.
OK, so genuine SEO work can be valuable for a site. However, the key here is to agree objectives that have clear benefits and set performance targets to ensure you get value for money. Avoid signing up with any agencies that use any of the above tactics as they are likely to be poor value for money and could actually damage your search engine rankings.
If you can, educate yourself about SEO practices to allow you to take greater control over organic traffic generation. Further, remember that what your visitors and Google want is great content and that should be your priority. Everything else, including SEO, should be secondary to the content. If you focus on quality content in the first place then SEO may largely take care of itself as good content will attract external links and social media mentions and shares.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to email@example.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.