Search Engines and Search Engine Optimization Firms

Normally, I write articles about things you can do to help your web site’s search engine performance, strategies and the like. Rarely do I comment directly on search engine optimization gossip. Recent events have urged me to make an exception, and to comment directly on the industry, as my company is a part of it. I have been reluctant to do so directly, because it is usually best to write from an objective perspective. Being part of the industry often makes that difficult. However, when people are misled or put their faith in bad ideas, someone has to stand up and sound the clarion call. No, this isn’t Fahrenheit 9/11, it’s about questionable tactics used by some search engine marketing firms…And how to avoid them.

A few weeks ago there were articles all over the Internet about a search engine optimization company who had all its clients banned from Google for “breaking the rules.” Commenting on the situation, a Google insider, known as ‘GoogleGuy” who often writes posts on WebmasterWorld wrote, “I believe that one SEO had convinced clients either to put spammy javascript mouseover redirects, doorway pages that link to other sites or both, on their clients’ sites. That can lead to clients’ sites being flagged as spam in addition to the doorway domains that the SEO set up.”

GoogleGuy later reassured web site operators that the use of javascript mouseover to place text in the status bar would not automatically result in sites being banned.

While the aforementioned SEO company was not named in the initial discussion thread, it was later revealed by other third parties. At this point, the name of the company is irrelevant. Be warned however, their tactics are not unique, and that particular company is not alone in using search engine promotion tactics, which should never be used and have long since been dropped by reputable search engine optimization firms.

These tactics include creating, and I quote from one such site; “A one page version of content taken from your site that is housed at a new Web site address. If someone finds the page directly, they will be automatically sent to your original site once they click on any link on the page.”

This type of ‘doorway’ or ‘hallway’ page is one of the worst possible offenses within the search engine rule books. Google even specifically tells web site operators to be wary of SEO firms which own and operate shadow domains. Google further states; “We have encountered firms calling themselves SEO’s who follow practices that are clearly beyond the pale of accepted business behavior.*”

Google as a search engine, is not alone in their distaste for unscrupulous firms which attempt to manipulate their results in a manner which seeks to deliver false relevance, or places their clients’ web sites into search results which are irrelevant to the web site’s content. Every major search engine, as well as probably every minor one, agrees with the above sentiment. It’s only natural they would find these tactics distasteful. These firms are intentionally attempting to undermine the search engines by making results less relevant. They also do not help their customers in the long run. They deliver quick fixes which bring about short term gains, but can result in long term troubles.

The search engines have become jaded with many search engine promotion firms, which do not practice ‘true’ optimization but call themselves SEO’s and operate in a manner that is adversarial to the search engines themselves. This is the definitive gap between reputable SEO firms and the others which you, as a web site operator, need to be aware of and hopefully are able to steer clear.

Some SEO’s believe that the goal is to get the best possible placement for their clients at any cost. This can and usually does include, finding and using any loophole possible to artificially improve the position of a web site in a search engine. If they achieve this temporarily, long term damage is secondary, for they have achieved success and are onto their next victim.

There is however, a second school of SEO firms whom are totally concerned with relevance. For those of us on this side of the divide, the goal is to get you the best possible placement within results for relevant search queries. This means a web site should show up with high rankings for terms that are relevant to the content and context of the web site. Companies like this are favorably regarded by the search engines. They work to ensure their clients show up properly under relevant queries and in this way also help the engines themselves deliver stronger results.

A solid SEO strategy from a reputable search engine optimization firm will promote a web site to ensure coverage within all the world’s organic or natural, search engines. This is of key importance! Many people confuse SEO with pay-for-click marketing. They are very different beasts. Both attract traffic, but are very separate and distinct areas of Internet marketing.

The increased visibility obtained as a result of proper SEO boosts a web site’s ability to be found by searchers seeking products or services found within the site. It does -not- encourage anyone looking for unrelated materials to find the site. More targeted traffic to your site increases the chances of additional sales.

A positive result of strong search engine performance is improved branding. Search results are the brand of the Internet, and a web site without a strong presence in search results has a brand which is practically worthless. Strong search engine showings also contribute to brand recognition by customers. Once established, the market for that brand can be expanded, and brand equity and loyalty can be built upon rapidly. A reputable SEO firm is concerned about your branding. They regard your web site as a long term project, not just a one time fee.

Here are some things you should look for in a reputable search engine optimization firm:

  1. Testimonials or case studies. These should be freely available and not have to be requested.
  2. Complete explanations of the complete process to be undertaken to optimize your web site. No statements that sound like, “We’ll take care of it, don’t worry, you don’t need to know how.”
  3. No one off packages. SEO is an ongoing process. It’s not something you can run once every few months or once a year. The work completed in month one should be updated every single month thereafter.
  4. Solutions provided need to be driven by the content of the web site. If the terms you want are not present in the content, they should not be part of the strategy.
  5. They should build a sitemap for your web site.
  6. You should be receiving a 404 report for your site telling you where you have broken links or missing pages.
  7. They should be committed to ensuring your web site appears in relevant search results, not just -any- results.
  8. They should explain the difference between visitors, hits, page views and requests… And be able to explain how to properly interpret those numbers.
  9. They should provide web statistic reports for your web site. It’s the only accurate data about your web site’s activity.

Here’s when to run from a so-called search engine optimization / submission / placement / marketing firm:

  1. No testimonials at all.
  2. If the search engine optimization services listed do not involve actual edits to your existing html, RUN! No optimization work can be performed without interacting directly with the web site. That would be like doing an oil change without checking the oil or touching the car.
  3. If the company says it makes copies of your web pages, and places them anywhere but within your own domain. RUN! (A company may make a copy of your dynamic web pages and place them within your ‘own domain’ to ensure a static html version of the page is available to the search engine spiders.)
  4. They guarantee you a “top 10” placement in Google. No one can ever promise that. You should know better.
  5. They claim to submit to 1000+ engines. There aren’t that many.
  6. They promise to drive your ‘hit count’ through the roof. Hits don’t equate to quality traffic nor qualified visitors. It’s great to have traffic, but what about customers? Could this be part of your site’s problem?

I could go on with many more things to look for and I’ve probably missed some obvious ones. The point is, a good search engine optimization firm will work with you and your web site to ensure it complies with the latest search engine rules.

To summarize, choose a search engine optimization firm wisely to promote your business. A good one will be rewarding to work with, a bad one could leave you screaming, crying, frustrated or worse yet, bankrupt.