Reality check. More than 95% of “SEO Specialists” out there are basically witch doctors. In other words, they are not professionals. They buy links, use automated tools that have zero effect, and try to cheat the system at every turn.
Here are some tips to help you stay in the clear, away from scammers who just want your money, and in general get a better understanding of what search engine optimization is, and why it matters in the first place.
The Guaranteed #1 Spot Myth
On a number of occasions, customers, marketing managers, directors, and even competitors (yes, you know who you are) have asked me how to achieve the #1 spot for specific keyword searches. This happened so many times, that even if a friend of mine brings the subject up during a coffee conversation, I naturally reach for my invoice book and start writing big numbers on it (this usually stops the questions fairly quickly as it turns out).
While it is possible in some cases to acquire #1 spots in some search engine rankings for a short period of time, the problem is maintaining that ranking for the long term. Search engines are updated constantly, and their search routines change and adapt. Search engines like Google also constantly remove websites that violate their best practices.
If a company or an individual (perhaps a Search Engine Professional) out there offers a guarantee to you for the number one spot, think twice before handing over any real money to them! And by guarantee I mean that you are literally promised, that no matter what, that the top spot is yours and not a word is said about that it may not happen, or that it may take considerably longer than promised (or that it most likely will never happen).
That company or person is basically saying that they know all the algorithms of all search engines, and are more advanced than Google, Bing, and Yahoo, plus on top of that every single SEO professional in the whole entire world!
That is a highly unlikely scenario. Generally, these type of companies and/or individuals use “tricks” and “backlinks” to pollute the web with pointless information in attempts to get their client into a higher very short-term ranking game. Worst of all, they almost always tend to rely on automated SEO software. So all they really do is plug in keywords and the software runs scripts that try to fool Google and other search engines like Bing. They then kick back on the couch and count all that money you gave them while doing absolutely no work for you.
But if the search engine catches that your website is using such methods to boost rankings, the search engine will eventually wipe out your rankings, and might even remove the website from their index entirely. It takes a lot of effort, money, and time (not counting lost customers and sales) to re-build a “tricks” website and get re-listed.
Now, how in the world are you going to know what SEO firm or professional to hire? Well, I hate to say this, but references are key.
- Has this company or person worked on a real website for a client and actually produced results?
- Is there a reference letter from their client?
- What kind of reporting was done for the client?
In addition, to help you better understand your own goals, you may ask for more information and most likely manifest your own additional questions.
- How did the SEO results help the bottom line on a project?
- What are the financial benefits of SEO and on what scale was it deployed?
- Did the SEO provide real customers, quotes, and/or phone calls?
- How was conversion tracking done and what were the goals?
Number one spots should be the “goal” of any SEO firm and professional. But if the number one spots are a guarantee, especially within a very short time frame, find out more about the firm or professional you are hiring before you take the plunge.
SEO Is Easy Myth
Why do fortune 500 companies pay for SEO? You might have puzzled over why companies spend what seems like an obscene amount of money to gain positions on search engines while also employing additional Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy like Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.
Well, first of all, you do not pay every time someone finds your site on Google through organic search, or every time someone reads your company blog. With digital advertising, you have to pay every time someone clicks your PPC ad! There’s also a way to just pay for impressions, which is basically a fee per the volume of users who are exposed to your ad. Using SEO to properly optimize websites and products pages can generate organic (free) traffic dramatically, while also lowering digital advertising spend by increasing the quality score of your landing pages.
Paying per conversion can result in even higher costs, and may not work for products that sell at lower margins. For example, if you sell jewelry to teenage girls at an average price of $8 dollars per item and have thousands of SKUs on your website, then PPC costs might hit through the roof, wiping out your bottom line and your advertising budget fairly quickly.
In this case, long term SEO would allow the company to build a huge online presence and target specific markets while paying nothing for ads (and keeping profits on every sale made). But in the same case, an ad campaign would also be cheaper to run after the SEO is properly integrated, and experiments could be run to determine if the ad spend can generate enough sales to provide the target profit margins.
But, SEO is not magical and it is not just composed of a single element (although to some it may seem that way). In fact, real SEO work requires many different elements. Some of these elements might surprise you. Here is a list of just some of the things I utilize on a daily basis when I work on large scale SEO projects.
- Data Analysis
- Market Research
- Business Development Strategy
- Long-Term SEO Strategy
- Competition Analysis
- Growth Hacking
- Product Marketing
- Content Development
- Writing & Editing
These elements which I have developed over many years, help me drive the direction of the online marketing projects I get involved in. For example, what good is a mall in the best location of town with the largest parking lot if there are no stores in it? Or what if every store you walked into in this mall was selling construction materials (something malls do not usually sell, obviously).
Think of SEO as that mall and all the signs that point to that mall, with that large parking lot being your landing pages, and the inside stores as your website content. If the mall looks crappy and deserted and there is dust on the windows, those people who drove up and parked might get spooked and leave. Or if they walk inside and see some sort of a commercial grade construction material sale, they will walk out and drive away, again because this is not what they were expecting from a mall in the center of a city.
To develop SEO strategy, you need to know many different details about who your customers are, what kind of mall they would likely like to go to and where, what their preferences are for immediate gratification (visual impact, content, promotions, etc.), and so on.
Let’s make it clear. SEO is for driving profitable growth through the online acquisition and retention of customers without resorting to large online advertising campaigns.
SEO Automation Is Cheaper & Better Myth
This begs the question, as to why do people still need people, in just about any profession. Imagine top government officials being replaced by androids to save “tax dollars” for example. Yes, robots and software can do a lot. But do not forget, there are people behind Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Their software has been constructed by some of the most brilliant minds on the planet with budgets larger than the total wealth of some entire countries. So do you really think that automated SEO software is going to get you any results?
Automation under a certain type of control works well when you are managing thousands of paid advertisements. Google AdWords for example can help you by reading your landing page content and crafting auto-generated ads for you. That is a good use of automation, however, those landing pages still need to be crafted by human hands with excellent writing, design, and visual skills.
But when it comes to real organic SEO, and you are expecting to be in the top 10, the top 5, or the top 3, you have to offer something useful, original, and meaningful and that is something automation simply cannot achieve.