Legitimate Search Engine
Optimization Company or Not?
By Jill Whalen 2003-08-26 (From the
High Rankings' Advisor Newsletter)
I am a small business owner who would
like to improve my ranking. I have been contacted by a company who
"guarantees" top-10 rankings on 6 major sites within 180
days for a fee. Can you please tell me if these types of companies are
legitimate, and which ones you would recommend or avoid.
This is a very good and timely
question, which I get asked a lot. Many companies receive numerous
unsolicited emails or phone calls offering similar "SEO"
Are they bad? Good? Indifferent?
Without extensively evaluating each
offer, it's impossible to say for sure. However, there are definitely
some things you should be aware of before signing any contracts for
this type of service.
You'll often hear people who call
themselves "ethical SEOs" say that *any* company that offers
guaranteed rankings is simply out to scam you. They say that since
nobody has control over the search engines, nobody can guarantee
rankings. This is partially true, but I don't totally agree.
When talking about the
"natural" search listings, not paid ads, it's true that no
SEO company can simply place a URL into a particular position in the
search engines for any given keyword phrase. All they can do is
optimize your site and hope for the best. So in that sense, they can't
guarantee a particular placement. However, that doesn't preclude any
SEO company from guaranteeing that they'll give you your money back if
they don't achieve a particular ranking in a particular engine. If
they want to offer you that sort of money-back guarantee, then that's
their prerogative. Offering this doesn't automatically mean that the
company is scamming you.
That said, before you run right out
and hire a company like this, make sure that you take a very close
look at how they word their guarantee. You may not be getting the
safety net you thought you were, and this is where they may truly be
out to trick you.
Guarantees have been a part of the SEO
business since I first began in it, but I've always found them to be a
joke. Once you actually see what it is these companies guarantee, you
will find that they are rarely worth much, and chances are you won't
see any money back from them, due to the fine print.
Make sure you look closely at what
they say they will do for you. Sure, first-page placement on at least
six of the major search engines sounds great on the surface. But which
engines do they consider to be "major" search engines?
The major search properties people
seem to use these days are Google, MSN Search, Yahoo, AOL Search,
AskJeeves, Lycos, HotBot, FAST, AltaVista and Excite, with some of
these being used a whole lot more than others. The interesting thing
to note, however, is that many of these use the same database!
For instance, Google powers itself,
plus Yahoo and AOL. So a decent ranking in Google also means a decent
ranking in Yahoo and AOL. Which gives any company that offers a
guarantee three engines for the price of one! On top of that, there
are engines such as HotBot that offer a choice of using AskJeeves,
Google, Inktomi, Lycos or all four. Therefore a ranking in any one of
those engines could also be considered a ranking in HotBot. (Which
actually means Google gives you four for the price of one, I guess!)
Lycos and FAST share the same database, and MSN uses Inktomi, which
also powers a whole bunch of other engines that are probably included
in the SEO company's guarantee.
Make sure you know exactly which
search engines you will see top rankings in, and make sure they use
separate databases. You should also make sure that they're not just
ranking your site in a pay-per-click search engine by simply buying
their way in on your behalf. (There's nothing wrong with that, as long
as you understand where that ranking actually came from.)
Don't be surprised to find that what
the SEO company considers to be a "major" search engine is
one you never heard of before. That's a common trick some use to
"fulfill" their guarantee. Do you really care if you're
number one at Joe's Extreme Search Engine Extraordinaire?
Another trick these companies often
use is that they simply optimize your site for keyword phrases that
nobody is searching for. I've said it before, and I'll say it
again...anyone can optimize pages for phrases like that. Who cares?
Who cares if you're number one in all the search engines for a stupid
keyword phrase that sounds really good on the surface, but which
according to Wordtracker has zero searches in the past 350 million
search queries? Be sure to check out current ranking reports from the
company and do some keyword research on the phrases they have ranked
highly. Better yet, see if you can look at some log file reports to
see if any targeted traffic is coming into their clients' sites. I'm
not saying that the SEO company should be shooting for the most
competitive keyword phrases there are, but they shouldn't be shooting
for the least competitive either.
So, in answer to the original
question, what I'm trying to say here is that if you sign up with an
SEO company because you figure you have nothing to lose, don't be so
sure. Go through your SEO contract with a fine-toothed comb and make
sure you understand *exactly* what you're getting or what you're not
getting. Once you sign on the dotted line, it will be too late.
Most professional SEO consultants
don't offer a guarantee, because they don't need to. As professionals,
they will do the best they can do for your site and keep doing it
until they've satisfied the requirements of their contract with you.
As with hiring any service, be sure
you do the appropriate research into the company you hire. Check
references, learn about their methods, and don't let them sway you
with techno-babble. Good SEO companies are not cheap. If you don't
have much of a budget for SEO, you should learn to do it yourself. The
ironic thing is that in many ways, doing the SEO yourself may be
easier than choosing a reputable company to do it for you!