For the past couple of weeks, the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world has been abuzz with the story of the law firm that sued their SEO agency for violating Google’s guidelines. [Seikaly & Stewart, P.C. v. Fairley, 2014 WL 1911881 (D. Ariz. May 13, 2014)]
In part, the complaint says:
The action is based on the fact that, at the time that the Defendants were promoting this marketing scheme to the Victim Firms, they knew that the techniques they proposed to use were in violation of the guidelines already well-established and published by Google; knew that Google was moving rapidly to crack down on violators; knew that use of these techniques would not only fail to enhance the likelihood that the Victim Firms would rise in Google’s rankings but would actually be downgraded to the point where the websites being used by the Victim Firms would become “contaminated” for search engine purposes; knew that they intended to use automated programs rather than direct personal effort to create the appearance that links to the Victim Firms webpages (the key to rising in search engine rankings) were being generated in the numbers represented; and knew that they intended to cloak their schemes in allegations of “trade secrets” to avoid the balance of the scheme from coming to light.
Sadly, this law firm isn’t alone in being unhappy with the results they’ve gotten from hiring an SEO agency. I moderate several online discussion forums, and we hear all the time from small businesses that have spent a lot of money for SEO services without much to show for it. While there’s no telling how this case will come out in the end, here are a few things to keep in mind so you don’t find yourself facing a similar predicament:
- In the words of that noted philosopher, Po the Dragon Warrior, “There is no secret ingredient. It’s just you.” You must bring something to the table yourself. Your SEO agency can’t muscle your lame three-page website-in-a-box to the top of the rankings for all those high-competition keywords you want all by themselves . Before you even start, you can help your SEO firm do a better job by articulating what it is that makes your business unique and special. Once things get going, your agency may ask you to make changes to your website, to your offline marketing, or to your social media accounts (or to add social media accounts if you don’t already have them). Steer clear of any SEO firm that says their “secret sauce” will work all the magic without any involvement needed from you.
- In SEO, as in life, there are no guarantees. Search engines do not “partner” with SEO firms, and Google most certainly is not controlled by any SEOs. No SEO firm can guarantee top rankings for anybody. It’s totally legit for a firm to guarantee you’ll be happy with the results they bring. Specifically guaranteeing top rankings? Not so much.
- SEO is about more than links. In the minds of some people, SEO has become equated with link-building. While attracting high-quality links is a component of good SEO, there’s a lot more to it than that. For instance, you need to have excellent content to attract those high-quality links in the first place. Google uses hundreds of indicators when determining how to rank a web page in their results. An SEO firm that only focuses on one of them — links — is putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Risk is a part of life. That said, only you can assess your company’s tolerance for risk. Some businesses are willing to bet the farm on getting higher rankings; others want to play it as safe as possible. Your SEO firm should be able to tell you exactly what they plan to do, and should be prepared to discuss with you the potential risks of any actions they’re going to take on your behalf. (Including the risk that they might do all that work with no perceptible results.) If they claim their “proprietary technology” can somehow attain guaranteed results while eliminating all risk, run as fast as you can in the other direction.
- When it comes down to it, rankings aren’t necessarily “all that,” either. Search engine visibility is like having a well-located billboard or eye-catching sign on a busy street. It will potentially attract more attention to your business, but that’s only the start. Once you get their attention, you still have to close the sale. Aside from all the issues with personalization of search results (meaning there really is no such thing as “a ranking” for any web page), last I checked, the power company isn’t accepting ranking reports in lieu of cash for paying utility bills. Your business’s bottom line still depends on sales and revenue. A fixation on rankings doesn’t benefit either you or your SEO firm.
- SEO is not a tactic for quick results. If you want to get on the first page of Google results right away, pay-per-click is your friend. SEO is a long-term tactic. SEO firms that promise immediate results often must resort to dodgy tactics to deliver. The problem: whether or not these tactics work in the short run — and many times, they don’t — over the long term careless SEO can seriously harm a website’s standing with all the search engines. As Miracle Max explains in The Princess Bride, “Don’t rush me, sonny. You rush a Miracle Man, you get rotten miracles.”
Good SEO is focused on long-term results, it encompasses more than just “link building,” and it takes into account more than simply “rankings.” With a bit of due diligence and a healthy dose of skepticism for “too good to be true” promises, you’ll be able to steer clear of the snake-oil salesmen and find a worthy partner who can help you improve your website, attract more traffic and generate more revenue and profit.