Beware SEO Con Men

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I’ve never seen a field of business with so many shysters as search engine optimization.

I can’t tell you the number of times that, in talking with a prospective client for the first time, I’ve said, “It looks like you haven’t done any serious SEO work to your website” and they will reply, “You’re kidding. We just paid someone $25,000 a few months ago to optimize it.”

How do I know?

Before talking with a prospective client in just a few minutes I run my nine-point digital marketing profile in which I rank them on a 0-9 scale. In addition to the presence of analytics, conversion optimization, a mobile-ready site, and other items, I look for even a minimal SEO program that shows some effort and awareness of SEO best practices.

While off-page factors such as links from high quality sites are the most important ranking factors, on-page factors matter significantly, too. And as Moz, a highly regarded source of information on SEO, say, “The title tag is the single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content).” So I look at their home page Title tag (which you can see by hovering your cursor over the page tab in your browser). If it is keyword poor and only contains “Home” or the company name or tagline, then that’s an immediate tip off that no one’s been minding the store. I look to see if the Titles on other major pages are better, and different for each page.

I also look at the page’s Description tag in their code. While this tag may not affect actual ranking, it will usually be used by Google as the description of that page when it’s listed in a search results page. In fact that quote from Moz doesn’t appear on the page, it is the description tag on their page on Title tags. Keyword-rich URLs for individual pages is also a good indicator.

The Title tag on the Moz home page is “Moz: SEO Software, Tools and Resources for Better Marketing”. And their home page Description is “Backed by industry-leading data and the largest community of SEOs on the planet, Moz builds tools that make inbound marketing easy. Start your free trial today!”

(I know, if you look at the Apple or IBM sites their home page Title tag is simply their company name. If your site has as much SEO authority as those, then you can ignore this. But for the rest of us we need to do everything that we can to help our cause.)

I assume this problem exists because few clients know how to evaluate the work of a search engine optimizer. They don’t know about the low-hanging fruit like Title tags, Descriptions and URLs (and others). And even when done right SEO efforts can take a few months to show results, by which time the SEO vendor has long ago cashed the check and ridden into the sunset.

Google AdWords, by comparison, can be setup very quickly. You can see the ads appearing on the search results pages and you can start working with the vendor to measure results and continuously optimize after just a few weeks. That doesn’t make it better, it just makes it easier to evaluate what – if anything — is being done.

A sure tip off that you’re being approached by an SEO con man is if they guarantee you results, especially #1 Google ranking. Google has a whole page of tips about selecting a reputable SEO.

The ROI from SEO can be even greater than that from AdWords, and many other tactics, and when done well and maintained it will last for years. But only when done by a reputable vendor.