J’accuse: Some SEO services providers are fraudsters

fingers crossed behind backI’ve run a digital marketing agency for a dozen years where we built websites and consulted with clients on SEO – producing some great improvements in search traffic for many clients in the process — and I’ve sold digital marketing services for two other leading, reputable agencies.

So I’m very familiar with the whole world of digital marketing services. And while the quality of service is, as in any service industry, uneven, I am amazed by the number of people and companies perpetrating fraud in the name of search engine optimization.

This is not to say that all SEO consultants are fraudsters: not at all. Not by a long shot. There are many ethical vendors out there delivering great value. But there are also many who aren’t so ethical.

And I’m not talking about the obvious fraudsters: the ones who guarantee you that they’ll get you the top ranking! No, I’m talking about the seemingly reputable companies who are not delivering anything of value for their SEO fees.

I’ve written before how much I can learn about what a company has been doing by just looking at their digital properties for a few minutes. And I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve said to a prospective client, “It doesn’t look like you’ve been doing much with SEO” only to have them reply, “We just paid someone a lot of money to do work on our site. You mean they didn’t do anything?” Well, yes.

The symptoms of SEO inattention include, but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Home page Title tag of “Home”, or just the name of the company with no industry keywords
  • No meta tags for Keywords or Description
  • Looking for Keyword and Description meta tags and finding this (true case):

blank meta tag fields

  • Simple, keyword-poor Title tags on other major site pages, or the same Title tag on all pages
  • Images don’t have alt tags
  • There’s a robots.txt file blocking search engines
  • Little or no activity on their Google+ page, including their blog posts (if they have a blog) not being posted on the Google+ page

Those are the low-hanging fruit of SEO. Of course there are many more on-page and off-site factors that affect SEO, and an SEO consultant may not have control over all of them. And ultimately it all comes down to having valuable content that people like to share and link to and that Google wants to rank high.

But if a person or company who claims to be an SEO consultant isn’t getting those obvious, easy, on-page factors right, there’s very little chance they’re doing much else.

And those elements are important. The page Title tag is generally considered the most-important on-page element outside of the page content itself.

How does this fraud happen? Well, most clients don’t know what the important on-page and off-site SEO factors are. I’d say most don’t even know what a Title tag is; I often have to explain it to them, and why it’s important. So they can’t manage an SEO vendor.

And that’s a shame, because I’m not a person who thinks that SEO is dead. In fact, as content marketing becomes more and more important, optimizing that expensive content properly for maximum search ranking benefit is more important than ever.

So while services like PPC, online advertising, social media marketing, blogging, etc., may or may not be done well, at least the client can tell that some activity is happening.  The client can tell that the vendor is doing something. But with SEO they often don’t know what activity to look for and so they just have to take the SEO vendor at their word.

And sometimes that word is not very good.

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