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by Stephen Logan on 22nd March 2011
There probably isn’t another industry in the world where such a gulf exists between the best and worst practitioners as that seen in Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a sorry mess, but one that should be fixable – with a little co-operation.
As a consequence of all the scare stories and genuine tales of woe, credible SEO agencies have to spend much of their time justifying the work they do. The majority of issues appear to stem from four fundamental problems:
1) SEO is effective
2) SEO is profitable
3) SEO is highly sought after
4) Many people don’t have the first clue what SEO is
This is the perfect storm for rogue traders. Simply position yourself as an expert, promise rankings in Google and wait for somebody to take the bait. The desire is there, so too is the finance and a little ignorance can go a long way.
Empty Promises are Easy to Break
The trouble is though that people keep falling into this trap. They are aware that their site needs to appear on Google and that optimisation should provide the solution. They might even know that there are sharks out there waiting to rip them to shreds. But they still dive in, choosing the cheapest ‘expert’ who offers the loftiest guarantees.
It doesn’t matter that they never deliver on those promises; you’ve already handed over the cash before you realise that all they’ve done is sign your business up to Google Places and mess up your content. This leaves you out of pocket and with a site that is probably in worse shape than when you started. It is little wonder so many people take umbrage with the practice.
But that’s not entirely fair. SEO works, that’s why people choose to invest in it in the first place. Unfortunately too many are overly keen to just throw their money at it and hope for the best. Failure to carry out even the most rudimentary of research leads to bad decisions. In turn this only plays into the hands of scammers.
Reporting an SEO Scam
Whilst it’s hard to criticise those who have paid hundreds, if not thousands of pounds for this shoddy service, unfortunately it is this continued investment that funds, and even fuels the pirate industry. If the money dries up, they die off. Of course the law should be there to protect all consumers, but for a shyster the small matter of legal irregularities is small fry – in fact it’s an irrelevance. They can change name overnight and pinpoint every loophole available to them (often the lack of a contract or verifiable proof is the major downfall).
If you get scammed, report it. Don’t stew away or mutter about it on Twitter; get on Google Webmaster Tools Help and out the perpetrator. Whilst your money may be long gone, you can at least do what you can to make sure that those who have taken it are suitably shamed.
By continuing to feed these companies, we are allowing them to continue. A rogue trader is never going to change how they do business; the only thing that will stop them is a tough rebuke or the removal of their supply chain.
There are warning signs aplenty to help you steer clear of these dodgy companies. These include:
1) The word ‘guarantee’ in association with Google rankings
2) No contact details offered beyond an untraceable phone number
3) Poor website design and content (most scammers won’t bother investing too much in either)
4) Have no discernable history
5) Failure to offer verifiable Case Studies or even an About Us page
It’s a question of logic. If the only discernable service that a company is willing to promote is “cheap SEO” then cheap SEO is exactly what you’ll get. You wouldn’t expect much from a store (online or High Street) that promoted their stock as “cheap clothes” – why should Internet Marketing be any different?
Falling for Fool’s Gold
So just as when those ‘cheap clothes’ fall to bits the first time you put them through the wash, so too will your cheap SEO. If you don’t want to invest money or time in your online business, then you can’t expect it to flourish.
These are shysters, charlatans and parasites. They may charge less, but what good is that if you get nothing in return. Value is defined not simply by your costs, but also what you get in return. If you buy a car for £100 and it doesn’t even manage to get you home, is that better than purchasing one for £1,000 that runs for years? It’s still £100 wasted, and is very much a short-term solution for a long-term requirement.
Carrying Out Background Checks
You can do more digging if you want to though. Scour the site for information. The more open they appear, the more likely that they are legitimate. Also do a search for them online, this should expose any major problems. If their name appears alongside the words ‘scam’ or ‘rip-off’, it’s time to move on.
Also use trusted online resources. For instance Econsultancy produce a SEO Agency Buyer’s Guide each year. In this they profile a number of reputable agencies (27 this year – including Koozai of course), based across the country. This is very much a trusted source, which means their recommendation carries a certain weight. By choosing any of the named companies, you should be assured of a professional and ethical service.
Any form of accreditation is important though. If you want to do PPC on Google for instance, you want to make sure that the company you’re employing are a Google AdWords Certified Partner. When it comes to Google or Microsoft accreditations, you should also check with them to ensure that the company aren’t fibbing. It does happen, although the easiest way to work it out is to usually click on the badge and this should link directly to the confirmation page. No link, no business.
All the advice and information that you need is out there, so make use of it. We can’t get rid of scammers entirely, but we can at least make life as difficult for them as possible (I use the word we deliberately, because it is a combined effort between buyers and ethical SEO companies); and the only solution is education. SEO isn’t a corrupt industry; however it does have corrupting factors, not least ignorance and cash.
Perhaps the SEO industry could do more to educate the wider world (your thoughts on this would be appreciated), but to do this people need to be prepared to listen. It is a minefield and can be quite cut-throat at times, all of which only serves to build greater distrust in consumers. This isn’t going to change any time soon, but should be food for thought for buyers and sellers of Search Engine Optimisation.
Choose wisely when you’re outsourcing and do not feed the animals!