CURRENT VERSION IS SEY 2003
SEO Companies 2003
André le Roux
For an updated discussion of SEO companies, please refer to the current
version of the Search Engine Yearbook.
Outsourcing SEO To Specialized SEO Companies
According to a recent study in
the U.S., only about 20% of businesses outsource SEO to specialized
SEO companies. The other 80% either do not know that there is such
a thing as search engine optimization or they believe that they have
the skills to do it in-house. Perhaps that is why so many companies
are hard to find on the search engines.
The problem is that your in-house
expert probably does not know enough. Search engine optimization used
to be fairly easy, but today the search engine industry is
- extremely complex
- extremely competitive and it
- changes daily.
Your in-house expert could make mistakes
like using "free for all" pages or resubmitting your site
too often. He could end up getting your site dropped from the search
engines. If he uses practices such as cloaking, he could get your site
permanently banned from the search engines. This costs you money in
lost sales. Nine out of ten times you'll do better if you outsource.
One of the drawbacks of outsourcing search engine optimization is that
the expense is a recurring one. Having your site optimized every time
it changes significantly can become expensive. Whether or not it's worth
it will depend on your site and sales copy. If your site consistently
converts visitors into customers, you can afford to spend money on acquisition.
This is important.
If your site is a sales getter, you
can afford to pay for traffic, because you know that a percentage of
your visitors will become customers. If you'd like to learn more about
creating a site that consistently gets the sale, I strongly recommend
getting your hands on Ken Evoy's popular e-book called "Make
Your Site Sell" (recently updated). It is the definitive work
on selling online. Nothing else comes close.
The Truth About SEO Companies
Let me start off by saying that Im
not against the idea of hiring an SEO company even though it
may sound that way sometimes. There are many reputable SEO companies
who know more about search engines than I do.
Ok, that said, heres the reality:
On the Internet, almost anyone
can learn almost anything. It's a small step from there to selling that
new knowledge - either as an e-book, on a subscription basis or on a
consultation basis. That's part of the beauty of the Internet, but
it's also part of the problem. There are many SEO companies that really
know what theyre doing, but for every reputable, serious search
engine optimization company, there are 3 that don't know enough to be
Most people who hire SEO companies
cannot tell the difference.
- On face value, the basement operator's site
- On further investigation, it often sounds like
he knows what hes talking about.
- Some of these "SEO companies" even
charge ridiculously high prices to add perceived value to their services.
They are not always out to mislead their customers.
Some of them really believe that they know how to maximize visitors
to your site, but they make mistakes that will cost you visitors &
So how do you distinguish?
The rest of this section takes the guesswork out
of choosing your SEO company. On the next page well start off
by looking at 4 warning signs. Read this entire section - from here
to the end. When you get there in 20 minutes or so, youll know
exactly what to look for.
Four Warning Signs
The warning signs I list here are my
own. Obviously lists like these irritate many reputable SEO companies,
because it makes their
customers apprehensive sometimes more apprehensive than necessary.
So take this for what it is: Only my objective opinion. Most of the
warning signs listed here have to do with ethics. If youre not
particularly concerned with how your SEO company gets traffic
only that they do then read this carefully: Unethical optimization
can get your site de-listed or even banned from the
search engines. When that happens, the cost to you is enormous while
they get away with only another slight dent in their reputation. Youre
not just trusting them with getting traffic; Youre trusting them
with your brand name.
(If youre an SEO company and disagree with
any of these or would like to add to it, please share
1. Spam marketing
As a general rule, dont do business with SEO companies (or anyone)
that uses spam as a marketing tool. Using spam is simply unethical
not the type of people you want to trust your site with. If
you receive spam saying something like I noticed youre
not listed in some of the search engines
bla bla bla,
write the companys name on your bad guy list.
2. Mass submit
If they offer to submit your site to thousands of search engines,
theyre trying to impress you with something you do not need.
There are only a handful of search engines that really matter.
3. Lack of transparency
If they are unwilling to explain how they will get traffic to your
site it usually means that they use techniques that are not within
the rules. Some SEO companies may argue that secrecy is necessary
in order to protect trade secrets. I disagree. The kind of SEO that
gets long-term results is simply about doing it right. There are
no tricks and no "secrets" in serious SEO.
4. Not listed at Google
Being listed at Google is (at the moment) the most important thing
in SEO. If your SEO companys site is not listed at Google,
they are either completely clueless or their site was dropped from
the Google database because they tried to cheat.
Questions To Ask SEO Companies
This is where it gets interesting.
Armed with this info, you are able to actually
test SEO companies. You do not have to rely only on the sales copy you
found on their web sites. Here are a couple of tough questions to ask.
Before we look at the questions, read this paragraph
carefully: There are many SEO companies. There are so many that you
can afford to show 100 of them the door if they do not convince you
that they know what they're doing. There are always more where they
came from. These questions are not difficult and theyre about
crucial elements of SEO, so theres no compromise. If they stumble
over these, walk away. Let's begin. Here are questions every SEO should
be able to answer:
What is link popularity and why do I need
A site's "link popularity" refers to
its number of incoming links - in other words the number of links
to it from other web sites. You need it because search engines measure
it (and the quality of the links) and use that info when ranking sites.
Without it your site probably won't rank well. Link popularity is
crucial. More and more search engines measure link popularity when
determining how relevant your site is for a certain search. The thinking
is that, if many sites link to yours, you probably have a good site
with lots of useful information.
Any SEO worth his salt should be able to suggest
ways to improve your site's link popularity. There are right ways
and wrong ways to do this that we looked at in Section 3.
Heres a quick recap:
- Links from FFA pages: This one doesnt
work. It could HURT your good standing with the search engines.
If your SEO company suggests using them, he does not know enough.
- Link-share services: This one used to work.
The idea is that you join a club where everyone links
to everyone. Most search engines now penalizing sites that use this
- Reciprocal links: This is a bit of a gray
area. Search engines are still deciding how they feel about these.
The important thing at the moment is that you only exchange links
with sites that are on a related topic.
- Editorial links: This is the most effective
long-term strategy. It involves creating unique, valuable content
for your site so that other webmasters will want to link to you.
Armed with this answer, judge whether he knows
what link popularity is, how important it is and how to improve it.
There's no compromise here. Link popularity is vital - that's why
it's question number one. If he "will come back to you on this
one", thank him for his time.
How does keyword targeting work? What words
will my prospective customers enter in the search box?
Web sites can be optimized for specific keywords.
The trick is in targeting the right keywords. There are ways to see
what words people use when searching (referred to as "keyword
usage"). This can then be weighed against the number of sites
competing for that keyword. For more on this, refer to the Basics
of SEO earlier in
this section and SEO Facts in Section 3.
You could use "sex" as a keyword. Just
make your site title something like "Mario's Bookkeeping Services
SEX SEX SEX". After all, it's the number 1 search term. Right?
Yes, it's the number 1 search term, but
- it's probably difficult to sell your bookkeeping
services to horny teenagers and
- there are too many sites competing for those
What you really want is targeted traffic. People
who are actually looking for what you offer. Selling bookkeeping services
becomes so much more doable when you're selling it to people who typed
"bookkeeping services. A small amount of targeted traffic
will result in more sales than huge amounts of untargeted traffic.
Youll also save on hosting fees because you wont need
so much bandwidth.
All your SEO company needs to find out is whether
they type "bookkeeping services" or "bookkeeping companies".
If your SEO company cannot suggest some kind of scientific method
of keyword research, he's wasting your time. This is important. I
learned the hard way that proper keyword selection gets you twice
the traffic for half the effort / money. Get him to explain how he
collects information on actual search term usage.
Guarantees In SEO
Theres quite a debate on at the moment about
guarantees in SEO. Those SEO companies opposed to the idea say that
nobody can guarantee top placement. Of course they are right. Search
engines change their algorithms continuously, making it impossible to
say for sure that a site will get top placement.
On the other hand, it should be up to the SEO company
to decide. If he/she is willing to refund your money if they cant
produce, then thats just fine. It shows confidence and takes the
risk off the shoulders of the customer.
Be careful though.
Get them to explain exactly what they guarantee.
Some unethical SEO companies will guarantee top placement in PPC search
engines which is a little ridiculous. Anyone willing to spend
money can do so. Others will simply redirect traffic to your site from
pages that already rank well as opposed to optimizing your site
for keywords relevant to your product(s).
Contracts In SEO
Insist on a written contract. That way you have
legal grounds in case the SEO company cannot deliver what they promise.
Your contract should include a money-back guarantee. Again, many reputable
SEO companies may not be willing to guarantee placement (see previous
heading). Thats for them to decide. My feeling is that your SEO
company should at least offer a conditional money-back guarantee
conditions may include things like your site being dropped from a search
Your contract should also include pricing details.
Make sure you understand (and have in writing) where the money goes
and what the final cost will be. If your SEO company is secretive about
this, I recommend that you walk away.
Finding SEO Companies
Special Directories Of SEO companies
SEO companies Listed @ Web Directories
Start with the 2 specialized directories. Theyre smaller but higher
How To Report Dishonest SEO Companies
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission handles
complaints about dishonest business practices. If you feel deceived
by your SEO company, consider filing a complaint.
There are three ways:
Visit www.ftc.gov and click the File
a Complaint Online link.
3. Regular Mail
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
If youre outside the US, try www.econsumer.gov
SEO Companies 2002
André le Roux
SEO to specialized SEO companies
So, you've decided to entrust your
SEO to the experts.
Not a bad call - if you have the money - and if
you know the pitfalls.
I can't help you with the money, but here are the
Just before we get to them
In this little guide, I'll tell you which questions
to ask. Its best to talk face to face to these guys. If your SEO "professional"
hesitates on one of the questions below or says, "Don't worry Mr.
Smith, that doesn't matter", bid him a good day. There are hundreds
more were he came from.
1. Site accessibility
Your site has to be accessible to search engine
spiders. This is so obvious that you'd expect SEO professionals to see
to that before they do anything else.
Almost 50% of them don't. Whether that's due to
incompetence or haste does not matter.
The important thing is that you ask them about
site accessibility up front.
· If your site uses frames, what are they
going to do to make sure the spiders index everything?
· What do they know about dynamic content and its effect on accessibility?
· What about image maps?
· What about layers?
2. Keyword targeting
Tell him which keywords you think your potential
customers will probably use to find you - and ask him what he thinks.
If he says "Whatever you want Mr. Smith", bid him a good day.
If he knows what he's doing, he should suggest
some kind of scientifically sound analysis. Ask him about checking keyword
usage and weighing the results up against the number of competing web
3. Minimum requirements
Here's a question that will get 95% of SEO companies
scratched off your list - but that's OK - you want a real pro, right?
Ask him if there are any minimum requirements when you submit a page
Many people NEVER get into Yahoo - even after paying
the $299 annual submission fee - because their sites don't meet the
For Yahoo, your site should at least:
· display a physical address
· be compatible with both Internet Explorer and Netscape
· not be under construction
4. Link popularity
The importance of link popularity is explained
in detail on page 107. See what he knows.
To recap, there are 4 ways to get inbound links
to your site:
1. Free For All (FFA) link pages
2. Link-share services
3. Ask for links
4. Editorial links
Of these, only numbers 3 and 4 work - although
many SEO companies still advocate the use of numbers 1 & 2.
You should probably not be to hard on him if he
can't think of 4 ways to get inbound links. Let him explain how he's
going to improve your site's link popularity and decide if he knows
what he's talking about.
If he says it's not important, if he doesn't know
what you're talking about or if he suggests using technique #1 or 2,
bid him a good day.
5. Stealth technology
In SEO, stealth technology enables webmasters to
hide the true content of their pages from the search engines. The optimized
page that the search engine sees is different from the regular page
that the site visitor sees.
There's a big debate on around the ethical issues
involved. See the section on cloaking above for more on that.
The most common types of stealth include cloaking
and cascading style sheets (CSS). Both cloaking and CSS have legitimate
uses, so we should be careful here.
The main problem with stealth is that, if the search
engine catches you using stealth to gain an unfair advantage, your site
(domain) will probably be banned from the engine - for life.
This is terribly important:
If your site is banned, all your marketing efforts
up to that point - both online and off - will be down the drain. You'll
have to get a new domain name & trademarks. Anything that mentions
your domain, including letterheads, company logo - even the stickers
on company cars - it all has to go.
Add to that the fact that most of your loyal customers
have probably bookmarked your site and that that link will now not work.
The bottom line: Stealth is not worth the risk.
Some SEO companies claim that they can use stealth
effectively. Maybe they can. In my opinion, search engines will continue
to find new ways to expose sites that use stealth. If your SEO company
offers it, don't show them the door, but decline.
6. Selling what
you don't need
Unfortunately, many SEO companies don't hesitate
to profit from their customers' lack of experience. Fortunately, you
have this book :-) Here's what you don't need:
- Regular resubmission
Once your site is indexed, the search engine could perceive resubmissions
as spam. Your site should only be resubmitted after a major change
in the content or structure of the site.
- Mass submit
You don't need to have your site indexed at 1000 search engines. There
are about 10 important international engines that'll be responsible
for 99% of your search engine traffic. Google and Yahoo alone will
probably be responsible for 50 to 80%. Apart from the major engines,
your site should be submitted to relevant topical engines. If your
product or service is available only in your country, a couple of
local engines should also know about you.
If they offer either regular resubmission or mass
submit, they're either stupid or dishonest. Bid them a good day.
Expensive is not necessarily better. I suggest
that you interview at least 5 SEO companies. Don't talk money yet. Just
get an idea of what's available. Next, make a list of what your company
needs, for example, to be listed in local, international and topical
engines, to have 50 pages optimized etc.
Send your list to SEO companies and get quotes
If you're a small company, you might be forced
to go with standard packages. Shop around. You'll find that some companies
charge 10 times what others do - for exactly the same service.
For a comprehensive list of SEO companies, try
the "Search Engine Placement Improvement" directory at Yahoo:
page is based on information contained in the Search Engine Yearbook 2003.
For more detailed search engine information & help, please refer to the
current version of the book.
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