Working in web development and digital marketing, you deal with a lot of acronyms. As a graduate of Furman University, I’m no stranger to them. On campus we had an acronym for just about everything – we called the Dining Hall the DH, the Physical Activities Center the PAC, and the Furman University Police Officers FUPO. Bringing someone else on campus, I would use these terms without thinking about how much they might confuse someone unfamiliar with the school. And so it goes with web development, and one of the most confusing and elusive of all the acronyms – SEO.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of improving a website’s rankings on popular search engine sites like Google and Bing. Unlike Search Engine Marketing (SEM), where you pay for an ad to be displayed at the top of search results, SEO causes your website to appear organically when someone searches for a keyword related to your business.
Some business owners understand the necessity of SEO, realizing that a great website needs a way to drive traffic. Others don’t even know what SEO stands for, let alone understand the impact it has on the growth and success of businesses.
SEM (Google Ads) vs SEO (organic search results)
Then there are the companies that perform SEO for other businesses. Some of these organizations follow best practices and bring tangible results, while others make empty promises and can actually make a website’s rank even worse. We’re here to help you tell the difference.
If you talk with an SEO company or consultant and they make any of the following claims or practice any of these techniques, they are trying to sell you what author Colleen Jones calls “SEO snake-oil”, and you should keep your distance.
The Unsolicited Email
We were actually inspired to write this blog post because of this tactic. Everyone hates spam email, especially when it manages to masquerade as legitimate offers and services. You may have already received emails from SEO consultants noting how poorly you rank on search engines and how they can solve all your problems with their great and unknowable power. We receive these emails, and we provide SEO services for our clients! Treat such correspondence as you would any other spam – no Nigerian prince is going to give you his riches, no diet pill is going to miraculously cause weight loss, and no legitimate web agency is going to bombard you with emails you didn’t ask for.
No one can guarantee a specific ranking on search engines. If a company says “we will get you to the #1 spot on Google” or “we will get you on the first page of results”, stay away. It is impossible to deliver on such a promise. Google even says so. The only rankings that can be guaranteed are for long keyword phrases that you would get without paying.
SEO can improve search rankings, but nothing is guaranteed
Some companies will take this a step further and guarantee a top rank within 48 hours. This is ludicrous for two reasons. First is the one we explained above, that no ranking can be guaranteed. The second is that it takes time to get results from search engine optimization. Normally months need to pass before you see any sort of change or trend in your rankings.
The Inside Man
Google needs to be wary – they have a mole in their organization. They must, considering how many SEO organizations claim to have a man on the inside. Whoever this mole is, he must be brilliant. He would need to understand the 200+ variables that control the Google algorithm and constantly review them since the algorithm is changed several times a week. How does he manage to maintain his day job without being caught by Google in the process?
The answer is that there is no inside man, and that there is no way to “crack” the Google algorithm. Shocking, I know. Sure, an SEO expert should understand certain aspects of the algorithm. But no one should claim to have a special relationship with Google or have some sort of understanding of the algorithm that is unavailable to everyone else.
Secret SEO Techniques
Remember those SEO wizards I mentioned earlier? The ones that use their great and mysterious power to get you to the top of search results. Well, they’re the same ones claiming to have secret techniques that they cannot and will not disclose. It’s reasonable if a business doesn’t want to share all of the tools they use or exactly how they practice SEO, but they should outline their strategy and give you clear deliverables. Otherwise, how do you know that they’re doing what you paid them for?
Know where your money is going
These are just a few of the techniques used by untrustworthy SEO companies and consultants. Stay vigilant, for they may accost you at every turn. Hopefully, with this knowledge at your disposal, you’ll be able to tell the good from the bad. SEO is a legitimate practice that can help drive traffic to your website, ultimately increasing leads and conversions. When done right, it can be an incredible boon for your business. If you not only want more leads, but more qualified leads that actually have an interest in what your business does, SEO could be just what you’re looking for. But there are no shortcuts, no cheap tricks, and no easy answers. SEO takes hard work and time to be implemented properly.