By Ian M. Bardorf
Search Engine Marketing is one of the most effective tactics to generate leads, help you promote your expertise, reach prospects and stay connected with clients. A good ranking on Google’s results pages is a measurable gateway for new business. Enhancing your website so that it’s listed at or near the top of Google, Yahoo or any other search engine is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
But along with the growing focus on search marketing has come a proliferation of agencies that claim they provide Search Engine Optimization. Many of these are website design firms or ad agencies that have simply added “search engine optimization” to their websites and have no in-depth experience. They often over-promise and under-deliver. Even worse, some of them can hurt your business in the long run.
Search engine optimization, if done well, is not a product or a commodity, but a sophisticated process that requires well trained and experienced individuals with up-to-date insight on the business.
In a tight economy, you simply can’t afford to spend valuable resources on an effort that may or may not deliver the results you need. Here are six tactics to avoid when considering SEO.
Tactic 1: Promising a guaranteed #1 ranking.
Evaluating a firm to conduct your site’s SEO is time consuming but worthwhile. You’re spending valuable marketing dollars and need to show the return on that investment. It’s easy to be tempted by firms that guarantee top rankings.
But beware of vendors that make this promise. Search rankings are notoriously unstable, and subject to a variety of factors such as the location of the person searching and whether they’ve logged in to Google and are using personalized results. Reputable SEO firms don’t offer guaranteed #1 rankings, fast results, or any other promises that sound too good to be true. Google itself warns, “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.”
Tactic #2: Claiming rapid results.
Claims about rapid improvements in search engine rankings should be viewed skeptically. SEO is not a quick-fix marketing tactic that can deliver results in a matter of hours or days. Instead, it typically takes a diligent, ongoing process that gradually improves your site’s rankings.
A good SEO project can take three to four months to begin showing a real impact, depending on a number of factors such as the age of your site, the number of quality inbound links you already have, and the competitiveness of keywords. Anyone promising you an upward bump in your results in 30 days is overpromising. Worse, they could be using shady SEO tactics that might deliver a quick change at the expense of long-term search engine visibility.
Tactic #3: Using “black hat” techniques.
SEO providers have variety of ways to achieve higher rankings for a site, but not all techniques are considered above board. Bending the generally accepted rules established by search engines is called “black hat” SEO. And while black hat SEO is not technically illegal, it is discouraged by search engines and can hurt your business in the long run.
Major retailer J.C. Penney was caught in a black hat SEO nightmare after the 2010 holiday shopping season, when Google found that the company’s SEO firm had used a link-buying scheme (paying to place links on hundreds of websites unrelated to J.C Penney) to help the retailer achieve top rankings for broad product terms such as “area rugs,” “furniture,” “home décor” and “skinny jeans.” Google responded by lowering J.C. Penney’s rankings. In just over one week, the average position for a J.C. Penney webpage dropped from #1.3 to #52, according to a New York Times report.
Tactic #4: Buying inbound links.
Attracting lots of high-quality inbound links to your website is essential for improving your website’s authority and search engine rankings, so it’s no surprise that link-building is one of the services that most SEO firms promise their clients.
The problem is, not all inbound links are valuable — and some may even harm you. Offering payment for inbound links, creating new sites solely to link back to a main site, or placing hundreds of inbound links on unrelated pages just to boost a specific page’s rank are a few of many black hat link-building techniques to avoid.
Tactic #5: Focusing on clicks, not conversions.
Rankings or website traffic alone are weak metrics for overall performance. It’s more important that the search results drive relevant visitors that take a desired action – such as signing up for an email newsletter or viewing a video – once they land on your page. Avoid vendors that spend too much time talking about number of website visitors and not enough about how to measure what they’re doing once they get there.
Tactic #6: Offering a One-Time Fix
SEO isn’t a one-time project — it’s an on-going process. Your site’s content has to be constantly refreshed, inbound links added regularly, and your keyword strategy tweaked according to performance metrics. And that doesn’t even take into account ongoing changes to search engine algorithms that make any page’s ranking susceptible to fluctuation over time.
The bottom line is that SEO should be a constant focus for your marketing team – and your agency partner. It’s more than just a few structural fixes, a burst of link building, and a one-time content generation push.
Search Marketing is a service, not a product.
Rather than a one-time, single approach that can be used by companies across any industry, search marketing is a service that improves over time and with experience. An experienced agency will provide better, quicker assessments of your client profile and site objectives; implement more effective optimizations; manage paid search more efficiently; produce better results; and avoid mistakes and pitfalls that cost you time and money.
Now it’s up to you. You want to outsource search marketing to a trusted provider to save precious time and get the best results. A good agency will help you help yourself by educating you on the pros and cons of various approaches. Choose a service-oriented agency that will become a true business partner. In this economy, that will make all the difference. To find out more about Search Engine Optimization, contact Ian Bardorf at www.BardorfMarketing.com.
Ian M. Bardorf is an Internet marketing and social media advisor to attorneys and law firms seeking to grow and advance their business via the web. This article is copyrighted as original content by Ian M. Bardorf and Bardorf Legal Marketing. This article may be reproduced or republished with appropriate attribution and credit.