It has recently come to my attention that several of my clients have been approached by rogue "SEO Companies" offering to "fix" their sites for a fee (often an extremely hefty fee too).
Here is some information that will help you be prepared against such rogues...
I cannot stress enough just how important it is NOT to let anyone claiming to be from an "SEO" company insert "landing pages" into your website...
Basically "landing pages" are pages, which are written by the SEO company rather than by yourself (and Google WILL notice the difference) in order to try and fool a search engine into thinking that the page is more important in your site for certain key phrases, than any other part of your website.
So then, even if you have the phrase elsewhere in your site, in copy you wrote yourself, the search engines are supposed to send visitors to the new "landing page" instead (which are tracked by the SEO company) and such pages often even have hidden links back to the SEO company (an honest SEO company would NEVER do this, nor would they EVER require you to link to them). Such tactics fool the client into thinking they are improving their own rankings, but in fact all that happens is that you are then paying the SEO company to improve THEIR rankings, at your expense!
This deceptive behaviour now applies to about 80% of so-called SEO companies around the globe – it is rife in this trade, the sooner we have laws against such tactics the better for us all.
Search Engines such as Google are far too clever to fool these days – but any SEO company doing the above WILL improve THEIR rankings using above methods simply because they end up with thousands of links to their site from their "clients" (victims) sites. But they are then getting a double slice of the cake, because their victims (clients) are then paying them in the mistaken belief the SEO company is on their side.
I have spent many, many days over the last few years this has been rife, removing lots of hidden code from people's website pages after they have been "SEO'd" in this fashion and subsequently got banned from Google once caught. Webmasters such as myself have tools with Google we can use to help a site that has been banned get back into Google – takes a few weeks as we have to jump through several hoops at Google Webster Tools in order to verify each page has been properly "cleaned" of rogue "SEO" code placed there by the sort of companies I am taking about.
A "landing page" as such, if written by YOURSELF for a particular phrase is no bad thing – Google will know it was written by the same hand as all your other pages – and of course they will then not contain any of the hidden links and tracking codes these SEO rogues companies use to trick their victims. Such pages are a GOOD thing if written by the same person that wrote ALL the other pages in a site.
(If you are receiving CMS Wales Web Ranking Reports each month you can identify very easily which new pages are needed in your site from the data in your reports – aim each new page/article to be a comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the key phrase you most want to improve in the search engines).
This is why I ask all Web Promotion clients to go through their Ranking Reports every month, and then write news/articles aimed at the phrases that are not doing well.
Also, for the same clients, once a phrase is doing VERY well in your reports, it is time to remove it from the phrases we report on each month and replace it with a new one you wish to promote – this way you can always have room in your monthly reports for new phrases you wish to get noticed for in the search engines.
Using your reports in this way would make a dramatic difference to your exposure within a few months – and help make you an "authority" on your subject matter, which puts you above your competitors in the results.
If you are given any prices from SEO companies – please do let me have some info on them – because there are several non-public "Webmaster" forums where I can find out if the people contacting you are honest or not, and then give you details of those complaining against them for their shoddy and sometimes illegal practices if they are one of the many rogue SEO companies operating today.
Softly-Softly is the way with SEO – long term reputation is far more important than a "quick hit wonder" that gets you banned from the Search Engines a month or two after the SEO company has vanished with your money. The damage to your reputation after a Google ban can take years to recover from.
This is why I put the power to do all this in the hands of every CMS Wales Web Promotion client with each monthly report, especially if those clients also have a CMS provided by CMS Wales, which has all the SEO tools you will ever need, built right in, from day 1.
Also NEVER ever consider dealing with any company that approaches you trying to sell you ANYTHING, if their email address is a Google Mail, Yahoo or Hotmail address – these people simply throw away those free email addresses once complaints start coming in and open up a new one elsewhere and start on a new set of victims. ALWAYS check this first.
Also, always check their email contains links to their own website – AND their email comes from an address at the same domain as the website (if not, then alarm bells should be ringing).
Even then – background checking is easy enough if you have access to the right professional forums...
But even a quick Google search along the lines of "problems with nameofcompanyhere", or "SEO Scams" will quickly show if anyone has had a bad experience and is complaining publicly...
It is a minefield out there, with many "SEO" and Hosting companies being dishonest at worst, and "slightly misleading" at best – hence I get a lot of my clients coming to me either from poor quality hosting companies or after a bad experience with an "SEO" company that has charged them thousands and has had NO effect on the client's rankings.
Such is the nature of the Internet that anyone, Russian Gangsters, Chinese Gangsters, even kids, can put up a site that makes them look like a massive corporation with an incredible history – but sometimes the truth comes out by accident – this article mentions a TRUE story about such a "hosting company" that turned out to be a teenager running the whole thing from his laptop in his bedroom:-
Just shows you – you can never know if a company on the Internet is "real" or not...
The long and short for most SEO companies is that they are NOT SEO people at all – they are using "Affiliate Links and Adverts" which they insert into your site – so suddenly the content of your site is no longer under your control, nor is the wording of any advert or link – Google will see this as "link baiting", "link spamming" or simply a flagrant attempt to circumvent their rules in order to "trick" Google into giving you higher ranking.
I warn you now – Google is NOT stupid and WILL catch you out – might take a month, might take 6 months – but by that time you will have paid a premium to these companies for EVERY click on the ads and links they inserted into your site – and the poor advertiser will have been paying per click too – and as you can see above – once the poop hits the fan, the companies simply set up a new company and move on to new victims.
Any HONEST SEO Company will NEVER need to place adverts or links into your website – this is against Google's rules – all advertising or links in your site MUST be related somehow to your core business or the people who provide your services or products – they must NEVER be random and unrelated – doing so will get you banned eventually and then you will need someone like me to clean the **** out of your site and apply to Google via the Webmaster Tools to get your site re-instated. The damage done to your online reputation can by then be un-repairable.
As I have tried to stress several times now – do not allow ANYONE apart from yourself or your staff to write a single word into your website – and NEVER use adverts (quickest way to alienate your visitors – if they want adverts they would not have arrived at your site in the first place – i.e. their search in Google was NOT to find adverts – they wanted INFORMATION).
Do not look for SEO shortcuts – they cost far too much on the long term.
Search Engine Promotion is a long-term softly-softly thing that must be kept going to be effective – Even with 22 years' experience in this field, it took me years to develop the techniques I use to get my phrases to the top, but I never got banned – yet I have literally spent days working to reinstate sites for those people who tried the shortcut route and got banned - there is no such thing as an SEO shortcut – and they ended up banned from Yahoo, Excite, Google and others. Anyone telling you there is a short cut is not only lying to you, but is going to clean you out financially if you are not careful – don't forget, people like these hire teams of people to sit in their offices clicking on the ads and links they put in your site to really bump up the income they will make from it – i.e. they are simply ripping you off.
You should stop your search for a get rich quick solution now – it will never happen – instead use your energy to try and grow your site each day by adding more content – as Google themselves say:
"Content is King"
They also stipulate quite clearly that web pages MUST be written for the use of your visitors only – and any pages written in an attempt to alter Ranking will result in penalties or even a total ban.
I've been at this for 22 years this year – and with Steve and Rohit (my business partners) we have 52 years of combined experience between us – yet for some reason some clients are not asking for the free help I would give them in SEO practices, and are heading towards disaster by looking for shortcuts – and the only people offering shortcuts are the rogues and the out-and-out thieves.
One nice description of the "SEO Market" I quite liked was: "SEO Scams in a Sea of Scumbags" – a not so polite way of saying exactly what I am warning you about in this article.
You can even buy "Ready made SEO company – earning $200k" off the shelf – for only $99 – now would you really believe that and pay up? Do you really think you could buy a company making $200,000 a year for $99? – if it were true we'd all be very rich indeed.
Same applies to many SEO companies that offer to "fix" your site for you.
If you have a CMS built by CMS Wales you already have all the tools you need to "fix" your site yourself in order to push any favourite key phrase above your competitors in the Search Engine results – just ask...
Some well known scams:
(READ CAREFULLY – this info is repeated all over the web because SEO scamming is now SO rife)
1) "X Top Ten Rankings Guaranteed!"
I know a company that offers "50 page one Google rankings guaranteed" as an incentive for uncertain prospects. Not to say hard work isn't being done – it is. But guaranteed rankings are meaningless.
Why this is a scam
First off, nobody can guarantee a ranking. Secondly, your website already has hundreds of page one rankings. Here's an example: search for "cms website design hosting promotion services in wales" I guarantee you cms-wales.co.uk (my website) is in several positions on the first page of results. Shouldn't it be?
Go through your own website and put together a list of similar ridiculously obscure key phrases. Search for them. You're going to find LOTS of page one rankings.
Rankings have never been the goal. They're merely a means to an end. The end is leads/sales/whatever your goal is. Qualified traffic that converts to sales. A ranking by itself means nothing if it refers no qualified traffic.
2) "We'll submit your website to thousands of search engines!"
Really? Thanks. Thousands of search engines sure is a lot. It would probably take me weeks to do all that myself.
Why this is a scam:
- How many search engines have you heard of?
- How many do you use on a regular basis (at least once per week)?
You're not unique in this. Most people use Google – about 70% of people in this country as a matter of fact. Something like 20% use Yahoo! Then 8% use Microsoft Live, Ask.com, Dogpile, Metacrawler, etc. – the handful of remaining search engines collectively get about 2% of search traffic.
There are not thousands of search engines to worry about. There are three. And if you're really pressed for time and resources, there is one – Google.
The worst part about scams like this: those "search engines" they're submitting your website to? They're mainly SPAM centres. So not only is your money being ill-spent on this "service," but you'll be inundated with SPAM emails until the cows come home.
3) "500 Directory Links for $49.95″
Link building is important – links are the most powerful way to outrank your competitors. Link building is also really, really hard. So when someone comes along offering you 500 links for $50 you might think it's a good idea – that's just $.10 per link!
Why this is a scam
Ask yourself: if you were Google would you want it to be this easy for websites to achieve top rankings? Just drop $50 here or there on a few links and bang! You are at the top?
Of course not!
There's a general rule of thumb here: the cheaper the link, the less powerful.
Sometimes, when you're clever and create great stuff, links come in by themselves – and these can be very powerful. But the kind of links you're going to get for nothing more than a $50 upfront investment are worthless.
4) "1st Page of Google in 48 Hours!"
This scam preys on those in a hurry – they've got a website, the sales are not coming in and they're hoping to hire an "expert" to get them visible in search engines quickly.
Why this is a scam
Anybody (yes, anybody) can get to the 1st page of Google almost instantaneously, and you don't need to hire someone to do it.
- Step 1: Sign up for AdWords
- Step 2: Pick a keyword, any keyword
- Step 3: Pay
You can pay for top placements all you want – that will make Google very happy. Consistent and qualified traffic streams and a positive ROI are another story entirely.
5) "We have an inside man at Google"
Wouldn't it be cool if your consultant had a "man on the inside?" You'd get your SEO advice straight from the horse's mouth!
Why this is a scam
You really think Google employees are selling state SEO secrets to John and Jane Doe? Google's ranking algorithm reportedly contains 200+ variables. In short: they could hand the formula to just about anybody – we wouldn't be able to "crack the code" and start ranking well. Too many of the variables are hard, if not impossible, to figure out.
6) "Our methods are a trade secret – we can't tell you what we're doing"
Of course some things are proprietary – you can't expect companies and consultants to give up all their trade secrets.
Why this is a scam
The minute you're paying someone for a fuzzy list of deliverables you've entered the twilight zone of the B2B services universe – where the basic trade of money for actual work unravels. I wouldn't expect your SEO to tell you everything about their research methods, tools and software, but then your car mechanic doesn't turn over a work order with one line item titled, "secret car repair service" and expect you to pay it, does he?
7) "We've studied and cracked Google's algorithm"
Similar to #5, this one is equally absurd. It sounds very nerdy and scientific – and we all like the idea of being in on top secret info, especially when it makes us money.
Why this is a scam
Not even Google employees have "cracked" the algorithm. It's handled by a team of engineers and is updated sometimes several times per week. In other words, a minute after someone "cracked" the algorithm their information would be out-dated.
8) "We just need to install this link directory on your website"
Sounds simple enough – and they'll usually offer to do it for a low upfront price.
Why this is a scam
Your SEO consultant/company is basically telling you that their link building strategy amounts to nothing more than a thin link exchange program. Run screaming. They might not be knowingly scamming their clients, but they don't know SEO. This method was already stale and fruitless when people were still listening to Creedence (isn't it nice to let the past die?).
So what DO I need?
If you have a CMS website then you do NOT need SEO as such – your CMS system has all the SEO tools you need built right in from the start – add your text, include the main key phrase for the article/page in the body of the text PLUS especially in article titles (as the system then inserts the title in the all-important "H1" tag on your page, defining it as MOST important to the SE's), add in your Metadata Keywords and Meta Description (including the main phrase for the page here too) and BANG! – you have a fully SEO'd page – all the rest falls under scams as above.
This is why the CMS Wales web promotion service does NOT alter your text/s in any way, doesn't add worthless link systems into your site, or worthless adverts that will annoy your visitors – what it does do is submit a profile of your site to the largest of the Search engines (approximately 40), and ignores the rest (see above). It does this at least once per week, keeping records of each one so they are never over-submitted (so ones that are not yet due are then skipped in the next week's submission run). Then once per month several more hours are spent searching the engines, by hand, for each of your key phrases to identify how they are doing – delving down to the 5th page of results in each engine to see if you are anywhere in the top 50 for that phrase, then collating all the results into your report so YOU can see which key phrases you need to add into your site in YOUR own method of article writing, so it matches all your other articles and Google et al can recognise that it is all written by the same hand and has not been illegally "SEO'd".
It is in THIS way that you will eventually be regarded by Google et al as an authority on your subject – but the minute you let one of these SEO "cowboys" in and let them start writing in their own words in THEIR way – it all falls apart – but they make lots of money from you before disappearing like one chap, a Mr Mark Guest from AdJuice. (He had 2 companies in the last 12 months with the first forcibly closed owing thousands? And people still give him more? – well, he'll take it, and when the complaints come in again he'll open his 3rd company etc. etc.)
What is built in to my CMS site I can use for SEO?
If a Google search for your favourite phrase brings in your article in the 1st page of results...
This is due to several factors:-
- You did your meta tags when adding the article – well done
- You put the key phrase for the page in your Title – well done
- The hidden XML sitemap I set up for your site and submitted to the Google Sitemap Project is checked by Google 2-4 times a week to pick up your new articles – and this sitemap is automatically updated by your site every time you add anything new (or even when you edit an existing page).
Now any "SEO Company" approaching you will try to tell you that you need to pay them to:-
- Do your Meta Tags – they will try and tell you your site is not meta tagged – but it is – you did it already – they are lying.
- They will want to "optimise your page titles" – already done by yourself as you now know that the most important key phrase for any page should be in the article title.
- Tell you that you need a Google XML Sitemap – again already done when I built your CMS, AND it has been submitted to the Google SiteMaps Project so Google now checks it every 48-72 hours to check if any changes have happened in your site since Google last visited.
So now the only things left the rogue SEO company will have left to try and sell you are:
- Some kind of reciprocal link program – which can kill a website in the SE's if the links are not related to your core business.
- Advertising exchange system – whereby other companies advertise on your site – and THEY take the revenue – quick way to alienate your visitors as it is then immediately obvious to them that the site is no longer written for them, but for your advertisers and the search engines. This also waters down your "authority" as far as the major SE's are concerned and drops your ranking pretty quickly. And if some of the ads turn out to be a bit "adult" (you'll have no control) then you may upset a lot of people too.
- They may try to get you to agree to have Google Adwords – this can be VERY expensive for you (MANY of my clients AND myself have tried it in the past with abysmal results). Your competitors, once they know you have Adwords putting you on the side of results pages in Google, can simply sit there clicking your ads in Google and cost you a LOT of money in a very short time. This is common practice these days – called "click-jacking" – they will know you have set a daily budget of £x.xx and each click costs a set amount – often anything between £0.05p to £5.00 per click – they keep clicking, your daily budget ends and your adverts disappear until the next day when the new daily budget kicks in, then your competitors get their own ads in place of yours for no more effort than half an hour of clicking. (Some large companies even employ people just to hit their competitor's Adwords in this way every day)
- They may suggest Google Analytics – and if they want to charge you for this then RUN!!!! – if you wanted that I could install if free of charge – Google do not charge for it, it is FREE, and it takes only seconds to install into your CMS site template, so beware any company trying to SELL this to you – I can do this for you F.O.C. However, Google Analytics is not the only anlaytics tool there is – Woopra is also very good and can also be installed for you, into your CMS site template F.O.C.
- They may also suggest that DMOZ submission is necessary and ask you to pay them for that too – RUN again – this is already done by me on your behalf if you are on the Web Promotion Package, as DMOZ is one of the Search Engines I submit your site to every week.
Some companies, offering all the above charge anything up to £1650 setup fee – plus up to £750 per month running fees, plus £150 per month for Adwords – a total of up to £2550 up front then up to £900 per month in fees thereafter. (source: http://www.seopackages.co.uk/ )
And the sick thing is – for clients with a CMS website – it is all unnecessary once the site owner understands how to write good text copy for their own site, how to meta-tag their articles, how to put the most important key phrase into the title, how to use their monthly Ranking Reports to identify which key phrases need a "push", and that the CMS site has automated Google Sitemaps installed when it was built.
And again – beware ANY company offering a guarantee – Google warn about this in their own articles – NO ONE has any special relationship with Google so any guarantee they make is simply an out-and-out lie, aimed at parting you from your money in the shortest time possible before they get found out.
Google have a fair bit to say about this here:
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35291 - look for the section headed: "No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google"
I think the SEO company that called me is honest enough...
Here's an example of the services offered by one of the very few companies that actually have no complaints against them at this current time:-
Advanced SEO Packages - Call for Quote
Our Advanced SEO Package is designed to establish a first page presence even for competitive search terms... What's included in the advanced SEO Package?
- W3C HTML validation and Optimisation of title tags, meta tags, alt tags and header tags (H1, H2 etc) DONE IN YOUR SITE IF YOU HAVE A CMS
- Optimisation of textual content with keyword placement within content DONE IN YOUR SITE – IF YOU USE THE INFO I CAN GIVE YOU FREE OF CHARGE AND USE THE DATA IN YOUR MONTHLY WEB RANKING REPORTS
- Robots.txt file creation and installation DONE IN YOUR SITE FROM DAY 1 (BOTH CMS AND STATIC SITES)
- Sitemap generation and submission of sitemap to Google DONE IN YOUR SITE IF YOU ARE ON THE WEB PROMOTION PACKAGE
- 4000 SEO friendly hand directory submissions* WORTHLESS – these are just spammy link farms
- 2000 Do-Follow Social Bookmark Links WORTHLESS – you do this yourself every time you do a tweet to Twitter or a post to Facebook linking back to your site.
- 2000 Forum posts with links to your website in each post* WORTHLESS – unless you want to go and read 2,000 forums, and have to tell all your visitors that they should go and read them too – ALL content should be on YOUR site to have value to your company, not on someone else's or you are basically giving your traffic away to someone else, and so, by proxy, your income too.
- 1000 Do-Follow Web 2.0 Links WORTHLESS – where are they, who are they?
- 400 Optimised Blog Posts WORTHLESS – (copy should be on YOUR site not theirs)
- 150 Approved and Published Articles each containing x2 backlinks to your website WORTHLESS – (copy should be on YOUR site not theirs)
- 100 Paid Directory Links WORTHLESS – (do your visitors use the directories to search the net? Course not, almost everyone uses Google or Yahoo et al)
- 40 Inbound natural theme based one way links on relevant pages WORTHLESS – Nonsense
- Micrositez Link Magnet™ - Our Powerful Backlink Booster attracts links to your Website from other web 2.0 site WORTHLESS – links have NO value whatsoever if they are not in the same field as you or are people you actually know and wish to link to, who will also, preferably, link back to you.
See what I mean? With a CMS site – all the rest is just "fresh air" that takes money from you in large chunks till you cotton on and withdraw from the contract you will be tied into.
Finally, this is a MUST READ Article if you want to know what the professionals think of all this:-
When I do my meta-descriptions, should I include the article key phrase in it too?
Yes, that is good SEO practice.
Key phrases for the page/article in question should go into the Title first and foremost, then also into the copy, along with all variants of the phrase providing you can work them in naturally (i.e. always write for your human reader rather than for the SE's - they will notice your intent and boost you for this), then also add the main phrase for the page into the Description and Keywords boxes too.
Doing the above puts more "weight" or "relevance" on the phrase when the SE's see it.
Is it best to write a brief synopsis in the Meta Description or instead use a snippet from the main text?
If you are not rushed, then it is always best to write a synopsis of what the page is all about – this then reads more naturally in the SE results to the person looking at the search results.
Official figures from Google and other engines suggest the following lengths to comply with best SEO practices – I'm giving away secrets now ;-)
These are the "ideal" lengths to aim for to achieve best display in the SE results pages and to comply with Best SEO Practices:-
- Title: Google shows 69 Characters (Including Spaces) for Page Title.
- Meta Description: Google shows 156 Characters (Including Spaces) for Meta Description.
- Meta Keywords: Just use the MAIN phrases for the page – don't "over-stuff" this tag – max length is 250 characters (including spaces & commas).
Page Content Length:
Generally considered a minefield – but planning is the way to make the most of this and ensure you give the visitor AND the SE's what they want to see...
There are two "tents" in your website - "intent" and "content." Before you worry about the SEO, think about your site visitors and the reason for the existence of a given page. This is the "intent" part. What is your intent for this page? What information are you trying to convey to your visitor? That should be your first concern. The internet isn't like any other form of marketing you've ever done. The site visitor has very definite and different expectations when they visit your website than they do when they read one of your print ads. The average visitor:
- probably got there from a search engine
- was looking for some specific information in their search
- wants to find what they're looking for in a hurry
- doesn't want to wade through a bunch of stuff to get what they want.
This isn't print: It's clear to the average consumer that what they see in almost any print ad is something you're "pushing" at them with a goal of doing business at some point. And most consumers are OK with that, and will still read your ads if they have any interest at all. But, when they visit your website, particularly from a search engine, they arrived with a question or need for information. They're not looking for a sales pitch. They're looking for answers.
What the visitor wants: So, the first decision about content length for a web page should be made with the goal of providing the information that the visitor wants. If 200 words can do it, then that's probably enough. If it takes 600 words, then that's the right page length. If it takes thousands of words, then we get to a new decision and plan. This also has to do with choosing a key phrase for the page for which you'll be doing SEO. If you have a lot of information, and if you're having trouble narrowing down to one important key phrase, then you've got more than one web page of information.
Suddenly some of the fear of not having a lot of SEO'd pages on your site will die away. The average web visitor is in a hurry, looking for fast access to the information they seek, and doesn't necessarily want extra information at that moment. This works in your favour for your site planning and content development. If you've got lots of information that answers several questions, you've probably got several pages of information. Generally, too much scrolling is not good, so a text-heavy page of information could be perfect with anywhere from around 200 to a bit more than 1000 words for complex topics.
Really, the "content" question is frequently not a question if you answer the "intent" question first. Develop the content of a page around the information you're trying to provide to your visitor.
I don't have a CMS:
For those of you still on old fashioned static websites (Web 1.0) – the Internet has evolved massively since your static site was built – you must have heard of the phrase "Web 2.0"? it is a huge buzz-word now – basically meaning that a Web 2.0 site offers so much more, not just to your visitors in terms of interactivity, but also in the power that it puts into the owner's hands:
- Instant updates and new pages – all without having to pay a webmaster to do it for you
- Fast backups of your whole CMS and its Database
- Real-time site search features
- Weather for your area
- RSS News Feeds
- Audio files
- Design Templates which make annual site revamps very affordable as the whole site does not need to be re-built - only the template
- Help Desk Systems
- Invoicing Systems
- Online Shops
- Hotel or B&B Booking Systems
- Integration with your Twitter and Facebook pages if you have them
- Social Media integration so that your visitors can instantly tell all their friends in their chosen Social Network about your site/pages/articles within ONE CLICK etc. etc. – and because the links to your site they are sharing with their friends – their friends are more likely to trust such links and so visit your site themselves.
CMS sites offer much more besides – if you still have a static website then you will start noticing a drop in traffic and referrals – because web surfers are now much more savvy and they are DEMANDING more from the sites they visit, and certainly from the ones they want to make purchases from...
Get up to date – Get a CMS!
CMS Wales offers custom Website Design for clients on ANY budget – ranging from as little as £595.00 for those on very tight budgets, up into the thousands for those requiring large and/or e-commerce sites with larger development budgets.
CMS Wales have published 2 E-Books on the subjects of SEO and Website Promotion, they are both available from Amazon: