How to root out the dodgy SEO companies

The problem with SEO being so ill-defined is that it’s often difficult to explain to customers what the process consists of and what they can expect at the end of if.

One sure thing is that nobody can promise a #1 Google ranking and nobody can really promise to get onto page 1 of the search results.  SEO companies can try their very hardest to do it but if Google doesn’t want your site to be there then there’s nothing that you can do about it.   All that an SEO company can do is promise to do their best and apply techniques that have given results in the past.  If you’re in luck then you’ll get a good result, if not then there’s not much you can do.

That’s why most reputable SEOs won’t guarantee a good rating – they’re being truthful and setting your expectations appropriately.  But it’s also why there are many dodgy SEO companies out there that will promise the earth to get you to use them.

A good SEO company

A good SEO company should give you some idea of what techniques they’re planning on using – if it’s on-site optimisation then they should explain what will change on your site and work with you to ensure that their planned changes are OK.  If it’s off-site then they should explain what technique they will use, whether it’s article submissions, press releases, blogs, viral emails and a whole bunch of other possibilities.  They should also be able to give you some idea of where they hope to get your site.  They might say “We’re aiming to get you to page 1 for this term, but of course we can’t promise everything.  We’ll do our best though and I think that a combination of these techniques should give us some good results.”

A bad SEO company

A bad SEO company will promise you the earth.  “#1 ratings for all of your keywords! GUARANTEED!!”.  That’s bad enough, because it’s misleading the customer.  What’s worse though, is that they may well buy links from ‘link farms’ who will link their websites (and there may be thousands of websites) to your website in exchange for a fee.  It sounds like a great idea and you might even get to #1, but then one of two things will happen. 

1. Google will see your site rocket up the ratings from nowhere with a bunch of links pointing to it from suspect website and wipe you from the listings.  

2. You’ll get to #1, stop paying your SEO company and they’ll withdraw the links and you’ll plummet back down again. 

If you choose to keep paying the SEO company then number (1) will happen eventually.

Like all businesses, there are good and bad companies.  Ethical and dodgy companies.  When you come to choose your SEO company, ask them what techniques they plan on using and ask them what their expectations are.  They won’t be able to give you a concrete answer but how they reply will speak volumes about how much you can trust them.

Gregor Spowart is a partner in Mass Media Design, a website design and Internet Marketing company based in Reading (Berkshire), Swindon (Wiltshire) and Cardiff.  Gregor is an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialist.