As many businesses enter 2010 and struggle to dig themselves out of the economic chaos of the last two years (the last ten years if you have a web design business), we have noticed a significant uptick in questionable claims and outright scams. Consumer-focused scams targeting individuals looking for mortgage restructuring assistance and fake charities are perhaps the most insidious, but there are plenty of predators looking for business prey, too.
In our industry, one of the most thought-after and least understood services, search engine marketing, is a source of much spin and deceit. To help small businesses seeking a little help in understanding the wild, exciting, and often false claims made by some unethical competition in the marketplace, we have assembled a list of search engine optimization myths that we have heard, along with what we think when we hear these claims.
Search Engine Marketing Terminology
First, we need to define a few terms:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – This is the process of "tuning" the content of a website for relevance and developing a site's backlinks to improve its significance to improve "organic" (not paid) search engine rankings
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) – Paid advertisements like Google AdWords, allowing auction-style bidding for lists that are generally displayed at the top and on the right side of search results pages
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – The process of reaching potential customers and clients through all visibility efforts that impact Search Engine rankings
PageRank – Google's proprietary metric (and associated algorithms) for measuring the importance of a web page
Backlink – A link from another web page to a page on your website
Outrageous SEO Claims
Now, on to the wild and crazy world of SEO spin …
What They Say: We can guarantee you number one rankings on Google
What they Mean # 1: We do not really know how Google works, and we hope you do not either
Any search engine optimization company that offers a guarantee should be avoided, period. There is no crying in baseball, and there are no guarantees in search engine optimization.
What they Mean # 2: We can make you # 1 on keyword phrases that nobody ever searches for
It's probably pretty easy to get a # 1 ranking on "Norwegian yak's milk suspenders" – Nobody ever searched for it (and nobody ever will unless they read this article)
What They Say: We can maintain your current Pay-Per-Click rankings while lowering your current Pay-Per-Click budget
What They Mean: We do not know how to do basic math, but we will get some of your money for a few months until you figure that out.
One of the beautiful things about Pay-Per-Click is that it is simple and immediate. The bad news is that there are not really any cost-saving measures when comparing the same keyword phrases apples to apples. If the top bid on a keyword phrase is $ 3.50, and you're willing to pay more than $ 3.50, you can buy the first place listing (at least until someone else outbids you). Under no circumstances can you get better rankings in paid listings by paying less.
What They Say: You do not have to pay for backlinks – There are plenty of free links out there
What They Mean: I will list your website on the Opera Lover's Forum. It will not help your rankings much, but it's free!
The fact is that there are a handful of places that you can get free backlinks that are quite good (DMOZ, for example, if there is actually someone moderating the category you want to list in), but the reality is that many directory sites with a high PageRank require you to pay, usually on a recurring basis, for listing. This can be worthwhile, but needs to be factored in to your overall SEM budget.
What They Say: We can get your website top rankings with our $ 29.95 monthly service
What They Mean: We hope $ 29.95 is a small enough fee that you will not mind paying it even if your rankings do not improve.
$ 29.95 may be a small price to pay for the peace of mind that you're doing "something" with your Search Engine Marketing, but we prefer to analyze the value of what you pay and what you get in return. If you pay any amount of money and get nothing in return, it's a poor value. There are * some * services that can be a part of an effective search engine marketing campaign, but certainly not the whole enchilada (probably just the guacamole). Our monthly charges go to pay an actual human being to think about how to improve your rankings and make it happen – The charge is related to the number of hours that person spends on your site. Simple, huh?
What They Say: We can increase your search engine rankings – No changes to your website required!
What They Mean: We do not know how search engines work, but we know the idea of something for nothing is hard for some people to pass up – In fact, we're counting on it
In some rare cases, we have found a customer whose website is well-optimized (good content, page titles, meta tags, intra-site linking, etc.) Actually, strike that – We have never found a customer with a well-optimized website before engaging an SEO firm. The primary reason for this is that you do not know how to optimize until you know which phrases to optimize for. You do not know which phrases to optimize for until you do research. You do not do keyphrase research until you hire an search engine optimization company. So, if you're talking to a search engine marketing firm about improving your rankings your site is almost certainly not optimized yet.
What They Say: We get our Google AdWords cheaper because we buy in bulk
What They Mean: We are pretty sure you do not know how AdWords works, but we can set your AdWords budget lower so you will see your listings appear in the same place at the beginning of the month and think we told you the truth
This is a pretty new scam that we just heard about recently. There is, of course, such a thing as an AdWords voucher, often offered by Google to people who create new accounts with certain vendors Google has a relationship with. These vouchers are only valid for new accounts, so if you already have a campaign set up, they will be of little use to you. As for