6 Signs of SEO Snake Oil, Watch Out!

Colleagues in the search engine optimization industry are often given a bad rap from consumers. We are known as “gaming the system” or figuring out what Google’s algorithm is. This is true; we do have to figure out on our own, with a little help from the search engines, how to rank on them. Which strategies work? What shows results? What is the most ethical strategy we can develop? Unfortunately snake oil companies can ruin the reputation of highly reputable firms, steal money from their clients, and never produce results either ethically or not. Here are 6 signs that an SEO company may be a snake oil firm.

Prices so low they seem too good to be true
This is a tell all sign you may be hiring a snake oil SEO firm. “I can get you number one on Google for only $50 a month!” If something seems too good to be true, it likely is. It seems taboo to say it, but you have to invest to rank well on the search engines. It is not cheap. If a company wants to make a million dollars off the Internet in the travel industry for example, they should be willing to spend a minimum of $1,000 a month. And that is on the low end.

Promises to be number one on the search engines
We all know that firms in the industry do not work with the search engines, nor do they work with us. How can a reputable firm speak on behalf of Google and promise a client they will be ranked number one on that search engine? We never know how the search engines will rank our clients, but we have enough understanding of what the search engines want to obtain a page or position one listing. If you are guaranteed a position, you should know that you may be hiring a snake oil SEO.

Secret strategies without monthly reporting
SEO firms should open, honest, and most of all transparent. A reputable firm will inform the client of the custom developed strategy. Often an SEO firm will present all content to the client before it is uploaded to a blog or website. Snake oil firms are usually very secretive and do not offer any type of monthly reporting. The only way to track and show your clients progress is to accurately report your strategy, site traffic, and web position movement.

No third party references available
References are important, especially when you are charging thousands of dollars each month to your clients. A lot of SEO firms have virtual offices and conduct all work via the Internet. References will vouch for the honesty and successes of your firm. Third party references are invaluable. Client references mean nothing to me. SEO firms often have NDAs with their clients because they respect the privacy and protection of their clients, especially reputation management clients. An SEO firm can have made up clients and references, but if they come from third party sites they cannot be denied. Topseos.com, promotionworld.com, and seomoz provide accurate and nonbiased references. I read an article recently that said if a company doesn’t have client references you shouldn’t waste your time. This outraged me. We receive a high number of leads per day and cannot expect our clients to interrupt their busy day to screen calls from our prospective clients. A lot of companies do not want their competition to know they are doing SEO or reputation management and demand an NDA at the start of a project.

Strategies strictly based on number of links and/or directory submissions
This strategy for SEO is so outdated. I hardly think anyone wants to relive the 90s. Snake oil firms usually rely on pretty graphs and numbers to woo their clients. There is more to SEO and we cannot deny the power of social media among other things. An SEO strategy should be well rounded and focus on more than one of the more than 250 factors the search engines evaluate when ranking a website.

Lack of regularly updated content
We often receive calls from second chance clients that have been burned by snake oil SEO. The first thing I look for after hearing they’ve done SEO is whether or not there is a blog. Usually there is not a blog and the client can’t figure out why the snake oil company didn’t build links or improve their position on the search engines. Chances are if there isn’t a blog, there hasn’t been regularly updated content and the strategy relied heavily on directory submissions or link exchanges which is another sign of a snake oil SEO.

About the Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about SEO, SEM, or social media please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

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