Jill Whalen is an internationally recognized SEO consultant and host of the High Rankings® Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. Since Jill has retired and that newsletter is no longer available online, I’m preserving the following excerpt which explores how to tell if your potential SEO consultant is on the up & up or not.
Caveat: this was originally published in 2006 and a lot has changed since then. I’ll annotate that below.
10 Signs That Your SEO Is a Quack
There are so many SEO/SEM firms cropping up that talk a good game but don’t deliver results. [This is sadly still true today] This is in part because there’s so much information that is freely available about search engine optimization. On the surface, SEO sounds easy — and it really is — once you’ve had a number of sites to experiment with. What’s even easier than SEO, however, is discussing SEO as if you know what you’re actually doing (when you don’t)!
Here are 10 signs to watch out for that may very well indicate that your potential SEO is a quack. Please note that one of these individually may not be bad, but if you notice more than 2 or 3 of these when speaking with any SEO company, you may just want to head for the hills!
1. Your SEO company talks about meta tags and Google PageRank (PR) as if they are the magic bullet to high rankings.
For the most part, there’s no reason to even bring up the keyword Meta tag nor toolbar PR in a discussion about what needs to be done to get better search engine exposure for your site. Both of them are issues that quack SEO companies will talk about because they actually believe they are the key to SEO success. They are not. I’ve discussed in previous articles the Meta keyword tag’s lack of importance, so I won’t go into that again here. In regards to PageRank, increasing the little green bar graph’s number should never be the ultimate goal of a professional SEO campaign.
A good campaign will automatically increase your real and true PageRank (as measured by Google) without your specifically setting out to increasing it on your own. Since PR doesn’t bring you traffic and sales (nor rankings), increasing it should not ever be the main goal of your campaign. This fact is of course lost on SEO quacks.
[Google’s PageRank hasn’t been publicly revealed for many years now, nor has the Google Toolbar. But other organizations have measures of authority that can be helpful in competitor comparisons. Regardless of that, the ultimate goal of an SEO campaign should be either direct revenue or having visitors take other actions that are the purpose of your website.]
2. Your SEO company’s site (or those of their clients) has the same title tags on every page. Sounds crazy I know, but I’ve seen this more than once!
I once got a client who had previously used a very major SEO company that most people have heard of. They had been with this firm for a whole year, and yet the title tags on every page of their site were all the same (the name of the company). Since title tags are probably the most important (and easiest) thing to change on a site, any SEO company that can’t do this one basic thing for their own site or their clients’ is most definitely a quack!
3. Your SEO company talks only about optimizing for the “long tail.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with long-tail keyword phrases, as they can bring a lot of traffic when all is said and done. But you don’t need an SEO company if those are the only phrases you’re interested in — you can do it yourself just by writing articles. Your SEO company should not be afraid to optimize for the actual keyword phrases that most people would use at the engines to find your site. Yeah, it’s gonna take time and money to go after the most competitive keyphrases, but there’s usually a happy medium. Most sites have plenty of phrases that are somewhere between long tail and highly competitive. Those are the ones you definitely want to target.
4. Your SEO company tells you it’s ALL about links (or ALL about content).
SEO isn’t ALL about anything. It’s about lots of things all added together to make the perfect combination for your site. A linking campaign alone will never be as effective if you neglect your on-page content, and vice versa. Be sure that your SEO company looks at your site from all angles and makes sure all your bases are covered. Otherwise, they’re probably a quack!
5. Your SEO company tells you that you need a linking campaign even though you already have tons of links and are a well-established popular site in your niche
Not every site needs every SEO service out there. Just because your SEO company likes to sell link-building doesn’t mean you actually need it for your site. Why should you pay for something you don’t need? The same thing goes for sites that already have great, well-written, optimized content. If you’ve got that, perhaps you just need a linking campaign to help boost your traffic and sales. Don’t allow an SEO quack to fix what isn’t actually broken.
6. Your SEO company is almost surely 99% quackish if they tell you that they can rank your brand-new site in Google for keywords that will bring you traffic within a few months.
In fact, if they claim they can do it in less than 9 months, they’re either inexperienced or lying. Google has an aging delay that is most certainly related to the age of the site, as well as a certain trust factor. It is only the very rare and wonderful site that can get around this delay. But if your site is like most, you’re going to have to look to the long term for your Google results, regardless of what the quacks might try to convince you of.
[Google’s aging delay has been severely reduced since 2006 as Google’s ability to understand a website has improved. There are many variables, but for existing websites I’ve found we can often see an improvement in visibility within three or four months — depending an several factors.]
7. Your SEO company never mentions that they may very well need to redo your site architecture so that your important pages are prominently featured within your site navigation.
In this case it’s very possible you’re dealing with an inexperienced, quack SEO. This is usually something that is not a quick fix, so most quacks are reluctant to discuss it with you (if they even know it’s important). But if your site architecture is not search-engine-ready, everything else you do will have much less impact.
8. Your SEO company can’t provide you with any quality references.
This one pretty much goes without saying, but do be sure to get references, and do be sure to actually call them. Yeah, a reference may very well turn out to be their cousin, but you should be able to get some feel for the company you’re choosing if you can at least talk to some references.
9. Your SEO company tells you that you have to have a DMOZ listing or your site will never be able to get high rankings.
Sure, a DMOZ listing is great, but it’s a link just like any other. Submit and forget about it. If you don’t get in, it’s no big deal — there are plenty of other links you can get instead.
[Sadly, DMOZ. also know as The Open Directory, no longer exists.]
10. Your SEO company’s site mentions that they’ll get you high rankings in AltaVista, Fast, Inktomi, Lycos, Excite, HotBot and the like.
If it does, you are 100% positively dealing with a quack! ‘Nuff said!
[Well, this one’s really showing its age. But the point Jill wanted to make is that it’s quackery to ignore Google and focus only on less relevant search engines where rankings may be more easily obtained but where usage is too low to drive significant traffic to your site.]
Hungry for more?
I compiled a list of 10 questions to ask an SEO consultant you’re thinking of hiring. Where the items above are focused on weeding out the quacks, these 10 questions will help you select the best match among the good ones. I’m actually rather pleased how well they’ve held up over the years since it was written.
10 Questions To Ask Before Hiring an SEO Consultant