Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of practices that helps search engines recognize a website and its contents and provide links to the site in relevant search results. These practices have evolved over time as search engines have become increasingly complex in how they assess the relative value and relevance of content on the web. Practices that used to be effective can now be useless or even counterproductive, resulting in ranking penalties from search engines. Consequently, when you hire an individual or agency to “do SEO” for you, the value you get depends heavily on how well they are keeping up with the latest algorithm updates and SEO research as well as their commitment to adding real value to your site.
Unfortunately, some companies that tout themselves as SEO experts use outdated or “black-hat” techniques that are essentially short cuts intended to trick search engines into concluding that your site provides value that it doesn’t. Watch out for these warning signs that an SEO firm isn’t really giving you what you’re paying for.
Learn how to understand your website's analytics to see if your firm is making progress for your business.
1. They won’t tell you what they’re doing.
SEO should not be a set of proprietary practices that an agency shrouds in mystery like the secret to eternal life. There are well known best practices that any agency should be following. If an SEO firm tells you that what they’re doing is a trade secret, that it’s too complicated to explain, or provides vague, jargon-laden answers to the question, beware. It’s likely that they’re using questionable practices that could ultimately hurt your site’s search engine ranking and diminish its traffic.
2. They don’t actively involve you in the process.
A good SEO firm should have lots of questions for you about your business, your customers, your products or services, and the online audience you’d like to attract. They should also provide you with suggestions for things to do on your end to support your efforts. The best SEO professionals work closely with their clients, viewing themselves as partners in their success. If you don’t hear from your SEO agency other than when they send you keyword ranking reports, they aren’t doing all they can for you, and what they are doing may not be adding any value to your site.
3. You see a drop in your website traffic.
While there may be legitimate reasons for a drop in search engine rank or traffic that are not attributable to what your SEO firm is doing, it’s certainly worth looking into. Particularly if you also observe some of the other warning signs on this list, consider the possibility that the firm is using black-hat techniques that are causing search engines to penalize your site. See this article on Digital Marketing Pro for tips on determining whether your site has been penalized by Google.
4. You don’t see any new content on your site.
The sophistication of search engines today means that in order to optimize for them, you have to provide real value on your website. In the past, generously sprinkling your website pages with keywords (whether legible or not) and getting lots of outside links pointing to your site (from whatever sources) may have been enough to climb the Google ranking ladder, but not anymore.
Google’s job (and the job of any search engine) is to provide its users with the best possible answers to their specific search queries. As search engines employ increasingly sophisticated algorithms, the more difficult it becomes to trick them into thinking you’re providing great answers when you’re not. That means that in order to truly optimize your site for search engines, you need to fill it with information and resources that your target audience is looking for. Keywords are still important; they give search engines clear cues about what a page actually contains so they can categorize it appropriately and return links to it in results to relevant searches. If those keywords aren’t backed up by real, valuable content, however, your rankings will suffer.
SEO isn’t a trick. It’s a process of making your website more valuable to users in ways search engines recognize. Want to learn more? Click below to download our free eBook, “6 Lies You’ve Heard from SEO Agencies.”
Want SEO help? Contact Blue Frog Marketing! We’re based in Des Moines, Iowa, and provide comprehensive, cutting-edge online marketing as well as commercial printing and graphic design services for clients across the U.S. and beyond.