Questions to Ask Your Potential Search Engine Optimization Company – Part One
Search is a growing industry, and it seems that every day there is a new search engine optimization company in the game. However, the skills of many of these search engine optimization companies are questionable — staying on top of the knowledge curve can be daunting, and getting up to speed more daunting still. Moreover, there are a huge variety of tactics, “safe” and “unsafe” practices (in terms of the risk of penalization), and other important business considerations that you should think about before deciding on any particular search engine optimization company.
The following is the first of a three-part series that provides a list of questions to help you to determine if the company you are considering is deserving of your trust. In this installment, we’ll focus on the tactics that search engine optimization companies might use that could put your website at risk of penalization or removal from the major search engines.
Ask your potential search engine optimization company the following:
“Do you show search engines anything that a visitor does not see?”
There is a common tactic that certain search engine optimization companies use called “cloaking.” In simple terms, these companies use technology that enables your website to recognize when a visitor to your site is a spider and to then feed that spider specialized content designed to rank highly in search engines. This tactic violates the Terms of Service (TOS) of every major search engine. Sites that are caught cloaking are routinely removed from engines. Therefore, depending on your tolerance for risk, you may want to find a search engine optimization company that does not employ this tactic.
“Do you create pages, either on my server or somewhere else, that are not built in to the navigation of my site?”
Another common technique that some search engine optimization companies employ is the creation of “doorway pages.” Since the term “doorway page” now has such a negative connotation in the industry, many search engine optimization companies have their own names for such pages: “gateway pages,” “bridge pages,” “targeted entry pages,” “specialized content pages,” and so on. Whatever they are called, such pages are rarely effective and also put websites at risk of penalization, as this is another tactic that violates the TOS of every major engine. If your potential search engine optimization company does not give you a definitive “no” to the above question, you may want to look elsewhere.
“What is your link building methodology? Is it automated, and do you target reciprocal links?”
Quality search engine optimization companies are concerned about garnering quality inbound links to your website because “link popularity” plays a big factor in rankings. If the major players at any potential search engine optimization company tell you that they do not build links, it’s time to laugh in their faces, call them lazy, and move on.
Because finding quality links from quality sites is very time consuming, many search engine optimization companies have tried to automate the process. One undesirable approach to link building is automated reciprocal linking schemes, often responding to the ubiquitous emails that are sent to anyone with a website, looking for link exchanges to boost a site’s link popularity. The danger here is that an outbound link from your site is counted as a “vote” for the site to which it links. If that site gets penalized, your site may get penalized in turn. (Google refers to this type of linking relationship as a “bad neighborhood.”) A good search engine optimization company will concentrate instead on garnering quality inbound-only links to your website and adding the type of content that makes it worthy of non-reciprocal links from a variety of sites.
“Do you use hidden text or hidden links?”
Search engines, as a rule, do not like it when a website shows them content that is not designed for a visitor to see. However, there are search engine optimization companies that will employ hidden text (text that is the same color as the background color of a page or text that is hidden behind a graphic, for example) to try to boost that page’s relevance, and thus the page’s ranking. Other search engine optimization companies will use hidden links, typically sized down to one pixel, that lead to dozens, or even hundreds of pages that are not designed for visitors to see, known as doorway pages. This is another tactic that, if discovered, can get a website removed from search engines. If you are averse to this type of risk, make certain the search engine optimization company that you are considering gives you a definitive “no” in answer to the question.
“Have you ever gotten a client’s site penalized? If so, when was the last time?”
Many quality search engine optimization companies have, at one time or another, gotten a client site penalized, either due to a change in the TOS of an engine or an oversight of some sort. If the search engine optimization company with which you are speaking tells you that it has gotten a site penalized, but that it was many years ago, this may not be such a big deal. But if the company tells you that it caused a site to be penalized last week, you should quickly procure a cross and some garlic and run screaming in the opposite direction.
While these questions do not cover all potentially dangerous methodologies, it has been my experience that shady search engine optimization companies rarely use only one illegal trick — and one of the tricks in their arsenal is almost certainly listed above. If a search engine optimization company gives you a lot of evasive answers to these questions, it may give you an idea of the type of firm that you are dealing with. Unless you are comfortable with the risks associated with the above tactics used by some search engine optimization companies, I suggest you find another vendor.
Coming soon – Part 2: Questions to determine your potential search engine optimization company’s competence level.