To begin, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. As a bold stroke explanation, SEO is the process of modifying a website’s online presence in order to increase its rankings in the search engines for specifically targeted search terms. Search Engine Optimization comes in many different forms. Some search optimization professionals believe the best approach to achieving good rankings includes a heavy inbound link profile for a website. Yet others don’t focus on link building at all, instead turning their attentions toward on-site improvements and content modifications.
Regardless of the approach used to optimize a website for search, every process can be sorted into one of two categories. White hat SEO or black hat SEO. The goal of this post is to introduce you, briefly, to these two different forms of search engine optimization, their benefits and drawbacks, and important tips and questions that you can utilize to vet a potential search engine optimization service provider.
Black Hat SEO
Typically referred to as unethical SEO, black hat SEO is the process of increasing a website’s rankings through deceptive, unethical, or undesired (by the search engines) means. Tactics such as cloaking, text obfuscation, purchasing back links, automated link building practices, and utilization of non-unique content are just some methods unethical search optimization professionals and businesses use to achieve quick, non-sustainable rankings for themselves and their clients.
Though the benefits awarded by black hat SEO can be great, being as the approach used is unethical, your website will forever be at risk of de-indexation by the search engines, Google and Bing specifically. The search engines fight day and night to perform their duty, which is to provide the most relevant search results for the search term entered. Using unethical approaches (cheating) to achieve your website’s rankings is not sustainable. There are horror stories all over the internet of businesses whom have hired the wrong search optimization company or professional only to see their rankings go in the opposite directions. Or to learn, after achieving success, that the success would be short-lived and not sustainable.
White Hat SEO
Not unlike the ‘white knight’ of mythical legends and fairly tails, white hat SEO is what the good guys do. In some ways it is harder, more expensive, and takes longer to accomplish than black hat SEO, but the results have the distinct advantage of not being wiped away with the next search engine algorithm update. Don’t get me wrong, white hat SEO is by no means bullet (algorithm update) proof. However, the search engines like to see things done correctly. If you make their goals and processes easier to achieve, you will be rewarded.
Examples of white hat SEO include content creation and content marketing, link acquisition, press releases, guest blog posting, and, in general, increasing the relevance of your website in the direction of your desired search term without the use of misleading or deceptive tactics.
Bellingham WP’s Approach to SEO for Businesses
We work with you to determine your online business goals. We determine which products or services you would like to receive more exposure within the search engines. Next, we evaluate your website to see if potential improvements can be made on-site. Depending on the size of your website, and the amount of targeted content it contains, at this point we may recommend that more content be created. Once we have established a strong website with regard to the search engines, we will turn our attention to the many off-site aspects of search optimization that need to be addressed. After a brief period of time waiting for the search engines to calculate, and take into account, the modifications we have made, we will be able to better assess the competition within your niche and plan an ongoing strategy accordingly. The ongoing search optimization process includes, primarily, increasing keyword targeted website content, ethical content-driven back link acquisition, and the building of page authority.
Questions to ask a Search Optimization Professional
Although we recommend that you work with us on your website search optimization project, we would also like to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of when working with other SEO companies.
- I need to build back links to my website fast. Can you help?
- Who will be doing the SEO on my website? Do you outsource?
- What is your client retention rate?
- What approach do you take toward SEO?
This is a great leading question. An experienced search optimization professional will make it known that, with regard to link building, there are no quick fixes. It requires hard work, research, and most of all, valuable content to create a strong, lasting link profile. Salesmen for black hat SEO companies will almost always fall back on their automated services, usually directory submissions and blog comment posting, as these services are usually resold for pennies on the dollar to the client. Stay away from these individuals. They do not have your or your website’s best interests in mind and may damage the reputation of your website to the point where it cannot be recovered.
It isn’t uncommon for SEO companies to outsource some of their tasks, but we have seen this situation play out all too often where a 3rd party vendor or service is blamed by the SEO company for poor results and performance. Basically, be wary of companies whom appear to have a quick excuse and exit strategy ready for your project. This also ties into the next item, below.
There are a lot of SEO companies whom will be caught off-guard by this question. And a lot of those ‘professionals’ and SEO firms are completely willing to lie over the phone. Really, we would prefer to see something in writing. A low client retention rate could be an indicator of bad SEO services. If the company or individual does not have, declines to produce, or shrugs off the request for this information, red flags should go up in your mind and you should proceed cautiously.
This is a valuable, leading question as it can give an under-achieving SEO provider just enough rope to hang him or herself. If the individual has difficulty answering the question, declines to answer, or indicates that they are ‘industry secrets,’ begin searching elsewhere for a provider. As I’ve eluded to in other posts here, and to some of you in person, the search optimization industry is full of ‘service providers’ whom rely on the commonly held belief that they know more than their clients. By giving the simple ‘industry secrets, can’t talk about it’ reply, they act to preserve this lack of accurate information. A company or individual that is willing to actively work in opposition of their client’s best interests doesn’t deserve your business, at least that is the Bellingham WP standpoint on the topic.
Useful Tips for Selecting a Search Optimization Provider
In addition to the above information, there is no reason not to be educated with regard to search optimization. You don’t have to know how to do it in order to spot unethical SEO providers. Take a moment to do a few Google searches and compare the information that you find against what was provided by your potential SEO provider. Browse for a bit on the moz.com blog: http://moz.com/blog and see what you can learn. Keep that information in mind and ask the search optimization professional or SEO firm leading questions. A large portion of SEO providers are not necessarily good at performing SEO, instead, they are talented salesmen and saleswomen who understand that the people they are working with are, most likely, under educated on the topic of SEO. These individuals tend to sell defunct SEO services and products at very high rates. Usually these services are automated or outsourced, netting the SEO provider a hefty profit while potentially damaging your website. The fact of the matter is, if a complex, integral SEO service is not something that they can confirm they do manually, in-house, odds are good that Google would frown on the tactic they utilize. The SEO ship has sailed long ago with regard to the effectiveness of automated mass directory submissions and automated blog comment posting services.
Don’t settle for a business and don’t rush to a decision. Speak with a few different website search optimization providers and see what they all have to say. Combine that information with the knowledge which you’ve gained from doing your own research on the topic of SEO and try to find a company that you feel comfortable working with. Businesses also, quite often, make the mistake of rushing into things. This isn’t confined to the purchase of SEO services, mind you. You should always move toward a goal in slow, deliberate steps. A house of cards built hastily will not stand long.
Further Reading: Here is a great, short article discussing just a few of the things you should not do or attempt with regard to your website: 10 Ways to Ruin Your Google Reputation