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FrankTing

46 posts

23 months

[news] 
Saturday 13th October 2012 quote quote all
So how exactly do you pick out the cowboys? Reviews can't be a good indicator because even using black hat methods it's not like the clients will know.

If they're buying SEO services then it means they don't know much about SEO and it's likely that results are all that matters to them. They get to the first page, they leave a good review, no one's any the wiser about how they go to the first page and that's one more thumbs up for the company.

cerberaperv

423 posts

99 months

[news] 
Saturday 13th October 2012 quote quote all
I've a guy doing mine at the moment. When he approached me at a business meeting I said the same, yes I've heard it all before.
He said I'm sure you have but you are going to pay me on results only.
So far he's lived up to his agreement and comes recommended by my friend who's been No1 on google for his business for the past 3yrs thanks to this guy.

Dick Dastardly

7,269 posts

147 months

[news] 
Sunday 14th October 2012 quote quote all
X Factor just came on so I have an hour free. I’ll happily use that time to answer some of your questions (whilst enjoying a glass of red).

From the client’s side, spotting the scammers and the out-of-touch agencies from the good ones is very tough. Even a lot of the people who do this for a living can’t tell the difference or see that there is a problem. We get enquiries on a daily basis from businesses who have been burned by outdated practices that have given them a Google penalty and from people who have been paying for SEO where there is no evidence of any work having taken place. These enquiries aren’t just from SME’s, we had one last week from the Ecommerce Director of a huge fashion brand who recently got Google slapped. To say this is a big problem right now is a huge understatement.

It really pisses me off that my industry has turned out this way and that now when I tell people I’m a search engine marketer (something I used to be so proud of), they often look at me like I’m the ghost of Jimmy Saville. For this reason, I'll try and give as much insight into the SEO world as I can here, why it is like this and how to avoid the common scams/issues. Hopefully I am qualified enough to do so as I've been in this strange game for over a decade, having spent 5+ years in-house doing SEO on my own (learning from scratch) and in-house working alongside agencies (one good, two very bad), and now for the past 4+ years I’ve been running an online marketing agency of over 20 people that specialises in search engine marketing...

First the basics. When someone says SEO, it can mean a number of things and the SEO services that people charge for typically fall into a few camps; technical on-site work (making sure the website works as well with search engines as possible), on-site copywriting (writing/editing text that is keyword optimised) and off-site link building (gaining in-bound links from external websites so that they point at yours). All of these areas are important for SEO. Without the site working technically efficiently, Google will fail to show it as well as it could, whether this is because it cannot find all the pages or the site takes too long to load, or the internal links confuse it, etc. Without keywords on your pages, you won't be relevant for your target searches, meaning you don’t show up for the right things. Without links, your site will appear unpopular to Google and won't show at the top of the results for anything competitive (each link acts as a vote of confidence and Google is nothing if not a big old popularity contest).

One big problem in this market is that often companies offering SEO will only really do one of these areas. Whilst they can rightly say they do SEO, the reality is, if they don't use techniques from all three areas to boost your site then it will largely be ineffective. This is where a lot of web companies have come up short for clients. They will often design a good looking, user-friendly site and then take care of all on-site issues and advise clients on keywords, but they don’t take care of the links, so the website never reaches page one. If you are going for tough keywords, like popular terms in the insurance, loans, travel, clothing markets, for example, then it’s 90%+ link building that makes the difference. Convincing Google that you are relevant for a search result is simply a matter of spending a couple of hours writing a keyword-rich page on the topic. Convincing Google that your site is popular enough to be a page one contender could be years of link building.

The main scams in this trade tend to focus on link building. As soon as Google overtook Yahoo! to become the main search engine, based on its PageRank formula (a calculation given to a web page to determine its value, based on the quality and quantity of the links pointing to it) scores of businesses popped out of nowhere to offer link building services. As with most markets where you are selling something in high demand and where clients don’t have a clue what you are talking about, it wasn’t long until a lot of dodgy people entered the market knowing they could make a quick buck. A lot of them have made a fortune, often because of automating, outsourcing to the Far East or just doing nowt for their monthly fee.

Lots of the automated and outsourced services have been working fine for the past couple of years, as Google hasn’t been that vigorous with its updates for a while and has let the spammers through the net, though 2011 and 2012 have seen a huge shake-up in what you can and can’t do. It is important to recognise that Google doesn’t really want you doing SEO. Google wants you to create a website and then it wants to decide where you fall within its index and when to show you for results. When you do SEO work and when you pay an agency to do this for you, it manipulates the results and they keep releasing updates to stop the more efficient of these techniques from harming the experience of searchers.

One of these updates was nicknamed ‘Panda’ and was released last year. This update targeted sites of low quality content and duplication. If your site has pages with barely any text on them, or that text can be found elsewhere on the web (such as an ecommerce site with product descriptions taken from the manufacturer) then you may have seen your rankings drop over the past 18 months. Last week saw Panda version 20 released, so they didn’t get it right the first time and tweaks are happening regularly. Unique and useful content on websites is more important than ever before and don’t spend time on links until you have this.

6 months ago an update called ‘Penguin’ tipped the world of link building on its head. Whereas up until that point, most SEO firms and webmasters were getting away with quite spammy, automated link building, Penguin came along and targeted sites with over-optimised link profiles. If you had tonnes of links coming in from link-farms, article sites, blog comments, paid sources, low quality directories, etc. and those links all used the same anchor text then, on the 25th April, your site probably sank badly. Lots of sites that sat on page one of Google for really competitive keywords suddenly hit page 10 and stayed there. All of a sudden the huge industry of automated link building (often mass blog commenting and directory submissions) and outsourced link building (often link-farms and paid links) not only became worthless, these links became damaging to your rankings.

Penguin was huge news in the SEO arena and many agencies who didn’t do things properly closed down over night. Unfortunately, we are a very insular world and despite hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on SEO in the UK each year, this didn’t reach a wider audience, so lots of these practices still exist. The agencies who offer outdated services like building link farms or spinning articles over hundreds of article sites, still greatly outnumber the agencies who try to do things properly and unfortunately there are businesses still signing up with them every day. A couple of these agencies are on page one of Google when you search for “SEO” as they have done enough good work along the way to slip through the Penguin and Panda updates, though I doubt they will still be there in a years time.

To do SEO properly these days you have to get stuck in to quite a few areas. Ideally, your team will include analysts who can mine keyword data and web analytics software to find opportunities. You will have technical types who can make sure the website works efficiently (load speed is now a ranking factor). You will also have writers and PR types who can spot a story, write an article about it and pitch it to news sites and bloggers for publication and a link back to your site. You also need social media skills (Facebook Likes, Twitter Re-tweets, etc. are now also influencing rankings) and people who can do repetitive grunt work, like directory submissions and checking over hundreds of web pages for unique content. It ain’t that easy and a bit of software that submits a few links for £x a month just doesn't cut it anymore.

There are a number of good agencies out there. I don't mind admitting that a couple of them I look up to and try to make sure my business emulates their ways of working. In the US, SEER Interactive and Stone Temple do great things. I'm not about to state who the UK ones are as I often see them at SEO events and will never live it down. Suffice to say, they are the kind of agencies that you find on sites and events to do with the likes of SEOmoz, Figaro and Econsultancy. The better firms tend to speak at their events and submit content to their blogs and case study sections.

If you want to spot the scammers then the best way to do so is by using link profiling software. Opensiteexplorer from SEOmoz and MajesticSEO are two tools we use heavily, though you do have to pay for the full functionality. Run these on the websites of the agencies and of their clients and check out the links. If the sites they use to build links are mainly irrelevant to that market, if they are coming mainly from blog comments where the comments are things like “great post, man” and if they are all in the footers of forums posts then you know there’s going to be trouble. Also, speak to their clients and ask about reporting. Most of these agencies give very weak end-of-month reports, if anything at all.

If you enquire with an agency, or if they cold call you, ask them about the Google updates and tell them that you don’t want any dodgy links, see how they answer it. If they skirt around the issue or if the salesperson doesn’t know what you are talking about then walk away. See if they mention the importance of unique content and of having a diverse and mainly relevant link profile, as these are the things that differentiate the good and the bad.

Hope this helps make some sense of this industry. If anyone here has any questions then feel free to post them up here or PM me. Nothing annoys me more than seeing people getting scammed and my profession getting pulled further into disrepute, so I’m happy to help and I’ll answer as unbiased as I can.

Hoofy

55,165 posts

166 months

[news] 
Sunday 14th October 2012 quote quote all
Great post, DD, nice to see SEO is finally coming of age and Google is forcing people to do things "properly".

Simpo Two

59,308 posts

149 months

[news] 
Sunday 14th October 2012 quote quote all
Hoofy said:
Great post, DD, nice to see SEO is finally coming of age and Google is forcing people to do things "properly".
Or rather, Google is inventing the rules and everybody is forced to jump through hoops to keep up.

I could quite see that my work goes from:

Photography: 100%

to

Website building: 20%
Website optimising to please the Googlegod: 20%
Facebook: 20%
Twitter: 20%
Blogging: 20%
Photography: Sorry, too busy playing keepy-uppy to take any photos.
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Hoofy

55,165 posts

166 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Simpo Two said:
Or rather, Google is inventing the rules and everybody is forced to jump through hoops to keep up.

I could quite see that my work goes from:

Photography: 100%

to

Website building: 20%
Website optimising to please the Googlegod: 20%
Facebook: 20%
Twitter: 20%
Blogging: 20%
Photography: Sorry, too busy playing keepy-uppy to take any photos.
Or better serving those who are looking to find your services... your website should already be optimised for your visitors with plenty of relevant information; with the spammers, they'd push up someone's site by linking from completely irrelevant sites and blogs.

It's part of marketing, anyway, of which you would be spending some time doing, anyway.

In a way, you now have to do less work on appeasing the Googlegod. wink

MonkeyBusiness

2,808 posts

71 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
That's a great post DD. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

I have a question regarding directory submissions. Are these still of any value?

Dick Dastardly

7,269 posts

147 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Directories are still useful and so long as you aren't in a tough market, you can still rank off the back of directories alone. The thing with directories is to go for quality over quantity - make sure there is as much relevance as possible (so do niche specific ones) and that the generic ones aren't a free-for-all (i.e. they have a submission policy and are human edited) so that the domains aren't linking to any old junk.

My comments last night about what a strange industry this is have just been reaffirmed by an interview that just took place here. Our Operations Manager just interviewed someone for an SEO role. The guy is currently working for an agency based in Bristol and takes care of their link building. When asked how he tries to be innovative in building links, he responded that he convinces companies to take part in a free on-site SEO review. To do so, he asked for the log-in details to their websites so he can properly analyse things and whilst he is in there, whenever possible, he adds links from these sites to his clients! Quite a novel way of getting some links but I'm not sure that's even legal.

FrankTing

46 posts

23 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Dick Dastardly said:
My comments last night about what a strange industry this is have just been reaffirmed by an interview that just took place here. Our Operations Manager just interviewed someone for an SEO role. The guy is currently working for an agency based in Bristol and takes care of their link building. When asked how he tries to be innovative in building links, he responded that he convinces companies to take part in a free on-site SEO review. To do so, he asked for the log-in details to their websites so he can properly analyse things and whilst he is in there, whenever possible, he adds links from these sites to his clients! Quite a novel way of getting some links but I'm not sure that's even legal.
Someone said that in an interview?! That's extremely unethical.
Thanks for the post above btw, very informative.

Simpo Two said:
Or rather, Google is inventing the rules and everybody is forced to jump through hoops to keep up.

I could quite see that my work goes from:

Photography: 100%

to

Website building: 20%
Website optimising to please the Googlegod: 20%
Facebook: 20%
Twitter: 20%
Blogging: 20%
Photography: Sorry, too busy playing keepy-uppy to take any photos.
Google offer a paid service and a free service. If you want to use the free service then you'll need to jump through the hoops, if you've got money then you don't need to do any of that crap. Just put in your card details and pick your keywords.

groak

3,254 posts

63 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
I'm probably talking nonsense here, but, if you want high page prominence and are prepared tp pay for it, can't you merely just pay to be a 'sponsored link' anymore?

andycambo

789 posts

58 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Dick Dastardly said:
You also need social media skills (Facebook Likes, Twitter Re-tweets, etc. are now also influencing rankings)
Good post DD, especially about the link building.

Don't mean to nitpick but is there any evidence, at all, that Facebook and Twitter can influence search rankings. As far as I'm aware even Google's own + system doesn't influence ranks so why would Facebook?

Cutts has said about searching Twitter that they "can do it relatively well, but if we could crawl Twitter in the full way we can, their infastructure wouldn’t be able to handle it."

I think that businesses should use social media but was unaware of any evidence of it influencing the search engine results.

On topic though what DD has said is true. The SEO game has changed, and will keep changing, and any business still offering thousands of links to your site haven't moved with the times and must be avoided.

FrankTing

46 posts

23 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
groak said:
I'm probably talking nonsense here, but, if you want high page prominence and are prepared tp pay for it, can't you merely just pay to be a 'sponsored link' anymore?
Yes. That's how google makes the majority of its money.

aero93

377 posts

120 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
DD - Very interesting post. Thank you for taking the time to write all that..

Dick Dastardly

7,269 posts

147 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
andycambo said:
Don't mean to nitpick but is there any evidence, at all, that Facebook and Twitter can influence search rankings. As far as I'm aware even Google's own + system doesn't influence ranks so why would Facebook?

Cutts has said about searching Twitter that they "can do it relatively well, but if we could crawl Twitter in the full way we can, their infastructure wouldn’t be able to handle it."

I think that businesses should use social media but was unaware of any evidence of it influencing the search engine results.
Earlier this year at an SEO conference Google and Microsoft admitted that social signals are already influencing rankings. Matt Cutts of Google has also spoken about it in his webmaster videos.

I don't think they have much influence now and the people saying Likes are the new Links are a bit premature, but it is definitely becoming more important. If you think about it, it makes total sense. They want to eradicate the search results of spammers and thin affiliates and fill them with genuine, helpful businesses. Which one of these is more likely to connect with people and have their content spread and go viral?

andycambo

789 posts

58 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Dick Dastardly said:
Earlier this year at an SEO conference Google and Microsoft admitted that social signals are already influencing rankings. Matt Cutts of Google has also spoken about it in his webmaster videos.

I don't think they have much influence now and the people saying Likes are the new Links are a bit premature, but it is definitely becoming more important. If you think about it, it makes total sense. They want to eradicate the search results of spammers and thin affiliates and fill them with genuine, helpful businesses. Which one of these is more likely to connect with people and have their content spread and go viral?
Cheers.

Totally agree that it makes more sense. The more active a business is in touch with their clients, or potential clients, shows that they want to put the effort in.

My only worry with this is that not all businesses are social media friendly and I'm wondering how these will be affected.

Thanks for the update.

jammy_basturd

10,502 posts

96 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
Dick Dastardly said:
Earlier this year at an SEO conference Google and Microsoft admitted that social signals are already influencing rankings. Matt Cutts of Google has also spoken about it in his webmaster videos.

I don't think they have much influence now and the people saying Likes are the new Links are a bit premature, but it is definitely becoming more important. If you think about it, it makes total sense. They want to eradicate the search results of spammers and thin affiliates and fill them with genuine, helpful businesses. Which one of these is more likely to connect with people and have their content spread and go viral?
As others have said, great post DD!

As for the social stuff, surely these spammers will just set up a whole load of social accounts with the sole purpose of liking various companies/their clients?!

Also, inbound links have more gravity if they are from relevant sources. How does this work in the social world? The more friends you have when you like a company the bigger the weight of your like?

Dick Dastardly

7,269 posts

147 months

[news] 
Monday 15th October 2012 quote quote all
andycambo said:
My only worry with this is that not all businesses are social media friendly and I'm wondering how these will be affected.
They won't rank as well. Businesses will be forced to go social if organic traffic is important to them.

jammy_basturd said:
As for the social stuff, surely these spammers will just set up a whole load of social accounts with the sole purpose of liking various companies/their clients?!

Also, inbound links have more gravity if they are from relevant sources. How does this work in the social world? The more friends you have when you like a company the bigger the weight of your like?
The spammers have been on social for years. You can buy Likes, Fans, Followers etc by the bucket-load for a few dollars if you like. These don't really work though and the social sites will have to learn to combat this, just like Google and Bing have had to combat link spam.

Not sure how it will work with relevance. I think they will have to look at how influential the people who re-tweet, +1 and Like your content are, and also how authorative they are on that subject. Google is already investigating the relationship between authority and authorship, and I believe that the way they will take it is, if you are in the football world and David Beckham helps spread your message by re-tweeting it and becoming a FB fan, then this will be far more beneficial than Ned, the bloke you drink with down your local who plays the odd bit of 5-a-side.

H18 ENF

Original Poster:

589 posts

53 months

[news] 
Tuesday 16th October 2012 quote quote all
Blimey I'm learning a lot here!!

Thanks so much for your replies! I spoke to First Found yesterday and said that having done some research into them that by and large the reviews were non too positive although I note on here that one response has said they were fine but crawling the web they don't come out too well!

I'm in the middle of a few things at present (as you may spot from other posts) but as soon as the world is a little calmer I shall definitely be following up properly on this thread, thanks again!

Dick Dastardly

7,269 posts

147 months

[news] 
Thursday 18th October 2012 quote quote all
A new tool released from Google this week to help combat link spam:
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2012/...

It'll be interesting to see the impact this has on things.

MonkeyBusiness

2,808 posts

71 months

[news] 
Thursday 18th October 2012 quote quote all
Dick Dastardly said:
A new tool released from Google this week to help combat link spam:
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2012/...

It'll be interesting to see the impact this has on things.
Watching this with interest although this tool seems to be a last resort. Very dangerous in the wrong hands.

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