SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the art and science of making search engines rank your site high in the natural search results when someone types in a query. That's the intent of SEO, however. Since SEO is still an emerging field, there is no "governing body", and the rules sometimes change. A good SEO professional understands these changing rules, and knows how to properly apply them. A bad SEO specialist generally makes mistakes, or purposely tries to deceive the system to win "fake" high rankings.It is not true that you have no control over what appears in the search engines. The content that you put on your site determines where you appear in the search engine results page (SERP). If your site is about "widgets", you're probably not going to appear in search results about "bus fares". The most important thing you can do on the web is to represent yourself honestly. If your site is about "widgets", and the content on your site talks about "widgets" then you'll probably appear somewhere in the SERP for "widgets". A good SEO professional can help you rank higher for "widgets", among other well-researched, and relevant keywords.What is the Difference Between a "Good" SEO Service, and a "Bad" One?A bad ("blackhat") SEO marketer is like a vendor walking down the street selling snake oil. You may think you're getting a deal, but you can't be sure of the consequences. A good SEO marketer is like a pharmacist. They have studied all the tried and true techniques to solve your problem and probably have a good idea of how to safely and effectively address your issue.The Benefits of Hiring bad SEO:
Your site could shoot straight to the top, ranking #1 for your keywords
You could earn a few new customers quickly and make a quick buck
The cost is far less than what your friends and competitors are paying for SEO
The Costs of Hiring bad SEO:
When the search engines catch on, your site could be penalized (drastically downgraded) in the rankings, ending up worse than before
Your site could be temporarily banned from the search engine (completely unfindable - expect 6-12 months)
Your site could be permanently banned from the search engine (completely unfindable - for good)
When any of the above occurs, there will be lost productivity from having to remove all the search engine spam from your site
It could be hard to track down all the tricks the SEO marketer used to artificially boost the rankings, and therefore it could take a long time to get back into the results pages
Once penalized or banned, you will lose all the potential customers you would have gained had it been done correctly
A professional SEO consultant will probably have to be hired at additional cost to fix it and do the job right
The initial cost will be higher
There will probably be an ongoing subscription fee
The implementation time will be longer (for the site to rank high)
There will be changes to the content of the actual site, and probably the structure, as well
The Benefits of Hiring Good SEO:
Higher rankings overall
The high rankings tend to stay there
The keywords you are ranking high for are relevant to your organization and the people who are trying to find you
It is more cost-effective in the long-term
Future pages that you add the the site will be easier and faster to rank higher
No blackout periods or customer loss because of penalty
What Is "Bad" SEO, and Why is it So Undesirable?First, let's examine some of the techniques available to the blackhat SEO marketer. Here are just a few:
Doorway Pages: Many pages stuffed with keywords are placed on the web, and all link back to your site
Cloaking: Showing one version of the site to visitors, and another to search engines.
Dynamic Content: Not all dynamic content is bad; in fact, most is perfectly legitimate. But having the server generate large lists of keywords that change frequently is generally a bad idea.
Scraping: Some sites visit high ranking sites, copy bits of the content that has the keyword they want, and post it on their site. This is a very good way to really annoy other websites.
Hidden Text: Keywords on a page that are the same colour as the background, or that are hidden by CSS are a bad idea
Setting up links pages that use the keyword-rich link text of other sites to gain ranking. This makes the link page appear to be more relevant for the desired keywords. This annoys not only the search engines, but also the visitors.
Keyword Stuffing: Writing almost meaningless text in the site that is basically a long list of keywords. Responsible SEO will use keywords carefully in the text, but like all things, you can overdo it. Search engines appreciate good grammar.
Overdoing RSS: Go ahead and syndicate large portions of your website. But syndicating all of your website may raise a flag. There are rumors suggesting that there might possibly be changes in the way Google indexes RSS in the future.
Bait-and-Switch: Submitting the search-engine friendly page to the search engine, then after it's indexed, uploading the "real" page. This is a very temporary boost in your rankings.
Irrelevant Keywords: WHY would you promote the keyword "sex" on your site about "widgets"? Do you honestly think someone looking for "sex" will see your site and say, "oh wait a minute, I think I wanted a widget"? If you sell "widgets", then promote "widgets", so people who want to buy "widgets" can find your "widgets".
Why do Search Engines Dislike All This?Search engines are in the information business. Specifically, search engines provide helpful answers to questions. Sites which use these techniques dilute the relevancy and usefulness of the search engines. The search engine that allows their results to become irrelevant is useless and out of business. No-one will search that engine, no-one will click on their ads, no-one will want to buy or display their ads, and eventually no-one will want to invest in them. Search engines are protecting their investments and their future by ensuring the continuing relevancy and usefulness of their results.How to Hire a Good SEO ProfessionalLet's first look at some of the signs that indicate the possibility of a blackhat SEO marketer
If you hear anything like "we guarantee top placement", don't hire them. A good SEO marketer cannot guarantee you a good ranking any more than your broker can guarantee you a great return. All they can do is a good job, or not.
If the company representative talks to you about the advantages of Meta Tags, don't hire them. Meta Tags are very obsolete in terms of search engine marketing (SEM).
Get a list of previous clients and check their current site and rankings. If their rankings are now low, or if the client sites seem to have spammy content, or little content, don't hire them.
If first contact with the SEO company is made through an unsolicited phone call or email, be wary. Why? SEO is not an aggressive marketing technique. SEO is the art and science of providing people with what they were looking for anyway. It is fulfilling a need in response to a request about that need. In a sense, it is an entirely passive marketing technique, because it is only triggered when a person is actually seeking it. Be wary of search engine marketers that seem overly aggressive.
My personal pet peeve is the ones that call and announce that we are not at the top of the search engines but they can "help" us. Rest assured, we are listed at the top for every keyphrase we've ever really targeted. When they are informed that we are at the top, they start demanding to know which keywords we rank high for. Such valuable keyphrases should not be given away so cheaply. I politely hang up on these people.These are a few signs of a good SEO marketer
A good SEO marketer will insist on content changes to the website, and perhaps the structure of the site
A good marketer will thoroughly research the keywords they are going to be targeting, making sure that the keywords or phrases are relevant to the people trying to find you
They will generally provide you with regular reports, or at least suggest a strategy for collecting reporting data
Good SEO marketers will probably charge an ongoing subscription fee. This is because the web is a growing, organic network, and web marketing is an ongoing process.
Good SEO should be able to provide client names & sites from a few years ago that you can look up online. If you are unsure, then feel free to contact the owners of the site for a reference.
Life provides us with so few quick fixes. As in all things, hard work and dedication pay off, and those looking for the "quick buck" generally get it, and not much more. If you are serious about your online business, or the ongoing "findability" of your website, it is absolutely worth investing in long term strategies for search engine success. After all, search engines are not going away any time soon.