By Scott Buresh – October 20, 2006
The average search engine optimization company is in high demand, and with rising pay-per-click costs and growing exposure of SEO in the mainstream media, this is unlikely to soon subside. Unfortunately, many organizations that willingly embrace SEO as a marketing tool also unknowingly sabotage the efforts of the search engine optimization company they have chosen. What follows is a list, by no means complete, of some of the most common errors made by companies that can harm their SEO efforts.
Demand rankings with no changes to the site
It is a common assumption that search engine rankings are determined by a magical formula rooted largely (or almost exclusively) in technology. In reality, long-term search engine rankings are generally achieved through an equal mix of technology and updated website content. An ethical search engine optimization company will usually turn down work when told that under no circumstances can any of the visual elements or content of a site be changed.
It is largely a site’s content—from the text to the images—that allows search engines to determine what that site is about. That same content also helps other sites and directories to decide whether or not a site is worthy of a link (and link popularity is, of course, a major factor in rankings). Many companies do not want to hear this, especially after they have paid a sizable amount of money to a web designer. The bottom line? That site built entirely in Flash for which you spent $50,000 is not going to achieve high rankings for a variety of phrases without substantial changes that will allow its content to be indexed by the engines. The truth hurts sometimes—but so can the cost of lost opportunities.
Update the website without consulting your search engine optimization company
A very common and innocent mistake can have disastrous consequences. It generally happens when a webmaster is updating a website, perhaps simply adding a press release or uploading a graphic. Accidentally, the webmaster saves an older version of the site over the new version, removing many of the elements that the search engine optimization company had added to achieve high rankings. This can result in a loss of positions for which the search engine optimization company, of course, is blamed.
Worse yet, since most sites are developed on a “test bed,” damage can be done when the site goes live. Test beds are not intended to be crawled by search engine spiders, and so responsible webmasters include instructions in the site code requesting that spiders not index the site—the Internet equivalent of a “do not disturb” sign. The major search engines dutifully obey this request on the test bed site. They also dutifully obey when these instructions are accidentally transferred over to the live site during an update.
As you might imagine, the results from such an oversight are somewhat less than ideal. Once again, the search engine optimization company generally gets the blame.
Since constantly accepting blame can be demoralizing, a good search engine optimization company monitors the code on all of its clients’ sites on a daily basis, analyzes any changes, and quickly reacts if anything potentially harmful has been done. In this way the website can be repaired before ranking losses occur.
Link to other sites
Everyone that has a website has received at least one email requesting a link exchange. Unfortunately, this type of exchange defeats the purpose of link popularity, and engines are starting to take notice. Since inbound links are essentially counted as ‘votes’ for your site, a simple trade-off between sites does not necessarily indicate that those sites are advocating one another. Worse, if you actively link out to a site that becomes penalized (and sites that seek reciprocal links are likely to be very aggressive in their optimization tactics) your site can become penalized in turn.
This does not mean that you should never link out to another site, especially if you believe that the site contains information that is of value to your visitors. Your search engine optimization company, however, should be given the opportunity to review any site to which you want to link. Additionally, a thorough search engine optimization company will frequently review the outbound links on your site, making sure that none of the websites to which you are linking begin using questionable SEO practices. This ensures that your site stays out of danger of penalization.
Create additional domains
There are legitimate reasons for wanting to have several domains mirroring your site (tracking the performance of offline website advertising, for example), but few, if any, are search engine related. If you are hoping to get a double listing for duplicate content on multiple domains, you are wasting your time—the engine will typically choose one version of the content and keep the other version out of its index.
Not long ago, there was a danger of all versions of a website being removed from search engine results for having multiple domains with the same content. Most engines, as mentioned above, now will simply choose one of the websites and discount the others. The problem is that promoting multiple domains with duplicate content can water down your link popularity as it is spread over several sites. This obviously hinders campaign performance.
Vanity domains can still be used, but they should redirect to a single version of the website using a 301 redirect. This means that if anyone adds an outbound link to one of your vanity URLs, your site will still get credit for the link.
Try your own SEO tactics
The worst nightmare a search engine optimization company can face is when clients begin to see great results from the campaign and then believe that they should pitch in and help “accelerate” the results. Unfortunately, while the intentions are admirable, this is usually much like someone observing an auto mechanic screw on a radiator cap and believing that this observation now qualifies him as a certified radiator technician (and his tool of choice is generally a hammer). There is much going on in a typical search engine optimization campaign involving page elements, behind the scenes factors, linking strategies, and many other facets. If your search engine optimization company were to take the time to explain exactly how everything worked and why it was important, your campaign could take years. Many tactics, particularly those that SEO beginners might try, can put your site at risk of penalization. I suggest you steer the car and let your search engine optimization company fix the radiator.
Change the marketing direction
This may seem like an obvious issue that is easy to avoid, but often a search engine optimization company is the last to know that your company is no longer offering a certain product or service, that you no longer desire certain types of clients, that you are launching a new product or service, or that you are trying to drum up additional business in a certain product or service line. Organic search engine optimization takes time. When marketing issues like this arise, your search engine optimization company should be on your speed dial, so that it can be ready to take action based upon your current marketing strategy.
There are many other ways in which to hinder the performance of your search engine optimization company, but the above list details some fairly common examples. Organic SEO, when done properly, offers one of the highest returns on investment of any marketing channel available. If you do careful vendor evaluation, your campaign should perform above your expectations, provided you trust your search engine optimization company and leave your hammer in the toolbox.