My uncle—who owns a Birmingham HVAC business—tells me that he routinely gets a cold sales call where the conversation goes a little something like this:
“Do you have a website?”
“How would you like to be on page 1 of Google for your keywords in 90 days—guaranteed—or your money back?”
Of course, my uncle is a savvy guy — as most small business owners are — and he knows when something sounds too good to be true. However, I can easily imagine someone being enticed by this, after all, they’re offering a money-back guarantee — these people must stand behind their work. (More sympathetic I could not be for getting duped: a broker once talked me into loading up on AOL and Netscape stock.) What they’re not telling you is that their tactics are questionable, universally held in low regard by ethical SEO’s, and in some cases, these strategies put your website’s long-term search-engine standing in jeopardy. And the so-called “first-page guarantee” extends NOT to mainstream, competitive keywords but to obscure, longer-tail variations (read: users are rarely going to type these low-volume queries). That’s why it is extremely easy for SEO companies to achieve high search engine positions for awkward keyword phrases. While a #1 ranking might impress your friends and neighbors, a low-volume one won’t send your website quality traffic; they probably won’t send you any traffic at all.
(BTW, I’m not going to get into all of the deadliest-sin blackhat techniques here such as cloaking and text-hiding—that’s for a future post.)
If you’ve ever wondered how these people could “guarantee” rankings, here are the most egregious blackhat SEO techniques to avoid:
- Article spinners — Whether you know them as article spinners or dynamic content creators, it all amounts to the same thing—cheating the search engines. A blackhat hack can take one article and make as many as 40 variations of it using one of these tools to avoid the duplicate content penalty. An unethical SEO could write one article about HVAC repair for my uncle’s site, and “spin it” to several other HVAC companies’ sites and have it technically not be duplicate content, although it’s the same schlock.
- Keyword stuffing — Putting long lists of keywords on your site (and not much else) will get you rankings quickly, but will eventually get your site penalized by the search engines. For instance, look at the site ranking #1 for “birmingham seo.” (I’m using a screensot because I’m not linking to help him out). It’s nothing but the same blog posts with every major city in Alabama + Search Engine Optimization: Huntsville SEO, Dothan SEO, Montgomery SEO, Mobile SEO—sounds like a fun read? Even all the first sentences are identical: “Birmingham SEO is an Alabama based search engine optimization service serving Dothan, Alabama.” He does this literally for every single localized search. This is called spamming the search engines.
- Doorway pages — Not nearly as common as they once were, these are pages used as decoys to accomplishing one goal: capturing searches, but they are of little value to users.
- Link Spamming — Do you have your own blog? If you do, then you’ve had to delete these comments at least a hundred times. It’s a bunch of unintelligible gibberish or some generic statement such, “I like what you have to say hear,” with a couple of embedded links back to their website. Most are submitted automatically by bots. Not only is this a universally annoying way to build links, the value of links like this have far less value than they once did, and thank goodness for that.
- Text and link-injection tools — Want to be the big man on campus in social media? Text-injection tools will Tweet, Hub, Stumble, Digg, Publish, or do whatever it is you want to do with social media. They create a huge footprint that are hard for search engines to spot—for now at least. Those virus-like link-injection programs find do-follow blogs (like mine) and forums and insert their backlinks along with a bunch of inane babble that no one could possibly be drunk or tongue-tied enough to write. The better ones register an account, drop a few messages, and maybe even target their comments to content on the site.
- Blog farming tools — These programs set up hundreds of blogs on domains you buy and host. They’ll populate the blogs with RSS feed summaries (or whole posts) from all over the Web (or maybe just from Syndic8t’s spammy RSS feed list).
- Artificial blogs – There is an art to creating realistic blogs, just like there is an art to creating fake hair. These blogs are used for a variety of reasons: some to carry AdSense, some to position links for other sites, some to test algorithms—all are meant to meant to fool you into thinking some one wrote them. Who wants to read auto-generated crap?
Long story short, save your money and invest it toward the three-legged stool of good SEO:
- Quality, service-driven content
- Highly authoritative, relevant backlinks
- Sound website architecture
Yet, if someone calls you with a similar pitch and you find yourself tempted to go for it, call me instead—I can guarantee you a quick #1 ranking for “[your city] + purple monkey dishwasher“ in 60 days or less.