When I started Blue Corona in late 2007, practically no one knew what “SEO” stood for, much less what was actually involved in creating and executing an SEO campaign.
Flash forward to 2014. A lot more people know what SEO is, although there’s still considerable mystery and confusion on the part of business owners when it comes to what an SEO company does after you hire them.
Case in point.
Recently, while I was enjoying a cocktail at a holiday party, a friend of mine walks up and says, “You know, about six months ago, I hired an SEO company to help boost my law firm’s organic rankings. I have no idea what they’re doing, but it’s working like crazy. We get a ton of great leads from our website.”
On the one hand, I think it’s a mistake when business owners attempt to micromanage—whether we’re talking about employees or vendors. On the other hand, your website is the single most important marketing asset you have. At a minimum, you should have a high-level understanding of the SEO process being used to improve your site.
You need to work with your SEO firm to construct a goal and you should take the time necessary to understand their strategy and the implementation plan they believe will be required to achieve success.
My friend is a bright guy, so I probed a bit …
“What do you mean you have no idea what they’re doing,” I asked. “You must have some idea as to what they’re doing each month. Are they giving you topics to write about, optimizing what you write, and publishing it on your site?”
“No,” my friend replied. “I think the SEO guy is doing everything for us.”
Immediately, a warning flag went up in my mind.
Assuming a website is coded and structured in a manner that the search engines’ software can find and read it, ethical SEO is content-centric.
At Blue Corona, when we engage with a new client, we review and examine the client’s site code and structure and fix any issues that could be preventing the search spiders from finding/indexing all the important pages of the site. Once we’re sure a good foundation is in place, we work on building out the site’s content and building the client’s overall authority online.
In the legal industry, due to compliance and regulatory issues, it’s practically impossible to build out a site’s content and/or create an authoritative presence online without significant involvement from the client. The financial services industry is another example of an industry that’s difficult for SEO without at least some involvement from the client.
How is some SEO guy, or even a paralegal for that matter, going to create volumes of unique, relevant, and authoritative content without significant review and input from an actual attorney from the firm?
The short answer is: they’re not.
There’s a reason that I don’t have many legal clients. When I’m working with a plumbing, HVAC, remodeling, or roofing client, I can optimize the site’s code/structure, create a lot of authoritative content, and build a highly authoritative presence online for the client—all with limited involvement from the business owner.
Link Scheme Warning Signs
So, here’s my friend, an attorney and one of the experts in his field. He’s hired an SEO company and he is seeing the results of their work, but he doesn’t know what that “work” is. He also knows that the SEO firm hasn’t asked him or any of his partners for assistance with creating content. He really has no idea what his SEO guy is going to boost his site’s rankings.
To me, this indicates a potential problem. When you’re in a highly regulated field (a law firm, doctor, financial services firm, etc.) and you’ve hired an SEO firm and your rankings are improving, but you haven’t been asked to create content or even review the content that’s being created on your behalf, something is amiss.
There’s a strong possibility that the SEO firm you’ve hired is engaging in some sort of link scheme or mass article spam campaign on your behalf.
And what you don’t know might hurt you—big time.
The day after the party, I entered his firm’s website address into our website analysis software and let the system go to work.
What I found was a site with a relatively low domain authority ranking incredibly well for many high-value keywords. When reviewed the backlink profile for my friend’s law firm, I found all sorts of links from sites like this:
Visit any of these websites and you’ll notice that:
- There’s no central theme—i.e., the posts on Charlotte Life Magazine have absolutely nothing to do with Charlotte
- All the “articles” (if you can even call them that) are very poorly written
- Links to various sites using keyword rich anchor text
- No indication of who owns the site or who is writing the content
All of these are telltale signs of some sort of link scheme/private blog network being used by SEO companies for one reason and one reason only—to artificially boost their clients’ keyword rankings.
The Problems Link Schemes Create
If you’ve engaged an SEO company and they’re using various forms of link schemes (like the one above) to boost your rankings, you’ve got a number of issues:
First, link schemes like this are specifically prohibited by Google. Get caught using them and you could find your website banished from the organic rankings altogether—at the very least, penalized for an undetermined period of time.
Second, if you fire the SEO firm that created these links on your behalf, and it turns out that they were renting them from another person or company, you might lose the links (and any SEO benefit that went with them). In other words, the actual owner of the Sha Wish Jewellery “blog” seen above could remove your (spam) links and whatever ranking benefit you were getting from them will be gone.
One of the benefits of SEO is supposed to be that the effort you put into it is yours to keep (unlike PPC ads, where the benefit goes away immediately when you pause or terminate your ad campaign). An article that references you in the Wall Street Journal is not going to suddenly go away once you disengage from your SEO firm. Links on these private blog networks might.
Finally, if by participating in a blog network or link scheme like the one above ends up getting you penalized, it’s likely that every other business owner affected by the penalty will also be contacting each of these blogs to ask that the links be removed. When this happens, there is often no response or worse, the spam blog tries to charge you to remove the links!
If you think a blanket disavow file can serve as your link scheme lifeline, think again. We’ve been approached by a number of clients who have been penalized due to the actions of another SEO firm. We’ve removed thousands of links and disavowed many others. We’ve sent re-inclusion request after request and, in some cases, have gotten the equivalent of a “Thank you, but there’s still more that needs to be cleaned up. Keep working on it” from Google.
Conclusion & Takeaways
There’s a wide berth between micromanaging the company helping you with SEO and being completely oblivious about what they’re doing to improve your website’s rankings. If you’re in a specialized and/or heavily regulated industry and the SEO firm you’ve engaged isn’t asking for your participation on the content side of things, but your rankings are improving, this should be a warning sign.
Ask your SEO company—directly—what they’re doing. Ask them if they’re building links and, if so, how they go about it. If it’s through article marketing and/or guest blog posts, ask them to send them to you for review. If the articles read like gibberish, tell them to find a different strategy. The only links really worth getting are those that have the potential to drive qualified visitors to your website.
Do you really think anyone is reading the content on the sites above? Answer: NO.
The best approach to SEO is really very straightforward (notice that I didn’t say simple, easy, fast or cheap—just straightforward).
You want to ensure that your site is structured in a way that makes it easy for search engines to find, crawl, and index.
You want to fill your site with unique, original, relevant content that adds considerable value to your prospective customers. You want your content to be so good that other websites and authorities reference your site. Those are the types of links worth getting.
You want to build the online presence of an authority. This really doesn’t need much explaining. Just think about it.
You want to build the type of company that has a brand so strong that if someone searched for a keyword phrase relevant to your business and you didn’t come up on the first page, they’d think that something is wrong with Google.