Unethical SEO vendors – can you spot em?

May 30th, 2005

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You can’t just ask a Search Engine Optimization vendor if they are ethical. Of course they will say “yes.” So if you are shopping for some SEO help, how do you screen out the baddies?

A while back I blogged about how to be objective with your SEO vendor selection, but I didn’t specifically cover how to screen out the unethical ones. I will do that now.

First off, interview the vendor extensively. Get them to explain the techniques they will be using. A “yes” from them to any of the following questions is a warning sign:

  • Do your techniques involve any kind of deception?
  • Do you use proprietary techniques?
  • Do you use doorway pages or anything similar?
  • Do you do deceptive redirects?
  • Have you ever had sites banned?
  • Do you offer rank guarantees? (You can?Ä´t guarantee something you have no control over. The only way you can get a guaranteed rank is through pay-per-click.)
  • Do you send email to prospects with whom they do not have a prior existing business relationship or permission from those prospects in advance? (If so, that’s spam! Never do business with a spammer.)

During your discussions with the vendor, if they describe their SEO tactics as short-term, you might want to reconsider. SEO, when done right (i.e. when following “best practices”), has long-term sustainable impact ?Ä® for years, in fact. For proof, just read this.

After you’re done quizzing the vendor, talk to their clients. Ask those clients:

  • Does your SEO vendor teach you how to fish, or do they always do the fishing for you?
  • Have your traffic and sales gone up a lot because of the vendor? If so, do you believe the increase to be sustainable?
  • How long have you worked with the vendor? How long do you plan to continue working with them? Any idea what the vendor’s client churn rate is?

Then you’ll need to do some of your own investigating. Check the HTML code on their clients’ sites for hidden text, hidden links, and so forth. Also examine what their clients’ websites are serving to the search engines. There are a couple different ways to view a website through the eyes of a search engine spider: one is through a Firefox browser extension called User Agent Switcher; the other is through the cached version of the page that was indexed by the engine, available from the Cached link in the search results. Compare and contrast the page meant for the search engines to that corresponding page off the native website as seen by a normal visitor. If the content served up to the search engines is something completely different than what is served up to visitors, then they are spamming. Things to look for when making your comparison: if the title tag is significantly different, and if keywords have been stuffed into the body copy, the meta tags, and into parts of the website to help the version that was shown to search engines rank better. Finally, search the online forums and SEO directories like SEOPros.com and SEOConsultants.com with Google for complaints about the vendor.

Got any horror stories or lessons learned to share from dealing with a less-than-stellar SEO vendor? Post a comment.