Advisory firms who outsource search engine optimization (SEO) services must be aware of common dirty tricks these firms utilize because, if you do get caught, Google and other search engines will lower your rankings or stop indexing your website and content.
Advisory firms typically outsource SEO services because it is outside the scope of their expertise.
But the SEO field is like the wild West, with most "companies" located inside someone's home, less than a few years old, and with no license or designation validating their expertise. As a result, prices for SEO services are all over the place and it can be difficult discerning legitimate vendors from fly-by-night operators.
Recent highly publicized cases of "black hat" SEO tactics have been highlighted in The New York Times.
In one instance, a web outlet for designer sunglasses was found to be purposely jilting and insulting customers in order to get them to generate negative reviews on Google. The owner of the company foolishly bragged to The Times reporter that getting the abused clients to post reviews about his company--even though they were negative--boosted his search engine ratings.
In another instance, JC Penney's vendor for SEO was using linking schemes and other black hat techniques to boost the retailer's rankings. Link schemes are when you create bogus websites or find other ways to make it look like lots of websites are linking to your website. Since "link popularity" is an important factor in search engine algorithms, this boosts your rankings. JC Penney was found to be coming up No. 1 in searches for common terms like "bedding," "black dress" and "area rugs" because its SEO vendor allegedly used link schemes.
For advisors, the recent revelations about unethical SEO tactics present a dilemma. You probably need to outsource this job, but you risk getting involved with a black hat vendor because the field is so esoteric and foreign to you. What can you do?
One tactic is only hiring an SEO vendor that's been in business for at least five years. Chances are, the firm would have been caught by the search engines by now if it were using unethical techniques. Another simple idea is to get references from an SEO vendor.
To protect yourself, be skeptical of SEO vendors, especially those promising you great results. No vendor can promise that you'll be No. 1 in Google rankings for a list of search terms without doing quite a bit of research and work. Claims that sound too good to be true are probably what they seem to be.
If a vendor tells you he's going to do something that sounds shady, find out how it works. For instance, I spoke with one vendor a few months ago that suggested setting up physical locations for an advisory in multiple towns in order to boost the firm's rankings on Google Places.
The best way to arm yourself against an unethical SEO vendor is to familiar yourself with tactics likely to violate a search engine's terms of service. I'll continue to highlight these tactics here on A4A.
Please keep this issue in perspective: Despite the hassle involved with avoiding bad SEO vendors, optimizing your website, social media profiles, blogs posts, videos, slide shows, status updates, and other content you post on the Web can be very beneficial to your firm. SEO and content marketing do work.