If your business has its own website, you’ve most certainly received emails or contact form submissions from “SEO experts” promising to “boost your SEO fast,” “get you to the first spot on Google in four weeks,” or “triple your web leads this quarter.”
If you’re the type who cares about growing their business (which I bet you are), you probably considered responding to these messages just to see how they could help. You’d be stupid to not get your guaranteed top spot in Google, right?
You might wonder, though, if these solicitous emails are legitimate. Can these kind strangers appearing in your inbox, promising to get you to the front page of Google in a month, be trusted?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Here’s why you should be wary of promises to quickly get your website to the top rank on Google.
You may be able to fix your SEO woes with the resources you already have
Chances are, prior to receiving this type of SEO offer, you’ve been working to improve your search ranking. Maybe you already have a full strategy in place, or maybe you just update your keywords from time to time. Either way, if you’re considering learning more about an offer to boost your SEO, it’s likely due to a lack of satisfaction with your current progress.
Before we chat about why offers like the one you received should be considered with extreme caution, let’s talk about your current search ranking. While keeping in mind that SEO is an ongoing process and it may take time to see some of your efforts pay off, do you feel like enough is being done by you or the team managing your SEO to help achieve results? If not, have you discussed what else can be done to help improve your ranking?
It’s important to consider the opportunities you and your team have to improve your ranking before even considering pulling in outside resources. Oftentimes, a lack of communication, strategy or understanding of SEO (more on that in a moment) are to blame for poor search visibility. You should address these items internally before doing anything else.
There are no guarantees in SEO
Anyone who claims they can get you onto the top spot on Google is either making a promise they know they may not be able to keep or are flat out lying. How is this a lie? There’s no way anyone can guarantee your search ranking. Not even the most brilliant search engine optimization professional can give such a guarantee.
While the promise of a guaranteed top ranking on Google is incredibly attractive, it’s important to recognize that legitimately acquiring the first position is only possible with time, the right set of tools and a well-considered SEO strategy in place. If you are able to very quickly acquire the top spot – and that’s a big if – Google will sniff out that some prohibited black hat SEO techniques were used and will penalize your website for it (more on this a little later).
Trust me: I would love nothing more than to be able to promise all my clients that their websites would be sitting pretty in the #1 spot on Google after just a few short weeks of work (do you know how good that would make me look?!), but, I can’t.
Why can’t I?
Because search engine optimization involves too many moving parts for anyone to be fully confident that they will quickly earn and sustain a top rank. To help you better understand, let’s take a closer look at what contributes to the rank of your website.
SEO is an incredibly complex, on-going process
I’ve found that the average small business owner usually falls into one of two camps: those who are overwhelmed by SEO and don’t even know where to begin when it comes to improving it, and those who are sure it’s as simple as adding the right keywords to their website. I don’t blame either group for their misunderstanding: there is a lot to unpack when it comes to SEO and how it works. The mainstream media also doesn’t always do a very good job of explaining it thoroughly and in layman’s terms.
So, let’s unpack it to help you better understand how it works.
First things first: yes, keywords are very important in SEO – these terms are how search engines find your website, after all. However, keywords are just one of around 200 factors that are considered within Google’s ranking algorithm. Yes, 2 – 0 – 0.
Did you know that Google has never actually publicly confirmed what all of their ranking factors are? Frustrating, right? Luckily, you can access the document that is used by the people (not machines) at Google when they manually rank websites (give this one a minute to load – it’s a giant file!). While ranking is generally completed by robots and the processes for determining rank may be a little different than what’s outlined here; the general principles and factors for consideration still apply.
“But Brittney,” you say, “I don’t have time to familiarize myself with hundreds of search ranking factors. I have a business to run! Could you hurry things up and just tell me the factors I should spend most of my time working on?”
Well, yes and no.
Google has confirmed that links pointing to your website and the quality of website content are two of the most important factors that determine your rank. In fact, these are two of the first things that we look at when developing an SEO strategy for a client.
While it would be tough to rank highly without putting time into improving those two factors, it can’t be your entire SEO strategy – unless you’re ok with not being seen on Google. So many other factors – like how quickly your website loads and if’s mobile optimized, to name a couple – must be taken into consideration to rank highly.
And don’t forget: Google’s algorithm changes all the time – upwards of 600 times each year - without warning and sometimes without acknowledgement from Google that it even changed. The factors that have more weight in ranking today might not be very important next month, and a host of new factors may be introduced in the meantime. The point? SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it deal: you could be on the first page today, but if you don’t actively and consistently work on your SEO, your rank will inevitably drop.
However, Google algorithms aren’t the only thing to keep in mind when thinking about SEO.
Your ranking has as much to do with your competitors as it does with you
Another reason why these SEO offers promising to get your website to the top spot on Google in a short period of time isn’t achievable – or at least sustainable - is because your competitors are all also actively working on their SEO. You aren’t just fighting Google’s algorithms to climb to the top; you’re also fighting your competitors.
Even a flawlessly executed SEO strategy can’t guarantee a competitor won’t have a better search ranking than you. You can do everything right and still hold onto the number five spot on a page if your competitors are doing a better job than you. A competitor could be outperforming you in any of the 200 ranking factors discussed earlier, like having more useful content, a larger number of quality backlinks or a faster-loading website.
Yes, this can be frustrating. However, it doesn’t mean you’ll never outrank them – sticking with a solid SEO strategy is still the best way to do that.
Black Hat SEO: Bad News for Sustaining a High-Ranking Website
But if someone promises they can help you outrank them – especially in a very short period of time – your bullshit alarm should go off.
It’s only fair that I pause here to make a quick point about the people who send emails soliciting their SEO services: these people aren’t all just scammers out to make a quick buck (though a portion of them unfortunately are). Some do have legitimate SEO expertise and can likely make some improvements to your website to help its ranking.
That being said, the final (and potentially most important) reason you should avoid these “opportunities” is that a number of these so-called SEO experts use black hat techniques to get you to rank up quickly – but at an ultimately detrimental cost to your website.
Black hat SEO techniques are practices that falsely manipulate a website’s search position. While they are capable of creating a quick boost in ranking, they are bad for your website. Google can and will sniff out these sneaky practices and penalize your website for it, causing your website rank to drop. Sort of the defeats the purpose, huh?
Common black hat SEO techniques that are often used by the people promising to get you to the first page of Google include:
- Keyword stuffing: Loading tons of keywords onto your page is a red flag to Google, and almost never reads naturally to visitors.
- Hiding text or links: Similar to keyword stuffing, black hatters will put text or links on the page that aren’t visible to the visitor. This is an attempt to boost the Google rating without the aforementioned issue of having page copy that sounds like a machine wrote it.
- Republishing content without permission: Writing original content is time consuming. That’s why some websites post articles from other websites and publish them on their own. Not only is this plagiarism, but Google will catch it when their bots notice two websites with paragraphs upon paragraphs of identical copy.
- Link schemes: We mentioned earlier that one of the bigger contributing factors to your rank is how many quality links are pointing to your website. One way in which black hats will manipulate this factor is by using a link scheme. The scheme could involve buying or selling links that pass PageRank, creating pages for the sole purpose of exchanging links with a partner website, or using automated programs to create links to your website – to name just a few. These activities violated Google’s Webmaster guidelines and will result in a penalization of your website.
I understand the temptation to do anything you can to get your Google ranking up. However, any increase in rank that’s a result of black hat techniques will be short-lived, as your website will be penalized and pushed back down to a lower position or even completely de-indexed (read: removed) from Google. The long-term consequences of going this route aren’t worth the short term benefit you may experience.
If you are genuinely interested in boosting and maintaining your search engine ranking, you’ll need to follow a strategic SEO plan for the duration of your website’s life. This plan will include tasks such as conducting keyword and competitive research, updating the copy on your website, developing new content on a consistent basis, earning backlinks from quality websites and making updates to the backend of your website. If it sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. However, if being seen in search results is crucial for your business’ health, it will be time and resources well spent.