Confessions of an SEO Crook…
By Brett Lloyd Abbott, MYM Austin Inc.
I had to think long and hard before offering up this public confession. It’s normally not considered wise for a business owner to offer up the “dirty little secrets” behind their industry. But this ongoing challenge of “search engine optimization” has grown into such a monster that I think it’s time I finally come clean with it.
I am an SEO crook.
And let’s be clear – I’m not the only one. Just about ANYONE and EVERYONE who offers to sell you SEO services is a crook.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re all dishonest. Nor am I saying we’re trying to cheat you. But we are all definitely crooks. And here’s why.
All SEO companies have one goal – to put you on “page 1” of Google (and Yahoo and Bing, and all other search engines. But since all of these other search engines put together still only represent a small fraction of Google’s volume, I’m not going to waste time mentioning them anymore. For the sake of this confession, when I say “Google” I’m referring to the #1 top search engine company in the world, AND all the other little wannabe search engine companies that follow in their shadow.)
Back to the point – This is a game of “cops and robbers.” When a homeowner searches “local pool builder,” Google wants to put the BEST choice at the top of page 1. Meanwhile, you and I want to put YOUR company at the top of page 1 – regardless of whether or not you’re actually the best choice. And how do we do that?
Our job, as SEO specialists (a.k.a. crooks) is to use any and all manner of trickery to dupe Google into thinking that YOU are the “most popular” and therefore the “best choice.” What manner of trickery, you say? Well, take your pick:
- BLOATED KEYWORDS (also known as “keyword stuffing”) – This includes such banal acts as shoving a phrase such as “Austin pool builder” into every 3rd or 4th sentence of every paragraph of every page on your website. Annoying to read, but for a while there it sure made Google think you were the King of Kings and best possible choice when it came to the search phrase “Austin pool builder.”
- HIDDEN CONTENT (aka “cloaking”) – this was very clever and effective about 8 or 9 years ago. Similar to “keyword stuffing,” this involved secretly shoving / hiding all kinds of keywords and content “in plain sight.” You would do this by putting white text on a white background, or black text on a black background. It’s invisible to you and me, but Google sees it, reads it, and presumes it’s a valid part of the page content.
- IN-BOUND LINKS – Up until a few short months ago, this was the most popular, tried-and-true method of improving your rankings. If we could get 100 or 500 different websites all linking over to YOU, then Google naturally thought “Wow, you must be some kind of expert. Let’s put you in position #1.“
Now there’s just one problem. Google is very smart. Just like any good cop, they know about this “SEO trickery,” so they’ve invested millions of dollars and millions of man-hours to put a stop to it. They’ve had teams of extremely smart people working day and night to figure out ways to spot, block and ultimately punish the above-confessed trickery behavior.
(Ever heard of “Google Panda” and “Google Penguin”? Launched in 2011 and 2012 respectively, these sweet and cuddly-sounding programs are actually designed to put SEO hacks like me out of business. They go out of their way to validate the true quality of an individual website’s content, and they will search out and punish anyone who tries to trick them with any of the “black hat” techniques described above.)
And the hard-core truth is that us SEO hacks are running out of tricks. Stuff that worked great 2 years ago is now failing miserably.
I sort of feel like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – who for years had great success robbing banks and trains. But then the railroads hired the relentless and unstoppable Pinkerton agency, which caused Butch and Sundance to famously and repeatedly ask “Who are these guys????”
(And indeed, just as the well-financed and unwavering fellows at Pinkerton eventually get the best of Butch and Sundance, Google is steadily getting the best of SEO hacks.)
So does this mean the SEO business is DOOMED? Well, not necessarily. But sort of. At this point, I think you really have 2 choices, if you want to get on page #1 of Google.
OPTION #1: Demonstrate that you are truly “popular” and “a good choice” for your local market, so that Google naturally, genuinely and honestly views you (and your website) as the most relevant search engine answer. The ways to do that NOW are:
- Make sure you’ve got good, solid, interesting and honest content on your website.
- Make sure you are “visible online” in many different places beyond your website. This includes:
- Social media sites
- Online directories
- Blogs, forums and other authoritative sites
- Stay ACTIVE with your online content. I.e., you should be updating at least SOME of your online content at least once a week. (Blogs and social media are a natural fit for this, which is why you so often hear marketing consultants prescribe this as a solution to SEO.)
The upside to Option #1 is that if you are diligent, it can work. The downside is that it’s a LOT of work, it takes a LONG time, there’s NO GUARANTEE whatsoever that it will actually work, and quite honestly it’s going to get in the way of you doing your REAL job, which I presume is designing, building and/or servicing swimming pools.
OPTION #2: Bypass the “organic” route, and get on page #1 INSTANTLY using the PAID route. I used to consider “pay per click” to be an inferior choice to “search engine optimization.” But that was before the Pinkerton agency (Google) started dogging us relentlessly, and rendering our SEO efforts near useless. NOW, suddenly, pay per click looks a LOT more attractive.
But let me offer 3 important bits of advice before you jump into any “pay per click” programs:
- While it’s certainly possible for you to implement your own “do-it-yourself” pay per click program with Google ad words, I don’t recommend it. It’s a challenging task that requires a substantial level of expertise, presuming you want to get good results. You can waste a LOT of money if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thus, I strongly recommend that if you’re going to do pay per click, you should HIRE someone.
- Next, recognize that out of 10,000 different “pay per click” companies in the US, roughly 99.99% of them have one singular goal, and that is TO SPEND YOUR MONEY. As in: “You want to spend $3000 on PPC? Great, I’ll make sure we spend $3000 of your money on PPC.” So before you even THINK about hiring a local PPC company, make sure that they are primarily focused on CONVERSIONS, rather than just IMPRESSIONS and CLICKS. (Conversions are actual results. Clicks are a step in the right direction, but if they don’t convert, they are meaningless. Impressions are deceptively alluring, but the most worthless of all. It’s like bragging about 10,000 people who walked past your store but never came in.)
- I can count on ONE HAND the # of PPC companies I have found and trust to focus on RESULTS. And there’s only ONE that I can recommend for the swimming pool industry: Corey Zeiman of Guaranteed PPC. If you want PPC help, Corey Zeiman is the guy to call.
Meanwhile, as a “born-again SEO crook,” I can tell you that I’m working on modifying our SEO services so that they work IN COOPERATION with Google, rather than “behind their back.” I must admit it’s MORE EXPENSIVE and LESS EFFECTIVE than it used to be, but I can still give you an advantage over other pool companies who aren’t doing ANYTHING in the way of SEO.
Well, I’m sure glad I got this confession off my chest. Now maybe I won’t have to move to Bolivia after all.
To your success,