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As with any industry in its early stages of evolution, there is a fair mix of quality service providers and fly-by-night operators offering SEO services.
While some agencies charge thousands of dollars, some go so far as to claim to SEO your site for free. However, just like every business and website is different, the SEO requirements for every website are unique to the site. They need quality research, a reasonable understanding of the business and needs and optimization that is specific and custom designed for the site. While there is nothing wrong in expecting cost effective and affordable service, it is also important to be aware of what constitutes good service and what is considered black hat.
So, what should you look for when evaluating an SEO service provider:
In order to get a client's site to rank high in search results, many organizations resort to unethical techniques called "Black Hat" techniques. Search engines have now built-in algorithms to identify these techniques. Websites seen to have used Black Hat techniques are invariably black-listed by search engines. Black Hat techniques include:
This is a technique where content presented to search engine spiders is different from the content presented to the browser of a visitor to the site. The purpose of cloaking is to deceive the search engine crawlers into displaying a page when it would otherwise not have been displayed.
This happens when the web page is loaded with keywords, either in the content or in the code. Every website has a certain focus and natural density of words that are related to the business. However, when keywords are stuffed illogically and unnecessarily, just to get search engine rankings, it is considered as keyword stuffing by search engines.
This is a series of methods that are used to manipulate the relevance or prominence of content indexed by search engines from your (or your competitor's) website.
Many organizations put keywords in the same color as the page's background. By doing this, the content is not visible to a normal visitor to the site, but is picked up by search engine spiders.
Putting invisible links in order to increase link popularity - For instance, some companies will link an <ENTER> or ≤BR> that cannot be clicked on to a page. Since this is a deception technique that makes the link accessible to search engines but invisible to users, it is considered a black hat technique.
This involves the creation of low quality pages that contain very little content. Instead, these pages are stuffed with keywords and their variations.
These are sites designed to generate revenues through advertising. Their objective is not to provide valuable information, but to serve up a number of advertisements. Since these lure visitors looking for relevant content and offer nothing in return, search engines look for (and give low ranks to) these sites.
These sites contain nothing but links to a tightly-knit community of websites, linking to each other. This creates a maze of inter connected links that are useless to visitors seeking information.
This is a spammer's technique whereby a number of domain names are created with exactly the same content.
In blog spamming, solicited links are blatantly placed in blogs in order to generate back links to websites. These links neither add value to the blog nor give any insight to a blogger about the content of the site for which a link is placed. Similarly, Spam Blogs are created with the sole intention of posting spam content and links to websites.
This is negative SEO. Through this technique, the ranks of a website are increased by forcing search engines to give lower ranks to competing websites. This is achieved through the creation of a 'rogue' copy of the competitor's website and indulging in blatant and unethical techniques through the rogue site. As a result, search engine crawlers are deceived into giving poor ranks to the competitor's site.
In addition to these, there are many other techniques also used that include spamming referrer logs, buying expired domains, mirror sites, URL redirects, etc.
Many SEO companies offer tools that will automatically make your site SEO compliant. This doesn't work, simply because tools do not know your business. They cannot interpret the nuances of your business needs. They simply follow preset programming to suggest (questionable) improvements to make the site SEO compliant, many times, with a negative impact.
SEO services range from exorbitantly expensive (to the point of being indulgent) to ridiculously cheap. Do not just go by the price quoted. Ask for the process that will be followed. A simple businessman's arithmetic will tell you what manpower and time costs are. Check if the cost quoted justifies a sustainable business model considering the SEO process that is being committed to by the service provider. If not, there is a good chance of corners being cut (including resorting to black hat techniques).
No ethical SEO service provider can ever commit to quantifiable results. This is mainly because, despite the best understanding of search engine algorithms, there is always an element of subjectivity with regard to what ranks the search engine will give a website. Any organization that commits to get you on the top spot (which is slightly different from committing to improve your rankings and 'trying' to get you to the top) is either deceiving you or desperate for your business.
Use your judgment on the credibility of the organization, do a reference check on the people behind it, and their domain knowledge.
Raghupati is the COO and Director of Operations at VTech SEO. VTech SEO provides high quality outsourced SEO services, web design services and content services to growing businesses around the world. We also offer white label SEO services to web design firms, digital marketing firms and advertising agencies.