If you’re thinking of hiring or changing an SEO agency, but aren’t quite sure what to look out for, here are three red flags that should set alarm bells ringing for any business owner. I’ve heard a few in my time, but these basic ones still make me cringe:
Invisible or hidden text
If an agency ever discusses anything to do with hiding text, it is time to show them the door – and lock it behind them.
Let’s be clear; adding invisible copy to a website is a very outdated black hat technique, and Google will punish any site with text that appears to be hidden in some way or another. This can be done in a variety of creative forms, including changing the font size to zero, adding copy the same colour as the background, using CSS to position the copy off page, or even using an expanding <div> to hide bucket loads of text, only accessible with a ‘read more’ button.
In fact, Google’s guidelines state that, “hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways.”
Keyword meta tags
Although the world was once crazy about keyword meta tags, it is important to know that Google doesn’t use keyword meta tags. Only recently did I read a report from a reputable web development & design agency (who do SEO apparently), which stated that they had spent a whole month’s budget adding meta keyword tags to a website!
Although meta tags may do no harm to your page or site (as long as you don’t stuff it with keywords), they simply won’t do any good either. I actually use competitor keyword meta data if it’s available in keyword research when starting a campaign for a new client, so really all you’re doing is giving away what you would like to rank for!
In fact, as early as 2009, Matt Cutts wrote in a post:
“To this day, you still see courts mistakenly believe that meta tags occupy a pivotal role in search rankings.
“We wanted to debunk that misconception, at least as it regards to Google. Google uses over two hundred signals in our web search rankings, but the keywords meta tag is not currently one of them, and I don’t believe it will be.”
Quantity of links over quality of content
For many years it was easy for large SEO agencies to spam sites with a high volume of backlinks, not caring about the quality of the content or the links. Scaling the process by building link networks, they made bucket loads of cash with very little effort. As this technique was so successful then of course quality content never got a look in.
A quick history of content production for link generation
As we’re on the subject, let’s recap on the history of SEO content.
A long time ago the same content could be used again and again for generating backlinks. Then when duplicate content became an issue, SEOs would ‘spin’ the content using automated tools such as Best Spinner.
As search engines got smarter, the only option was manually ‘spin’ copy, and the cheapest option was to ship the content out to content production mills in developing countries like India and pay them a couple of dollars for some poor keyword stuffed content.
As algorithms to analyse content continued to develop, Google started to read content, and if the content wasn’t legible, or was poorly written, then it wasn’t going to help the SEO game. Enter the domicile, or native tongue ‘SEO copywriter’, and finally copy started to be written to a decent standard with humans rather than just robots in mind.
Hang on, we’re not quite there… Initially these copywriters were tasked on producing x amount of ‘articles’ within a time scale, and some I have no doubt still are, but we’re now seeing this evolve into a new breed of writer – the creative writer! So if the SEO agency that you’re talking to doesn’t include a content strategy in your campaign, then run a mile, because without excellent copy written by experts you’re going nowhere, I’m sorry to say.
Now for the links
The more the better right?
I still hear SEO companies promising amounts of DA… blah blah ‘Penguin friendly’ links a month. If someone starts promising you this, ask the question: How are you going to get these links? Ask them straight up; do you buy them? If they can’t openly and transparently show you how they intend to generate those links, show them the door; it’s really not worth the risk of a Google penalty.
Any agency can build links – that part is easy – but if they don’t have a clue what they’re doing, you could be tempting fate. Manipulative links can destroy your business, and being removed from Google is not something anyone wants to experience!
Of course, link building is still important for many agencies, but now the focus is on quality of content and marketing; the link should play merely as a bonus if it is given freely in editorial, as paid links are in breach of the Google guidelines.
In fact, according to a recent survey of marketing professionals conducted earlier this year, 57 per cent cited content creation as the most important element of marketing, and another half stated that content had become more important over the past 12 months. So here is to the future of better content, and more creativity when it comes to SEO.