Lately we’ve been asked to help out a few prospective clients with the search engine results their websites were gathering in order to help grow their business. Interestingly, one of the clients had previously paid for SEO work done by another agency. Dismayed with the unpredictable results of the site, the client contacted the firm only to be told that, “There is nothing else we can do,” and given the brush-off. Fair enough, one might think, given that once a site has been built with solid SEO principles in mind and each page of the site has been optimised and targeted for the correct keyword phrases, the next significant steps to undertake are those of content creation and link building. However…

One investigation later and it was simple to see that the former company had not even got the simplest of SEO principles right. Amongst other faults, some major issues we noted were the following:

  • The site header had been added as one large image (with no alt tag) meaning that neither the company logo nor contact details were being read by Google.
  • What should have been the actual page content h1 was added as an image rather than indexable content.
  • The site was using the outdated concept of keyword stuffing within an h1 tag on the site footer (meaning the h1 tag was the same for each and every page).
  • The meta page titles for each page were duplicated across the site and not entered properly.
  • The page meta descriptions were not optimised.
  • No secondary or tertiary level headers were used in the rest of the site content.

Interestingly, the only part they did manage to complete correctly was the link to their business in the footer. What a surprise.

Anyway, upon seeing such an abomination, a thought came to my head, “How can business owners guarantee that their SEO company are not a bunch of snakeoil salesmen?” Having racked my brain for a week, I’m still not sure there is an answer to this. I guess the only way of telling is to look at the company’s own search engine rankings, but then if you don’t know what you’re looking for how do you know if they’ve implemented standard SEO rules correctly? Must you just have to go on the fact that you found them on Google?

With no regulations or accreditations in place to give guidance or credence to the sellers, how does a business owner go about selecting an SEO company?

Whilst we at Flint & Tinder don’t claim to be SEO experts, we do think we understand the underlying principles behind the process and in all honesty, in the two-and-a-bit years we’ve been in business not much have changed at all and this was verified by the fact that recently I purchased an issue of the usually excellent .net magazine purely because the lead article was ‘Get to the top of Google!’, expecting to be confused by new developments and techniques. Unfortunately it told me nothing I didn’t already know. Whilst people have discussed and commented on Google updates in 2012 ad nauseum, it seems to us that the only real people who have been affected by the Penguin and Panda updates were the people who played with the rules and ignored Google’s own advice to begin with.

Although I’m sure many SEO companies “proper” may disagree with what I’m about to say (because many of them have built entire house-of-card businesses built on the principles), but the fundamentals of SEO really are pretty simple. So simple in fact that Google even spells it out for you with the help of a friendly robot. Google has constantly stated from the start that if you follow their advice and make sure you are adding fresh relevant content to your site that is tailored towards your customers rather than search engines, then in time your site will rise up the rankings. Of course, there are things one can do to help the process, but if you forget that simple rule all your further efforts will be vain.

Sometimes clients say that they find it difficult to get their site fresh with news especially if their industry is not particularly fast-paced or innovative, which I can understand to an extent, but I usually always tell them in return that if they think that, then they are approaching the task with the wrong mindset. If your business exists, there is always something you can use. For example, do you collate client testimonials? Do you take photos or images of every completed project? If not, why not? If you sold a customer a pen, ask them why they selected that pen, maybe other people are searching for pens for that precise reason? Are you skilled at your business? If so, why not offer people advice?

Whilst I am not adverse to undertaking SEO projects for clients – I welcome them in fact – we are not dishonest in our approach to the work. Most of what we do can be done by anyone who has a well built site complete with Content Management System – much like the WordPress sites we build - however we understand that some people just don’t have the time or inclination to maintain their site or continually devise new ways and ideas of generating fresh content and that’s where we come in.

SEO and honest advice… how novel.

In case anyone was wondering, Google do offer their own advice on how one should go about selecting an SEO firm. To read their advice, click here.