Beware design agencies who offer SEO

Posted on April 29, 2009

 

SEO is so easy to research, with thousands of websites offering advice and tips, that finding information on search engine optimisation takes just a few minutes. Very quickly, anyone can learn some basic techniques on performing SEO on their own websites.

For this reason, most web developers and designers offer SEO as a service, usually charging a very small amount for their ‘skills’. In fact, you’ll often find that web designers advertise their web design services as being ‘SEO friendly’, with their websites being constructed with ‘SEO in mind’.

So why would you use an SEO company that charges you several thousand pounds per year, when your web developer can offer it for a one off fee of a few hundred pounds, or even for free?

The difference in the services lie with what they actually do, what they actually know, and what prior experience they have. Web developers are that, developers of websites. If you have a technical spec they’ll be able to meet it and develop a site to suit your requirements. Web designers are visual people. They’ll construct a website for you that looks good, fits your branding and is attractive to your customers. An SEO will get you results… pure and simple.

When your web designer offers their SEO services along with their website design, ask them what they’ll do for you, what exactly their ‘SEO’ entails. You’ll often find they’ll have little answer outside of the standard one of adding Meta tags to your website. They may, and we stress may, even know about making Title tags unique on all of the pages. The might even know about search engine friendly URLs, but that’s about where their expertise will end.

You’ll be placing the success of your website in the hands of someone who doesn’t perform SEO for a living. It’s not their job. They don’t live and breath SEO. They don’t know all of the intricacies of Google, the history of its updates, how to solve an SEO problem, how to analyse a competitor’s SEO and what phrases like ‘universal search’ and ‘semantic search’ actually mean.

Will they monitor your rankings constantly, being proactive on your website to any drop for your keywords? Will they issue you with reports? Will they know about some basic, and some not so basic SEO mistakes that could get your website banned from Google?

You might find a design agency that has a professional, in-house SEO department, or one that partners with an SEO agency. If that’s the case, your site would be safe in their hands.

In short, use the right professional for the right task. Web designers design, web developers develop and SEOs SEO.

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17 Comments »

  1. Hmmmm, that’s a pretty sweeping generalisation. What if the design agency has a dedicated SEO team? Plenty of agencies realise the benefit of being able to offer a full service, from design to implementation and then marketing through channels from SEO through to social channels (content, video, networking etc), affiliates and PPC. I work for such an agency and our clients are often appreciative of the fact that we can do so much under one roof.

    Comment by Matt Davies — April 30, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  2. You’re quite right Matt, some design agencies do cover SEO on a professional level as well. I was referring more to the design agencies who add ‘SEO’ to their list of services without really knowing what it entails. My advice is aimed at businesses looking to get their websites designed and developed. They need to make sure that the company building their website understands SEO. They should ask the right questions and gauge whether the company will do a decent job, or just tweak some Meta tags and hope for the best.

    Comment by Admin — May 1, 2009 @ 10:48 am

  3. Fair point. Guess that’s the problem with “SEO” – it’s such a vague term that you really do have to grill the people you’re paying to do it to find out exactly what you’re getting for your money. Even some well known and respected “specialist SEO agencies” will try to get away with doing as little as possible while continuing to milk your bank account dry.

    Comment by Matt Davies — May 6, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  4. specialist SEO agencies will try to get away with doing as little as possible while continuing to milk your bank account dry.

    Can you be more precise?

    Comment by Anon — May 6, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  5. “Will they monitor your rankings constantly, being proactive on your website to any drop for your keywords? Will they issue you with reports? Will they know about some basic, and some not so basic SEO mistakes that could get your website banned from Google?”

    That’s not a lot of work for a monthly fee, is it? Most of it can be auto-generated.

    You mean will they spam the internet with link building, I assume? I don’t know why SEOs aren’t more honest about this – as that is the time consuming work.

    As for “Will they know about some basic, and some not so basic SEO mistakes that could get your website banned from Google?” – I’m sick of reading SEOs being vague about such things as it scares people off doing their own SEO work as they think they are going to get banned, even though Google has simple clear guidelines. People are not going to do black hat techniques by accident and are not going to get banned. However, they may find it hard to compete with Link Building rival companies spamming everywhere.

    Comment by Dawn — July 14, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  6. PS Can people stop putting “Valid HTML” on websites which don’t validate – it gives Web Developers a bad name.

    Comment by Dawn — July 14, 2010 @ 12:39 am

  7. Hi Dawn

    I wouldn’t recommend link spamming as you’ve put it – that’s one of the tactics employed by some SEO companies, but it’s not a wise move at all.

    Also yes, people attempting their own SEO (and indeed many design companies claiming to offer SEO) can make basic mistakes that cost rankings. We even saw one website that had added thousands of keywords to the meta keywords tags on the advice of an ‘expert’. The information is all available on the Internet to conduct a decent SEO campaign, but the incorrect information is also there that could see a website fail badly – it’s knowing what is true, and what is not, that makes the difference.

    The invalid markup has crept in because of a Facebook plugin that is being used.

    Comment by Carl — July 14, 2010 @ 9:03 am

  8. “I wouldn’t recommend link spamming as you’ve put it – that’s one of the tactics employed by some SEO companies, but it’s not a wise move at all.”

    – What alternatives to link building are there, then? Can you point to a successful campaign which didn’t use it?

    As far as I can see, most SEO companies make people pay a monthy fee, temporarily increase rankings through link building, google detects these, the site drops, so the company has to pay for more link building and the process continues throwing good money after bad.

    Are you saying all your work is site-side? If so, what sort of work is done toward “being proactive on your website to any drop for your keywords”? Surely any changes outside of following Google’s Guidelines are arbritary?

    Comment by Dawn — July 14, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  9. Dawn

    You appear to be mixing up ‘link building’ with ‘link buying’ – they are very different. Link building is a natural, ethical form of creating links – one that Google has no issue with and one that will not see your website penalised.

    Link buying however is very different, that’s where you see the ‘spam’ links crop up all over the Internet on irrelevant websites, many of them created purely for the purposes of linking to other sites. That’s what Google doesn’t like, and Google even has a section with Webmaster Tools for you to report it where you find it.

    I’m glad to say that your view of ‘most SEO companies’, while being the norm in truth, doesn’t apply to us.

    As for other forms of SEO, on-page or off, you could do worse than to read this blog as it’s full of the techniques we use, and warnings about the ones we don’t. One of the best forms of link building for example, but done completely on-site, is through the creation of content as LinkBait.

    Comment by Carl — July 14, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  10. Most companies do seem to assume just because they haven’t paid for a link that it is ethical. Reverse link check on most UK sites and they’ll be listed in, for example, Russian Web Directories and have loads of articles written by the SEO rather than the expert that are clearly of no use to any real person.

    I’m glad you don’t do this, though how do you compete with the companies who do?

    What is the difference between LinkBait and Viral Marketing?
    The term Link Baiting sounds so cynical to my ears.

    Do you have an example of some Link Baiting you are proud of having worked on?

    Comment by Dawn — July 14, 2010 @ 10:22 am

  11. As I’m sure you can appreciate we can’t divulge any work completed for clients on this blog, but as you correctly pointed out earlier with regards to link buying – Google will identify it eventually, so competing with companies that do this isn’t really an issue. Some SEO agencies throw thousands of pounds per month at links, but many of the companies and sites selling these links are of such low quality that they are slowly but surely being identified and their effectiveness cancelled out.

    LinkBait is a form of viral marketing, if done correctly that is, and merely applies to a piece of content (which can be a video, article, image, PDF for example) that is created specifically to attract links. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with LinkBait, as any content good enough to attract numerous links from other websites is clearly good enough for Google to want to offer it as a result for relevant searches.

    Links through payment are a poor way of increasing the rankings of a website, links attracted naturally through quality content are in essence what Google’s rankings are all about. The best content, the best websites, get linked to naturally – which is why they rank highly in Google’s SERPs.

    Comment by Carl — July 15, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  12. “As I’m sure you can appreciate we can’t divulge any work completed for clients on this blog”

    Out of interest, why can you not?

    A designer or a viral marketer would surely point to work they are proud of?

    Comment by Dawn — July 17, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  13. Designers would point to work they’re proud of, yes. However, SEO companies don’t talk publicly about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it where clients are concerned. If you want to see examples of LinkBait, this blog is full of them, such as this post.

    Comment by Carl — July 19, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  14. “However, SEO companies don’t talk publicly about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it where clients are concerned.”

    Again, I would ask why this is?

    I can understand it if the approaches were black hat, but surely providing fun or interesting content fits into Google’s webmaster guidelines as being more traditional internet marketing techniques.

    Surely examples of successful viral/link baiting campaigns that an SEO has made is going to make them stand out from their competition as good marketers – which is something the layman can easily understand.

    If you were to choose an SEO for link building, how would you tell someone good from someone bad without this evidence?

    Certainly, if I was hiring an SEO I’d want them a) to explain the concepts of link building clearly and honestly and b) to illustrate their methods of link building.

    Isn’t shrouding things in mystery why SEO so often gets tarred with people claiming it is Snake Oil?

    Comment by Dawn — July 19, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  15. We discuss most aspects of SEO fairly openly on our blog – and give more information than many SEO agencies. However, no reputable SEO agency would talk ‘publicly’ about their specific methods on a blog/forum like this, because their competitors would see it.

    Sticking with link building, which is what you seem to want to know about specifically, when a client approaches us for a proposal, we explain quite clearly what ‘link buying’ is and why it’s bad for them – in terms of budget and in terms of Google’s guidelines. We also explain what linkbait is – and give examples, of which there are many here on this very blog. I pointed one specific post out to you in my last response, one which is both unique and fun.

    We happily let potential clients speak to our existing clients and see their rankings for themselves – so they have plenty of evidence that we practice what we preach and that the results last.

    If you know a little about SEO, or even if you don’t, you can easily be shown how to check the backlinks of website examples – it’s very easy to tell purchased, low quality link-building from high quality links; any uneducated eye can tell.

    No matter how many examples you give, there is no way of saying what linkbait or viral marketing would be done for a specific client or generalising the process, because a good SEO campaign should be tailored individually to the client/campaign – indeed it is this originality that generates the value and gets results. Sure, there are some basics and guidelines that you follow for every website, but then once that’s done, search engines have other ways to tell websites apart. There are plenty of posts on this blog that go into all sorts of SEO methods and detail – some aimed at those who know nothing about SEO and others for those who understand more about it.

    If you want to hire an SEO company, then we’d be happy to discuss specifics of your own website with you.

    Comment by Carl — July 19, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  16. “However, no reputable SEO agency would talk ‘publicly’ about their specific methods on a blog/forum like this, because their competitors would see it.”

    Surely agencies do often link to their clients, and so back links on that client can reveal any link baiting ideas to their competitors?

    Besides, my point was more the link baiting.

    Presumably, like viral marketing

    * A successful bit of link baiting will soon be widely known to the marketing community.
    * Virals are about novelty, so you can’t just copy someone else’s link baiting idea.
    * If you get known as those guys who write/make fun and interesting content to get links, then work would come from that. It’s a USP making you far more skilled than those who just buy links, who will inevitably fail as Google catch up with them or move more toward personalised searching techniques.

    I’m particularly interested in this because I like viral marketing, but most SEO’s clients I have come across do not seem to have anything more than sponsored links as part of their campaign. I’m certainly yet to find any creative content which could be described as “link baiting”.

    “No matter how many examples you give, there is no way of saying what linkbait or viral marketing would be done for a specific client or generalising the process, because a good SEO campaign should be tailored individually to the client/campaign”

    My thought was more that if you show some examples, then it gives people an idea of what skills you are using. Allows people to make a judgement over who does the best work. It would be like a marketing company showing off work for other clients, they are showing their skills, imagination and problem solving.

    So, again, I do not see why examples of Link Baiting are not featured?

    At the moment, it allows people who do not do Link Baiting to claim that they do in their unproven skills lists.

    Again, I will ask if you were to choose an SEO for link building, how would you tell someone good from someone bad from their websites/advertising?

    Comment by Dawn — July 20, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  17. We’ve given examples; there are plenty for you to see here on this very blog. What we offer our clients is precisely what we show them.

    You say you’ve yet to find any creative content that could be described as link baiting – any content that attracts a number of links can be described in this way.

    In answer to your specific question, you cannot choose an SEO for link building from their website/advertising alone – even if they gave hundreds of examples, I don’t think that’s enough to decide if they’re right for you and your budget/industry. You need to speak with them, perhaps speak with their existing clients, get a written proposal of what they’ll do for you and an estimate of cost.

    Only then can you choose between them.

    Comment by Carl — July 20, 2010 @ 11:22 am

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