When you hire an SEO company to optimise your website you are, by and large, placing your trust in them to do the right thing. They’re the professionals after all, and you’re paying them to increase the rankings of your website for a chosen set of keywords.
The problem is, SEO comes shrouded in mystery and, in part through the fault of many SEO so-called professionals, it carries with it a stigma of being something of a dark art, something that just isn’t quite ‘right’. The truth is that pure, white hat, ethical SEO couldn’t be further from the truth, and rather than being some force for evil that search engines want to stop website owners from using, they’re actually fairly happy about the whole SEO process – assuming it’s done ethically.
What is ethical SEO?
When a website receives ethical SEO, the website is cleaned up of superfluous code, pages are clearly categorised, labelled and filled with content relevant to the page’s intended purpose. The websites are made accessible for search engines, they’re linked to from authoritative resources and, in the case of the best SEO companies, the websites become authority websites themselves, fuelled by unique, regular content. This all helps the search engines to know what the website is about and what keywords it should be ranked for. Google likes this.
The problem of course lies in those SEO companies that seek to ‘game’ the system with out-dated tricks, unethical practices and paid links from low quality, irrelevant and often spam filled websites. It’s using techniques such as these that led to Google throwing down a very hefty penalty to US retail giant JC Penny in January of this year (2011), when it was found that its SEO company had paid for very low quality and irrelevant links from sites such as gambling websites.
Don’t misunderstand us here mind you. Links from sites such as this will often work. They will often see websites ranking higher in the search engines, which is why these unethical SEO companies do it; however, they are against Google’s TOS and, at some point, Google will find out – much to the detriment of the site involved. There was another case a few years ago of a website that employed an SEO company to work on improving its rankings, only for the site to be penalised by Google due to the unethical practices used. That particular website, GourmetGiftBaskets.com, lost $4 million in sales as a result of its SEO company.
When, not if, the unethical actions of your SEO company cause your website to be penalised by Google you will no doubt find yourself on your own scratching your head as to how you get your website back into Google. Even Google itself, in its Webmaster Tools, asks for details as to what actions your SEO company may have done to lead to your website being cast out:
“Tell us more about what happened: what actions might have led to any penalties, and what corrective actions have been taken. If you used a search engine optimization (SEO) company, please note that. Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith that may assist in evaluation of reconsideration requests. If you recently acquired this domain and think it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, let us know that below. In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimizers, affiliate programs, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.”
The line ‘describing the SEO firm and their actions’ may seem a little like ‘grassing’, but if the actions of your SEO company have caused your site to be banned by Google then ‘grass’ is exactly what you need to do.
Avoid your site being penalised
Of course, as with anything in life, prevention is better than cure. Why wait for the inevitable to happen and for Google to spot the indiscretions of your SEO company when you can find out for yourself whether you’ve been paying for someone to set your website up for a fall?
While you obviously can’t check everything that your SEO company has done for your website, you can quite easily check what links your website has, and whether those links are from quality websites or from low quality, spam filled websites (sites that may also contain links to gambling websites or, worse still, adult websites).
To do this, you can use Yahoo Site Explorer
Enter the full URL of your website, such as www.yourdomain.com, and click ‘Explore URL’. This will give you a list of every page Yahoo has indexed on your website. You can then click on the button labelled ‘Inlinks’ to see every website that links to your site. Use the dropdown box on the right of this button to select ‘Except from this domain’ to see just the websites that link to your site (filtering out any pages from within your website).
You should now see a list of pages that link to your website. Some of these links may be naturally acquired by your website, some may be built by your SEO company, some may be ‘paid’ or ‘rented’ links. What sort of websites link to your website?
If you see links from sites such as Dmoz.org, Wikipedia, .gov domains and websites related to your industry then well done, you have some strong links. However, if you see websites that are not relevant to your site, possibly even on foreign TLDs (top level domains) such as .ch, .se or .ru, then click on them to see what sort of sites link to you.
Bear in mind that some low quality sites may well link to your site naturally however, if you’re seeing websites that all look very similar, or are full of nonsensical content, then there’s a good chance that your website is being linked to by low quality spam websites. You may even notice that these pages are lining to other websites as well – other ‘clients’ of your SEO company no doubt. What sorts of websites are being linked to alongside yours? If you can see gambling websites and adult sites, then you should have a word with your SEO company before what happened to JC Penny and GourmetGiftBaskets.com happens to you, and you’re left wondering how you get your website back into Google.
SEO isn’t unethical in itself, but some people do use unethical practises in the name of SEO. Make sure your SEO company isn’t one of them.
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