Don’t Pay to SEO Optimize Your Site

Optimizing Your Site is Not Brain Surgery ... Whoever Builds, Should Optimize

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Last week I published a blog post explaining that most SEO services are a scam (I won’t repeat myself; you can find out about the SEO scam here).

I want to explain another way businesses can avoid getting ripped off: by understanding the role of page optimization.

There are essentially two sides to Search Engine Optimization: on-page and off-page.

On-page optimization is how you code your Web site, essentially putting keywords into appropriate places in the site, making sure the site is readable by search engines, adding an XML sitemap, and so on.

Off-page “optimization” is not really optimization per se … it’s getting links pointing from other Web sites pointing to yours. I’m not going to discuss that in this post, just let me say that off-page work–linking–is in many cases the most complicated, difficult, frustrating part of SEO, and yet for most sites it’s the most important work, too. If few sites link to yours, the major search engines are not going to care about your site much, so won’t rank it highly (unless you have little competition in the search results for the keywords you care about … but that’s another subject for another day.)

So, today let’s consider on-page optimization … and why you shouldn’t pay an outside service to “optimize” your Web site. 

Many SEO firms offer page optimization as a service…they will, in theory, come into your site, and “optimize” the pages periodically.

On-page optimization is, quite simply, making sure your site can be read properly by the search engines, and that it has the correct keywords in the correct places (such as folder names, filenames, H1 tags, body text, internal links, and so on) … and various ancillary items, such as the XML sitemaps I mentioned earlier. The details don’t matter for my argument today. Let me simply explain why you shouldn’t pay a third party to do this work for you.

1: It’s Easy

Despite all the blinding-with-science going on in the SEO arena, on-page optimization is surprisingly easy. It is not brain surgery. It’s not rocket science either. Once you understand it, it’s disturbingly simple… you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. So…

2: Whoever Builds Your Site, Needs to Optimize It

For years I’ve been dissuading my consulting clients from paying SEO firms to optimize their sites. Why? Well, why duplicate the effort? You already have someone tinkering around in your site, why not have them optimize the site while they’re building it? 

They don’t know how to, you say. That’s true, they probably don’t, and as I mentioned in my post last week, Web development firms are notoriously bad at SEO. But see my Point #1 … It’s Easy! Page optimization is not brain surgery, so you don’t need to hire a specialist. You do, however, need to make sure who ever is building the site knows what he or she should be doing to it. But again … It’s Easy!

For many clients, I have given “tutorials” to Web-development staff, a very specific run-down of what they need to be doing. I’ll do a keyword analysis first, then I’ll discuss basic optimization techniques–“create an optimized page for each of these keywords…put the focus keyword in the URL, put it in an H1 heading near the top of the page, scatter it throughout the page, create a link from another page using the keyword as anchor text,” and so on.

Once developers understand simple optimization, they can run with it. And it doesn’t have to take weeks of work to learn how to do it.

3: No Third Party Will Optimize Your Site as Well as You or Your Staff

There are always exceptions, I guess, but in general no third party will optimize a site as well as an insider. This is based on my experience of seeing the results of “page optimization” done by SEO firms. (And assuming that the people building the site are willing to educate themselves properly.) I haven’t seen a third-party service do a good job of page optimization. In fact, they often do more harm than good.

4: You’re Continually Adding Content, Aren’t You?

Every time you add content, you should optimize the page the content sits on. Why wait for a third-party to do it for you, when it’s so simple anyway? And if you’re not continually adding content (and, by the way, not every site needs to … but that’s an argument for another day), then why would you need a third-party optimizing your content? Oh, because they told you that you need to tweak the site every month, did they?…

5: You Don’t Need to Continually Re-Optimize

Many SEO firms sign clients up for long-term, monthly contracts, in which they charge a fee for going into the clients’ sites once a month and “optimizing” them. But this is nonsense. Once a page is optimized, it’s optimized…there is no need to go back and re-optimize it, unless of course it wasn’t properly done in the first place! The constant tweaking provided by these firms is for the benefit of these firms, not your Web site.

Now, this isn’t to say you should never hire outside SEO services. I’m talking about on-page optimization here … whoever builds the pages needs to understand SEO and do the work (did I mention it’s not hard?). But there’s also off-page services…getting links pointing to your site. That’s where a third-party service may be useful. (But before you jump in make sure you read Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam.)

Need a simple outline of how to optimize a site’s Web pages? See my Udemy SEO course, which covers both on- and off-page optimization. 4.6 Stars out of 5, $10, you can’t go wrong!

Small Business Beware! The SEO Scam

SEO is 80% Scam - How to Protect Yourself

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Been SEO scammed already? If so, you’re not alone.

I’ve now been involved in SEO for about two decades. Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of businesses, large and small, from Amazon to individual realtors, from Zillow to small industrial-equipment companies. Many of these businesses came to me after reading SEO for Dummies (or Search Engine Optimization for Dummies as it was named for the first five editions).

[For those of you who’ve been living in the proverbial cave for the last few years, SEO means Search Engine Optimization, and refers to techniques use to convince search engines that when somebody searches for blue widget, or whatever, your Web site is listed at the top of the blue widget search results.]

The refrain I often heard from these businesses was “we need help with our SEO,” and consequently I got to hear about the SEO experiences of numerous small businesses. What I quickly learned was, many of these companies were getting scammed.

Years ago, I posted an article on my Web site titled The SEO Business is 80% Scam. This led to various conversations with people in the Web-development and SEO business. I was initially nervous about this, assuming I’d get some push back at best, anger at worst. But what amused me was that overwhelmingly the response from colleagues was something along the lines of “really, only 80%?”

So let me be quite clear for you small business owners out there. It is well known in the Web-development, digital-marketing, and SEO arena that many of the SEO services being sold to small businesses are worthless (or at least worth far less than the fees paid).

There Are Decent SEO Firms & Consultants

Before I continue, let me just state that there are honest, knowledgeable consultants and firms out there.

They’re just in the minority. Sorry, but that’s the fact. How do I know? Because I’ve had the opportunity to see the results of numerous real SEO campaigns, shown to me by small-business owners. More commonly than not the SEO campaigns were useless… really bad on-page optimization, and useless links pointing to the business’ Web sites.

[SEO can be divided into two areas, “on-page”–things you do to your Web pages–and off-page, getting links from other sites pointing back to yours. With no good links pointing to your site, it doesn’t much matter what you do “on-page,” your site is unlikely to rank well in the search results.]

SEO is real. There really are things you can do to push a Web site up in the search results. It’s not that SEO itself is a scam; it’s that the business is mostly scam.

Two Types of Scam

There are essentially two types of scams.

The first is the outright scam. The company providing the service has little or no intention of providing anything of genuine value. Many small businesses think they need SEO (and often they do), but few small-business owners know what SEO really is. So they are easy to blind with science; a good salesperson can sign you up, and by the time you realize you’re not getting anything of value (because your Web site still can’t be found in the search results), you’ve paid months of fees, possibly thousands of dollars. The outright scam is, sadly, very common in the SEO world.

The second is the “accidental” scam. The barriers to entry are low; anyone can claim to be an SEO consultant, anyone can set up an SEO firm. So there are many, many people out there who really aren’t very good at what they do. They may have the best intentions in the world, but they simply can’t deliver.

A Special Category: Web Development Firms

Within the second category is an important subcategory; Web-development firms. It’s common these days–in fact has been for years–for Web developers (in particular Web-development firms rather than individual developers), to claim that they can and will “do the SEO” on your site for you.

This is almost always untrue. Here’s an example. Not so long ago I was working with a Web-development firm that was developing a site for one of my consulting clients. This firm, like many (perhaps most), listed Search Engine Optimization on their Web site as one of the various services they provided. In fact they knew next to nothing about the subject. It was a battle to get them to implement the most basic SEO techniques. They had to have their hands held every step of the way. If I hadn’t been involved, my client’s site wouldn’t have been optimized in even the most basic way.

This is not an anomaly. Years ago the owner of a large Web-development firm confided in me that “we sell SEO services, but we don’t really know much about it.”

Here’s the takeaway: Regardless of what your Web developer says, you can’t rely on your Web-development firm to “do” SEO for you! That doesn’t mean there aren’t some developers who can do it; but most can’t.

How to Protect Yourself

So what do you do to avoid getting ripped off?:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn the basics of SEO so that you don’t get blinded by science, so you can talk to Web developers and SEO firms and know whether what they are saying makes sense, and so you can evaluate the work being done. I have an 8-hour course on the subject on Udemy; learn SEO here for $10. You might read my book, SEO for Dummies. Or sign up for some other kind of training. But you, or someone in your organization, needs to be educated!
  2. Don’t Rely on Your Web Developer: I explained why above; before you let you developer deal with SEO for you, you need a good reason … they need to convince you they know what they’re doing (see #1, above).
  3. Check References: It’s really important to work with someone who has a track record. Don’t simply work with someone who you ran into at a seminar, or who contacted you by email and offered SEO services. You have to have a reason to believe that who you are working with knows what they are doing. The ideal is to work with someone with glowing reviews from a friend or colleague.
  4. Understand What They Are Telling You: It always amazes me how many business owners don’t know what they are getting for their money. If the firm can’t explain it clearly, you shouldn’t be working with them.
  5. It’s All About Links: I’ll write later about my theory that you should never pay a firm to “optimize” your site. But you may need linking services. If you buy linking services, you need to understand what kind of links you’re getting. If the firm won’t show you, or only creates garbage links (another subject I’ll cover later), you shouldn’t be working with them.
  6. Check, Check, Check: Keep an eye on what’s being done. You need regular reports, showing exactly where links are being created, and how your site’s rank is improving in the search results. (Again, I don’t believe in buying on-page optimization services… I’ll explain why in a later post.)

Worthless SEO services are the norm. The good news is, forewarned is forearmed. You don’t have to be one of the thousands of business owners who’s poured money into the SEO black hole!

Six Great Reasons You Should Never Use Google AdWords Express

(Just Mail a Check Directly to Google Instead!)

AdWords Express provides a fast way set up a simple Google AdWords PPC advertising campaign… but a really terrible way to set up a good AdWords account, it’s a method that will almost certainly cost you more money in clicks than you make in sales.

First, what exactly is AdWords Express? I must admit that in years of PPC advertising (I first started working with PPC early this century, and wrote Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing for Dummies a decade ago) I had never used AdWords Express, until I recently examined a client’s failing AdWords campaign. (Express has been around for six years now, though it was originally named Google Boost.)

AdWords Express is essentially a simplified version of AdWords (you can find it here: https://www.google.com/adwords/express/). Unfortunately, sometimes simplifying equals dumbing down, and that’s just what’s happened with AdWords Express. It’s dumbed way down, making it a simple task for just about anyone to set up an AdWords text ad within minutes, and to lose money almost as quickly.

Here’s the problem. PPC advertising is not simple. Just because it’s possible to simplify a process, doesn’t mean you should, and it definitely doesn’t mean the end result is a good thing. Dumb down rocket science and you end up with exploding rockets; dumb down brain surgery and you end up with lobotomies.

So here are the 6 top reasons you really shouldn’t use Google AdWords Express:

  1. You Don’t Get to Pick Your Keywords
  2. Your Ads Go Everywhere
  3. But You Have No Control Over Everywhere
  4. Your Ads are Broad Matched
  5. There’s Very Little Information or Control
  6. You Can’t Track Conversions

Ironically these six problems include four of the most significant mistakes made by marketers new to PPC. They don’t pick their keywords carefully, they display their ads on more than search results, they broad match their keywords, and they don’t track conversions. Google has taken the four worst mistakes, and programmed them into the AdWords interface!

You Don’t Get to Pick Your Keywords

Keywords are the basis of just about all online marketing, the very foundation. Words provide a way for you to connect with your prospects, so if you don’t understand the particular terms that your prospects are using, you’ll find it hard to connect. Google AdWords Express provides very little flexibility in keyword choice. You provide Google with a URL or keyword — not just any keyword, but one from a limited list that Google provides — and then Google picks your keywords for you.

Your Ads Go Everywhere

AdWords Express displays your ads almost everywhere Google AdWords reaches: Google search results, Google Maps, the Google Display network, and Google Search Partners. I won’t go into what all these are right now, but it’s generally a bad practice to start off a PPC campaign pushing ads to all these areas. It’s much safer to get it working properly in the search results, and then experiment with these other locations, because there’s a good chance you’ll lose money in the last three channels, at least until you fine tune your campaign.

You Have No Control Over Everywhere

One problem with pushing your ads to, say, the Display network, is that in order to manage such campaigns properly you really need to be able to filter and target — to select potential sites and to exclude other sites. Otherwise, your ads will end up in very unproductive locations. Your ad for fishing rods may end up on online game sites, for instance. But AdWords Express doesn’t allow you to do this. It provides no control over where your ads will appear. This is like dumbing down a powerful motorbike by putting training wheels on the back and removing the brakes.

Your Ads are Broad Matched

One of the biggest mistakes neophyte PPC advertisers make is to let the PPC networks broad-match their keywords. Without going into detail about different match types, let me just say that broad matching lets Google decide when to display your ad; so if you’re an car mechanic and you bid on denver car mechanic, your ad may be displayed when someone searches for becoming a car mechanic. I’m not saying that broad matching can’t work, it can, but almost never without very careful tracking. For instance, you need to be able to see what search terms trigger your ads and be able to assign negative keywords to block the ad in some circumstances. But …

There’s Very Little Information or Control

It’s ironic — Google AdWords Express has two characteristics that only work when you control your campaign very carefully: the broad distribution of your ads, and broad matching. Then it doesn’t give you the tools you need to control the campaign. It’s almost like they want you to waste money on clicks. [Insert Conspiracy Theory Here]

You Can’t Track Conversions

AdWords Express will show you how many clicks you get, which you do need to know of course. But there’s another step many newcomers miss, and that’s tracking conversions. What use is it to get 1,000 people to your Web site, at $1 a click, if you only convert one in a hundred with a gross profit of $20 each sale?

I’ll do the math for you… you’ll spend $1,000 on clicks to generate a gross profit — revenue minus cost of goods — of $200, which of course is only a profit until you subtract the advertising cost, at which point it turns into an $800 loss. Of course you won’t necessarily know this, unless you add conversion tracking. Which Google AdWords Express won’t let you do!
I could go on, but what’s the point? AdWords Express is a cool little tool that will simplify your advertising effort, and you should never use it. Simplifying a process is a nice idea, but when simplifying means dumbing down, and when dumbing down means you’re going to lose money, then move on and find another route to getting your ads online.

Most PPC advertisers already lose money, even using the full Google AdWords tool, and that’s bad for all of us. It’s bad for the advertisers losing the money because, well, they’re losing money. But it’s bad for the successful advertisers, too, because it pushes up click prices.

Oh, wait, it’s good for Google, though. Your wasted advertising dollars allow the company to invest in self-driving cars, quantum computers, and Google Lego. So, okay, go ahead and use Google AdWords Express … if you’re feeling charitable. Or better still, save some time, and just mail a check to Google.

  • Peter Kent

    CM@PeterKentConsulting.com