The Wild West of Search Engine Optimization

by Russ Catanach

As a small business owner, you probably get phone calls on a daily basis from people who want to sell you something. These days, a lot of those calls are made by salespeople who claim they can help your company’s website appear higher in Google searches. These Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies or individuals will ask you to search for a specific keyword and then show you a site that appears at the top of Google’s results—a site that they also happen to manage. It looks like a magic trick to the untrained eye, but is it really that impressive? It depends on what type of hat they’re wearing.

Let me explain. Just like the old cowboy movies, SEO professionals can be good guys (White Hats) or bad guys (Black Hats). As a small business owner, your number one goal should be to avoid Black Hats at all costs and embrace the methods of White Hats…but how can you tell the difference?

It’s actually pretty easy. First, if the salesperson promises you a Top 3 listing on Google within 90 days, he or she will most likely be engaging in Black Hat activities, which can produce quick results but will ultimately hurt your company in the long run. Conversely, White Hat activities promote slow and steady growth. For example, a Black Hat might try to persuade you to buy some inbound links, but a White Hat will instead suggest writing content that’s linkable and sharable. A Black Hat will push you toward stuffing a landing page with keywords and nearly unreadable content; a White Hat will advise you to write content that people will actually find valuable.

There’s a lot to know about the world of SEO optimization, but the bottom line is to always use your common sense. When you’re considering what an SEO professional is suggesting for your company’s website, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will it be useful for my customers?
  • Will it present valuable content?
  • Will it be easy to navigate?
  • Will it be a site that I would want to visit?

Lastly, make sure you do your due diligence before signing any type of contract. Talk to some of the SEO professional’s past clients, research SEO forums and do a Google search of the company’s name.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them below and I’ll be happy to answer them. Be careful out there—you don’t want to find yourself in a shootout with a Black Hat!