SEO – no free lunch

There is probably more money wasted on search engine optimisation (SEO) than any other aspect of website design. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch, but for curious reasons, many of us are actually prepared to pay for one.

And as you might expect, many of those in the “free lunch” business are scammers. I’ve been receiving some interesting proposals lately.

But first – why is much SEO like a “free lunch” offer?

Many SEO proponents promise to get your website top Google rankings the cheap and easy way – by employing techniques to fool the search engine about your website and your business.

Instead of doing the hard work of establishing a reputable business they promise you instant success if you will pay them some money for their “miracle” technique. As long as the price of the “miracle” is lower than the “price” of the hardwork, then they have a deal for you.

A minute’s thought shows that these proposals can’t provide a long-term solution, for two main reasons: if everyone is doing the same SEO manipulations, then they cancel each other out; and if Google is doing its job it will adjust for artificial inflation of Google rankings, or go out of business.

The key to a long-standing high Google ranking is content which naturally features the search terms your clients are using, and high quality links in and out to your site.

There is nothing wrong with good honest copy, and I’d encourage everyone to have theirs professionally written. It can genuinely help your search engine ranking. So can a properly structured website with search engine friendly urls (SEF), with clear explanatory page titles and key words in headings marked by tags.

Every site should link as much as possible to other sites, where it is appropriate. Nothing wrong with this either.

However, links to sites that have nothing to do with your content and for which you are paid – either through a reciprocal link or for cash – should be avoided.

It is highly likely that Google will work out how to classify these sorts of links and downgrade sites that are involved in this type of activity at some stage in the near future. So it is a short-term strategy at best.

Worse it undermines your credibility. Experienced website users who see these links on your site or see you linking to unrelated websites will also downgrade you and your firm as shonky too.

If you want to see what I mean click on this link which will take you to a page on Alexa which showshowing the 77 sites that their crawlers have identified as linking to this site. Remember, these are people linking to us and in many cases only to try to boost their Google ranking, so we have no control over them.

Apart from our Twitter site, the first page of results is dominated by sites that have no connection to us whatsoever. In fact, most of them aren’t even English speaking sites, and one of them is a porn site.

If you want to get caught up in a business that has some of these firms as clients, then you should be aware of the possible risk to your reputation.

When you do get to the final pages you will find links from sites we have built. This is a totally legitimate way to use linking and the sort of thing that I would encourage.

So, when you meet someone promising you a good Google ranking stop before you hand them any money – the proposition will not as attractive as they say.

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