Beware SEO and other scams
One of the first signs that your website is being noticed, and improving its search engine rankings, is the flood of emails from search engine optimization companies telling you that your site needs work, and needs their help. When you start to get these you know that your site is being found. It’s not just isolated SEO companies that do this. All should be treated with caution.
The companies will send you official looking emails and letters, detailing why you have to use them, all obscuring in some way the true cost of using their services. I will not name them, but these kinds of bottom feeders have spiders searching the Internet flagging any negative review and getting it removed.
There are many scams out there.
Apart from SEO, in England there are many other opportunists. For example, there is a firm that suggests you outsource your human resources. You can let the firm do the paperwork, draw up employment contracts, provide you with suggested disciplinary procedures, and handle everything to make sure that you do not run foul of the law. What they forget to tell you is that you are signing up to a multiyear contract, which will automatically renew unless you send a written cancellation six months before the renewal date. You are committing yourself to thousands of pounds of fees for years. They also forget to tell you that the majority of the sample forms and contracts are freely available on the U.K. government’s website.
Then there are the ones who offer to appeal your property tax to negotiate a reduction — for a fee, of course — again automatically renewing unless you jump through difficult hoops. They forget to tell you that an appeal is not guaranteed to gain you anything and indeed is just as likely to increase your tax as reduce it. All they want is your signature, and your money.
There are many more. They are looking to take your money in return for doing little or nothing for you. I am sure there are similar scams in the U.S. There are several ways to avoid these.
Join Small Business Organizations
First in the U.K. there is Federation of Small Businesses. It is an organization that is run by small businesses for small businesses. All new businesses should consider joining such an organization for at least the first few years. Such organizations will have recommended suppliers for essential services that you really should have, will have advice and sample documents (such as contracts) to use yourself, and will likely warn you of scams.
Secondly, in any proposed deal, if it sounds too good, there is probably a catch. Read the contract. Never be rushed into signing it. If a salesman cannot leave you a copy of the contract, or cannot be bothered to wait for you to read it, then do not deal with him. If a salesman is honest and stands by his offer, then he should be happy to let you read all the fine print and be aware of every potential pitfall.
On the SEO front, realize that there can only be three sites in the top three rankings on Google. Getting your site in the top three for a popular keyword is tough. People who can do this are in high demand. They do not need to spam the Internet to get work. Any good SEO company is likely to be swamped with work arising from word-of-mouth recommendations. Any decent SEO company should likewise be easy to find. After all, if the company is any good it should stand out in searches. Never, ever, hire a SEO company from a spam email.
When these SEO emails start hitting your in box, or the companies start calling you, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself on being noticed, then hang up or delete the email. It may be true that your site needs work. It almost certainly is not true that they are the ones to do this for you.
Ecommerce businesses, more than many other businesses, need to be properly marketed. You need a good marketing plan to deliver customers and thus income to your site. It is vital that this is done properly. SEO is just one part of an overall marketing strategy, and should not be your only option. It should not be ignored either. At the very least you should ensure that your site is search engine friendly. Retain a good SEO firm to validate this and suggest improvements.
Retaining a Good SEO Firm
In choosing such a firm it is always best to develop a shortlist from recommendations. Then ask questions to better qualify them.
- Get them to explain the process. What will they do for you, and how it will help you? Get a second opinion to ensure that what they are proposing is not likely to damage your site. Currently anything that looks suspicious to Google, like link building or a sudden flood of “blogs” recommending your site, can severely damage your site’s search results.
- Make sure that their work belongs to you and is under your control. Some dubious SEO firms will keep the copyright of any changes they propose and if you cancel your contract will demand the removal of all their suggested changes. Some firms will create pages and documents on their sites pointing at your site, all of which will vanish the second you stop paying.
- Make sure the SEO firm understands your product and your target market. That way they will understand better the terms and phrases that your target market will use to search for your products. There is little point in hiring a firm from India to suggest keywords for a duck hunting equipment site aimed at customers in the U.S. deep south. The firm likely will not know the right words (nor would I).
- Ask the firm’s personnel what they would do if they were hired by one of your direct competitors. Do you really want a third party knowing lots of confidential commercial information of your company also working for a competitor? Which of you will they favor? How can they honestly work for both?
- Ask them how to measure results. Avoid any firms that guarantee top positions on Google. Avoid any that just want to be measured on Google results. What you want is more sales. There is no point in marketing unless it gains you customers and profitable sales. You do not want lots of fly-by visitors; you want customers. There is a big difference.
A good SEO company should easily answer these. It should be able to provide references from other customers who can back up the firm’s sales promises. The firm should offer you regular reports that show the improvements and increase in sales. They should warn you that results will not come instantly. Above all, they should tell you not to rely on Google searches alone for potential customers.