Friday, June 02, 2006

SEOspeak for the game-hearted

If you've ever sat through a business presentation where someone wants your business, you've heard this before in many industry jargons.

Search engine optimization is supposed to be about modifying your on-page content to appear more frequently in search results. Through a calamity of errors, it has almost morphed into link buying optimization. Nonetheless, occasionally I see people ask about the promises various SEO firms make in their presentations. Here are my generic interpretations of SEOSpeak. Assume they apply to no one in particular and to everyone in general.

We optimize your pages to improve performance. This means they'll make changes to your meta tags and ask for permission to change your Web copy, causing you to have a heart attack. (What I feel they should do: Submit a mockup of what they think will work for you so you can see a tangible example.)

We build custom landing pages that preserve your hard work. This means they don't think they can persuade you to let them change your pages, so they've settled on a pay-per-click campaign and will send traffic to your site from pages where they count click-throughs. They may or may not try to cloak/redirect. (What I think they should do: Show you working examples of "landing pages" they control for other clients in unrelated industries.)

We build service pages to draw traffic to your site. This means they build redirecting doorway pages that are cloaked (the search engines index content different from what visitors are shown). They may or may not be very good at this. One well-known SEO firm reportedly built such pages for many clients and Google openly admitted to delisting them and their clients. (What I feel they should do: Lay out sound reasons, including your own counter-productive intransigence, to build a solid business case for cloaking and show you at least three currently cloaked clients who have not been penalized.) Caveat emptor: Buyer beware. Cloaking is not for everyone.

We feel you should target these specific keywords in your campaign. This may mean they think they'll make more money by charging you on a per-click basis. It could mean they've actually done some real keyword research. (What I feel they should do: Show you detailed traffic and query analysis studies to back up their selection of keywords.)

You will find that search results vary from client to client. This probably means you're about to spend more money than you should on search engine optimization and they sense as much, but they want the money and don't want to feel like they cheated you. (What I feel they should do: Ask you what return on investment you're hoping for, and what you are willing to live with.)

We believe your previous SEO firm may have led you to have the wrong expectations. This means they sense your growing distrust of search engine optimization and they want to get as much money from you as possible before you dump them. (What I feel they should do: Ask you what return on investment you're hoping for, and what you are willing to live with.)

Client expectations sometimes vary from what consultants actually deliver. This means they are tired of dealing with intransigent clients who pay next-to-nothing while demanding impossible results. Unrealistic expectation is the number one reason for failure in search engine optimization. Many companies simply don't know enough about what to expect to understand what they are paying for. (What I feel they should do: Ask you what return on investment you're hoping for, and be ready to walk away if they cannot deliver whatever you're willing to live with.)

We can do (whatever you just asked, "Can you do ...?"). This means they don't have the vaguest idea what you're talking about, but they want your money and they'll struggle valiantly to figure out the details after they get you to sign the contract. In software and technical services, there is a world of difference between a company which says, "Our products/services do X" and a company which says, "We can do X". (What I feel they should do: Ask you to clarify what you want and explain why you want it. There may be some small, remote, miraculous chance they really can do it.) Caveat emptor. You may have to pay someone to figure out how to do something that hasn't been done before.

We select quality links to improve your rankings. This either means you operate a real estate, travel, gambling, porn, or spam-affiliate site or it means they don't have a clue about what search engine optimization is all about and they cheat by buying links. (What I feel they should do: Learn how to do real SEO as few people in real estate, travel, gambling, porn, or spam-affiliation spend money on outside SEO firms.)

We help you understand how the search engines work. This usually means they have read some bag-winded SEO guru's tutorial on PageRank and think it's all about links. (What I feel they should do: Stop reading SEO guru tutorials and dive into the technical literature, which really explains how search engines work.)

We work to increase your PageRank. This means they don't understand what is important to search engine optimization. It may also mean they are just looking for a link-building fee. They'll probably submit your site to every link exchange service and new directory they can find. They may operate their own. (What I feel they should do: Get out of the SEO business.)


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