The Quality of SEO Advice
The field of website optimization is a very lucrative and booming business; with the online retail industry having $135 billion1, sites are paying dearly to rank better. However, this surge in demand means that non-specialists, and even completely ignorant people offer their services2. Sites that were obviously punished by Panda were given advice that they should optimize image alt tags with keywords. But is the whole SEO world like this?
Although there is no way to interview and audit all service providers on the Internet, SEOmoz tried, with its PEPS Project, to carry out unbiased research3. The experiment involved going undercover as a PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) employee and soliciting advice on their website. Their areas of queries included quick advice, Panda and Penguin, domain advice and advice on link building, and they geographically targeted major American cities.
The results were as follows: 33% gave helpful white-hat techniques, while 55.6% did not detect dangerous or wrong practices4. Most answers (88.9%) featured a good analysis of the two recent Google updates, while the others were more or less in the right direction. Two thirds gave the “right” answer concerning domain TLDs5, assuming there is a truly right answer given that people’s preferences play an important role. Concerning link exchange, which was most targeted in Google’s recent updates, the results show a good understanding of the practice, with 48.1% answering a definite no6. It is important to note that there was a bit of variation between the quality of the advice, from lengthy but down-to-earth explanations to shorter, more difficult to understand answers. However, all suggestions were white-hat techniques with no blatantly wrong or forbidden technique among them, which should prove the ethics of the SEO business.
Naturally, SEO advice quality should depend on the fees and price range of the company you choose. There should be a strong correlation between money paid and results received. Although outsourcing firms claim to provide fantastic quality for their price, working with them involves additional costs such as long distance calls, time zone differences, and non-native English speakers. When talking about SEO quality, you should consider its cost effectiveness. For example, even if an authoritative SEO company charges a premium for stellar results, this might not be the optimum solution for a website (and a business) with a limit on customer conversions. For such companies, a bit lower quality and lower cost services might paradoxically be of more value to the firm.
It should be noted that the findings of the SEOmoz case study were based on businesses that ranked well for the respective cities, so their work had already proven its usefulness in practice. In reality, a lot of small and medium businesses are likely to find their service provider that way, so the study should accurately portray the public’s general experience with the SEO industry. However, many times companies use other sources of information such as forums, local newspapers, and even telephone calls, to select an SEO firm. These sources should have a higher percentage of low-quality firms simply because good SEO firms focus on improving their service rather than gathering clients like cattle.
The quality of your SEO service will largely depend on 1) your source of information, 2) your available budget, and 3) the number of suggestions you receive. As with other services, getting a few quotes beforehand can quickly weed out the black-hats and the unprofessional firms, and a firm’s standing in SERPs is a direct indication of its abilities. If it cannot rank well itself, who is to say it can rank you? Finally, consider what you need and how much you plan to spend.