If you have a website, chances are you get bombarded with emails from Search Engine Optimisation ‘specialists’ offering to get you onto page 1 of Google. But can they really help your site do better in web searches? We look at the truth behind the claims of the SEO email spammers.
We thought we would take three of them up on their offer of a free report and website analysis.
For the test we used a hobby site of ours, ApriliaFutura.co.uk. The site isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough and most importantly sits at the top of Google searches for lots of the appropriate search terms.
It also gets probably one email a week from an SEO company touting for business, so we didn’t have to wait long for them to come to us. In a previous blog post we covered how another of these spammed us without first doing their homework.
Can they really help your website?
Unsurprisingly each of the companies found a lot wrong with the site and offered to do lots of totally unnecessary work to put right problems that didn’t exist.
Their claims – and the true position – are posted here so that you won’t fall for them if someone tries to tell you this is what you need.
All three reports we received insisted there were no links anywhere on the web pointing at our website – they included a screenshot of a Google link search – i.e. the result of typing link:www.apriliafutura.co.uk into Google.
The truth about backlinks and SEO
This method does not display all links pointing to the site but it’s a great way to make people think they have none at all.
In fact only the owner of a website can see how many links point at it, and that’s through the Google Webmaster Tools account. Actually there are 2,593 links pointing at the site.
We pointed this out to one of the companies and they told us they were talking about ‘Google backlinks’, which are different from ordinary backlinks. There is, of course, no such thing.
It’s true that links pointing to your site are important and can help your site do better in searches – but they have to be from the right places. Above all they should be relevant to the subject matter and ideally from a site Google thinks is authoritative.
For years SEO companies have seized on this as a way of pushing sites to the top by posting links on all sorts of sites. For a long time it worked, but Google can now detect dodgy backlinks and downgrades or even black lists sites that use them.
Creating backlinks remains one of the favourite tactics of dodgy SEO companies, and if you use them you may well regret it.
2. Dmoz listing
All three of our reports (two with identical wording) insisted that getting a link from Dmoz was essential as Dmoz is the ‘most authoritative site by far’.
So what’s Dmoz? http://www.dmoz.org, also known as the Open Directory project, was an early attempt to put all of the web on a directory. But while it was important when the web was young, it’s not these days.
The truth about Dmoz and SEO
These days a link from Dmoz isn’t really worth any more than a link from many other sites. Today most sites aren’t listed on it, yet still do fine in searches. But it’s a great way for someone looking to do unnecessary SEO work to find fault with your site.
As Google engineer Matt Cutts puts it: “It used to be the case that people would have a check list of the links they really wanted to get. And it’s not that there’s something special or different about the Open Directory Project. It’s a very well known directory, but it’s not a requirement. It’s not the sort of thing where you have to get a link from Dmoz.”
More information on Dmoz listings and backlinks
Google Webmaster Help video: What role does being in Dmoz play in rankings (this video also covers the backlink: issue)
Note: Dmoz was closed in 2017 but we’re leaving it here because this still crops up in dodgy SEO emails.
3. Yahoo Directory/Yellow Pages listing
Two out of three claimed we needed links to our site from both of these online directories. One also mentioned Alexa, another directory site.
The truth about directory listings
All these directories are seen as authoritative but links from them are not essential to do well in searches. Again, it makes unnecessary work for our SEO companies. Getting links from these sites won’t make much difference, if any.
4. Reverse IP
Our site currently shares its IP address with many others sitting on the same server. Two out of three of our SEO companies suggested the site should have its own IP and claimed search engines prefer this.
The truth about shared IP addresses and SEO
In short, this is totally untrue. There are reasons why a dedicated IP is necessary for some site that we won’t go into here, but SEO is not one of them. It has absolutely no effect on search and never has.
This is another great way of creating demand for your services as the vast majority of websites are on shared hosting and therefore share their IP address with upwards of 1,000 other sites.
It’s easy enough to look up and sounds technical enough to fool the average business owner.
More information on shared IPs
Other dubious SEO claims
Generally all the reports did their best to mark the site down with false statements and subjective judgements – remember this is a website that scores in the top of the first page for hundreds of relevant search terms.
But they still managed to mark it down for quality of page content, a couple of errors in the code, keywords (which Google doesn’t even look at now) and even not having a live chat feature on the homepage of the site!
The interesting part came with the follow up email conversation where we asked one of the firms which search terms they would optimise the site for – something none of them had mentioned.
They came back with a list of terms most people wouldn’t use when looking for the information on the site, missing out on the most obvious ones, possibly because the site is already on page one for them!
How to pick a good SEO company
As we said at the beginning, if you own a website then you will have received emails from these SEO companies.
We know a few people who have fallen for them and ended up paying hundreds of pounds per month for no obvious benefit.
The site we had assessed is in the first page of dozens of Google searches because we followed some basic rules when building it – they are in Google’s SEO guide for everyone to see – and because it’s useful to the people it is aimed at, who helpfully post lots of links to it on social media. And because it’s relevant.
And here’s the key: Follow the basic rules, make your site relevant and useful and have some good links pointing to it and you won’t go far wrong.
There are plenty of good SEO companies to choose from, but most are too busy to send out masses of emails to random website owners.
A good company will ask you straight away which search terms you want your site to do well at, and tell you whether that is realistic. No-one will guarantee you a page 1 listing for any term you choose, especially if there is a lot of competition.
Search Engine Optimisation is a young industry and it seems there are plenty of companies ready to take advantage of changing requirements and confusion over what matters and what doesn’t.
Get your content right and the rest will follow
We mustn’t lose sight of the most important factor in search engine optimisation – content!
Good content trumps many of the factors our SEO companies picked on – and by good we mean relevant to the information searched for.
And in the race to get people to find our website we mustn’t forget one crucial fact: Getting people to the site should not be an aim in itself – it’s what happens when people get there that’s most important.
Google webmaster help video: How can good sites that don’t know SEO rank well?