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Search engine optimisation strategy

The rapid growth of the search engine marketing industry has resulted in many different companies springing up and offering a confusing range of services to website owners. Unfortunately, some of these search engine marketing companies have dubious credentials and use techniques that can leave a business frustrated and disillusioned by the results they achieve - and at worst, their websites banned from some search engines.

We have had numerous clients come to us after having lost money with SEO companies that offer poor quality services or guarantee top search engine rankings, but in reality could only achieve them on less popular search tools with obscure terms that generated no traffic (even though the terms of the 'guarantee' were met). Such methods give the whole search engine marketing industry a bad name, resulting in companies believing that good results aren't possible - when of course THEY ARE, but only if you choose the right search engine marketing company and the most cost-effective strategy!

So how do you know what to expect and which search engine optimisation service to choose?

There have been companies that quickly entered the market, having read about the techniques for search engine optimisation and then try to achieve good results by simply copying metatags and copy from successful sites, without really understanding what is involved. Other companies send out spam e-mails or make cold-calls promising top rankings, but gloss over the actual techniques they will use - which can result in only short-term results or, at worst, getting your site penalised or banned from the search engine results.

Needless to say, seeing some proof of search engine optimisation experience and real, meaningful results across a range of different websites and search engines is where the real expertise is likely to be found and where you should feel more confident about investing your marketing budget. You should also ask for testimonials or references before selecting a company to optimise your site. We also recommend that you make sure that any search engine optimisation business understands your objectives and gives you a realistic assessment of what can be achieved and how long it may take.

Before making your choice of supplier, please use the following summary of the pros and cons of different types of service and optimisation strategies that you may find being offered:

Submissions to 'thousands of search engines'

There are many companies (including web designers) offering an entry-level service, whereby you pay a low monthly fee in return for submitting your site to 'thousands' of search engines. Submissions vary from over 1,000 search engines, to as many as 250,000 (the highest we've seen is 500,000!).

However, there aren't that many search engines in existence, so most of these submissions will be to Free-For-All sites that will simply generate spam e-mails to your inbox and give you no benefit in terms of rankings or site traffic. To target traffic to your site you realistically only need to focus on less than 10 of the most popular search engines and directories - most of which will not accept automated submissions from this type of service! Finally, if your site is not optimised then even if your site does get listed, there is little chance of it ranking anywhere.

Cost effectiveness rating = 1/10

The DIY optimisation approach

The basic techniques of search engine optimisation are relatively easy to learn from the web or from Internet marketing books, so if you want to save costs or retain control of this marketing area, then you can try optimising your site yourself. You could also attend some of the occasional seminars or book onto a search engine marketing training course.

There are also a number of software packages that can help to optimise a site, although there are differing opinions about the effectiveness of these and how some of the top search engines react to their automated submissions and rank checking programmes.

Using the DIY approach will take time but can be effective, depending on your market sector and the level of skill you develop. However, you will not benefit from the broad experience of optimising many different types of websites in a variety of markets that a professional SEO company can offer, plus if your in-house expert leaves, you may lose any experience that may have been gained.

Cost effectiveness rating = 3-6/10

Guaranteed placement services

These are perhaps the most widespread type of service currently available, as the 'pay by results' offer appeals to many companies who may be sceptical about the effectiveness of search engine optimisation. However, don't be fooled by such offers and make sure to read the small print!

There may indeed be good companies that can get very effective results, but most search engine optimisation experts agree that nothing can ever be guaranteed within the 'natural' search engine results - whether it's achieving top rankings quickly (unless you pay for it by using pay-per-click advertising), or getting a high ranking that will last.

So what's on offer? Most companies promote a guaranteed level of performance that is based on optimising a site for quite obscure, low traffic search terms that are easy to achieve a placement for. This results in the guarantee being achieved and payment becomes due, regardless of whether your site actually gets any traffic and therefore your return on investment (ROI) is very poor. Best read the small print carefully and make sure you know what the commitment really is!

Another technique we have seen increasingly over the past year or so is the claim by companies to achieve top rankings on selected search tools for a set monthly fee, which in reality is achieved by the supplier simply buying keyword placement on the main PPC tools like Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing. As each search term and bid price used will have been forecasted to fall well within the monthly fee being charged, you end up paying over the odds for traffic and your search engine visibility will only last for as long as you pay for it.

Cost effectiveness rating = 4-6/10

Separate domain optimisation or cloaking techniques

Optimising a separate domain is also a common technique, often implemented by companies that can achieve good results for your site, but using methods that will not benefit your site in the long term. The usual practice is to set up a series of optimised 'gateway pages' on a different domain owned by the search engine marketing company. If these pages achieve good search engine visibility, they will instantly redirect users through to your site.

Although proven to generate some good traffic, such techniques can have inherent problems - such as spamming through multiple pages that are automatically generated with slight variations in keywords. Such pages can be invisible to users because of the automatic redirect, which may then be ignored by some search engines, or at worst, lead to the banning of your site.

The other disadvantage of this technique is that your own website fails to gain any long-term benefits from being optimised. Because these services often require you to pay regular monthly costs on an ongoing basis, once you decide to end your contract you may lose the pages on the separate domain that are driving traffic to your site and end up with no lasting benefit.

If you are considering a company that suggests using cloaking software on your site - whereby the server will identify the IP address of visitors and generate different pages to search engines compared to those that web users will see - we would just say avoid this technique! Search engines openly discourage such practices and if your site is found to be using it, you are likely to get it banned.

Cost effectiveness rating = 4-6/10

Search engine optimisation specialists

Search engine optimisation specialists are the real experts who are most likely to achieve the best long-term results for your site. They will be individuals or companies who have in-depth knowledge and experience of optimising and placing websites on the most popular search engines. They should provide you with honest advice about what to expect and how it will be achieved.

In most cases these companies will also build the optimisation into your own website and ensure a strategy is followed that avoids the risk of search engines penalising the site, so that you gain good search engine rankings that will last, without being held to ransom by paying a regular monthly fee if it is not really required.

As in most markets, you tend to pay for what you get and you should expect to budget anything from AU$1,000 upwards for a professional search engine marketing company to generate targeted traffic to your site. However, fees can still vary widely, with some large SEO agencies charging very high rates to produce results that can be achieved for a fraction of the cost by some smaller specialist companies.

Cost effectiveness rating = 6-10/10

So how do you find the real search engine marketing specialists? Those that can achieve high search engine rankings in their own business sector can be one good indication of performance - try searching for popular terms like 'search engine optimisation' or 'google optimisation' on Google to see which companies are getting listed here on a regular basis. The US-based Search Engine Optimisation Consultants Directory is also a good source, as their editors have vetted all those firms listed against a series of qualifying criteria and standards - including ones in the UK and Australia.

Perhaps the best way to choose from your shortlist is to obtain independent recommendations from clients of each company you are considering and to request examples of websites that have achieved high search engine rankings for popular search terms on the best search engines. This is particularly relevant for Google, which is now one of the biggest sources of search engine traffic and also the best search engine for identifying and penalising any techniques designed to trick its rankings.

At the web search workshop we can provide this evidence for you and will give you an honest, open approach to the techniques we use and business principles that we follow.

Contact us now to learn more about how we can provide a cost-effective search engine marketing strategy for your website, or see how your site is performing by requesting a FREE website assessment today.