How Bad Is Bad SEO?
If a genie gave you one wish for your business, what would you wish for? Like many business owners trying to get their name out there, you may wish for your website to rise to the top of search engines overnight. As much as we may enjoy folktales, that’s exactly what a magical promise for quick SEO work is: fiction.
For most companies, search engine optimization (SEO) is an excellent way to drive organic traffic to your website. As you get more traffic from people searching for what you do, your chances of getting more increase dramatically.
But the sad truth is a lot of SEO companies suck. In fact, roughly 70% of people that come see us at our retail shop have been burned by a digital marketing “expert”. Many business owners have had negative experiences with an SEO professional. The stories we hear make us angry and motivate us to do right by our customers. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around the fact that there are some bad players out there. We intend to help you learn how to spot them instead. The question is: how do you know if your SEO sucks or not?
In this article, we’ll uncover what bad SEO is from a technical standpoint, why bad SEO doesn’t work, and analyze signs that your current SEO strategy isn’t working.
What Is Bad SEO?
Because it takes a lot to keep up with all the changes in the field, most business owners simply don’t have the time to learn about SEO. We get that.
Given this, bad SEO can be hard to spot at first. Self-proclaimed “SEO gurus” make big promises as to when your website will skyrocket to the top of the search engine results page. But real SEO takes some time. While we’ve had page-one results in less than a month for relevant keywords, that’s not typical, and it all depends upon the competitiveness of your industry.
Good SEO isn’t about any one-size-fits-all claims from your agency. This means that you’ll need a customized SEO plan that works best for your industry and website. No one can flip a switch and make you rank overnight. Anyone who claims they can do so is either naive or just plain lying.
Besides the obvious red flags, it may be hard to know what constitutes as bad SEO. So how do you know if your current SEO process is faulty? Here are some tips:
They Skip The Basics
On its face, SEO can seem simple. Just write a bunch of content with keywords that’s appealing to your target audience and relevant to search engines, right? Yeah, not quite.
There are multiple types of SEO work needed to create a comprehensive strategy. On-Page SEO optimizes your existing web pages. Off-Page SEO helps build authority for your website across the web by using backlinks. Finally, technical SEO is the process of optimizing your website to be user-friendly and easily crawlable by search engines. Technical SEO also eliminates or reduces any issues that might prevent a search engine from indexing your website properly. In other words, a mix of on-page, off-page, and technical SEO is the backbone of a good overall SEO strategy.
Agencies that don’t attend to all three of these aspects aren’t really doing what’s necessary to get your site where you want it to be.
Local businesses will want to fine-tune their SEO strategy to a geographically-relevant audience. Websites also need to be optimized for mobile devices, so mobile SEO will only improve your website rank. The right SEO strategy for you depends on your industry and your company.
They Use Black Hat Tactics
One of the most obvious SEO red flags is big promises with questionable results. Remember that plenty of SEO agencies are looking to make a sale. So they’ll try to woo you with promises like “you’ll be at the top of search results in a week!” How could this be? Well, they may be relying on black-hat SEO tactics although the liabilities of using these tactics can be big.
Black hat SEO tactics are things people can do to get quick results that focus on “tricking” Google vs working within their guidelines. The days of tricking Google have been over for a while now. Now, you either work with Google or get de-indexed. It’s really that simple. It’s Google’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
In the long term, black hat tactics aren’t providing a quality user experience. Even worse, search engines can implement penalties on your site if they catch your SEO agency using these shady practices.
So, what are some black hat tactics? Watch out for these shifty tactics:
· Keyword Stuffing: You want to rank for certain keywords. But to do it right, you have to provide a useful experience for the user. Keyword stuffing is the opposite of useful. Say for example your bakery wants to rank locally for the keyword phrase “cakes near me.” Keyword stuffers would change your landing page to say, “Are you looking for cakes near me? Look no further. When you’re looking for cakes near me, Kate’s Cakes is nearby. Cakes near me are right in the center of Atlanta.” No one wants to read that!
· Bad Links: Questionable SEO agencies abuse links in a myriad of ways. Link building is an important part of your SEO strategy. Instead of using links with authority, bad SEO agencies might use a link farm. Link farms might contain exactly the keywords you want to rank for. But it links to a very low-quality website. These links aren’t actually building any authority for your website nor providing a good experience for users,
· Cloaking: Imagine reaching into a cookie jar only to find kale. Unexpected at best, deceptive at worst! Cloaking is a black hat tactic that works kind of like that. Shady SEO agencies create a certain type of website page that is highly optimized for search engine crawlers. But the user sees a totally different web page. This trick allows search engines to rank web content higher, but the actual person viewing the content sees a page that is perhaps not as useful as the search engine thinks it is. Cloaking dampens the user experience in favor of search engine rank.
They Don’t Do Backlinks
Backlinks are an important process with your off-page SEO strategy. Getting links from other, more established websites, helps build the authority of your website.
It’s important to understand that quality matters far more than quantity. It can be tempting to go out and get as many backlinks as possible, but links from sites with no authority don’t help your site at all. In fact, if that’s all the backlinks you have, it will hurt your website’s legitimacy and trust.
Think about it. You wouldn’t write a research paper and quote random people who aren’t experts as your sources. Your backlinks should be no exception. Search engines like Google are constantly evaluating both the authority and relevancy of their results. If your SEO agency is committed to quantity over quality with its backlinks, that strategy won’t get you where you want your site to be.
The King Of Bad SEO Is…
The number one way bad SEO agencies rip off clients is the simplest tactic of all. They simply ignore your site.
The truth is that nearly every SEO nerd will tell you that it takes “3-6 months” to get your site on page one of the search engines. While it’s true that search engine optimization is a long game, there are times when it can take much less and other times when it can take longer depending upon the competitiveness of the industry.
Given this, there are times when a client can wait 3 months before they realize nothing is happening. By that time, they’re out the monthly fee. That’s why it’s important to have reports, metrics, and other evidence that things are happening to help your site move up the search results.
Of course, there is only one metric that really matters, and that’s the answer to the question, “How much is your phone ringing? once search engine optimization is active.
How Bad SEO Impacts Your Site
Clearly, black hat SEO tactics are bad business, and SEO companies that use these tactics are often overseas and just looking for businesses they can take on a short ride. But it can get worse. When you work against the search engine guidelines, your website can have long-term negative impacts.
Ruins Long-Term Progress
Here’s something Black Hat SEO agencies don’t want you to know. Real SEO work takes time. Careful keyword research, meaningful content creation, and establishing authority do not happen overnight. Black hat SEO tactics mess with people’s perception of your business. You won’t ever be able to discover how good SEO helps your business if you’re getting setbacks with penalties due to shady SEO practices.
Plus, if you are putting in the work with proper technical SEO, the shifty black hat tactics can come back to bite you. All that painstaking work to make your site as user-friendly as possible can go down the drain if a search engine penalizes you.
Repels Possible Customers
Think about how you use search engines in your daily life. You might turn to Google when you’re weighing the options nearby for takeout tonight or some other issue. Whatever people are using search engines for, they’re looking for information. Websites that provide a useful blog post, a helpful guide, or an entertaining listicle help you answer your pressing questions and leave you with a good impression of that website.
Lousy SEO tactics can’t provide users with a good experience when they’re too busy keyword stuffing or has unhelpful content. To maintain a good user experience, you need to do the work with proper SEO. Black hat tactics will only push your potential customers away with a bad taste in their mouths.
It Can Deindex Your Site
In the worst-case scenario, your website can face significant penalties for black hat SEO strategies. If Google or Bing were to recognize that your SEO agency is cloaking or keyword stuffing, they can penalize you on search engines by downgrading your search engine results page rank.
Downgrading your site’s rankings is the last thing you want out of your SEO agency! Even worse: you run the risk of getting your website deindexed entirely by using shifty SEO techniques. Short-term SEO techniques can get your website wiped from search engines in the long term. It’s simply not worth it.
How Do I Know If I’m Getting Bad SEO?
Now that you have a good idea of what SEO is and isn’t, you can probably tell how solid your SEO strategy is. When you’re auditing your SEO strategy, you’ll tell if it isn’t working if you notice the following:
Your Audience Isn’t Quite Right
As a business owner, you’ve done extensive work on your target audience. You have a good idea as to who should be finding your website through organic results. If your SEO agency isn’t appealing to the right audience, your target audience won’t be able to find you.
Instead, bad SEO agencies can waste your hard-earned dollars on all kinds of vanity metrics. Some agencies focus only on traffic. Sure, your name is getting out there, but these people won’t convert. You’ll get an idea of how your audience is engaging with your website through an analytics tool like Google Analytics. If you’re seeing many users from outside of your target location, your SEO is off.
Your Keyword Research Is Off
How would your ideal audience find you through a search engine? Through keywords of course! Faulty keyword research can completely tank your SEO strategy. Too often, bad SEO focuses on obvious keywords like the company’s name and related broad phrases. They don’t do the keyword research needed to discover users’ search intent or capture users at different points in the sales funnel.
We recently had someone ask us to interpret this from their SEO agency:
Your Google listing is currently ranking in the top 3, right now number 1. The website is currently ranked 7th, we are working on getting that moved up higher
That was the entire report. No indication of what keywords were used to discover these results. It turns out that this person’s site was barely ranking for his own name (which is a basic thing!) much less any valuable keywords.
Your Content Is Flopping
Users use search engines to find relevant and useful content to them. When done correctly, blogging is an excellent way to build backlinks and provide helpful information to potential customers. When done poorly, blogging is spammy and annoying. And it can cause your potential customer to immediately bounce from your site. If your SEO agency is blogging for you, you should check their work to ensure the blog posts are helpful and useful to your business.
If your SEO agency is rambling on and on within your landing pages, it likely isn’t doing you any favors. Search engines can recognize bad content and will rank you lower as a result. Audit your website using a tool like SEMRush to spot duplicate content.
You See No Changes To Your Site
As extensive as the SEO process may be, optimizations are necessary to ensure they’re working. You can use several SEO measurement tools like ahrefs to see how you’re ranking for particular search terms. If you’re still not ranking despite your efforts and the agency’s timeline, it may be time to optimize your strategy.
By now, you know that a reputable SEO agency takes time. They should also be updating you on your SEO progress with metrics on keyword rank, search engine rank, organic traffic, and more. If you don’t feel they’re being proactive enough, you’re likely getting subpar SEO help.
Get Your SEO Right and Make it Loud
If it sounds like there’s a lot that goes into an SEO strategy, you’re right. At Make it Loud, we don’t make one-size-fits-all solutions for your unique business. Before we even get started with SEO, we’ll examine your website in-depth. We work with both your website and search engines to get you to the top of the search engine results page.
Ready to take the next step with your SEO strategy? Contact us or call 678.325.4007 for a free consultation!
Cliff Tillery, MBA is the Chief Operating Officer at Make It Loud which is a digital marketing firm located outside of Atlanta Georgia. He is also the Director of SEO. More than 14 years ago, he started search engine optimization at this agency and has taught digital marketing skills to business owners at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center and other groups.