10 Ways Your SEO Company Could Be Ripping You Off
SEO companies are in business to make money. This doesn't mean that all SEO companies are fly-by-nighters, or that all of them are selling you worthless services. However, this industry is rife with scam artists and people selling snake oil. Fortunately, you can protect yourself by understanding how major search engines, like Google work (and, more importantly, how they don't work).
If your SEO company tells you any of the following, then fire them:
1) "Googlebot doesn’t read CSS, so don't worry about validation and don't worry about those hidden "divs."
This lie is insidious because you're hiring your SEO company to help you rank higher in the SERPs. Some SEO companies engage in shady tactics like burying hidden "divs" in the CSS while telling you not to worry about their tactics because Google won't find out, and neither will your competitors. Google checks for those hidden divs, by the way. You can't spam the search engines and expect long-term benefit in the search results pages. What's a "div?" If you don't know, you need to ask your web developer how he handles these tags.
A "div" tag stands for "division", and is a generic container for blocks of content - text - that are used in web design. A "hidden div" means that the container is hidden from the view of your site visitors, but not search engines. Spammers, and some SEO companies, use the "hidden" attribute in "div" containers to hide content. Why would they want to do this? Well, if Google uses content, and keywords, to determine ranking (which they do), then the benefit of a "hidden div" container would be to rise in the SERPS while making the page seen by site visitors look normal.
Web designers could "stuff" keywords into a "hidden div" container, allowing Google to rank the page higher in the SERPs that it actually deserves based on the content given to users. The content, and keywords, "stuffed" into the "hidden div" are basically useless and meant only for search engine spiders and only for the purposes of ranking. Google, and other search engines, consider this a violation of the TOS. Google won't index these "hidden div" containers, but they will take notice of them and give you what you deserve - nothing.
2 ) "Ending your URL in ".html" will help your search engine ranking."
Frankly, this one sounds made up, and that's because it is. Since when has ".html" ever made a difference in a site's ranking? Let's put an end to this one right now. Search for "cats" in Google. The first 9 websites don't have ".html" in the URL. The 10th site does. If ".html" helped that much, then you would expect to see that ".html" page outranking those other sites.
Your SEO firm may be charging you money to reformat your URLs for no real advantage. Don't let them.
3) "You can boost the Google rankings of your home page for your chosen keyword by including that term in the anchor text of your site's internal links."
This one seems to make sense on the surface, since anchor text has some measure of weighting when determining ranking. However, using it on your website has no significant impact. Testing by SEOmoz confirms that you could use "Home" or "discount Pianos" as your anchor text for your homepage throughout your website and it wouldn't make a lick of difference in your search engine ranking.
4) "Google likes fresh content. Therefore, you should update your homepage daily to help improve your rankings."
Some SEO companies use this tactic to encourage you to spend money with them to create a blog or some other form of dynamic content page as your homepage. While there is nothing wrong with creating dynamic content, it's not useful for search engine rankings. It's more useful for usability purposes (for your site's visitors). If you have built an audience online that expects to read something from you every day, then you should probably post something every day. If you don't, then people might stop coming to your website and you'll lose those repeat visitors.
However, some websites wouldn't be helped by having dynamic content on the homepage. For example, a company that uses its homepage exclusively for key information, sales, and contact information may actually confuse site visitors with fresh content every day. Additionally, some industries don't lend themselves to continuously fresh content.
Your SEO company probably inferred this "SEO truth" (erroneously) by looking at news websites. Sure, news sites update their content every day. Many of them update their content more than once daily, but consider the context. Consider the business of a news website like CNN or FOX. They need constant visitors, and their business model demands that they update their website every day, and even multiple times throughout the day.
Your business is probably not a news website, and probably doesn't need to be updated every day. Besides, take a look around on the Internet. There are plenty of static Government and private websites that do just fine in the SERPs without constant updates.
5) "You should trade a massive amount of links because it helps your PageRank and organic search rankings."
Many SEO companies still engage in this practice. In fact, many SEO companies use this strategy as a selling point and sell you backlink building services based on the idea that you can trade or buy backlinks from relevant or non-relevant websites all day long. Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way. While reciprocal links are not bad, they are not necessarily the best links in the world to obtain just for the fact that this tactic could be abused to inflate your link count and boost your ranking and Google knows this.
Furthermore, while you might get some PageRank using this tactic, it's dubious at best. Bottom line: building your own version of DMOZ on your website doesn't help other websites and it won't help you rise in the SERPs.
6) "You should link out to reputable websites, because that helps your rankings."
Not true, not true, not true. This one is actually an odd strategy to promote, but some SEO firms do it. They then turn around and tell you to get more backlinks because that's the sure-fire way to boost your rankings. The only way to boost your rankings for the long-term is to get merit-based links.
7) "Cleaning up your URLs in your links selectively and only for search engine spiders is considered "cloaking" and could earn you a penalty."
This idea is uttered as a lead-in to on-site SEO services by many SEO companies. The truth is that there's nothing actually wrong with cleaning up your URLs if your intentions are pure. All of the major search engines have assured us that they won't penalize you for this kind of activity. In fact, by doing this, you're actually helping out search engines by removing session IDs, tracking parameters, and other parameters from your URLs.
Finally, think about this. Yahoo does it. OK, this isn't a great reason, in and of itself, do engage in this practice but look at their rankings. They are unaffected in both ranking and PageRank. Visit the Yahoo.com home page with the Googlebot user agent string (i.e. by using the User Agent Switcher addon for Firefox). Notice how the "ylt" parameter has been removed from all of the links? Who do you trust: Google's reaction to Yahoo, or your podunk SEO company?
8) "Use meta-descriptions in your blog posts, because Google will show this in the search results."
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Google may use a meta-description when delivering your search but there is no guarantee that they will. More importantly, it won't affect your ranking at all because Google places so little value in meta-anything that it's practically not worth doing for SEO purposes. Do it for usability for your site visitors, but it's not worth paying your SEO company to do this for you.
9) "By bolding words in a Google listing, Google is signaling that these words were considered in the ranking for that page or site. Let's spend time focusing on this."
Your SEO company is going to charge you a lot of money for this service and you're not going to see higher rankings. This bolding is there purely for usability purposes. The bolding makes it easier for users to find the keywords they are looking for in the search results. Google is trying to help users with this move, not website owners.
10) "Use H1 tags because they are a crucial element for SEO."
Research conducted by SEOmoz, and other reputable SEO companies and sites, shows that this is just not true. There is little correlation between H1 tags and rankings. Use H1 tags for usability, but don't expect any benefits in the SERPs from them. Matt Cutts even alludes to this, particularly in the case of overusing H1 tags. Google accounts for the use of H1 tags as a potential way to spam the search engines.