Of Dangerous SEO Consultants and Commoditization
I've been watching the evolution and commoditization of search engine optimization with great interest in the last year or two as it's a profession that is easily tackled, though tricky to master. Problem is, unlike architecture or plastic surgery, it's hard for the customer to differentiate between an amateur with a toolkit and a top professional who knows not just the "what" but the "why" too.
Case in point: I get at least 2-3 of these every day:
"What would a huge increase in relevant traffic mean for your business? If I could greatly increase the amount of customers who are interested in your products and services, wouldn't you be interested"By their frequency, I can only conclude that this is an effective method of marketing a service, even as they always have a return address of Gmail or some other public email service, not an actual SEO firm.
So who the heck hires a search engine optimization firm that doesn't even have the ability to promote itself to the top of the search engine? Isn't that like going to an unlicensed, uncredentialed surgeon, hoping for the best?
Then again, a quick Google search for "become an SEO consultant" yields 1.5 million matches, and there are over 200,000 matches for "download seo toolkit" (you can also download free virus creation apps, but that's another topic). In an industry where there's no external indication of expertise, however, isn't it inevitable that every opportunist and their dog would offer up SEO consulting?
That's the commoditization I'm talking about: when products or services differentiate based on price because they're all basically the same regardless of vendor. So do you ask around and find an SEO consultant, or do you respond to one of these goofy queries like the one I listed above?
I teach Search Engine Optimization classes at Boulder Digital Arts too, so perhaps I'm part of the problem: what I know about SEO I've learned from talking with people, reading documents, and years of experimentation. Does that make me an expert? Or, as some people have suggested, have we moved away from the age of the expert and instead into a time when everyone has some knowledge and it's all about finding those that are far enough along that knowledge continuum to help you out?
In my defense, I will share that I start out each class by pointing people to Google's own Webmaster Guidelines and say that everything we'll discuss is out of that information. If someone wanted to, I suppose they could then get up and leave, if they're a real self-motivated person. So far, that hasn't happened!
So much of SEO is just common sense anyway: good sites linking to your content and clear on-page layout -- including titles and headlines -- are critical to your position in the search results. Don't care about people finding you when they search for your product or service? Then you're in a very small group. Vanishingly small. Literally.
But with SEO consulting as a commodity, as a professional service that might well be delivered by amateurs or opportunists with a rudimentary toolkit and a gift for sales, there is a problem: bad SEO can hurt you.
It's something that few people in the SEO space acknowledge, but if you hire the wrong people and they put into place tricks, sneaky code, and other prohibited tactics, perhaps because they simply don't know any better, you can indeed be kicked out of the search engine forevermore. Think about that.
The consequence of picking a bad SEO consultant is therefore potentially dire, and yet junk queries like those I receive every day suggests that people are indeed doing that for their online businesses every day. That's a dangerous disconnect and one that can cost you a lot more than not having the ranking you desire.
Be honest with me here, have you ever responded to one of these "we can get you top ranking in the search engine" queries? And what kind of results did you have?
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