SEO: Good, Bad, Ugly

March 3, 2009

A happy quack to the reader who sent me a link to the February 20, 2009, article by George for Insiders View: Insurance Blow here. “More and More SEO Scams” made the statement:

It seems that there are few whitehat agencies these days. I always advocate some gray hat to stay on top and some blackhat to determine what others are doing. But this is getting ridiculous. The economic climate has pushed people out of the city so instead of brokering toxic investments, they’re now brokering SEO services.

Strong words. I had seen the posting “How to Avoid Being Taken by SEO Scams and Bad SEO Companies” here, but I was not sure how widespread the problem was. Dave Taylor here made this comment in his “SEO Company Promises Top Three Positions: A Scam?”:

Of all the aspects of the Internet, none seems to be so full of con artists and purveyors of dubious businesses than so-called search engine optimization companies. The reason for this is that the basics of SEO (which I’ll call it for simplicity) are simple and can be explained in five minutes. Heck, Google even has a free guide to SEO best practices.


Image source:

Several thoughts:

  1. As the economy slides toward a financial black hole, some companies hope their Web sites can be a source of sales leads and revenue. Managers turn to their marketing advisors and Web professionals to deliver a return on the Web investment. Pressure increases.
  2. The dominance of Google in Web search means that a company not in the Google index does not exist in some cases. A company whose product or service does not come up on the first page of Google results may not get much traffic.
  3. The quality of Web sites (content, coding) becomes increasingly important. But quality takes thought, time, and effort.

When one mixes these three ingredients together, search engine optimization becomes a must. If a company can afford to buy Google AdWords, then the Web site must have compelling landing pages and the technical plumbing to make it easy for the person landing on a link to take the desired action.

When there is a need, an opportunity exists. When the solution requires technical know how, many potential consumers of the service may lack the expertise to know what to do, whom to hire, and what’s required to sustain an project. When one adds content to the mix, the problem exponentiates. Good content is not enough. The content must be fresh, focused, and free from copyright issues, duplicative entries, and semantically tight.

Professionals who span marketing, technology, and content are in short supply. In fact, if one tackles one of these three facets of a Web site, the structure may not be stable.


There is no enforcer for lousy SEO. Image source:

Because Web sites are software, the technical issues are often the easiest of the three to resolve. The marketing work and the content may prove more difficult.

In my opinion, SEO professionals are likely to expand their products and services for the foreseeable future. The result will be some good work, some bad work, and some downright ugly work. As far as I know, there is no easy way for a company wanting to improve its Web site to find a consultant or vendor with the equivalent of a Microsoft Certification or some other accreditation. In Kentucky, anyone can set up shop as an SEO expert. We have had several calls and emails from individuals who have seen our independent verification and validation services. I know that the SEO conferences I attended in the 2000 to 2003 period were confusing to me. I have visited a couple of the larger shows in the last year, and my impression is that most of the talks are summaries of what Google spells out in its guidelines for Web masters. There are some MBAs who have created algorithmic schemes to assess and improve a Web site’s rank in a Google result list. I even have a Google booth handout that flashes the company’s name because I expressed interest in AdWords.

I remain deeply skeptical about SEO solutions that offer guarantees, number one rankings, and speedy fixes to Web site woes. Creating a useful Web site and attracting visitors are difficult tasks. My formula for SEO is simple, and you can implement it by using your own staff or advisors who work in your city, making it easy for you to check their credentials and track record.

My SEO strategy:

  1. Read the Google Web master guidelines and other Google provided information. Follow these guidelines. These guidelines are of great importance if you have a dynamic site generated from a content management system that produces pages that Google’s system cannot process
  2. Make your Web site work; that is, no dead links, clean code, and no stupid metatag tricks
  3. Create substantive content and update the site frequently, including date information in every document you post. Keep your articles focused on the main subject of your Web site.
  4. Index the content in a meaningful way. If you don’t know how to do indexing, ask a librarian or information scientist, not an SEO marketing consultant.

If you can find expertise on these four areas from one company, check with existing and former customers. Do your homework. You don’t have to know how to code or index, but you do have to do the research to winnow out the carpetbaggers. Some carpetbaggers don’t know they are carpetbaggers. This can be an expensive and difficult company with which to do business.

Caveat emptor. For SEO mavens who try to sell me their services or who suggest that I don’t understand high traffic Web site requirements: Caveat venditor. Quite a few SEO mavens have ignored my background, assuming that the addled goose arrived at the mine run off pond by accident. Nope, the pleasant clime is a result of having worked in online in a successful way for decades. This is an old, experienced, savvy addled goose.

Stephen Arnold, March 2, 2009


9 Responses to “SEO: Good, Bad, Ugly”

  1. Andrew Girdwood on March 3rd, 2009 3:54 am

    Thanks for the post. I think this comes across as a balanced view on SEO.

    After reading it my first thought was that I hoped no one from the SEO shire had been mouthing off and giving you a hard time.

    I agree with your four point strategy too. Although I may be interpreting your fourth point according to my needs! Just the other day someone approached us, explained they where building a very large database and needed it optimised. Oh dear. I had to explain to them that this wasn’t the ‘search engine optimisation’ we offered.

    By the way; a senior spam/we quality engineer at Google often says that clean code doesn’t matter that much (there’s a video of this speach out there somewhere – I’ll try and dig it up for you if you want). Why not? So many sites are less than perfectly coded that Google felt that their search results would be impaired if these sites picked up any negative score as a result.

    Of course, if a site is so badly coded that neither crawler nor indexer can make head or tail of it then, yeah, that causes problems!

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  3. Charlie Hull on March 3rd, 2009 11:52 am

    Oh the irony….

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  6. Chaunna Brooke on March 4th, 2009 3:51 am

    Hi! i love your post. it just made me open to these SEO sites that make a lot of negativeness in the world of web and on how one could do the right track and instead improve their own sites for the betterment of everything. Speak and unfold to everyone that not all SEO sites are spreading that gray and black hat just to be able to stay on top.

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