What are the repercussions of bad SEO?
April 12, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

What are the repercussions (if any) of bad Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques?

One of my clients has recently been advised by a friend in her particular field of business to go with an SEO "expert". The friend has stated that since hiring the guy (who charges £2000 and guarantees first page results in 21 days - not to be confused with front page results in 21 days), he hasn't had to spend any money on Google AdWords, etc. The friend has the added benefit of having his address as part of his URL, so that's bound to help, anyway.

The client has come back to me asking for advice. She has a new rival opening up around the corner from her in a short matter of weeks and if what the SEO guy suggests works, then great. However, my spidey-sense is tingling. I know my way well around code, webmastery, servers, etc, but having read through Google's own SEO guide and comparing it with what said SEO expert has used on client's friend's site...well, it looks like he's using SEO the 'wrong' way.

And by wrong, I mean using keyword banks in title descriptors of every DIV tag, a name descriptors, etc. It looks like he's just saturating the webpages with keywords in every available invisible element. Surely such practices are frowned upon, but is what he's doing getting results? And if so, what are the repercussions of 'wrong' SEO? I'd rather have it done correctly, inline with providing sitemap files, proper meta tags, and proper use of keywords, changing relevant content for visitors, etc. But should I be playing dirty too?

I'm reluctant to provide real-life URLs, but if needed, please MeFiMail me.

posted by jim.christian to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Always trust your spidey sense
posted by errspy at 6:52 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have found Hubspot's Website Grader to be useful for a quick analysis of SEO effectiveness. You can run it online, usually in less than one minute. It offers recommendations for improvement with on-page SEO like metadata, headings and images, and readability; off-page analysis such as Google page-rank, domain stability, Alexa traffic rank and number of incoming links; and the presence (or lack thereof) in what they call the social mediasphere. It grades the effectiveness of the keywords you've used and makes recommendations for improving your Website Grader score. Quick and easy. No harm done. Useful tips for making a better impression.
posted by netbros at 6:55 AM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Eventually, Google catches on to that. All of the aforementioned techniques are things for which Google regularly looks. Google will give sites which do that stuff a timeout. And by timeout, I mean "Welcome to your site being on page 100."

I got a site up to #4 for its relevant keyword in about a week of its introduction, without any black hat SEO stuff. It crept up to #2 a week or two later. That wasn't for a hotly-contested search term, mind you. I did manage to get a site up to #1 for a search term with almost twenty other rival web sites. That took longer.

You can get up there fast with black hat SEO stuff, it's just that eventually you'll be picked up on one of the regular scans Google does, and you'll pay for it, dearly.
posted by adipocere at 6:57 AM on April 12, 2009

Your instincts are good. Keyword-stuffing is the simplest form of stupid low-level SEO crap. Your friend is wasting a lot of money and will get nothing in return.

I'm only guessing at a couple of things here, but:

--You mention a competitor is opening around the corner. This suggests that your friend's business is in part brick-and-mortar. SEO has less benefit for a brick-and-mortar business than it does for a online-only business.

--If your friend only has a brochure page; that is, if your friend's business isn't actually ringing up sales online, then the value of SEO for that kind of business approaches useless. Fliers, postal mailings, and newspaper ads are more likely to be effective.

--If your friend is doing business online--that is, actually ringing up sales there--then Google Adwords is the way to go. Expertise in THAT area is worth paying for. A good Google Adwords pro is expensive but they can deliver real, remarkable traffic that leads to sales. But it takes more than just a few weeks. It takes months to test and try and it will likely cost more than two grand to do well.

--It also sounds like your friend has a one-off local business. Not part of a chain, right? And it's location-specific? The location matters? And it's a competitive field? In that case, SEO is even less likely to help.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oops. Where I wrote "friend" I meant "client."
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2009

What are the repercussions?

Getting de-indexed from Google. Google Webmaster Guidelines (especially this section) are a good resource -- a pretty clear delineation of best/worst practices that you can show your client.
posted by misterbrandt at 9:22 AM on April 12, 2009

Anybody who promises front pages results is probably some sort of snake oil salesman. Since nobody knows Google's secret sauce, there is no way this promise can be upheld 100% of the time. Go with a more reputable SEO. Everyone one above is correct that Google will come down hard on sites that are trying to game it's algorithm.
posted by DrDreidel at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

All those on page tactics don't really carry much weight compared to inbound links from quality sites. He's probably doing offsite stuff as well such as 'renting' links from text-link-ads or another link brokerage, creating profiles on sites that don't no-follow links, etc.

I disagree with Mo Nickels a little bit. Google good performance can help certain offline businesses (like restaurants) significantly. Also, search marketing agencies generally charge a percentage of spend between 15-25% which is hopefully made up for in increased efficiencies, and AdWords is rarely going to outperform natural search results for traffic and cost per conversion.

I personally think a mix a ethical SEO and AdWords is the way to go for most small biz since local keywords are often not very competitive.
posted by ejoey at 10:12 AM on April 12, 2009

The repercussions are "It worked for a while but then Google pulled us from the index, ignored all of our communication, and didn't re-list us for a year. By then we were out of business."

Also, seconding ejoey, the SEO guy's probably doing even worse stuff (spam spam spam) than you know about already.
posted by mmoncur at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2009

Response by poster: Great answers and perspectives, all. Many thanks.
posted by jim.christian at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2009

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