Is SEO worth paying for?
April 20, 2009 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Is SEO worth paying for?

A friend of mine is considering paying a company to improve his SEO standing. I've read about some shady practices that have been explained on Me-fi in the past, but are their any redeeming qualities of SEO techniques?

What negative or positive experiences have people had dealing with these SEO improvement businesses?

Finally, should said friend embrace these SEO wizards or run a mile?
posted by man down under to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My vote, which is uneducated and without empirical evidence, is that you don't get anything worth what you pay for; search engine rank, if you're linked to and doing worthwhile work, will increase entirely on its own through the normal business of running a website, but IMHO SEO people claim it's the result of their work without much proof of their effectiveness. Tell your friend to buy a SEO book at Barnes & Noble, don't do anything to the detriment of his website's usability, and he'll do well.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Content. Content. Content.

With that, search engine listings will take care of themselves.
posted by netbros at 4:04 PM on April 20, 2009

I'm with AzraelBrown. I've gotten first-hit search results on google for certain phrases simply by, you know, writing about those phrases.

I think the biggest issue that the SEO people help with is keeping you from doing stupid, stupid shit that reduces the search engine's ability to crawl your website. The biggest one I see is people putting content in Flash. The other one I see is Flash-based navigation systems without any real hyperlinks--the spider hits the front page, indexes that, but never indexes deeper content because there's no link it can follow. Actually, Flash in general is bad for SEO.

Modern search engines don't really run on "keywords" anymore. So, all of the SEO that people do by embedding long strings of HTML commented or metatagged keywords is totally bullshit. I've actually heard rumors that google counts such blocks of useless text against your relevancy score on the theory that only people without content go to the effort making it look like they have content.
posted by Netzapper at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: While the first 2 comments are correct, they aren't entirely correct. There are many things to consider with SEO. Full disclosure, I run a web agency and we do upsell some clients to an advanced SEO program.

Some points-

1. Your website should be built using up to date web standards. Search engines (SEs) prefer to wade through less code to find your content. So, a good web agency or SEO person should be able to look at your source code and determine if the site is set up for success by using modern, table-less coding techniques, recommended informational hierarchies (h1, h2, he, p, etc) and recommended friendly URL conventions.

2. Rank is all about relevancy. There are parts of your code that tell the SEs what your page is about (title, meta keywords, meta description, etc) and then there is the content of your page. If you say your page is about Ford cars and the content is about dishwashers, then you aren't going to get ranked well. If what you say it is about and what it is about have relevancy, you are in good shape.

3. Some people say meta tags are no longer necessary but this is not true. They may not count as much, but they do count, and for best results there are more than 2 or 3 that should be included.

4. Content, content, content is important- but it also depends on what other sites you are up against for rankings. If there are 20 other sites that use best SEO practices and have better content on the same subject, you won't get better rankings. You have to have content that gets you noticed then makes people want to link to you, return to you, etc. Of course, how good your content is, is all relative, but you should engage in typical best writing for the web practices. If you have content just as good and apply the rest of these techniques while your competitors do not, you may very well leapfrog them in the rankings.

5. Good SEO people know how to take your desired keywords and find more targeted and unexploited versions of the keywords and phrases to help get you found for less-oft searched terms. If you are a moving company, you'll likely never get found for "moving". But if you concentrate on your local city and county searches "Novato Moving" "Marin Moving", you shrink the pool of people trying to get found under the same phrases and have a better chance at ranking.

6. Good SEO people should run reports on your competitors as well as you and find out how everyone ranks for your keywords. Then you should be able to use this information to try and improve your content, code and phrases to better perform.

7. The best thing you can do is get other sites to link to yours. The better they rank, the better SEs think your site must be. Lots of QUALITY sites linking to yours.

These are all under the YMMV category, but this is some of the info I give to people wondering about SEO. Really, its voodoo, and there are never any guarantees, but doing some things right, and leveraging the knowledge of an expert can certainly increase your rankings in most cases.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 4:28 PM on April 20, 2009 [12 favorites]

You want inbound links to your site. Figure out how to do that without being shady, and you're set. Generally, that means content for people to link to.
posted by Pants! at 4:31 PM on April 20, 2009

Chuck Cheeze essentially has it. "Good" SEO practice including choosing good page titles, using informative link text, linking between popular pages of your site, using proper titles, headers, and meta tags is always good, and probably worth paying for.

"Bad" SEO includes keyword stuffing, link spamming, and so on, and is worth avoiding at all costs.

The "Good" SEO usually comes from companies like Chuck's that offer SEO as part of a web development package. The "Bad" kind usually comes from so-called SEO companies. There are, of course, exceptions in both cases.

I wouldn't hire anyone for SEO unless I had fully investigated, by asking them and their customers, which kind of SEO they do.
posted by mmoncur at 4:46 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: I sat down with an SEO guy a few weeks ago, he was a friend of a friend. I noticed he seemed distracted, but we discussed some ideas and options for optimizing a few sites over lunch. Not long into the conversation I mentioned my concern about getting sandboxed/blacklisted/shitlisted, whatever the kids are calling it these days when you've over-tweaked your site in attempt to game google's search rank and your site disappears into the blackhole of no search results.

He looked at me and admitted their main site had this happen that very morning and, in fact, he had to go right then and try to salvage the situation. So there's a real world experience witnessing the effects of "bad" SEO. There's some good practices and fundamentals listed above that I already implement, but definitely dodge the shady guys who try to game the system.
posted by empyrean at 6:27 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: I'm an art director and I work on major (and often international) advertising campaigns.

SEO people have never brought anything into the mix that I needed. they try to run down my door and try to convince me to hire them all the time but as others have said knowing what to ask your copywriter and coders for (even when the whole damn site is in flash) does the trick on its own. I find it much more powerful to have a solid concept that get others to talk about your site than trying to game what we have to improve search rankings at a later point.

I do think there is a role. not everyone has the financial means to hire some guru who can get you exactly what you want and need (those are two sometimes very different things). many people don't know the details of what makes a site pop up right in google when to others it's common sense. that page title example someone mentioned above was a great case in point.

treat this like a personal trainer. do you know what you're doing in the gym? if not, get one and have it explained to you once. be aware that a personal trainer will always try to get you to sign up for daily lessons when all you really need is learn it once or twice. it's how they make money. look at SEO people the same way. if you feel there is a lack of knowledge on your part and you could benefit from knowing the details consider learning from such a person. don't hire them as vendors you will repeatedly depend on without understanding what they do. (you could of course just read up about SEO online.)

finally a few words on people proving how much worth their services are: why are you even considering this as reliable informations? do you believe tony the tiger when he claims frosties are great? how about bruce willis letting you know that you absolutely have to watch "die hard sixty-four" because it's so awesome? if I have a direct interest in you coming to a conclusion then obviously I will make sure you'll end up just where I want you to. (any ad agency worth its salt has people who will make sure you will understand they moved the needle regardless of the actual ad campaign in question. that's how shitty ads get onto tv.) the only advice is worth is that of an expert* without a direct financial interest in your decision.

*you'd go to mom about advice on cooking. find that person you'd trust for this subject.
posted by krautland at 6:47 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

SEO is essential, and I believe it is worth paying for. Depending on the nature of your site, a mere 10% increase in search engine traffic can mean huge financial gains.

The best way to measure SEO impact is to setup goals in google analytics. If the nature of the site is e-commerce, or lead generation, (or whatever) set up goals so you can track the effectiveness of your activates. You can then segment by visitor type, eg visitors from search engines, paid banner ads, referring sites, etc, and see what groups have the highest goal conversion rate. If visitors from search engines show potential, then increase your SEO efforts.

On some sites I have worked on sales from search engines have been over 60%, so in those cases SEO represents the highest revenue generator.
posted by avex at 7:45 PM on April 20, 2009

OK, there are three main areas to SEO:
1. Making sure the site itself is fundamentally search-engine-friendly (sensible use of technologies, good markup, clean URLs, etc.)
2. Attracting suitable inbound linking.
3. Fine-tuning content, structure and any keyword-based advertising.

If a site is poorly optimised then the priority should be to tackle (1), get advice on (2) and start thinking about (3), in which case it's safest to opt for a web development firm that knows about SEO rather than an SEO-only specialist. That minimises the chances of hiring a bandwagon-jumper who simply implements keyword stuffing, dubious link networks and gateway pages.

Oh, and don't even consider any firm that makes short-term promises (e.g. "Guaranteed first page placement in X days or your money back"), any sensible/reputable expert will take a less simplistic, longer-term view.
posted by malevolent at 12:46 AM on April 21, 2009

Good SEO is important, sure. But the dirty little secret is that it can be learned in about 10 minutes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:26 AM on April 21, 2009

well, there are many levels to this discussion; first of all; yes, it's worth paying for seo, but be careful, lots of scammers and amateurs out there. it's hard to find somebody reliable and affordable at the same time.

best to find somebody local, to be able to have a personal meeting with somebody who's going to have a big im[pact on your site is important.

but, maker sure to ask him to whom he outsources the different tasks, if he doesn't outsource, he'll be very expensive.

you need 1 seo-expert who takes control of the whole process, but at the same time he needs to outsource a lot of the work to keep it cheap.
posted by SocialChili at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2009

The SEO world has changed a lot in the past few years. I'd long been of the opinion that it was mostly smoke & mirrors and that good content would rise to the top, but it's become much more complicated than that and there really are best practices for how to manage SEO for your site. Much of it requires hands-on work and it can really be a full-time job to track and tweak things to continually optimize. Definitely worth paying for, and the advantage is that it's totally measurable - if you find it isn't bringing you direct revenue, you can stop at any time.
posted by judith at 1:03 PM on April 21, 2009

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