5 Ways Great SEOs Can Distinguish Themselves from Black Hat Firms

Angel Devil SEOThe business world is full of charlatans who will offer you the sun, the moon and the stars at a price point that “you would be a fool to pass up.” They will have you believe that their product or services are equivalent—or even superior—to those of their more reputable competitors.

Sadly, the SEO industry is no exception. Since there is no accrediting process or third-party oversight for SEOs, the market is replete with SEO consultants who are selling irrelevant and outdated services. With businesses spending more money on SEO than ever, it’s that much more important to set yourself apart from the competition.

Here are some tips that you can use to differentiate yourself from the charlatans who are selling the SEO equivalent of magic beans:

Don’t Offer Packaged Deals

SEO Charlatans love offering packaged deals! You’ve probably seen SEO providers who make ridiculous promises like offering thousands of links. SEO charlatans might offer 5,000 links, but these links are often created overseas in link farms and provide no real value.

SEO success metrics like “number of links” and “number of URLs optimized” tell little about organic search campaigns’ ROI, yet so many of these service packages seem based around these soft metrics. On top of that, their efforts might be doing more harm than good. With each update, Google is getting better at judging the quality of links. As Google’s Panda update proved, tricks that are meant to take your site to the top of engines can often backfire and condemn your site to the seventh page of Google’s SERPs. It’s not simply the number of links that matter, but also the authority of those links.

On a strategic level, SEO requires creativity and flexibility. Rather than offering clients a packaged deal, consider developing proposals that keep their individual goals in mind. For example, rather than concerning yourself with link quantity, communicate to potential clients that it is the authority of backlinks that really matters to search robots.

Don’t Offer to Buy Links

Black Hat SEOBlack hat SEO is the industry term for SEO tactics that are less than scrupulous. These tactics can include anything from over- saturating content with keywords to buying links or stealing (scraping) content.

While SEO charlatans might employ tactics like link-buying or content scraping, these tactics make websites susceptible to penalties from search engines. You should tell your clients up-front that you don’t employ these methodologies. Feel free to let them know that there are many SEOs who do rely on nefarious tactics.

Quality SEO requires a thorough understanding of content. When you work with clients, you should help them meet their individual content goals in a way that is friendly to search engines. SEO tactics should never impede the user experience.

While link-buying is the primary no-no, over-optimization is almost as bad. Service providers who offer one-size-fits all SEO packages tend to make content look like “the place keywords go to die.” They are likely to focus on metrics like keyword density at the expense of your users’ experience. Good SEO should always be in harmony with content creation.

Report on Outcomes, Not Tactics

SEO charlatans love to measure success by the number of links they create or the number pages they optimize. Increasingly, SEOs are positioning themselves based on some sort of results-based criteria. The best of these is unquestionably revenue-based SEO, where a CRM is integrated with organic search metrics and reporting is possible down to the keyword level. Keyword-to-revenue reporting really is the gold standard. If that isn’t possible, or your client doesn’t yet use a CRM, then soft metrics such as percentage of traffic from organic search and social media channels is key, as are bounce rates and the number of unique keywords driving traffic.

Keyword rankings should be used as only a last resort.  While these are important indicators of success, they assume that you (1) really know which keywords drive revenue or sales, and more importantly, (2) that search engines are displaying search results consistently for all users. We know the latter not to be true due to personalization and the influence of social signals that are constantly changing.

Have a Clear, Professional Contract Structure

Your SEO is typically a long-term strategy and results might take some time to manifest. Accordingly, your contract should include clear milestones, delivery dates, reporting structure, and some sense of what types of results can be expected.

It’s also good to give businesses the option of stopping service if they decide that your services aren’t what they are looking for. 30-days is standard for small contracts, but longer notice is not uncommon for larger projects that will require considerable start-up costs. This is typically done in a Master Service Agreement (MSA) that is separate from but linked to the primary contract.

Practice What You Preach

A simple way that businesses can differentiate reputable SEO providers and SEO charlatans is by examining their respective websites. Your website is a chance to display your SEO methodologies. Are you following best practicesDoes the content on your website seem overly SEO’d to the point of a negative user experience? How does your site rank for relevant branded and unbranded terms? If a business isn’t impressed with your website, they will be less likely to trust you with theirs.




About Jesse Davis

Jesse Davis is a content marketing copywriter at DemandResults. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in history. In his free time, he blogs, writes fiction, plays guitar and spends far too much time on social media sites.

5 Responses to “5 Ways Great SEOs Can Distinguish Themselves from Black Hat Firms”

  1. Jesse Davis (@JesseADavis) September 29, 2011 6:49 pm #

    5 Ways Great SEOs Can Distinguish Themselves from Black Hat Firms: http://t.co/vwwHR4Bp

  2. SEOforSalesForce (@seo4salesforce) September 29, 2011 6:53 pm #

    5 Ways Great SEOs Can Distinguish Themselves from Black Hat Firms: http://t.co/d02tQj9B via @AddThis

  3. William Tyree (@williamtyree) September 29, 2011 10:00 pm #

    5 Ways Great SEOs Can Distinguish Themselves from Black Hat Firms
    http://ow.ly/6IHKe #li #seo


  1. 3 Essential Tips For SEO Client Retention - November 2, 2011

    [...] that don’t comply with their guidelines. Your clients should know that you aren’t using black-hat SEO tactics that could tarnish their [...]

  2. How Does Google Really Feel About SEOs? - November 3, 2011

    [...] to the fact that SEO has gotten a bad reputation in certain circles. SEOs are seen by some as charlatans who employ illegal or unethical tricks to deliver higher placement in search [...]

Leave a Reply