Is Your SEO Company Safe?
Last month SEO agency iAcquire, in the U.S., was banned by Google for breaking its rules about link building.
This post is aimed at non-SEOs so, for you folk, Google’s ban of iAcquire means that (at the time of writing this) you can no longer find iAcquire’s website in Google. That’s enough to sink any business without a trace in a very short space of time. No presence in Google means your supply of website visitors (and their wallets) is choked off.
That’s a terrifying thought for any business owner.
In the same month, thousands of companies saw their website traffic plummet in the wake of Google’s Penguin update, which targeted manipulative and spammy link building practices like those which led to iAcquire’s ban.
Is the Damage Permanent?
Some companies have already successfully recovered from having their website traffic decimated by the Penguin Update. These companies have been successful in getting spammy back links removed from the websites that are linking to them. But for others, it won’t be so easy. Companies, or their SEO agencies, that have been acquiring spammy links from diverse sources for years, may not find it possible to get sufficient numbers of those links removed in order to recover.
You see, your domain’s back link profile is a bit like a tattoo on the back of your hand. You had better be sure you want them for life because they’re not so easy to remove.
In fact, Google’s advice was that some businesses will be better starting again i.e. transferring their website to a new domain.
Thoughts of lawsuits flying around spring to mind but there is likely to be little recourse against SEO agencies that have damaged their clients’ businesses. In such a complex area, proving cause and effect i.e. pinning down those responsible is almost impossible which probably places remedies out of reach. Also, of course there is no shortage of clients who were well aware or even encouraged the practices that led to their own demise so it is not only SEO companies that are to blame.
How Can I Undertake a DIY Evaluation of an SEO Company?
In this post, I’ll explain one fast, cheap and easy way that you can put any SEO company under the microscope to see if it has a natural back link profile or an overtly manipulated one. If it has a highly engineered back link profile, then it will almost certainly be using the same techniques for its clients so you could be at risk by choosing this agency. If it doesn’t, then you would need to carry out the same exercise for one or two of its clients to make sure that it isn’t protecting itself by practising sound link building techniques but not extending the same courtesy to its clients.
It’s back link profile does of course provide only so many clues about its methods but they are critical clues. They are more useful for eliminating SEO companies from your shortlist than for anything else.
Back Link Tools
There are quite a few tools on the market that you can use to explore the back links of any domain. I’m not going to provide a list of all of these or recommend any as being better than any of the others.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll be using Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz. You can get a free 30 day trial and then decide whether to buy a Pro subscription for $99 per month. There is an extensive set of tools available and more.
The above sounds very promotional but I will not benefit in any way from referring you to SEOMoz. The details are provided solely for the purpose of enabling you to carry out your own tests. Also, it may sound expensive but no commitment is required and the cost is really nothing compared with the cost of making a mistake by choosing the wrong SEO company.
3 Examples of Domains With Natural Back Link Anchor Text
One of the link building tactics that was targeted by Google’s Penguin Update was the aggressive over-optimisation of anchor text. Those companies that tried to boost their rankings by excessively engineering their back links to include their target keywords set themselves up for a big Google slap.
To escape penalties like these, it is essential to have a natural link profile and that means you should have back links with anchor text that is varied. Not only should it be varied but a good proportion should contain your business name and/or your domain name because these are what would tend to be used by most people naturally.
The 3 examples below show link anchor text profiles that are all credible and might have occurred had nobody ever heard of SEO.
You can click on the images to get larger ones.
Example 1: distilled.net
Example 2: seerinteractive.com
Example 3: adjuice.co.uk
3 Examples of Domains With Artificial Back Link Anchor Text
Look at the difference between the last 3 examples and the next 3 examples.
Example 1 (anonymised)
Example 2 (anonymised)
Example 3 (anonymised)
Limitations of This Test
The above is a very limited and very specific test to carry out but for non-SEOs trying to get to grips with how to evaluate and shortlist SEO companies, this tool provides much more analysis than described above.
However, the test does have some shortcomings.
1. The back link data is not real-time and is only updated every few months. That said, if there is enough history in the back link profile, that won’t matter too much.
2. The back link data does not include all back links. The web is a big place to crawl so no tool has 100% of the links in its database. However, the most influential i.e. the ones that count should be included within the reports.
3. Lack of history. Nothing can be done in the case of new domains where there is no back link history to analyse. But that’s exactly why you must check the age of the domain. If a domain has been ‘burned’, then the business may have been forced to transfer its website to a new domain. In the case of an SEO company using a new domain, that should sound the alarm bells.
Look up the domain using the www.who.is free domain check service. If the domain is new and the business is not, then you should find out why the business has started hosting its website on a new domain. There aren’t many good reasons for changing domains.
When you’re entrusting your website marketing to a third party, make sure you choose an SEO company that won’t burn your domain.
Google’s Penguin Update? Get Real!
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – Advice From Google About SEO and Choosing an SEO Service Provider.
About SEO Companies
Questions to Ask An SEO Specialist