Around the summer of 2009 I met with a salesman who was hawking a service designed to increase your website’s ranking in search engines. Let me just say, I didn’t know what he was selling before the meeting, and after I found out, I diplomatically ended the meeting. The service was as follows:
- The company (we’ll call them SEO Company) would research the client’s (we’ll call them Client) industry, website, competition, etc.
- SEO Company would determine the key words that: related to Client’s industry; were used frequently in search engine searches; and would produce effective traffic if the Client’s website were to rank highly in the search results.
- SEO Company would develop a 1000 word essay that targeted those key words.
- SEO Company would feed this essay into a program that chopped the essay up into 100 other two or three hundred word “essays”. I write “essays” because they were not actually essays. The software would simply use the source essay to create random combinations of words that contained appropriate percentages of the key words that SEO Company was targeting.
- SEO Company would post these “essays” on scores of different web sites across the web, all with links back to Client’s website.
This, in a nutshell, was the service.
For the SEO uninitiated, you need to understand a few things about search engine results before we continue. Search engines base their results, in part, on how relevant a particular web page is to the terms you use to search. How relevant a web page is to your search terms is, in part, determined by how many other web pages of similar content are linked to the web page. So, if you are searching for “healthy dog food”, the search engines are going to look for websites that not only talks a lot about healthy dog foods, but also have a lot of other dog food focused websites linking to them. This linking represents popularity and the popularity, along with other criteria, assumes a level of authority on the subject being searched.
It is also very important to realize that search engines MUST do everything that they can to assume correctly what a person means with a search term and then, most importantly, provide THE MOST ACCURATE AND RELEVANT RESULTS. Why? It is simple: If they don’t provide accurate results, people will use a competing search engine who is more accurate. So, as you might imagine, search engines invest a great deal of energy in making sure search result are accurate.
Now that we have a basic understanding of how Relevancy and Popularity effect search results, let’s back to SEO Company. What they are attempting to do for Client is create a facade of popularity for Client’s website, thus increasing the chances that Client’s website will rank high in search results. Does anyone see the issue here? If not, here’s what I see.
For me, there is a fundamental disgust with individuals or companies that intentionally try to sidestep and abuse a democratic system like the internet and search engines. If you do not share this particular ethic and you need a more concrete issue to observe, then consider the potential (and I would say likely) business consequences:
- The success of search engines is based on providing results that are valuable to the people searching.
- As such, search engines invest heavily in making sure this happens.
- SEO Company is attempting to dupe the search engines by fabricating popularity.
- SEO Company is increasing the chance that the search engine’s results are not as accurate or relevant as they should be.
- Subsequently, SEO Company is putting Client’s website at risk because when the search engines find out that they have been duped, Client’s website could be penalized.
Basically, if you have a business that relies on accurate information (like Google, Yahoo, or Bing), and you found out that someone is attempting to poison that information for personal gain, what would you do? I suspect that a search engine might penalize, possibly blacklist, any website that used such a service. They’ve done it in the past.
The message for small business owners is this: beware the Snake Oil Internet service providers. If something seems too good to be true, it very well may be. Always get a second or third opinion when it comes to online solutions. A few extra dollars now could avoid major catastrophe for your online business.