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Good SEOs aren't hard to find—the problem is that bad SEOs are so easy to find. Human greed combine with human gullibility in the fairly complex, ever-changing field of search engine optimization to create a situation ripe for charlatans and dupes.

Worst of all, since what works and doesn't work in SEO is constantly evolving, advice gets old fast. Google's SEO guidelines, for instance, focus on types of scams that largely went out around 2003.

Here's a more up-to-date (2006) guide to avoid bad SEO.

Basic Bad SEO Red Flags

If you've read anything at all about SEO you should know to avoid SEOs who:

* claim to have a special relationship with search engines.
* sell advertising on proprietary search toolbars.
* sell sponsored listings on search engines and claim the sponsored listings are the same as natural listing.
* have websites that are not in the Google index (to see if a site's in the Google index, type its url into Google and see if a listing for the site comes up).
* require clients to link to the SEO's sites or the SEO's clients' sites (this is a kind of link farm)

Advanced Bad SEO Red Flags

* Search engine submission. This is worthless snake oil—search engines have spiders that find webpages actively and decide whether to display a site based on what they find. Search engines only offer the URL submission option because they'd get so many emails asking for it if they didn't. Unfortunately, there are still some good SEOs that offer search engine submission simply because there is so much demand for it among an ignorant buying public. Good SEOs who feel the need to dirty their hands with this snake oil will rarely charge for it, instead offering it as an incentive to contact them or a no-cost bonus—i.e., “request a proposal and get a month of no-cost no-obligation search engine submission!”

* Optimizing for numerous search engines. As of 2006 there are only three search engines that get enough North American traffic to worry about: Google, Yahoo!, and MSN (AOL's results come from Google). Ask Jeeves comes in a distant fourth, with too little traffic to make a splash except in very broad consumer categories. Stay far, far away from any SEO whose website or marketing materials mention dozen, hundreds, or thousands of search engines.

* Meta keyword tags. The meta keyword tag has not been used by major search engines for years. The only meta tags that matter even a tiny bit are the meta description tag and the meta robots tag, the one that you can use to tell search engines to stay away from a page. As with search engine submission, some good SEOs do offer meta keyword tag snake oil as a come-on. But run away from any SEO who tries to charge for this meta keyword tag “service.”

Don't mention link-building or say it's not at all important. Links are necessary to rank well in search engines—without them, a search engine assumes a site is not important. Sure, links are way overvalued by many people in the SEO community. But you can't do without them completely, even if you aren't aiming to rank for competitive keywords. If you already have enough links to get search engine traffic just from content, that's great—but any good SEO would explain why links are unnecessary in your case, and not simply avoid the subject.

Identifying a Good SEO

Ask to see results the company has achieved for at least one client or site the SEO owns. No SEO will give you enough information about a site's SEO efforts for you to duplicate them, for reasons that should be obvious. However, you should still get straight answers to these questions:

* What are some sites you've worked on successfully?
* For what keywords is the site ranking well?
* About how often are those keywords searched on?
* If you did not optimize the site to rank high for keywords, did you do anything for the site's content to help it attract more non-standard search traffic? How much traffic has it gotten?
* What general methods did you use to achieve these results?

Finally, perhaps the most important SEO point of quality assurance is cost. The charlatans and the idiots are almost always the cheapest. Think of it this way: thanks to Adsense and affiliate programs, any decent SEO could be making money even without clients. Even better, they wouldn't have the very real stress and costs associated with keeping clients happy.

In short, no real SEO is going to perform a service for a client for less than he or she could have gotten on his or her own from a year of Adsense or affiliate earnings for the same amount of work. This means realistically that getting even a hundred extra visitors a month will almost never cost less than a thousand-dollar one-time fee. For competitive keywords, the fees will rise proportionately. In the case of SEO services that produce traffic rather than rankings, you can expect a big savings over pay-per-click. But the prices will still be somewhat proportionate--after all, the Adsense money the SEO could have gotten is proportionate to pay-per-click fees.

Are the fees for good SEO too high for you? Then you should work on converting web traffic into sales better, or else pursue a different avenue of promoting your business. In general, however, SEO is far more cost-effective at promoting most businesses over the long term. A year of natural traffic even for competitive keyword groups will cost thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, less than a year's worth of pay-per-click traffic. Print advertising is expensive and hard to track. And unless you're selling a consumer product with a very broad potential market, you should probably forget about radio or television.

After all, you're trying to make money. If you forget that everyone else is trying to do the same thing, you're likely to fall victim to a bad SEO.

Article Advanced Fraud Detection Guide
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