Why Ethical Search Engine Optimisation is the only way to go
Let's take a common scenario. As a businessman you have a new online operation about to launch. You've spent lots of money on the design and on setting up a distribution system to cope with the orders you hope to get. However you've neglected the search engines and now you're going round various SEO companies asking for quotes to optimise your website.
You're confused by the resulting quotes - some of the companies say they can get you to number one in Google (one even guaranteed it!) but their prices were anything between £250 and £10,000. Some said they could do it in a month while others said 6 months. Some others declined to guarantee anything and said they'd need a year to achieve the best results.
What's going on? How can anyone justify £10,000 when others are doing it for a few hundred? You need to start making a return on your outlay soon so you're tempted to go with the companies that promise quick results. How can you choose the best way forward?
The answer to "what's going on?" is simple enough - you've gone through a cross section of the SEO market and likely spoken to some reputable companies and some disreputable ones; some who are used to dealing with small companies and some that deal with larger corporate ones.
If you've researched how much competition there is online these days for almost any business then you'll know that it's fierce - is it likely that there is a magic method of getting you to the top of the search listings quickly? And if there was would someone be offering to do it cheaply?
Of course not! The old adage of "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is" holds true as it always does.
The fast and cheap companies are almost certainly using "unethical" techniques that may get you to the top quickly but they'll get you penalised and probably thrown out of the search indexes not long after. They'll have taken your money and run by then, and you'll be left with a site that will be almost impossible to get back into the search results; with the inevitable lack of sales that this implies. (We discuss some of these shady techniques in How not to SEO)
The only way to build sustainable improvements in your search results is to employ ethical search engine optimisation techniques that follow the guidelines issued by the major search engines.
The results may not always be quick but they will be long-term and enable you to plan your business development with a degree of confidence.
Anything else is so risky that it could destroy your business completely!
In the above scenario the companies that are asking a realistic fee and declining to make promises are more likely to be the ethical ones. Of course only you can decide whether their fees sound reasonable or whether your business can afford it. You should ask them as many questions as you can in order to judge what work they are going to undertake and why, and whether their approach is going to be suitable for your business. For instance some of the most expensive may be offering a premium service which tries to get the last ounce of results but may use many man-hours of effort in an area of diminishing returns. However some may be offering a wider range of internet marketing services which could be of benefit to you.
Make sure you match the service to your needs.
Online Marketing Mistakes
So did anyone spot the mistake in our scenario?
Yes of course - our businessman had his site built without any input from SEO experts and treated it as a bolt-on service. This is a classic mistake and can often result in a visually attractive site which no-one ever sees because it may be quite impenetrable to search spiders. The result is that ranking results are impossible to achieve without major recoding and redesign and the number of orders is far less than expected.
It also means a lot of lost time - the earlier a search engine optimisation campaign starts the sooner you will see results. In some highly competitive markets it can take as long as 18 months before useful results are achievable - though more generally a few months will see major improvements if the site is in reasonable condition.