“WE GUARANTEE YOU #1 POSITIONS IN GOOGLE, NO MATTER THE SEARCH TERM.”
It’s unlikely that you’ve been involved in the SEO agency community as long as us, but this is something that a few agencies have been saying since the dawn of SEO (same as the dawn of the search engines — AltaVista fans here?).
The offering of SEO services is likely considered to be among one of the most competitive marketing verticals available to brands. Everyone and their mother’s hedgehog reads a blog post SEO, the most basic of the basics, and believes they can offer SEO execution as service.
To make matters worse, these specialists are likely implementing really bad SEO techniques that are either severely outdated or methods that are considered blackhat/unethical.
Because of the competitiveness of the industry, many folks up their game by pitching what we call, the ‘Guaranteed SEO Offering’.
In the video below (transcript further down, if you’d rather read), we explain why the guaranteed SEO service should be avoided at all costs. This is a serious topic for any brand searching for a new SEO agency and one that continues to be discussed heavily in the SEO community.
Promises, Promises, Promises, we’ve all heard of those SEO agencies that offer the world and give nothing close.
Many agencies go as far as to offer guarantees on these SEO results. Are these companies truly capable of offering these type of promises, or are they just trying to simply close the sale?
In this video, we dive into Search Engine Optimization guarantees and what you can expect when you speak to a company offering you a promise of results.
Hey, this is Jason Berkowitz Founder & SEO Director of Break The Web, coming to you with a new video about SEO guarantees.
Many times throughout my career I’ve heard many variables of the SEO guarantee in a variety of forms.
Someone might ask, do you offer guarantees.
Another person might mention, this other agency guaranteed me results. What can you do?
So let’s dive into the reasoning behind guaranteed results, whether it’s a good option for you, and some more pro tips on agency red flags.
Now, one important thing to remember when searching for an SEO company is that business is business and many companies employ very skilled salesmen that are quite keen of making sure they can get you to sign on the dotted line.
Because of this, many salesmen are more focused on their commission checks, versus the true well-being of the newly onboarded client.
They may go as far as saying, we promise SEO results, or we won’t charge you until we get those results.
So, let’s dissect this a little bit.
The Guaranteed SEO Results
It’s virtually impossible for someone to guarantee you SEO results. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s a very popular sales tactic but since we’re relying on metrics that are used for the search engines to verify the trust and relevancy of a website, it’s impossible that any agency can guarantee these type of results.
Even Google has even stated multiple times that if an SEO agency is offering you guaranteed results or even states that they have in with someone who’s currently employed by Google, you should question the general motives of the SEO specialist you’re chatting with.
This also ties directly into the introductory call or what’s truthfully the qualification call. This call is done to ensure that the SEO company has the potential to be the right fit for you and your website, as well as ensuring that you’re the right fit for the SEO company.
Many times during this qualification call, you might ask questions that simply cannot be answered by the salesperson because it might be a bit too technical. This makes it super-easy for the sale person to make up an answer that they believe you’d like to hear.
In one way or another, as the SEO director in our agency, I’m heavily involved with the entire sales process, to ensure that we’re able to give the best answers that’ll properly manage the expectations of the campaign.
To take it one step further, some agencies even go as far as to offer guaranteed SEO services straight on their website, which is a typical no-no for Search Engine Optimization services.
These type of promises have the very potential that the SEO agency you’re in contact with is likely using outdated or questionable tactics that might even lead to a search engine penalty of your website.
Simply put, many SEO agencies fail to evolve as the algorithms get more advanced, leading to improper execution and poorly managed expectations.
So, to summarize, if an SEO agency it is offering you guaranteed SEO results, that should be taken as a red flag. It cannot be done, and no agency can offer you a guarantee.
Before we wrap up, there’s another type of “promise” that tends to go be mentioned by some companies and that is…
We’ll Work For Free Until You Get Results
The second type of guarantee that many agencies will give is that they will work for free until you get the results that you ultimately agreed upon.
This is a scam in and of itself.
This way, they can get x amount of dollars from you over the course of x amount of months for the contract that you signed.
What they will do is simply take your money for a few months, not do any work, then after a few months say that they will work for free until they get you the results, but nothing will change.
They won’t do anything different, they won’t keep trying because they weren’t trying to begin with.
They were able to squeeze a few dollars out of you in the first few months and will now be moving you from person to person within their agency until you just stop emailing or calling them.
The lesson here is simple. many Search Engine Optimization agencies will do what they need to do, will say what they need to say, to close a sale.
It’s no secret that the SEO industry is very competitive and businesses need to create that market differentiation as much as possible and sadly, that means stooping into low levels like this to close a sale and bring on a new client.
What Can You Do About It?
When speaking to a new SEO company one of the things that you need to do is to qualify the company.
You could even ask the company if they can guarantee results to get a feel for the style of their operation.
Most respectable companies, like ourselves, will answer that we cannot simply guarantee results.
But what will take place, is the time-tested framework that has been used countless times to transition websites in the search result.
It’s companies like this that give SEO, as a marketing strategy, a bad name.
SEO works very very well when executed properly and proper optimization has the potential to bring in a lot of quality traffic from search.
Just making sure you hire the right company is the most important thing in the SEO marketing strategy.
The Almost Indescribable Connection in Web Semantics
There’s a more substantial literal connection being made with SEO technology, and this factor takes into account the meaning or intent of the user’s search. These details can’t be overlooked when you’re maximizing on your SEO campaign and generating more organic traffic. You might find this connection a bit difficult to get your mind around.
Welcome to the club.
The dynamics of semantics in SEO brings what we knew about keywords, and user queries to a level that’s now being led by artificial intelligence. You have every right to be confused, and you’re in the right place if you’re looking for answers. Getting a boost in your online marketing begins by understanding how it works.
The developments of semantics give search technology a new world of understanding.
Let’s take a look at what Webster Dictionary says about it.
“1: the study of meanings: the historical and psychological study of changes in words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development.”
“3: the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; especially: connotative meaning.”
These definitions bring us to what Google did in the mid-summer of 2013.
The search engine titan released their Hummingbird algorithm for the reason of semantics. The many schemes that played on the search engine’s limitations in matching words had almost immediately lost rank. Search engines now understand the content and the user’s search based on intent. Words that “match” play less of a factor.
Let’s now cover why Web technology can do this without it having a human brain.
A Look At The Knowledge Graph
The knowledge graph is a Google feature that brings together a full spectrum of data. This graph attempts to organize information but not just in the way of crawling. Crawling occurs in content when search engines gather newly uploaded content. The knowledge graph instead organizes concepts and themes prior to searches being made.
Think in terms of the U.S. Presidents.
Organizing all of the existing U.S. Presidents allows the search engine also to find data that these presidents have in common. One would be a map of the United States, the election year and a four-year tenure. This is an example, yet we have historic architecture, famous artworks and popular foods that can all be categorized.
Having this organization through the knowledge graph is the first step into seeing how semantics can expand through the limited understanding of search technology.
– A Look At Google’s Patent For Entities
Google was granted a patent for entities in April of 2018, which it uses to describe the relationship between things within its knowledge graph. The key to making entities work for Google is in pre-stocking its own database. There are a few factors that each entity has, and this becomes the foundation of how Google semantics works.
The attributes giving to entities include the kind of entity, an identifier granted to that specific entity, a place given within Google’s data hierarchy, a key name string and a numeric ID. These factors are assigned to entities in order to identify some of the ideas that a search user might have. The more that Web technology connects how we use language and why, the quicker it can provide a relevant response.
– People, Places, and Things
Entities can also be categorized as people, places, and things. This requires that search engines are uploaded with a wealth of knowledge prior to a user searching. This data, however, has to gain a few attributes to enable technology to find key relationships and to established predetermined definitions.
Why Is This Important?
The troubled technology has when understanding human vernacular is in the nuances we have. Those nuances occur when we say, “It’s money in the bank,” for example. It’s important for semantics to understand this as another way of saying a goal is accomplished or achieved. It has no actual relation to money or a bank in most cases.
It’s these complications that arise when search technology is limited in understanding a search query if only matching words for words. We see the same complication arise when we consider how wordplay is used.
Using Schema, Metadata, Titles, and Subheads
There are a few ways to take advantage of semantics. Your first step is to optimize your content or site with concise information that can be processed by a direct literal translation. It’s clear that Web technology has limitations. You can give it a hand with a few popular options:
– Rich Snippets:
Snippets are the result of properly using Schema markup that enables you to present search engines with more data about your content, who it’s for, what it covers and how much in-depth it goes. A rich snippet appears in search engine result pages (SERPs) as content extracted from a page that has an answer to your question within search.
This process can be done by formatting your headings into questions and then thoroughly answering each with in-depth data. Search engines can pick up that data and provide a snippet to the reader who doesn’t have to access the page to get their answer.
Getting the most out of semantics can also be done through content. This requires that you cover a topic from every angle and that you submit longer forms rather than short. You have to then go into the topic with a definitive mindset in an attempt to define what you’re talking about without any confusion.
Be reminded that search engines are still limited though now operating on advanced technology. Help this technology by limiting phrases that could mean multiple things. Be direct and straightforward, and try not to be too creative with wordplay. You want your content to rank with entities that are already established in a search.
This enables your content to be crawled and immediately identified without ambiguity.
Understanding The Query
Web semantics goes further by making decisions on usage. The world is typing various ideas and concepts into search engines right now. Artificial intelligence enables those searches to become the basis of computed learning. Two categories of AI programming exist as machine learning and deep learning.
These are environmental learning functions that take from events, save that data and then makes an adjustment to it. This is what’s happening as some topics trend while others are getting less attention. The final objective of search technology is to provide the user with something useful regardless of semantics or entities.
Here are a few factors to consider when leveraging how Web semantics analyzes content.
Some Web surfers spend an average of 10 minutes on a page regardless of how engaging it is. Others spend three or 20 minutes. These behaviors leave footprints that can be picked up and used to verify the intent behind the next search query. – Search History:
Web technology looks for patterns and trends. It will then make suggestions when using a Google or Chrome account. The challenge of human semantics is reduced when Web technology has a long history of what a specific user is looking for.
Bringing It All To Closure
There’s a lot to consider when creating the perfect SEO campaign. Your content has to take into account how semantics works in order to maximize on it. Always keep in mind that what we understand as ironic and catchy could be difficult for Web technology to render.
The summer of 2013 brought in a special era for search engines, but there are still some limits. You can overcome the limits by knowing your readers. Create content that speaks to them, and then the questions they ask are likely to match up. Use your headlines and titles to make up for any shortcomings in web technology.
There’s traffic online right now, and you can grab it by understanding semantics.
I’ve recently noticed all my Mondays seem to blur into one gigantic day, where I do the same thing over and over again.
That is because Mondays are audit days, (so are Wednesdays, but that’s another matter).
Every Monday, I ignore all the email that has piled up during the final hours of Friday and over the weekend, I open up a browser dedicated to audits alone, put my headphones on, and dive right in.
Luckily – I really enjoy doing audits. Otherwise, I might have lost it at some point but doing a website audit is like playing at archaeology and being a detective at the same time. Was that an Indiana Jones reference just now?
Over the years, I have acquired a very trustworthy arsenal of tools I rely on to do the actual digging for me. Now, I know we all have our favorites, and we may prefer one or the other, but nevertheless, here is my take on the audit tools every SEO should at least be familiar with. Note that there is no particular order or method to the list.
Google Analytics & Google Search Console
Let’s start with the obvious duo.
The first thing you need to do is jump into Analytics and Search Console, and analyze the traffic, the traffic sources, the landing pages, user behavior, dwell time, bounce rate, keywords, rankings, and all that fun stuff. Know your bases before you actually move on to any other tool.
Some SEOs tend to neglect this first step I often find – but the best place to start an audit is always analyzing what you already have, and the best place to do that is at the most reliable source. While all the other tools I list are great – they can never be as accurate or as trustworthy as your own Google duet.
Another good thing to do now outlines a list of improvements and ideas you have arrived at just by looking at this raw data. The tools will help you come up with more, certainly, but your own experience and imagination are what will turn that data into actionable steps. Knowing where to find the data is one thing – knowing what to do with it is another matter entirely.
The downside of Woorank is that the data it offers is just a bit too broad, and not always detailed enough. Each segment it focuses on can be analyzed with a dedicated tool, but for a quick audit, there is no better option.
If you are looking for something more in-depth, however, you will need to use a few other tools as well.
More of a crawler than an audit tool, ScreamingFrog is an SEO’s dream. While the interface may not be exactly pretty, the data it can help you uncover is endless, if you know how to use the crawler, and how to interpret the data you are given.
The tool can scrape any website and provide data that would take ages to compile manually. Think in terms of redirects, broken links, metadata, word counts, titles, and so on. It can also help you uncover thin pages and weak content and is overall a great on-page analysis asset. (Quick shout out to Sitebulb here, I have started using this at the start of this year and it might make SF redundant)
Another all-in-one sort of tool, SEMRush has an audit feature that will give you data to work with (albeit rather basic), including meta and title suggestions, link building prospects, and content ideas.
Its content audit feature is also useful, and can help you run through your pages quickly, and offer some truly valuable insight into the fixes available.
Another way to use it is for competitor research – the data it uncovers is rather different than what the tools listed just below offer, so it can be a fun endeavor to compare the results you get from each.
Ahrefs vs. Majestic vs. Moz
There is a never-ending debate in the SEO world about the winner in this battle.
While each of us has a clear favorite, all of these tools are great for certain parts of the audit you are performing.
Admittedly, you can do without Moz. Their spiders and crawl power are no match to Ahrefs – but they are just relaunching their Link Explorer feature, so it would be good to keep an eye on the developments.
Majestic has a unique Trust Flow metric, which is quite different than the domain rating/authority of the other two. It is also great for doing bulk website analysis, link audits, and can often pick up things Ahrefs won’t. Use it to check backlinks and for potential link prospecting.
It can help you do keyword research, offer ranking insights, backlink analysis, their content explorer is great for working on content marketing ideas, their audit feature is also an all-rounder, it offers insight on anchors and competing pages – all in all, a great tool to have in your arsenal.
Speaking of content audits, Copyscape is another tool you need to be familiar with. It will help uncover any duplicate content your website might be dealing with – always an important fact to check.
Google Keyword Planner
Moving on to keywords and associated tools, the obvious place to start (apart from the Search Console) is Google’s Keyword Planner. While some argue this is the most accurate data you can find, you should not forget that this tool is designed for paid, not organic search, so the results you get may not be applicable to your SEO campaigns.
Another downside is that only accounts which spend a significant amount on advertising will get the most precise data – accounts with no spending will get a very broad range of results.
When Keyword Planner fails, there is WordTracker. Hailed by the NextScoop as the best keyword research tool out there, it is undoubtedly a great resource – it provides results in minutes, and the data it uncovers is genuinely useful. Remember to always refer back to your Search Console, to see how your efforts are paying off though.
There are also dozens, if not hundreds of tools that offer an SEO audit feature – some of them are free, others require payment, but most of them will only offer a very broad picture. They can be a great place to start, but a proper, in-depth analysis requires more manpower and more tool power.
Last Thursday, May 31st, I had the pleasure of speaking at an event geared towards business owners. The event focused on helping a business owner remain accountable for their growth, and I was brought in as the SEO speaker to give some actionable tips every website manager could implement immediately.
Before starting the presentation, I figured I would go the odd route and start off with some SEO Q&A.
It was then that the first question asked (which was what my presentation covered in-depth); “Why Do I Need SEO?”
So, because of the nature of the question, quick thinking decided to jump right into the presentation, which would undoubtedly provide him with more than enough information about why his business could benefit from SEO.
Why Do We Need SEO?
If you’re a business owner/manager/marketing director that has a target audience which has the even slightest potential for them to look for your services online, you need SEO.
If your primary competitors are dominating the online market and you don’t have the budget to go all out with paid advertising, you need SEO.
If you’re a local business that needs more customers coming through the front door, yep, you need SEO.
SEO is not simply just that acronym you heard some guru mention.
SEO, in our blatant words, is the process of sending a website the various metrics the search engine algorithms use to position websites for relevant terms.
In our SEO agency, we understand that every website is different and no two search terms are alike. Some search terms warrant top 5 lists. Others might warrant a product page. Even some search terms might value an infographic.
SEO is about having a conversion optimized page appear for relevant search results.
Another the other hand, you might have heard various marketers even go as far as saying that SEO is dead. Well, surely, as you can see in the graph below, SEO is definitely not dead.
SEO is not going anywhere and experts will agree, as long as there are search engines, there will be SEO.
You need SEO so new target customers can find you.
Every business has a role dedicated to someone who’s entire focus is on growth. That could be the business owner themselves, it could be the CEO, the marketing director, the VP of Business Development, etc. In this role, they know that marketing & advertising is an absolute must.
SEO is just another form of digital marketing. It’s not the best & most efficient marketing strategy (depends strictly on the business goals & industry), but it’s one that’s used by brands of all sizes that are looking to get a competitive edge by bringing in free traffic.
Yes, SEO is practically free traffic.
Don’t get me wrong, when you hire an SEO company, you provide the agency with a marketing budget they can utilize to deliver success & results. But the traffic, once in your desired positions, is essentially unlimited.
With Google AdWords, you’re paying per click and every time someone visits your website, you’re being charged $x. For highly competitive terms, this can rack up costs. We’ve managed AdWords campaigns that had budgets over $100k+ because of the simple fact that paid competition was enormous.
With SEO, you need to understand that results take time but when the the improvements do arrive, the ROI is a gift in disguise as a bunch of tech marketing weirdos.
SEO is not an overnight success.
Trust & authority cannot be built over night.
In our SEO campaigns, we’re sending links from relevant & authoritative websites back to your (outreach strategy). We’re marketing your content to influencers to pick them up and share with their following. We’re sending local geographic relevancy to your website so you can appear in Google Maps.
This is the framework of an SEO campaign, assuming that the on-site work is fully up to par.
The search engines look at these different signals and take a website through various “tests” to determine if the quality of work is worthy enough to provide a good user experience for the search engine visitors.
More about timeline in this video:
So while SEO might be the patience game (I definitely agree), the payoff coming from an SEO is unbelievable.
Businesses develop & grow from SEO.
As an entrepreneur myself, I enjoy starting companies. Most of these companies are based in the NYC-area and have developed 100% because of SEO. I would first research the market, create a website, start some SEO, if real buyer-intent exists, the business has now formed and it’s passed to a new hired company manager.
We do the same with startups. Many startups will reach out to us after receiving funding because they truly understand that being at the top of the search results will grow the company. Because of the results that can come from SEO, an initial startup becomes a fully matured brand (down the road, of course).
Take for example the screenshot below. That’s one of our clients that has a Shopify E-Commerce store. They were in the early stages of business when we partenered and we’ve been able to grow their organic search traffic from less than 10,000 visits/month to 55,000+ visits/month.
That’s a 450% increase in organic search traffic.
This growth, as a result of the SEO efforts, had led to even bigger & better opportunities for them. They now work directly with social media influencers. They are selling their products in stores. They have even received national attention and natural web mentions from some of the biggest publications in the world.
But, of course, SEO is not for everyone.
There are many times where we simply tell a potential client, that we truly believe an SEO strategy will not be beneficial for them.
Real Client Example:
Sometime in March ’18, a law firm partner called me and mentioned they wanted to be visible on the first page of Google for the search term, “personal injury lawyer nyc”.
Now, if you ask any SEO specialist, they will agree almost immediately that is is considered to be among one of the most competitive search terms for the organic results. This is because of the high-ticket nature of the industry.
The organic search results consist of big, big players (Cellino & Barnes – HUGE marketing budget), relevant law directories, and other firms that have been on the SEO journey for 2+ years.
So, unfortunately, we informed him that SEO might not be the best option, as it will take him a few years to see an ROI.
We went on to describe how we could bring in more leads via AdWords, in which we launched the campaign 2 weeks later. In the first month of running, he’s received 36 “hot” leads.
You should not be discouraged by big brands.
While some of these big players are killing it with SEO, they shouldn’t discourage you from implementing an SEO campaign. It’s still possible to beat them in the search results, it just requires the right strategy.
Many of these big brands/publications are ranking solely on their overall authority. Your website can come in, provide better answers to the question (search term), receive better quality & relevant backlinks and have better engagement. These are the basic frameworks to beat the big brands online.
Conclusion: Why You Need SEO?
You need SEO because it’s an essential component of any large marketing plan. If you’re just starting out or if you’re already an established brand, you need SEO because the strategy will put you in front of potential customers that are actively looking for your product/service.
When developing a unique SEO campaign strategy, a competitive landscape analysis is one of the foundations for the final plan. A look at the competitors that are actively ranking/pursuing specific search terms provides valuable insight into the eventual development of the SEO campaign.
We’re not fixing the wheel here. If a data point on your competitor’s website is working for them, it’s likely it’ll work for you, as well.
But how far can this go? How much can you look at competitors, especially the big conglomerates, and rely on their data? How do you even know if the on-page optimization they’re doing is also correct?
In a world of search results giving favoritism to large industry authority sites, our initial instinct is to believe that these websites have their SEO teams up to par. We’re expected to believe that their multi-million dollar budgets can afford to ensure they have the elite strategies behind them.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Being local to New York City, I’ve had the advantage of collaborating with some of the top enterprise businesses in the city. Companies for brands we all use every single day. I’ve been brought in by these companies for SEO consulting & training, in-depth technical SEO audits, advisory roles & more. Much to my own surprise, the knowledge of SEO within these companies was severely outdated.
What I’ve Noticed…
Many of the Fortune 500 companies had what I’ll call “scattered marketing.” What this means is that their marketing team didn’t have a proper handle on all of the different forms on marketing, and instead of dedicated select team members to different platforms/marketing strategies, the entire in-house teams we’re doing everything.
One specific Fortune 500 company based in the city comes to mind when I think of scattered marketing. This company, which is considered to be among the largest life insurance companies in the world (estimated $800million profits in 2017), had days of the week dedicated to specific forms of marketing. Monday was Paid Advertising review & optimization; Tuesday was Search Engine Optimization; Wednesday was reconfiguration and audit of email marketing blasts; and so on.
Since they have the resources to maintain a full-time, dedicated in-house marketing team, there was no other reason than straight consulting as to which SEO Services New York could have been useful. They just needed guidance and the proper advice as to what’s taking place in a legit SEO campaign, that’s focused on results, longevity & ROI.
Big Brand (Bad) SEO in Real-Time
I’m not one to start controversy and begin bashing companies in hopes of minor publicity. It was simply to prove a point that they don’t always have their $#*! figured out and this should be accounted for in the strategy development. The point I’m going to share was reviewed with well-known industry colleagues who, as well as myself, had no proper explanation as to why.
If you know why… comment below, and I’ll edit the post to include your comment and a link back to your website.
I was researching for a prospective e-commerce client, and I was shocked to see what the footer of Overstock.com looked like:
click to enlarge in a new tab
Now, the red boxes… I have a Google Chrome browser extension that automatically highlights “nofollow” links. When a hyperlink in a page has a nofollow tag associated, it’s automatically given a red box.
When it comes to on-page SEO, we know that internal linking is a tremendous asset. It’s extremely important, and more importantly, the text of the links play a huge role. Given the nature of Overstock.com, I would think that there are many opportunities for them to take advantage of high volume search terms.
We would think Overstock would like to rank high on Google for the search term: “Overstock coupons”. This is a search term that brings in roughly 75,000 searches per month.
Unfortunately, at the time of this post, they’re sitting at #6 for that specific search term. I wholeheartedly believe that the removal of the nofollow link in the footer menu will give them positive results in the search engines.
This example could be shown for a few other of the items listed in their footer.
On The Other Hand…
Overstock.com does have history specifically regarding their SEO tactics. In 2011, they were penalized for using link schemes and maybe in their attempt to ensure they don’t ever get slapped; they’re taking overcautious measures.
What Do You Think?
Comment below if you think you know why Overstock.com is doing this. Have other examples of big brand (bad) SEO? Comment below.