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What You Don't Know About SEO

What You Don't Know About SEO

By Erin Weinger | Entrepreneur Magazine

Getting the Links

So what might be a good use of your SEO dollars? One word: Links.

Google uses about 200 data points when sizing up your website. But one of them is whether you’re popular with the in crowd. If reputable websites link to your content, the Google gods smile upon you.

Getting these coveted links is labor intensive, however, and includes hours of groveling, cold e-mailing and link-swapping with bloggers. “It’s the hardest part of SEO,” says David Brown, a partner in the L.A.-based upstart social media marketing company Pure Ground. It’s not impossible to achieve, he says, but many entrepreneurs don’t have the hours to spare. An SEO firm that specializes in getting links might be worth the investment.

To do link outreach yourself, Kent, the SEO for Dummies author, suggests this strategy. Scour the Internet for blogs that correspond to your product or service. Create a simple spreadsheet of contact e-mail addresses for all of them. Craft a polite introductory letter describing your site, and simply ask to be included in any list of links on its site. Offering a reciprocal link, a coupon or some type of promotion can help.

“Convincing the blogosphere to link to you because you’ve got something cool is a really good thing for SEO,” he says. But he reiterates that business owners—or, say, an underemployed college graduate for hire by the hour—can accomplish this. “It doesn’t make sense to pay me $225 an hour to go looking for blogs.”

Still, many entrepreneurs in the startup phase don’t have the hours to spare on mastering the art of SEO. If you must hire a consultant, though, do so with caution. Ask lots of questions. Don’t sign long-term contracts.

And check references thoroughly, advises Zack Brown, vice president for marketing and sales at Optimal Fusion. “If they claim to have some magic formula but don’t want to say what other companies they’ve worked with, I don’t really want to work with them.”

Also, be very specific about the results you expect. “Tie them to performance,” Brown says. Instead of paying an exorbitant monthly fee, suggest a much lower figure with a set bonus, paid only if predetermined results are achieved in a set time frame. If the firm is any good, it’ll have no trouble meeting your goals and getting its full paycheck.

Finally, be on the lookout for “black hat” SEO tactics that try to fool search engines. Frowned-upon tricks include hiding invisible text or unrelated content on your page, copying content from oft-visited sites, or pulling a bait-and-switch that redirects readers to an unexpected site. Such machinations might garner initial traffic but can lead to heartache.

Optimal Fusion’s Bess watched a company with a popular as-seen-on-TV product wind up in a costly legal battle when an SEO firm’s ploys got them banned by Google. After more than $100,000 in litigation, $2 million in lost sales and a lot of begging and pleading, it was reinstated.

Lisa Josephsen, a partner at Rocket and Walker, a Manhattan-based web development company, frequently pairs up with SEO experts when building new sites. In the course of interviewing them, however, she’s come across plenty who are willing to compromise design and usability for the sake of the ranking. Others simply want to lure visitors—any visitors. Bad ideas, she says. Make sure your design and SEO teams understand your business model and are the right fit. “You might be getting 100 calls a day,” she says, “but they might not be from the right consumers.” Josephsen recommends keeping an SEO team on call for three months or so after launching a website to get good traffic analysis and advice as you refine your site.

If your website is a vital component of your enterprise, then the best SEO strategy is to run it as you would your business. Be clear. Deliver what you promise. Provide a high-quality product.

And, Brown adds: “You don’t need to pay someone $10,000 a month to tell you that.”

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