Hiring a Search Engine Marketer with the Right Hat

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Does your search engine marketer wear a white hat or a black hat?  If you’re outsourcing optimization to a private firm, you’ve got to be very certain that the marketer used optimization techniques you find ethical.  If you hire a black hat optimizer, you run the risk of getting your site banned.  This is no skin off the black hat optimizer’s back, because, aside from putting a ding in his reputation, he’ll be able to find new willing clients looking for the services of a shadowy black hatter.

Though there are constant warnings against black hat practices, black hat optimization services are rampant.  Where else do you think all that spam comes from?  Black hatters are the hackers of the search engine optimization world: always looking for a way to bypass a captcha, spread links automatically (not manually), or other black hat tricks.  Often this is done through software or code: such as a program that automatically stumbles a page on StumbleUpon.  I’m not advocating it by any means, but you’ve got to know it’s out there.  You need to know if your SEM is using these programs or is ranking organically.

What this means is that you can’t go by site performance alone.  Indeed, black hat SEO is popular because it works—at least some of the time.  The problem is that black hat techniques can often work in the short term but they have limited longevity.  Remember there are hackers working both sides of the aisle—so something that works great today is going to be nullified at a later date.  I can’t exactly say what it’s going to be, but be sure that captcha is going to be replaced with a different type of security measure, once captcha-cracking software becomes the norm.  Don’t be fooled by a short-term gain if it doesn’t have long-term prospects.  Then again, you might be the type who doesn’t worry at all about taking this type of risk.

SEM Warning Signs

There are a few things to look for in an SEM.  First, you should get a clear outline of everything the marketer plans to do.  One of the mistakes website owners make is outsourcing too much—i.e. trying to avoid the issue altogether.  IF you don’t know the basics of SEO—either black or white—you won’t know if what the SEM is offering is on the up and up.  I’d recommend that you be wary of guarantees. This isn’t always true, but any SEM who is guaranteeing instant traffic is probably going to be using unscrupulous methods.  It’s like those services that offer to clean up your credit rating overnight: they’ll use illegal methods.  A quality marketer won’t promise too much.  You should have realistic expectations for search engine placement and any SEM worth his salt will offer something within the real of possibility—not a top ten ranking in a week, for example.

So here’s what to look out for:

  • An SEO who wants to build up a stable of sites that all link to your main webpage.  This used to work, it doesn’t anymore.
  • An SEO who uses software to automatically generate content, links (trackbacks), social network placement, spam emails, links in search engines, and so on.  If something is automated, it’s usually not aboveboard.
  • Maybe your job will be easy: maybe the SEM will just come right out and say, “Black hat’s the way to go.”  Again, depending on your own mindset, you’ll either run for the hills or say gimme more.  My vote is for the hills.

Basically, if an SEM is not optimizing by hand, checking every link in and out, creating unique content, bypassing most software, and so on, then you should move on to another firm.  You should look into an SEO firm that has a stable of sites that they’ve already optimized and a good reputation.  However, bigger firms will charge a bigger dollar.  You could go with a startup for less money, but be sure to ask questions about the info mentioned here to make sure they’re not trying to make a big splash in the marketing world by using damaging techniques.

An SEM’s Page Rank

An SEO company is obviously going to have its own website, unless they’re, you know, insane.  This can be a pretty good test of the company’s mettle, though it can’t necessarily tell you if the site has used black hat techniques to rank their own site.  A simple Google search can tell you where the firm’s site is linked—basically how it’s saturated the web, not to mention whatever reviews you might find about the firm.  If an SEO site can’t rank above 3 for their own site, how can you expect that they’ll do a much better job with your own site.  This isn’t always the case—especially if the company is brand new.  In this case, checking the reputation of the CEO of the firm is important.  A page rank can’t be the only determining factor, but it’s a pretty good measuring stick.

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