(Stick with this post and you’ll find additional nuggets of SEO wisdom you can pull out when you need them)
A couple of years ago - late summer of 2007 - we launched our first-ever SEO initiative. We did it to support a brand-spanking-new website that was to be launched on January 1, 2008. We were bound and determined to do it – design, content, meta data, etc. – right from the beginning and knew just enough to get us in trouble, so we decided to engage the services of an SEO vendor. After a few weeks of researching best practices, we identified three potential vendors and started the evaluation process.
I haven’t polled the team, but I’m willing to bet there is a consensus that we made a poor decision. I know we did our due diligence and asked all the right questions, but the project still crashed. A lot of time was spent discussing tactics – white hat v. black hat – and we were convinced the chosen vendor used white hat SEO practices. In the end, what was positioned as white was turned a dingey gray through the combination of two key pieces to any SEO initiative: content and keywords.
The vendor’s proposal called for a list of 50 keywords from which they would develop content that would link to appropriate pages of our website. The vendor developed pages were positioned as a deeper layer of content that, through intra-linking, would increase organic search rankings. Makes sense. The more links to relevant content the better.
Red Flag no. 1:The first sign of trouble came when we saw the questionnaire that was to drive the development of the keywords. From the first question to the last two things were painfully clear. First, the vendor’s key market is small retailers. Second, their practice is structured around companies that have little if any website experience – design, content, etc. I must admit I cringed a bit when I submitted the answers, knowing they would be used to develop the 50 keywords. My cringe was vindicated a few days later.
Ref Flag no. 2: The keywords returned were, in a word, worthless. I’m being a bit extreme, but the truth is most of what the vendor delivered was meaningless. There were a few semi-useful keywords, but most had no basis in the reality of the industry I serve – manufacturing. Disappointed, but not completely disillusioned, I contacted the project manager only to find out they were not really a project manager at all. Worse yet, I found there was no project manager assigned.
Red Flag no. 3: Worser yet, the vendor does not assign project managers. Instead, there is a different body for each step of the process – keywords, content creation, link building, and so on. Worser worser yet, no one body knew how to communicate with other bodies assigned to the case – if communication was allowed. They lived in the ultimate Silo Land. I insisted on and got a point person assigned for the balance of the project.
Red Flag no. 4: In the end, I created all the keywords the vendor would use to create the content they promised. I even provided rules for how keywords could and could not be used. (For example, it makes no sense to discuss process manufacturing and medical devices on the same page). What I got back page after page of gibberish. Unusable garbage that wasn’t fit to line a digital birdcage. I called the “project manager” and expressed, in no uncertain terms, my utter disappointment with the content. The reply I got sent me over the edge. I was told that it didn’t matter that the content made no sense, only that the keywords were represented and ultimately linked to the appropriate pages of the website. That is the point at which everything became crystal clear - or dingey gray – to me.
The vendor had no intention of providing content that would actually add value to visitors to the website. With this revelation in hand, I asked about the possibility of one of these pages showing up in a search and someone, a potential prospect or current customer, seeing the nonsense we were publishing. The “project manager” assured me the chances of that happening were infinitesimally small. Furthermore, if one of the pages did pop up, the reader would likely navigate to the page, click on one of the keywords and follow that link to a page – one that I wrote – that contained the information they wanted.
Lovely. Just lovely.
In the final analysis we paid for the priviledge writing our own keywords that were ultimatley used to create worthless content that was just this side of being black hat SEO. The content as provided by the vendor still sits in a file. It is unused and will remain ever so.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned from the process:
- Ask potential vendors what their customer base looks like. If it doesn’t look like you, say good bye.
- When vendors talk about generating content, have them clarify exactly what that means. If their content isn’t fit for public consumption, if it’s something you wouldn’t show your mother, say good bye.
- Ask about the team that will be assigned to the project and who the project manager is. If they tell you the team is TBD, say good bye.
I purposely did not mention the name of the vendor, although I know at least one person reading this post knows the answer, but it is a well known name in the industry. They would do well to be honest about their core market and their SEO tactics because if someone does ask, I’ll recommend they steer clear of this one.
My journey into the world of Digital Communications started in 2004 with the idea that I could use video testimonials to drive leads for the enterprise software company I was working for. It worked and, along with my good friends Albert Maruggi and Mike Keliher, I expanded into blogging, podcasting and Twitter. With each step we experienced more and more success. In early 2010 I moved from the client side to the agency side doing the same kind of work for a number of vertical industries.
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