Spotting the black hat operatorsAlways be sceptical of any company that contacts you out of the blue. If you are going to hire an SEO company, ideally you should use a personal recommendation.
Definitely beware of companies who guarantee a particular ranking. If a company promises that you will be ranked number one on Google, ask for more information. It is relatively easy to get a website ranked number one on Google for an obscure term. However it is much harder to get ranked for something that is useful from a marketing perspective.
Also ask what happens if a company fails to live up to its guarantee? Is there any real value in their promise? The answer is probably not.
Finally ask the SEO company to clearly explain the techniques they are intending to use. If they are evasive with their answers they should be avoided.
If you do discover the techniques they are intending to implement, this will enable you to judge whether you are in danger of being blacklisted.
Know their techniquesMost search engines provided guidelines about unacceptable SEO techniques. Google in particular provide excellent documentation for website owners looking to improve their rankings. They provide advice on selecting an SEO provider and layout what it considers unacceptable techniques. These include:
- Hidden text and links - Some SEO companies use hidden keywords and links that provide no value to the user, but are designed to increase search engine rankings. Techniques include adding text that is the same colour as the background, hiding content with CSS, setting the font size to zero or hiding text behind images.
- Search engine only content - Using techniques such as redirects and cloaking it is possible to show different content to a search engine than to a real user. This approach is often adopted on sites built using Adobe Flash. However, this breaks Google's terms of service and could led to you being removed.
- Sending automated submissions to Google - Many website owners and SEO companies use software packages such as Web Position Gold to automatically submit their websites to multiple search engines. Again, this breaks Google's terms of service and could led to you being removed.
- Duplicating content - Although Google recognises that some content is duplicated for legitimate reasons (e.g. a separate print version of your site), it frowns on websites that deliberately duplicated in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.
- Doorway pages - These are pages that are created with the sole purpose of ranking well for certain keywords. They often have poor content and exist solely to funnel users into the main site.
- Keyword stuffing - This refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking. This can results in a negative user experience, and could harm your site's ranking.
- Participating in link schemes - Although your site ranking is partially based on who links to you, link exchange programs are still a bad idea. Exchanging links indiscriminately without considering their relevancy will damage rather than help your ranking.
Should you therefore avoid hiring SEO companies? Not necessarily. There are many reputable companies offering superb advice on how to improve your rankings. It just depends who you go with.