Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why SEO/SEM isn't an Automated Service

The proliferation of questions that come to us regarding whether or not certain spam that businesses receive is legitimate, claiming to offer cheap, quick SEO-related link-building, leads us to offer an answer to the question "why SEO/SEM isn't an automated service I can buy".

The most recent spam question was particularly intriguing; a business was notified it had received a "business of the year award" in a particular category - while very impressive and legitimate-sounding, it was nothing more than a spam/scam to (1) attract more business and (2) build inbound links (to the spammer).

We recently went ahead and tested a 3rd-party inbound link-builder, who promised (quickly, for $25) 25 inbound links for three keywords. The results were less than good.

1 - Yes, 25 inbound links were created, though not all for the three keyword phrases we selected.

2 - Only 5, in our opinion, were from directories or bookmark sites that "matter", or would likely result in visits to our target site (a local NOVA business)...most were from very obscure sites, unrelated directories (for example "technology" sites instead of "home services" sites, like our keywords indicated).

3 - All bookmarks were simple URLs, with no supporting text, article, description etc. to help both readers and search engines understand more about the relevance and context of the backlink (and therefore increase its contribution to the search results)

4 - Many bookmarks orginated from lists or directories the provider (or their 3rd-party sources) created, with no particular topical focus - so that the links were mixed in with many other unrelated links, and therefore resulted in a directory page of no page rank at all. Additionally, the provider's own directories were the pages most positively impacted with all pointers using their own business name.

5 - While our keywords included a local designation (Northern Virginia), no backlinks were established from local sites (in fact, many of the backlinks were from obscure directories in Greece, Russia, etc.)

6 - Backlinks established on "news" or communication sites (like Digg and Twitter) did not include actual "news" or information at all - and will likely be buried.

7 - The 2 Backlinks established on blogs, as entries, contained zero supporting information or tags.

The results? On the one hand, it remains to be seen whether Page Rank is impacted - as it usually takes several weeks to months for this to be impacted. Page Rank impact will be neutral or even slightly negative (something that can be corrected fairly easily, with more good content), due to the fact that most inbound links are coming from irrelevant sources - though not a high enough number that would indicate spamming. Search results show a quick "blip" for the presence of items with our keywords, but got quickly buried as the rest of the the results were re-indexed over the week.

Therefore, the conclusion is that "quick hit", 3rd-party and automated approaches to SEO/SEM and in particular backlink-building DO NOT WORK, especially when targeting a local or regional market - what works is careful, methodical and honest creation of legitimate backlinks, from legitimate sites, associated with legitimate, useful and interesting content. There's no substitute.

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