After reading this thread on SEOMoz, it got me thinking: SEO is a very fast changing business – what worked a day before an algorithm change, suddenly banishes your site to the depths of hell (also known as ‘Page 2’) the day after. Large corporations tend to be slow moving beasts when it comes to change; they are burdened with bureaucracy and held back by requiring things like HR departments, lawyers and secretaries. I mean, don’t get me wrong, these things are necessary when running a business of a certain size; but what it does mean is, a complete change in business strategy after a Google algorithm change can take months to implement. A small SEO outfit could discuss what they need to change that evening, and be doing it the next day.
For those who can’t be bothered clicking through to the post on SEOMoz (I get it, you’re busy), I’ll summarise: A guy hired a ‘reputable’ large UK-based SEO company, one who ranked top five in the search for ‘SEO’ in the UK. He doesn’t name and shame them, but I can only see one SEO company in the top five for that search – go ahead and check, I’ll wait. His site traffic then dropped like a stone – he says it has halved since taking on the firm. Now that’s one thing. Okay, so perhaps he’s in a really competitive niche, maybe his site was forgotten by staff (see bureaucracy, above). Hey, we all make mistakes. But that’s not the only thing – he then received a Google Webmaster Tools letter, the classic ‘We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines’. Whoa there.
The evidence is there (below) of the low-quality links they’ve been building for all to see. They were using a blog network (a network of blog sites under one entity’s control, often used by black-hat SEOs) – something Google has very recently cracked down on. Like, A LOT. Not only removing hundreds of these networks from their index completely, but also penalising webmasters who are using them. Which is what happened here, except the client gets penalised, not the ‘reputable’ SEO company.
This company was probably setup when this sort of tactic worked. And hey, that’s fine. Being at the top of Google has intrinsic value, if you can offer that, when in actual fact you’re doing something very easy, that’s good business – you’ll make a lot of money. But SEO changes fast and often. ‘Mass’ SEO (for want of a better term – black hat doesn’t quite fit here, as some black hat SEOs are out there discovering the next effective loophole, not just using old methods that everyone knows about) is risky business. Putting unknowing clients at these sort of risks is totally unacceptable for any SEO firm, let alone a big one with large corporate clients – these are small business clients whose owners have families and mortgages to pay.
Will this mean the end for big SEO companies? No, probably not (alright, so it was an attention-grabbing headline – you got this far didn’t you?). But they will have to change, along with clients’ expectations. As Google becomes more and more savvy at combatting manipulation of its search results, big SEO companies will have to turn into big marketing companies – creating social, shareable content . Companies approaching them for SEO will need to expect less immediate results, it’s going to be a case of building your brand online, and letting the links come naturally.