May 13, 2009
By Jill Whalen
A couple of weeks ago, I received the following request from an email address in India:
"sir/madam.i want to start SEO(search engine optimization)business.but before that i want to know about SEO.how to intitate this?can u please help me?"I forgive the formatting and poor grammar, as English is probably not their first language. What I don't understand is why people think that SEO is something they can perform as a business without knowing anything about it!
Certainly I give this person props for wanting to know about SEO *before* they set up shop. But what is it about SEO that attracts people with no knowledge or skills? While it's definitely not rocket science, if SEO were so easy that any hack could successfully start an SEO biz overnight, then every webmaster and company owner could easily learn it and do it themselves.
Regardless, new SEO companies keep popping up like dandelions in Spring.
This would be okay if they weren't getting paid for their services. But apparently they are. While you can start to learn SEO by reading the overabundance of free information available, this does not provide you with the knowledge you need to perform SEO on other people's websites.
Not to mention that a good portion of the free SEO information is actually wrong.
Most of what passes for SEO information these days that is written by the average hack has about a 0% chance of increasing targeted traffic to a website. The fact that new articles are being written in 2009 about submitting to search engines – a procedure that hasn't done squat in at least 10 years if not longer – makes me want to scream. And when I hear of companies that recommend changing all the URLs of a website even though there's nothing wrong with them, I nearly pull out my hair.
It's not only the lost time and money that people spend on these useless "SEO" tasks; it's that they are boondoggles at best. Inexperienced SEOs don't understand what really works, so they just do the stuff they read about in others' blogs. The big problem with this is that the information they read is likely to be outdated, not applicable to the website in question, or an outright myth that spreads from forum to forum without ever having been tested.
I'm not saying that you can't learn SEO on your own. In fact, I think it's one of the best ways to get started. But that means doing it for your own sites or for free until you learn more about it.
You can't learn SEO by just reading about it.
The only way to learn is to try stuff out. When you find something that works once, don't assume that it will work again on a different site – try it and see. It might, or it might not. It may have worked once due to a special combination of factors that the first site had that the second one didn't. Try it again on a third site. And a fourth.
The more sites you work on, the more you'll understand the magical mixture that makes sumptuous SEO soup.
Doing SEO for others means you need the knowledge that only comes from many years of experience. The more you learn and practice, the more you won't waste time and money on those things that everyone else is wasting time and money on. Those things that never actually move the needle any more than the needle would have moved if you had stayed in bed and eaten ice cream.
If you have your heart set on being an SEO and doing it for others, that's great! I'm not trying to discourage new SEOs from entering the marketplace. In fact, I previously wrote this article on where to get a good SEO education, which I highly recommend reading:
Learning SEO and SEM – Where to Start?
I also recommend apprenticing with an experienced, professional SEO agency for at least 1 year, if you have the chance. By that time you should start to be able to diagnose website problems and understand which things are worth fixing and which aren't.
Ultimately, the onus is on those who contract with SEOs.
If you're a company who's thinking of hiring an SEO consultant or agency, for goodness' sake take a look at how long they've been in business! If they've been in the biz for at least 3 years and have some proof of results and satisfied customers, they probably have some clue about what they're doing. Even then, be skeptical. If they're asking you to make major changes to your website, be sure you understand exactly why. I'd even suggest getting a second opinion if it's extensive and expensive.
I've said for years that there are many ways to skin the SEO cat. What one company proposes might indeed be effective; however, another company may be able to gain you the same amount of targeted traffic through different, more efficient means.
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency.
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