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SEO Website Audit

SEO Consultants Are Not the Enemy!

December 15, 2010
SEOs have been getting a bad rap for a long time. Unfortunately, in many cases, their bad reputation has been well deserved. When a client hires an outside SEO consultant during the design and development of a new website, it's often not looked upon kindly by the development team. Chances are the team has had bad experiences with an SEO who forced them to design for search engines and not for people.Photo Credit: Katie McCoy

Who wouldn't be upset by that? Search engines don't buy products. They don't sign up for newsletters, and they don't tell their friends about your great company.

If that's what any SEO consultant tries to do, it is wrong. More than that, it isn't SEO. It is pseudo SEO that is implemented when there's not enough budget to do things correctly.

Get that type of SEO out of your head.

Real SEOs Understand Usability

But don't be fooled into thinking that their SEO recommendations are just for the search engines. Nearly anything that's implemented for better visibility in search engines, when done correctly, also enhances the website for users as well. But it does take a lot more work, which means you're also going to have to spend more money.

Remember, while Google's own user interface may be evolving rapidly, the crawler and indexing components are still very much like old web browsers. Crawlers can't easily use the search boxes on your website to find information and products hidden in your database. They need obvious links that point to web pages that showcase the content that sits in your database. They also can't see or index content contained in images. And while they can extract some information from Flash, in practice, it might as well be invisible.

Guess what else behaves like an older web browser? Screen readers meant for people with low vision or other disabilities that impede their ability to surf the web through traditional browsers.

Know what else? Ironically, many mobile browsers (which should be on the cutting-edge) can act in an old-fashioned way – iPhones don't see Flash at all! And some cell phone browsers make it difficult to navigate around a site that only has search boxes. On slow mobile connections (can you say "Edge Network"?), images may not even show up. In all of these cases, if SEO and usability best practices have been put into place, the visitor experience is much simpler and better all around. Clearly, it's a lot easier to click links when you're browsing a website from your phone rather than it is to try to figure out the various configurations of some e-commerce site search boxes.

SEO Creates Better User Experiences

Whether you care if your website is search engine friendly or not (and you ought to care!), it should never be designed so that the only way to get around is via search boxes. It's nothing short of poor usability. Your target market is composed of different types of people who are likely to find what they're looking for in different ways. Providing alternate forms of navigation helps everyone (including search engines) find exactly what they're looking for.

The next time your SEO consultant recommends something that you don't think is necessary, ask them why it should be that way. If they mention that it will be better for both search engines and site visitors (and can explain why), then you can rest assured that they are not your enemy or trying to sabotage your beautiful website. They have the best interests of everyone in mind at all times.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
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 Anonymous said:
But the reverse is also true. Many SEO consultants also see the development team as a 'hurdle', so whatever we say, both the consultants and the 'bosses' might tend to think it's just natural resistance, and when it's the SEO consultant's suggestion against the development team opinion... well, the SEO are 'the experts'.
As an example, a few years ago our web site had URLs of the form "/pages/products/(product code.php)" or "/pages/section/(section name.php)". Then an SEO guy came and said "oh, you need to change the url structure to have folders with the section names instead". I did some research and found that this only had a negligible (if any) weight for search engines, and I said so, but guess what ended up happening? After a long and delicate process we changed the url structure. We lost positioning while the 301s did their job (a couple of weeks or so), and after that... there was no noticeable effect. Now the SEO 'expert' is gone and we're left with a much harder to maintain site.
 Jill Whalen said:
Agree, Anon. Unfortunately, as stated at the beginning of the article, not all SEOs are created equal. There are a lot of quacks out there who recommend things that they read somewhere will help, but in practice can actually hurt.
 Ian Percy said:
I'm pruning all the blogs and newsletters I get and was about to unsubscribe from HRA as well because I seldom look at it. Though I love writing (7 books under my belt), stupid web copy made up of search words drives me crazy and I can't make myself do it. This article gives me hope - and kept me as a subscriber. Many thanks.
 Steve Watson said:
SEO can't exist in a box, it must be integrated with all of the rest of the action going on with a website. I have, so far, talked with 9 companies trying to find someone to take over our site and SEO is an important part of what I'm looking for. I've gotten nearly 9 different "stories" about how to do it, how not to do it. Exhausting and frustrating.

So, if you want to sell yourself to the likes of me, keep it simple, clear and easy - kind of like that Staples button. Otherwise, I don't buy it.
 Al Toman said:
Neither my local clients nor I can afford this SEO so it is moot even talkin about it. We bunch of farmers just have to learn to do things ourselves or go without.

If ya look at Google, you can see that millions and millions and millions go without. Well, I mean, none of those folk are on SERP1 position 1,2,3. Neither are we. Anyway ...

Kinda wonder where are these here SEO , to whom are they catering!?! Maybe to them city slickers with deep pockets or money accounts like that of Bernie Madoff!?!

Well. don't matter.

We folks struggled all our lives and made it this far. I'm sure we'll make things do sittin on SERP 269 position 10 along with everybody else.

Al Toman
 Daniel Metz said:
Credible SEOs will be able to show you past clients and results from their efforts. Investigate qualifications and experience before jumping on board with an appealing idea. Jill has pointed out important concepts in the optimization of website construction. All things must be integrated and easy to use. Providing desirable, useful, and unique content will be the best SEO strategy for any website.
 Ann Wilson said:
I just said goodbye to a web client because she INSISTS on using the list of 'suggestions' from a SEO person. This person bought a $29.95 pdf of how to succeed in Google rankings and considers himself an expert. I won't even go into what he wanted me to change, it was complete insanity.

Mind you, the way I set her site up 2.5 years ago (built & optimized) had her ranking on page 1 of Google for 3 specific services she specializes in (hair extensions etc). But other had paid ads - so she had to waste money double listing herself; then this con-artist caught up with her and sold her the moon.

As soon as she told me he was listing her website on all these 'free' sites I became concerned. She flatly refused to listen to me. I laid it all out - the why's, examples, the whole thing. Nada.

So I modified the footer to state original design by us, upkeep by her, and cut her lose.

I am tired of trying to save people from destroying their businesses.
 Jill Whalen said:
Good for you, Ann!

It's definitely a problem on both sides of the fence. And I understand why many designers are gun shy when it comes to working with SEOs with so many jokers out there.
 A.J. Kohn said:
This is an interesting post because it hits on a number of problems in the SEO industry.

First is the rash of poor SEO consultants, folks with just enough information to con people into thinking they know something. Sadly, I find that poor SEOs outnumber good SEOs.

Second is the last-opinion problem. Many clients are prone to agreeing with the SEO advice they've just heard. They're easily swayed by numbers or looking at a personalized SERP. If you're not the last person talking to them - watch out. It's often exhausting to talk clients away from poor SEO techniques they've just heard work great. (This is even more difficult when it's a VC telling them that a portfolio company is doing really great SEO by doing X. You should do that!)

Third is the fact that too many still think of SEO as something just for search engines. And it's amazingly difficult to convince people that what's good for a search engine is nearly always good for the user. This is particularly true since the level of savvy for users is well below what many believe - so they continually want to shout 'stop dumbing down the site for search engines!'

The fact is that SEO ventures (extensively) into the realm of UX and Conversion Optimization. If you have an SEO consultant who isn't interested in these areas, you've got a problem. The sad part is, most people don't want that - they want a list of things they can do to cross SEO off their list.

I wrote something recently about how people view SEO. It's essentially SEO as told via The Princess Bride.
 Jill Whalen said:

Isn't the princess bride / SEO theme taken from Stoney deGeyter who's posted a number of articles using that theme over at Search Engine Guide based on his conference presentation of same?
 AJ Kohn said:
No, I'm not familiar with Stoney's posts (well not those specific ones) or conference presentation. I just saw the comment policy and took it from there. Any relation to, or overlap with Stoney is entirely unintentional.
 Marcos Alonso said:
That´s an old problem for seo consultants..
While i worked in an Agencie, a lot of clientes did not implement our suggentions because they didn´t realise we though first on users and consequently in spiders.. but that´s a common problem and i think it will be bigger due the lots of "seo experts" out there.
 Norman Osborn said:
Flash and Actionscript, HTML and CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere, Fireworks, Soundbooth are just few of tools I'm using.
Year ago I decided to try myself in SEO battlefield and I've started to learn and work on my own websites and I obtained some pretty good results, even in Google USA and Canada( I'm from Europe and English is not my native language).
Every day I spend hour or two on learning SEO and I collected big amount of knowledge.
I stilll don't call myself an SEO expert.
But in my country you have people who call them self 'experts' and who don't know how to change,believe or not, the title tag in the source code.They can blabing all day long about web, about now and future technologies... and they charge for it.
So, I'm charging more but only after I produce agreed results.

In my opinion good SEO is combination of web developer, knowledge fanatic and business man.
As a developer you can recognize any weakness or strenght of the website.As a knowledge fanatic you will not stop to learn when you reach some degree of expertize and as an business man you will try to find most pay out way to do the job without burden budget with unnecessary or impracticable tasks ( promise to make #1 for weight loss in three months ).

Ethic is also important part of SEO, like any other job ( except politics :) and I hope Jill will produce some article on that subject matter.