Maybe you’ve heard about the Google page rank scandal that venerable retailer J.C. Penney perpetrated over the past Christmas season? The company hired search engine optimization experts to put Penney’s first in nearly all Google searches in the apparel and retail categories, for everything from athletic wear to little black dresses.
The SEO company certainly earned its consulting fee, because Penney’s had excellent online sales over the Christmas 2010 season as compared to competitors and its own 4Q 2009 online sales.
The fly in the ointment was that the SEO company allegedly used what are called “black hat” techniques that unfairly manipulated the algorithm that Google uses to determine the page rank that businesses in a given search category will receive. The algorithm is quite mysterious, has been reported to contain 200+ factors and is said to change frequently.
What is known about the algorithm is that Google counts the number of web pages that link to a particular site. Links to a website are treated like votes. The links reflect what the online community at large views as the most relevant websites associated with a search category. Penney’s SEO consultants managed to create 2000+ links to dubious sites and that allowed the retailer to be the king of all searches in numerous apparel and retail categories.
The function of SEO is to massage Google’s algorithm so that a business will land on page one of a search and as close to the top as possible. The quest to obtain a number one, or at least a top ten (10 listings = 1 page), page rank placement is very intense.
Businesses that reach number one page rank are positioned to rake in the most dollars. For internet retail searches, several studies have shown that one-third of searchers click only on the first business listed. Another third will also click on the second through fifth listings. If a business does not appear on the first page, it is literally out of the picture and may as well not be listed at all.
Hence, a plethora of SEO experts have come to the rescue, to scoop billable hours from nervous business owners who are scrambling to remain competitive in a troubled economy. Bringing prospects to your website is the name of the game and with some luck, a few of them will become your clients. But should you pay someone to do this for your website? Maybe, maybe not.
To sort this out, think about how those in your industry usually get clients. Is it standard for prospects to conduct searches, peruse the websites of those with whom they are not familiar and make inquiries that sometimes create the trust level that leads to a sale? Or do clients usually come in as the result of face to face meetings and recommendations? Or all of the above?
Of course, whether or not online business is significant, a strong page rank can only make your business look more substantial, no matter how clients find you. Even those who come in through referrals may do a search to find out how you rank, just for the heck of it.
But the question remains about paying someone to put your business on page one. If you’re holding a few extra dollars, then why not, I suppose ? However, hiring an SEO expert does not necessarily mean that your page rank objective will be achieved. There is no shortage of SEO practitioners, but there is a significant body of anecdotal evidence that suggests the outcome of their work can be underwhelming. Caveat emptor.
My big question is, if it is true that Google changes the algorithm frequently, then what is the shelf-life of prime SEO placement for the average Freelancer, whose budget for the project is likely to be less than $1000.00? How long will that keep me on page one? Also, can I do my own SEO work by using key words and phrases that will capture the attention of Google? More on this topic next week.
N.B.–Because the February – March session sold out, I have been invited to reprise “Become Your own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing” at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street in Boston on three successive Mondays, May 9, 16 & 23 from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM. For more information or to register please visit http://bcae.org or call 617.267.4430.
Thanks for reading,