Could Bad SEO Bring Down Your Business?

Could Bad SEO Bring Down Your Business?

Reader Comments (82)

  1. Great advice Sonia! I thought I was the only one who didn’t want to be a search engine expert as I find myself constantly bombarded with different information on how to optimize my blog in the most ethical way.

    I’ve done the basic by using the All In One plug in but I don’t know how effective it is. I am contemplating an investment in Scribe but I’m a little confused on how it will benefit me. One thing that I do find universal from most experts about SEO, is the high importance of great content so I will be working more and more on this.

    Wish me luck!

    • Good luck, Shola!

      Focus on the information first, the ebooks will help you make a better decision about whether or not Scribe is the right tool for you.

  2. I think the term Edutainment might be a suitable alternative for content – it describes most of what’s found on the internet.

    It would also have the added benefit of reminding business owners what their visitors expect from their websites, so they’d avoid the pitfall of making their sites too blandly informative to allow for optimum engagement.

  3. The problem is, many business owners are very busy people as it is, and worse still, they often value their money over their time. That’s the flaw I see in this article. Since when does a business owner have the time to learn about SEO and related topics?

    The one thing a busy business owner needs to realise is their time is very valuable. You can spend money, but you’re able to make more money if you know how. The same isn’t true for time. You spend your time doing various things, but once that time has been spent, you cannot get any more. You have 24 hours in a day, exactly the same as everyone else.

    The advice I would give to any small business isn’t that they need to take their SEO and content strategy in-house and do it for themselves. I would be educating them about the value of spending more money with a good (reputable) SEO firm who can get them the results over time without doing their business damage. That way they’ll get more business and therefore more profits (assuming their business is capable of doing that). If a small business owner is not willing to listen to someone who knows, then they don’t deserve to reap the rewards.

    • The problem is, until you educate yourself, you don’t *know* what a good reputable SEO firm looks like. That’s the very real and very pressing problem that Marie Haynes pointed to in her article.

      No business owner ever thinks they have time to think about their marketing. And modern SEO is very much an integral part of your marketing. Unfortunately, that’s why so many small businesses go under.

      You can outsource all of it … once you understand what’s needed and how the pieces fit together.

      • I agree to some extent. It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of SEO and I agree marketing is vital to any business. I see nothing wrong with doing your own SEO if you’re happy to. But overall, it’s not something I’d advise by default for the reasons I stated.

        No matter how much a business owner learns SEO, I don’t think any small business can easily avoid trial and error when outsourcing if they’re inexperienced. They need to gain experience working with SEO firms to learn what a reputable one looks like. I think it’s vital to make mistakes and then learn from them when promises aren’t kept.

        Where I come from, many businesses fail simply because their owners aren’t savvy/experienced enough. I don’t doubt that not paying enough attention to the marketing is part of the problem but I don’t believe it’s the root reason for businesses going under.

  4. I do a handful of SEO workshops throughout the year and it never fails. I always have at least 1 person show up that lost 90% of their traffic overnight because of something they did to trick the system. And at least 1 person that wants to know the “tricks” instead of learning the right way.

  5. “no SEO at all is better than using one of the “quick and cheap” SEO services.”

    As a white hat SEO provider I completely agree! I always tell business owners that if they can’t afford an SEO firm to manage their whole campaign, then take whatever budget they have and invest it in their own education. Take an SEO workshop and learn the basics for yourself. SEO isn’t rocket science and you don’t need to be an expert to start laying the right foundation. Build it a little yourself and then revisit hiring someone next year.

    • That’s a great approach, thanks for weighing in from the trenches. 🙂

      I can’t really blame the “shady” SEOs because they’ve been giving businesses exactly what they asked for. It’s been really hard to convince the smaller business to do things the right way. Google just gave the whole process a big shove this year.

    • Always great to see your input as well, Nick – been following your content and advice for a while and it’s really helped me from my early blogging days.

      Cheers, sir!

    • I totally agree with Nick. I have personally witnessed many ads online that says “Get in Google top search results in less than 24 hours”. I know for sure that such ads will do nothing but get your account banned by Google for Spamming thus affecting your business negatively. Even natural ways of SEO will take more than a day to get your website in Google search results!

      I have personally come across many people who say that they want to get into top results of Google, and that too, FAST! They want to pay to get to the top results not realizing that it a slow eventual process & nothing happens overnight. And if it does, rest assured Google will with-hold or even list such a website as spammy.

      I think what it important is knowing that SEO results are seen overtime & not instantly. This is how all the search engines work. Pressurizing SEO guy for instant results or falling for deceiving ads that promise great results in a very short time, should be avoided.

        I have found in the past that doing the basic on-page SEO with the good substance in the text always brought a site into the top 10 with Google. It works because Google delivers local sites of relevance. But this is not what happened most recently – it only took Google 24 hours to place my web site in the #1 position.

        I don’t usually put a new site up until it is complete but this time I needed to test a form on the server so I expected to be invisible until I submitted to Google AND provided a few backlinks. About 4 days went by while I furiously wrote content and then I thought I was finished and submitted to Google. I did a search for the site and, as I expected – nothing.

        Then I opened Google Analytics to check a few web sites and also to add this latest site to Analytics. It was at this point I saw the g+ button and decided to put this little guy on the home page of the latest site.

        I found my site was placed in the #1 position. I used Bing and it was no where in sight. I am attributing the little bit of script for the g+ icon to have stimulated the immediate response with Google and to index the site right away.

        A big part of the #1 spot is the natural URL that is also the keywords, that is also a short phrase, that is also a geographical area (the url includes my city as the focus for a local market).

        Most small business owners want to use the name of their company as the url, which works if you are very well branded. But for unknown small business web sites they would be boosted in Google (any search engine) if they used a url that contained one or two of their keywords. I chose burnaby web consulting because that is what I do and where I do it, but I could have any business name and logo on the home page – and who would care? Who spends time looking at url’s except SEO geeks?

        I just want to say that it looks to me that instant (but limited) and honest results are possible if you play into a layered strategy beginning with the keywords. Everything, everything, everything begins with keywords – even the URL. Maybe especially the URL.

        From this I have learned that a more powerful URL is made up of “what” & “where” rather than a business name.

  6. Great post. This summarises nicely our current experience in the marketplace as a copywriting agency. I was discussing “toxic links” with one particularly switched on client recently and he told me of a business he knew of (who I can’t name here) that basically had to abandon their site entirely because of harmful links – it was easier to rip it up and start again than it was to try and remove the links.

  7. As a “content writer” who has been repeatedly hired to write the hundreds of useless pages that have no reason to exist except keyword insertion, I can tell you that I always found this strategy completely bogus and am delighted that Google is onto it. In fact, for a writer it has been a profitable but soul deadening and creativity leaching experience… to the point where I’d like to get out of writing for the web completely. Give me a good old fashioned book, where the author has something genuine to say and doesn’t need or want to add an extra word!

    • Don’t give up on the web just yet, Leslie! (Although I totally get what you mean.)

      Glad Google has made your work a bit more rewarding, anyway. 🙂 Stick around, I think you’ll like this site. We’re all about empowering good writers to do better work.

  8. This is a great article and I’m always sharing this with my clients. The content market is so saturated it’s hard sometimes to get small business owners to believe in the power of a good blog. I find most sit and watch their stats and when one blog doesn’t soar into immediate ratings success, they feel like it’s a failure. I always say, steady and focused wins your community. You’re not in it for the race, you’re in it to retain and gain great clients!

    • there’s a lot of content, but there’s not a lot of good content. There’s still room for businesses to make a mark, but they have to think about things differently than they may be used to.

  9. I agree with Nick – investing in your own education is one of the best things a small business with a tiny budget can do. We all know it’s a false economy to cut expert services like SEO out of your budget, but try telling that to a hard-pressed business owner in a recession.

    I’ve seen my day-to-day consulting work virtually dry up because the small businesses/one-man-bands that I mostly work with are in that situation. So I’ve diversified and I get real pleasure out of teaching small groups how to put the fundamental principles of good SEO and content creation into place for themselves. And the look of revelation on their faces when a point drives home is priceless!

    Of course, they do struggle to find the time to take it all in-house, but even if they could afford not to, I think it’s a very good thing for them to understand good practice.

  10. Sonia – deeply appreciate your post & Copyblogger’s efforts to raise the game on creating decent content. If Panda and Penguin raise the bar even higher, so be it. No-one wants – or should suffer – having to endure piles of dross to get to decent and enlightening content. Now if i can just avoid the classic Cobbler’s Kids Syndrome on my own blog…

  11. Great article!

    I think small business owners could educate themselves about SEO and then find a local or national SEO company that’s highly rated to take care of their SEO needs or hire an SEO wizard to take care of the optimization. SEO doesn’t have to be scary and you don’t have to face it alone.

  12. Watch as how SEO agency will start to back away from using SEO and rebrand themselves as Content Marketing agencies in the near future.

  13. Since Google started hinting that page rank wasn’t so inportant anymore (about 18 months ago circa 2010) I have been believing that this was so. They say content is more important than backlinks and they want us to believe this, but it just ain’t so.

    I talked with friend of mine that is more steeped in SEO than myself and who has worked directly with Google in a team program for a large company he works for (obviously Google earns money in a lot of ways) and when I mentioned how Google puts an emphasis on quality of content and less emphasis on page rank I was told that it just wasn’t so. He says he is aware that this is Google’s message to the public, but that there is really nothing new in the toolbox for Google to use on a mass scale to separate quantity from quality. In other words, Google site inspection has to be done by human eyes to absolutely catch the weak content.

    It’s one thing to see an over repetition of a word and it’s another thing entirely to be able to find meaning in a sentence. When you understand that language is a code and it takes intelligence to create that paragraph as code. It is not just a bunch of words it is a selection of words with meaning, and greater meaning as the words are strung together. We give too much credit to Google’s capabilities to see quality of meaning on a page compared to a mixture of words without sequential meaning. See Wikipedia

    What this tells me is that Google wants us to create quality content but is unable to verify that the words we put on a page actually have any meaning at all. Yes it can pick out repetition and precentages and it can recognize copies, but the search engine cannot tell the difference between quality content and ordinary ramblings. Is it any wonder that spinning articles could get past the engines logarithm?

    What this suggests to me, and what my buddy tells me, is that Google is trying to program the SEO community into behaving and playing nice because it does not have the artificial intelligence to comprehend the symantecs of the words we use. How these stories such as Joe the plumber emerge may, indeed, be a result of the penguin update, but there could also be so manymore quality sites that are real casualties of Google’s penguin update.

    Is Google playing head games with the SEO community?

    • Certainly the SEO community feels that way at times. My opinion is that Google wants good content to rank, and it wants lousy content to stop ranking.

      Google focuses on what it can verify, like whether or not readers stick around on your site, whether real sites link to you, whether your content gets shared on the social networks. Anything can be gamed, but the games are demonstrably getting less effective, very quickly.

      My biggest problem with the game-playing isn’t actually how Google sees it — it’s how our customers see it. Gibberish spun content and other silly practices don’t serve anyone other than robots. It’s a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

  14. Oh, and if you really want a better word than content as in “content is king” then try the word “substance.” A page may have lots of content, but If it doesn’t have substance it’s really just nonsense.

  15. Hey there Sonia,

    That’s a piece that many miss – the fact that, sure, you get all these links, but then what happens once these links are seen to be crap, or come from a site you’d want no part of your business to be connected to?

    You don’t even have to be an SEO expert to benefit from nice organic SEO. Choose a relevant, SEO-friendly domain; build the content around that; keep it fresh; keep it real.

    It’ll soon spread.

    Thanks, miss!

    • To me, the context is everything that happens around the content. Context matters a lot, but without something at the center it sort of … doesn’t exist.

  16. The term that comes to mind for me is Knowledge in place of Content. But it’s kind of a broad term because everything is technically Knowledge and/or Content. What people really want is Useful Knowledge… which could be branded as UK Marketing — but then we’d all have to adopt British accents 😀

  17. Fantastic article. I completely agree with the part when you said “The answer for the small business owner, believe it or not, is that you need to take your SEO in-house and start managing it yourself.”

    This is a fantastic tip for small business owners. It’s one of the best ways to provide the customers with the best quality content on whatever it is that’s being marketed. No one’s going to know a business better than the ones that are in house working there day to day. +1

  18. This is amazing information Sonia. I agree with you on the point of increasing small business. It is true that the problem of it falling is that the owners fears the fact of becoming search engine experts. We take SEO at difficult part and never wants to see what good or challenging would come out of our trial! Nothing is easy, we must work for it and endure challenges to make our business stand. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Great advice Sonia! I love reading this post and certainly it gives me something more to think and be more cautious while it comes to SEO and learned few new things how bad SEO can effect my website rankings.

    Thanks for sharing and stopping by. 🙂

  20. There are some great reminders here about how we should approach marketing and SEO. I have 2 sites and with my first one (it was a tiny local niche), it often baffled me how this one website remained at number one for my preferred keyphrase when it was only a site with a couple of pages and no new content since the day it was created. My actual keyphrase wasn’t actually mentioned anywhere on the site either.

    I noticed it linked back to a local SEO company that has little business from what I see and I can’t help but wonder if something underhand is at work.

    It’s always handy to remember that long term SEO is the key, not a quick fix.

  21. Excellent blog! Quality content with natural backlinks is 100 percent better than link farms, duplicate content and all the other tricks that the search engines have now caught up with. Hopefully information like this will convince more people to do it the right way.

  22. I have such a love-hate relationship with Google. In order to maintain sanity, it’s ALWAYS better to put out good quality, useful content. So many people forget that the Internet is a tool of communication regardless of what Google does on any given update. As long as you speak to your followers and are real, I firmly believe it will all work to your advantage. Anything less doesn’t deserve a good outcome.

  23. I don’t think SEO should be anyone’s main approach, even small businesses. Why not use email marketing, PPC, SEO, and SMM just to try to stay on the safe side? It’s too dangerous to rely on any sort of SEO anymore.

    I agree I hate the term ‘content’ anymore.


    • I don’t hate it yet, but it would be nice to have an alternative. 🙂

      One of the handy things about content, actually, is that it lends itself to diversifying your lead generation. So SEO is great when you get it, but you can also have programs in all the areas you mention, and even old-school things like direct mail. With a content core in place, there are a million ways to get traffic to it.

      We run our business so that if Google was destroyed in an earthquake tomorrow, we would be fine. And, amusingly enough, when you run things that way, Google often decides they really think you’re swell.

  24. An original alternative to the term – content: VITAC or Vitac or vitac

    This represents Video, Images, Text And Creativity and can also stand for Visually Interactive Technological Art Creation or Virtual Inputs To A Cyberworld where it is Very Important To Add Content as a Vital Tactic.

    Used as a (singular) noun: e.g. The vitac on this site is good.
    Possible evolution as a verb: e.g. I need to vitac my site. Past tense: I’ve had my site vitacked.

    Vivid Imagination Transforms A Concept. Viral Integration Totally Accelerates Change.

      • It’s entirely novel at the moment, inspired by Simone’s comment in the post. It could also stand for Video, Images & Text As Commerce. There are probably some other appropriate phrases that could fit the letters of VITAC. Anyone else care to have a go?

  25. I think that VITAC is altogether too clever and who will know what it means without an explanation? The idea of a new expression for “content” is a good idea, but I don’t think VITAC is going in the right direction.

    The root of the problem is that we, in the SEO community, all talk about “content” and we do this over and over. We are all tired, or sick & tired of the word. Why would VITAC be any different over time?

    For another reason…
    Google does not relate to video, images or creativity. Google relates to text and everything of importance about SEO is text based. Web designers love to think of graphics as content, but Google thinks otherwise. If you want to create an acronym for search engine content then you could use Search Engine Content (SEC), or Search Engine Substance (SES), and it’s too bad that (SOS) can’t be used because we all need help dealing with SEO.

    When the Pixar Campus (they call their massive complex a campus) was built Steve Jobs decided that a few improvements were needed. He started by moving the fast food and restaurants into the center of the campus. Next he moved the after hours watering holes into the center. And then finally he moved the washrooms into the center.

    All of this was done so that people would smash into each other, just like smashing atoms, and sparks would fly causing new ideas to emerge. It worked. And they also had early morning meetings where they discussed new ideas and it was understood that criticism was very important. The old idea of “brainstorming” doesn’t work because it’s far too polite. Criticism brings out the best ideas, but it is good to “plus” the idea being criticised.

    I don’t mean to be rude about the suggestion for VITAC from Mark Thomas, but I think it’s important to look at the root cause of “content” being disliked, or we end up back where we started. An acronym that is focused on a clear meaning of what we, in the SEO community , understand is content needs to be defined first. I would not include video or graphics because the search engines don’t include them, at least not in any meaningful way.

    What is the SEO definition of CONTENT?

    • I’ll take ‘altogether too clever’ as a backhanded compliment. And, no, I don’t consider a frank and informed opinion to be necessarily rude.

      To continue the exercise by addressing the (mostly rhetorical) questions posed… the term Search Engine Optimization was also once upon a time a self-explanatory phrase which, as a function of time over familiarity, was contracted to SEO and everybody knew what it meant. Therefore there is no reason why this process cannot be repeated with other new phrases.

      Sure, new stuff gets old as a function of time over familiarity again but that is no reason not to embrace change. Like buying a new car, when something gets tired it can be upgraded for something better as needed or available. Sort of what’s happening with ‘content’ now but the word showroom’s kind of empty…

      I agree that the video and images aspect of VITAC does not fit the parameters of purely SEO considerations. I demur with regard to creativity, as the constant addition of fresh and interesting text is a vital component of SEO, which in turn requires author creativity to generate.
      Although the topic of the post was related to SEO which makes the criticism fundamentally valid, I thought of VITAC as being more for a broader-based audience such as anyone who uses or places content as it is generally perceived with its elements of creative (or commercial) video, images and text. I don’t see the point of trying to replace the word ‘content’ with something that only fits into the narrow confines of SEOism. Hey, another new word.

      CONTENT as an acronym for defining SEO?
      Tough call – as the word usually follows the phrase but perhaps …

      Compilation Of New Text Earns Net Tabulation

  26. Just to tag on to Edward and Mark’s conversation above, how about this for an acronym for CONTENT:

    Change Oracle’s New Tenet: Encourage Nurture Teach

  27. Wow! This is a really great post!

    I’m so glad, that I found this website, your information has been invaluable to me!

    How do you create your content?

    Do you do it yourself, hire a ghostwriter, or a little bit of both?

    I’m building out my site, and content creation, has been my biggest obstable, because writing is my weakest skill. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you might can offer.

    Keep the awesome content coming! Good work!


    Tony Smith

  28. As a small business owner with limited SEO knowledge I though you might find my story useful:

    I have two websites. One that I pay a fairly large sum for SEO each month and another in a slightly less competitive area that I do not pay any money for. My website that I pay SEO for has been slowly climbing up the ranks. I have changed SEO companies twice and now it is slowly getting better. When I asked my old SEO companies for evidence of back links each month, they produced a list of blog comments etc that produced no correlation to my market.

    My website that I have not paid any SEO for actually ranks better. Unknowing I have been carry out my own SEO through PR and article writing in our industry news websites and supplier websites. I have been writing a article each month promoting our services in one way or another with a back linking to our site. So that is about two baclinks every month. After two years I am beating my other website that I am paying SEO for.

  29. I had some clients tell me that they were ticked that I had not placed achor text for their keyword in EVERY link I built for them. I told them that google does not like to see more than 10 to 20% anchor text in ANYTHING. Well, their site dropped in the ranks like a stone. It’s like people think google is dumb or something. They have algorithms that can see exactly what you are doing.

  30. Sonia well I definitely enjoyed studying it. This information provided by you is very practical for good planning. I do agree that bad SEO is good enough to destroy small business.

    I really appreciate your post. Keep posting 🙂


  31. Everybody knows that SEO is a great way to promote their business and indeed without any doubts it is. but if your SEO is bad it can equally bring a huge downfall to your business. We must be very selective and careful when approaching an SEO agency so to make sure our business is going towards good not bad. Great article i must say 🙂


  32. Hey Sonia ! your post is very beautiful and i am very glad to read this valuable information:)
    Everyone knows that SEO is a key to success our business.

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