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Top SEO Firms Paid for by the Following...

Mark Jackson
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When searching for "search engine marketing" on Google recently, a news item caught my attention.

It was a press release (remember last week's column about optimizing press releases?) sent by another SEO company that was touting their recent "honor." They were recently recognized as one of the "Top 10 Most Dependable Search Engine Marketing Firms of the United States."

This made me scratch my head a little. How does someone...anyone...earn such a distinction?

Yet, Goldline Research makes the claim. They're even gonna get the company exposure in Inc. Magazine.

With a little research, and checking out some blogs and forums, it seems that you must first pay up to earn this "honor." Apparently, fees range from $3,500 to $5,500 to be included in the mix. It would appear that this "Top 10 List" is similar to what you might see on your next flight in the airline's magazine if you happen to be looking for the "Top 10 Steakhouses in the United States." It's an advertisement. It's brokered space. Nothing more.

This is the kind of thing that really "gets" me. The company that issued this press release is -- as far as I can tell -- a reasonably decent firm. But, they're part of the problem in our industry, instead of part of the solution.

Here's my beef:

Our SEO industry suffers from a history of some wannabes taking money from unsuspecting clients, by doing subpar SEO work. There has been a history of companies charging for "submission to 1,000 search engines" and calling that SEO. Some really bad apples have done unethical things to their clients' Web sites which have actually ended up getting their clients' Web sites banned.

The last thing we need is for SEO firms, especially the good SEO firms, to support marketing programs that are not entirely upfront about what they are: advertisements.

If you see editorial advertising in a newspaper, magazine, or on television, they're clearly noted "advertisements" or "paid infomercial." Although I haven't seen the "ad" in Inc. Magazine, I'm pretty confident that it's clearly noted "advertisement" (magazines have rules).

This SEO firm (I'm not going to name you, but you know who you are) issued a press release as if this "honor" really means something. Would I issue a press release with the headline, "Vizion Interactive Spends $5,000 to be Part of Goldline's Top 10 Most Dependable Search Engine Marketing Firms"? Probably not. But, if I were to take part in something like this, I'd absolutely feel compelled to be transparent, because that -- to me -- is the right thing to do.

Goldline isn't the only company doing this. There are two other Web sites that promote "Top SEO Firms," which have been under my skin for a long time. I have personal experience with both, so take this as first-hand knowledge.

TopSEOs.com -- This Web site has claimed -- for years -- to rank the Top Organic SEO firms, among other categories. I've written about this before, on my company's SEO blog. I've advertised with TopSEOs.com before, and you get solid leads there. I could always make a case for good ROI. But, you get a "creepy feeling" when you participate in something like this, so I walk away, at the expense of new business.

It just doesn't seem right. It isn't right. TopSEOs.com shows their evaluation criteria on their Web site, but they never contacted any clients of mine to make sure they were happy.

PromotionWorld.com -- In this example, my company is listed as the 4th Best PPC Management Company. I did not pay for this. However, not one of our clients was contacted to see if we were any good at PPC management, or even if we did PPC management (most of our business is SEO, yet we failed to make that list).

And, when I look at the companies listed in the SEO category (sorry, "categories" -- there's one for Best SEO Company" and one for "Best Organic SEO Company"...someone please contact me to explain the difference), there are companies listed that I know don't have one single SEO on staff.

I'm writing this column in the hopes that a few things can occur:

  1. SEO companies that are currently participating in these things: contact the aforementioned Web sites and tell them you want them to be more transparent.
  2. Publishers: Do the right thing. Label these things as "advertisements." If it were print or television, you'd have to.
  3. Folks seeking SEO services: There's no way that anyone, or any service, or any publisher, can rank the "top SEO firms." There's a "right firm for you." If you're looking for the right SEO firm, call references. Check out a firm's case studies. See what kind of talent they have on staff. See how transparent they're willing to be with you. Find a firm that operates with integrity.

Our industry still has a lot of growing up to do. I hope this column comes across in the manner that I intended. I want to help our industry to mature, become more responsible corporate citizens, and educate the masses, in a non-commercial way. Perhaps, then, we can see more companies putting faith (and budgets) behind SEO efforts, so that every SEO firm will benefit from the growth of the entire pie.

Join us for SES San Jose, August 18-22 at the San Jose Convention Center.


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