The inevitable demise of cheap SEO, and why it’s a good thing

Is cheap SEO here to stay? In this article we investigate the perils of working with cheap SEO providers, while considering their place in this industry as Google continues developing their search algorithm.

Scattered throughout the depths of the internet are SEO companies and services that claim great results at extremely low costs. First page ranking on Google for only $299!, 500 backlinks for only $99!, Guaranteed first page results or your money back! 

Years ago (or possibly even months ago) these services may have had some positive ranking effects. Even then, these ranking improvements were short-lived and nearly impossible to maintain. But the times they are a-changin’ my friend! These low-cost automated services, which may have been effective in the past, will no longer work to your benefit as Google continues updating their algorithm. Not only that, but chances are very high that the methods used by these companies violate Google’s quality guidelines. What does this mean for you, as a business owner?

If you violate Google’s guidelines, it is only a matter of time until Google finds out. They can and will issue a penalty to your website, which will cause drastic drops in ranking or even complete de-indexing and removal from Google altogether. If your business relies on search engine traffic to survive, you could be putting your entire business in jeopardy.

Google Webmaster Tools Ranking Drop after Penalty

An overview of Google’s quality guidelines

Google has outlined some basic principles that can help ensure that you’re on the right track.

  • Never deceive your users.
  • Create your pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. As Google explains, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself these questions: “Would you be comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee? Does this help my users in the long run? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

What is “Cheap SEO” and how can I learn to avoid it?

When we talk about “Cheap SEO”, we’re not only talking about cost. We’re talking about the overall quality of the work being performed. It’s important to note that the quality of work tends to directly correlate with the cost of service, however it’s understandable that this may not always be the case. You might happen to come across a young, knowledgeable, up-and-coming SEO who performs high quality work, yet their rates are low because they are new to the industry. Well, you can dream, can’t you? :)

A good way of avoiding bad SEO companies is by knowing and understanding what techniques are considered to be outside of Google’s quality guidelines. Ask your potential SEO provider for details on how they perform their work, and if you decide to work with them, be proactive about checking their work. Your business depends on it. In short, you should really avoid the following techniques:

  • Automatically generated content: for those that aren’t aware, there are “Article Spinning” tools out there that attempt to create or “spin” an article using different phrases and words in an attempt bypass Google’s unique content filters. They then submit these “spun” articles to various article distribution websites in order to build a high volume of backlinks. Don’t do it.
  • Participating in link schemes: Don’t do it.
  • Sneaky redirects: this connects back to one of Google’s basic principles, “Don’t deceive your users.”
  • Hidden text or links: Hiding links or text so that you can stuff keywords in an attempt to rank higher? Come on man. Don’t do it.
  • Participating in link schemes: if it’s a link network or a blog network of some kind, and it’s designed to build a high volume of backlinks to your site, steer clear. Google has been working really hard to combat this in particular.
  • Abusing rich snippets markup: Don’t add fake reviews, or mark up irrelevant/misleading content, and definitely don’t mark up any hidden content

The price of quality SEO is steadily rising

It is becoming harder and harder to achieve high rankings (especially for newer websites), and for good reason, too. Google has publicly stated that their main focus lies with their users (the searchers). Their goal is to improve users’ search experience and to make sure they’re always finding the content they need quickly and easily. What this means for most companies and website owners trying to achieve higher rankings is that we will now need to go above and beyond to rise in the rankings, and older techniques that used to be effective can now be detrimental to your website.

Cheap services use cheap techniques, and these techniques are no longer effective.

Sketchy link building services use automated robots to post blog comments, create profiles on forums, and perform other forms of link spam. That’s the main reason why their service is cheap. It’s automated and of extremely low quality. It won’t help your website, and if it does, I guarantee it will be short-lived. So it’s money down the drain. And worst of all it can get your website penalized and de-indexed by Google.

Is it really the end? Some will always take the cheap route

There will always be uneducated website owners who are inclined to go with the cheapest SEO service they can find. And there will always be those looking for a get-rich-quick scheme and are willing to take the risk. We know this. But what if Google’s algorithm becomes so smart that it renders these services completely useless, every time? These sketchy SEO services will start to die off slowly but surely as website owners become more hip to the game.

Consider this possible outcome of hiring a sketchy SEO company: after one month you’ve noticed an increase in website traffic. You assume all is OK, even though this increase in visitors hasn’t brought you any more revenue yet. After 2-3 months Google’s algorithm determines your site violates their quality guidelines. Not only have you wasted every penny spent, your website has now completely dropped from all rankings. If you knew that you were putting your business in a situation that could seriously damage its reputation and your livelihood, would you have taken that risk?

So, how does this benefit me as a business owner?

More and more SEO’s are working harder than ever to keep up with Google’s strict guidelines. Since cheap, automated methods aren’t effective anymore, SEO’s that have used spammy techniques in the past are now educating themselves on proper SEO and are striving to provide a results-driven service. After all, they need to keep up with Google in order to survive as an SEO company. And I believe that this is exceedingly beneficial for the average business owner with a website, and for the search experience as a whole.

  • throwawayaccount

    The last paragraph explains *why* SEO’s are working harder to keep up with Google’s guidelines but you fail to explain HOW this benefits a business owner. In fact, all this piece has done is explain the reasons behind price increases. It hasn’t explained how a higher price in any way benefits us.

    • slickdev

      I’m not trying to say that a higher price directly benefits the business owner. I believe that the price increases are creating a larger gap between cheap black-hat services and quality SEO work, allowing business owners to clearly differentiate between the two. More importantly, I’m referring directly to the quality of work performed, and discussing how these low quality / low cost / automated methods are no longer effective as they used to be. In the past, you could use these cheap services and receive some temporary results in the SERPs, however ultimately your site will get penalized and you’ll have wasted all your money spent. Once business owners realize this, it will save them on their SEO costs in the long run by sticking with a quality SEO provider.

      • throwawayaccount

        High price is absolutely the single most useless indicator of quality services. Relying on it as a differentiator as you suggested, is pure naivete.

        • slickdev

          Agreed. High price is not a sole indicator of quality services. I’m certainly not suggesting that one should rely on that as a differentiator (come on now… really?)

          To reiterate what I stated in the article, “A good way of avoiding bad SEO companies is by knowing and understanding what techniques are considered to be outside of Google’s quality guidelines. Ask your potential SEO provider for details on how they perform their work, and if you decide to work with them, be proactive about checking their work.” I then offer 6 different things to look out for, in order to ensure the quality of work is up to Google’s standards.

          • throwawayaccount

            I never said that high price is a sole indicator. As I said, relying on price as a differentiator as you suggested is naive. You said “It’s important to note that the quality of work tends to directly correlate with the cost of service” and this is absolutely false.

            What I believe you were trying to say is that it’s unlikely to find a high-quality provider at low cost. I agree. But the way you phrased it incorrectly states that there tends to be a direct correlation and that’s not so. Why? Because although it’s unlikely to find a high-quality provider at low cost, it’s very likely to find a low-quality provider at high cost.

            I’d also like to point out another error in your writing, with the intention helping you and the readers.

            You say that you “then offer 6 different things to look out for, in order to ensure the quality of work is up to Google’s standards.” You are making the same logical fallacy as above.

            The 6 things you list are what to look out for to determine whether the quality of work is NOT up to Google’s standards. But just because those 6 items are not part of what a provider proposes, does NOT mean their work IS up to Google’s standards.