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SEO Ethics in a Post-Penguin Industry

Things have changed dramatically in the last 6 months for the majority of SEO agencies across the country. A slew of aggressive Google updates have left many scathed. Whenever Google releases a series of updates, the industry tends to become introspective, examining not just strategies but the policies that guide their relationships with clients. We have opened up a series of questions to a handful of SEO thought leaders from leading digital agencies to get their take on a handful of ethics issues in search marketing.

What kind of information should SEOs disclose to their clientele?

Michael King iAcquire SEO Ethics in a Post Penguin IndustryMichael KingiAcquire: I’m a huge advocate of full transparency if only for the accountability that it puts on all parties. Here at iAcquire we have always had dashboards in the iRank platform that show the client all of the websites contacted and the status of all of the link building efforts including where links have been placed and whether or not they are still up. With us no client has ever been able to say “oh we don’t know what they’re doing” because they have access on-demand 24/7. I think that’s great on both sides because it keeps us on point and I always want to be delivering a quality product. I would question any agency that doesn’t want to share the links they’ve built with the client they built them for. As for anything on-page, most clients are closely guarding their websites anyway so it goes without saying that the client should be made aware of the strategies and tactics before they’re implemented.


Greg Shuey SEO SEO Ethics in a Post Penguin IndustryGreg At we try to keep strategy pretty close to the chest. I absolutely think it is vital to share with clients your view on SEO whether it be white hat, black hat, or some shade of grey and then show them what you are talking about through your reporting. We provide monthly link reports to our clients where they can click through link by link and see what we are doing. If that doesn’t match up to “how we operate” or “how we say we operate” then we have a problem.


John Doherty Distilled SEO Ethics in a Post Penguin IndustryJohn DohertyDistilled: At Distilled, we believe in being completely transparent with our clients. This includes the links we get them, the outreach emails we send, the content we are creating and who is creating it. This goes into our overall theme of teaching people how to do SEO well (hence our conferences and recently launched DistilledU). We believe that when you teach your clients to do SEO, not just do it for them, you can get more done because they understand the importance of the changes we are recommending.


Russ Jones Virante SEO Ethics in a Post Penguin IndustryRuss JonesVirante: Transparency is certainly the name of the game, but it means more than just giving reports. It means being clear to your clients about how you determined the strategy (data, evidence), how certain you are of its success, what the expected risks are and when you are out of your element. If your SEO company keeps telling you “yes they do that” to every question you ask, you have to start wondering if they are more interested in your money than your success.


How has your business changed in regard to this post-Penguin, or has it not?

Michael KingiAcquire: The process hasn’t changed as far as how we prospect sites and what sites we reach out to because everything has always gone through a variety of filters based on SEO metrics and client specs. The real difference is that everything is content-based now so it’s cool in that we have a lot more opportunities to do creative work.

Greg Penguin aside, we’ve definitely become more content and outreach focused since the beginning of the year instead of just taking a link for a links sake. I think it has greatly benefited our clients as just a handful were affected by Penguin.Since Penguin, we’ve been more cautious about building exact match keyword anchors. Building branded and partial match keyword anchors has been something we’ve been doing for a few years now, but we are definitely getting more aggressive.Also, because of certain situations we’ve found ourselves in, we’ve become much more aware of what is happening in terms of links being built to our clients sites outside of our agency. If we can catch other activity that isn’t in our clients best interest, put a stop to it, and fix it before it becomes a problem, then that is a huge win for us and our clients.

John DohertyDistilled: Our business has not changed, other than that we have gone from “not recommending” low-quality or free directory links to “actively discouraging” them. Because we have always underpinned our linkbuilding by doing very high-quality content for our clients, in many different forms, we have not had to change our strategies. We have always sought to build businesses online for the long-term, so our strategies must be long-term sustainable and able to withstand algorithm changes.We have had some clients who were affected because of work that was done prior to working with Distilled, so obviously those projects have shifted a bit to help them recover from the algorithm change. But overall, our business has not changed, and most of our clients saw improvements through the Penguin update.

Russ JonesVirante: While our methods have largely not changed because we have long been risk averse regarding anchor text, we have certainly seen a shift in demand. Clients want links that they need not worry about when they hear rumblings about the next Penguin update, and we are prepared to deliver them.An unfortunate change has been our need to focus more on fighting negative SEO. We have seen multiple negative SEO campaigns since Penguin and have every reason to believe that they will continue as long as there is the perception that anchor text manipulation is heavily scrutinized by Google.


Do you feel that agencies should be held accountable for their clients’ violations of webmaster guidelines?

Michael KingiAcquire: That’s a loaded question and I think (these thoughts are my own and not necessarily what iAcquire believes) it depends on whether the agency made the client aware of what they were doing or not. Ultimately, I think a client is responsible for whoever they hire to do anything, but there is an important distinction to be made based on what has actually been conveyed to them and what their level of understanding of SEO is. I think it’s unfortunate that Google encourages clients to throw their agencies under the bus when many of us uphold our ends of the confidentiality agreements, but I guess that’s just one of the many asinine natures of the business. It’s also pretty ridiculous how they’ve painted it as an issue of morality when really it’s an issue of how can they discourage people from influencing their own position.

Greg This is a tricky one to answer. When putting together and executing an online marketing campaign, there are a lot of fingers in the pot (SEO, Web, Social, PR, Whatever The Client Is Doing In-house, Etc) and it is often times difficult to determine what caused a violation and if it was directly tied to what the agency was doing.If the violation can be directly tied to what the agency was doing, then yes, the agency should be held accountable.

John DohertyDistilled: This is a tough question. I think that agencies should do everything they can to educate their clients about the potential risks of the services that will be undertaken. All of this should be underpinned by the transparency talked about above. In regards to accountability, it would behoove reputable agencies to get in writing that the client acknowledges that some of the tactics may be risky and that they release the agency from any potential negative effects of work completed.Once again, it comes back to transparency and communication between the agency and client. We have a mantra at Distilled that says “Communication solves all problems.” If you set the expectations ahead of time, then you can avoid “accountability” issues because everyone is on the same page.

Russ JonesVirante: The better question is by whom. Certainly SEOs should be held to task by their clients if they were not transparent in the risks involved in the techniques they apply. However, being held to task by search engines is different, especially if the punishments are arbitrarily applied. If the search engines want to start punishing marketing companies, they need to create Agency Guidelines alongside the Webmaster Guidelines.


What role should agencies take in remedying problems caused by techniques that were once effective, but now place current and past clients at risk?

Michael KingiAcquire:Again, that depends. If it’s an agency that was not transparent with the client I wholeheartedly feel as though that agency should invest the time and effort in removing those links. If it’s an agency that has been transparent and the client was just like “oh, just buy us links – we don’t care!” then they got what they paid for and I don’t believe the agency needs to undo that work at its own expense. It’s similar to if I take my car to Pimp My Ride and I tell you to paint it, lower it and add hydraulics to it and then a cop gives me a ticket because I was making car bounce up and down. It’s not your fault nor your responsibility to fix that for free because I knew what I was getting myself into.

Greg They should definitely be spearheading the effort to cleaning up once effective link building (without being prodded by their clients to do so). They should first start by building/attracting higher quality links while pruning out the lower quality links that were built in the past.Keep in mind that it takes a lot of education when the market shifts and agencies should be the voice of reason during these disruptions. When search engines go through a major shift in algorithm, companies must change as quickly as possible for the greatest success.

John DohertyDistilled: Distilled thinks that agencies should take a very active role in remedying problems caused by techniques that were once effective, but now could be costly. In our mind, the question isn’t “Who is responsible?” but rather “How can we do our best work to help this hurting company recover?” Because of our approach to SEO and marketing, we have not had to go back and help clients who may have been affected by the algorithm changes. However, a reputable search agency should be willing to go back and make amends for any wrongs they may have done in the past. We think of it like a bad review left for a restaurant – if someone leaves you a bad review, you can either choose to use that to change and build the relationship, or you can let it hurt you. We would choose the first if the opportunity presented itself.At Distilled we have an internal mantra that says “Own solutions not problems.” This reminds us to be proactive in finding solutions, which helps to avoid finger-pointing and “he-said, she-said” scenarios.

Russ JonesVirante: This is a very difficult question. In the last year we have seen Google take amazing strides against link building strategies that were once considered white hat like article syndication and free directories. Now, Google has placed infographics in the crosshairs. It would be nice to say that SEO companies should internalize all of the costs of failed campaigns, but I don’t think they make insurance products for Google updates. Instead, I think that SEO companies should include the “price for removal” along with link building campaigns and, if at all possible, include that cost directly into the strategy. It should be clear to clients what the expected cost of cleanup would be were Google to change course and have certain strategies fall out of favor. Ultimately, SEO companies should help their clients remedy problems whenever possible.

12 Questions to Ask a Digital Agency

FAN2036296 12 Questions to Ask a Digital Agency

Before interviewing a digital agency over the phone, you want to think carefully about your requirements and keep a list of running questions to get through during your call.

While in our post titled How To Choose the Right Digital Agency we go over some general tips for picking the right firm, here are some specific questions that will also help you narrow down to the right agency. For the sake of simplicity, we are assuming that the project you have in mind is the development of a website.

1)      Who will be working on my project?

Ask this to get a sense of titles, roles, and responsibilities—in particular, try to find out who your main point of contact will be for all questions related to the project.

2)      What is the development methodology you typically use?

There are various software development methods like, waterfall, agile/scrum and others. Read more »

Content Strategy—Plan and Execute

Content strategy refers to planning, creation, publication and governance of content. In the age of the web, where the phrase “content is king” has become over-used and cliched (albeit true), having a solid content strategy is essential to kicking butt online.

You know you need to create great content to succeed on the web, but where do you start? How do you go about figuring out what your “voice” will be, how frequently you will publish, on what topics, and in what form?

Should you use only text and images, or throw in some video as well? How do you make the time for all of this, and what are some newer or more “hidden” kinds of content you can publish during times where you’re stumped (or just to liven things up)?

Here are some tips to help you plan and navigate content creation.

1)      Determine Your Voice

This is perhaps the most important and foremost thing you should consider when developing your content strategy. Who are you and what do you stand for? If you’re a company, what kind of brand are you looking to develop?

One little trick is to ask yourself, “If my company/blog/website was a celebrity, who would they be? Read more »

How To Choose the Right Digital Agency

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when embarking upon a digital project is not what color your website will be or the main font for your logo (although these are crucial decisions—more on that later!), but which agency you’ll be working with.

Assuming you don’t have a bevy of designers and engineers on your personal payroll, and you don’t want to go through the pain of hiring individual freelancers and making them all somehow work beautifully together, you’ll want to seriously consider working with a solid digital agency that can handle all the moving parts of a project for you. Read more »

10 Tips for Winning Landing Page Design

First up, what’s a “landing page”, really? Is it different from a regular web page, or do techie types just like to use fancy words for nothing?

In short, a landing page is any page on your site where you sent traffic with the goal of prompting a certain result: like filling out a lead capture form, downloading an ebook, or signing up for a service. A landing page is a page which asks visitors to do something, and as an online marketer, your goal is to figure out how to create a landing page that isn’t simply pretty or informative, but which works.

So now that we know what a landing page is, how do we optimize for one? While the golden rule is to always A/B test all webpage designs, there are a few quick and simply tips that generally seem to work across the board.

1)      K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Landing pages are designed to encourage visitors to focus on one particular thing and take action, and the last thing you want is to distract visitors with unnecessary text, images or information.

Thus, we suggest removing all non-relevant information off of your landing page and limiting navigation—potentially even removing your website’s header and footer and simply providing the visitor with a “back” button for their convenience. This way, your visitor can stay focused on your landing page’s main call-to-action. Read more »