Quick Answer Series: Just Say No to SEO!

I’m often asked, “Matt, what do you think of SEO?”. The short answer is not very much!  I’ll explain.  First, most of what is known as SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is really a misnomer.  When companies call you to sell you their SEO service, they are not really talking about optimizing your website for search engines, but rather they are talking about trying to fool search engines.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up a minute.

Last year, according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2008 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 87% of our customers began their home search online.  Most of us are trying desperately to improve our online presence.

Because today’s REALTOR® is now focusing on web marketing, we’ve created a market for a variety of online services ranging from template-based websites, to fully customized websites, to websites bundled with web traffic, to websites optimized for traffic, to just selling us the traffic, to search engine optimization,  and many more.

Some of these services are good, while some are dubious at best.  At the very bottom of the list, are many of today’s search engine optimization scams.  If you’ve ever been scammed by one of them, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger… so have I.  That’s how we learn.

Let’s face it:  Most agents don’t have the technical background to fully understand Internet marketing.  Sure, we know we need to bring our businesses online, and so we’re gullible to anyone who offers what sounds like a simple solution to meet our complex need.  Enter the world of SEO.

Now before I take a broad brush and paint all search engine optimization as “bad”, let me be more specific.  There is good SEO (also know as “white hat SEO”) that involves simply making your website search engine friendly, and well-designed.  These techniques are typically done once, when designing and building the website.  But since most agents don’t design their own websites, a discussion of white hat SEO techniques here is moot.

On the other hand, bad SEO (also known as “black hat SEO”) is predicated on the idea that you can “deceive” search engines into thinking that your site is more relevant than it truly is, resulting in higher organic (or free) search rankings in the major search engines.  If Abe Lincoln had been doing SEO, he’d say “You may fool all the search engines some of the time, you can even fool some of the search engines all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the search engines all the time.”

Think about it this way — for this type of search engine optimization to work, the techniques must deceive the search engines into believing your website is better than it really is.  At the same time, the search engine’s very existence is dependent upon returning relevant search results to its users, or in bringing users the most valuable websites for their search requests.  That means that the SEO industry is at odds with the search engines.  It is a win-lose.  For one to win, the other must lose.

Many of these companies can deliver short-term results (like my experience with the now infamous Traffic Power) but ultimately they will have your website “sand boxed” (banned) from the search engines so that nobody can find you.  If you are still thinking about taking the risk and using an SEO company, think about the irony of this:  SEO companies generate most of their online business by using Pay-per-Click advertising and links from other websites, and not by optimizing their search engine results (the very techniques they’d like to sell you on).  What would you think of your local Ford dealer if he was driving a Chevy?

So, I am very much in favor of online marketing, but please don’t waste your money on SEO.  The money you spend chasing the search engines could be much better invested in legitimate online marketing yielding much better and much more predictable results.  Don’t fight the search engines.  You’ll lose.  And that’s my quick answer.

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