06- Apr2018
Posted By: DPadmin
28 Views

Auditing customer reviews for organic traffic growth without losing speed or attracting penalties 

User-generated content on product or service pages can be key to driving conversions and a fantastic way to add unique content to a page.

If you don’t have the resources to write good content yourself, user-generated content can be especially helpful. However, if your customer review content isn’t optimized for search engines, it can work against you and delay or obstruct your marketing efforts instead of driving more business.

Below are four common issues (and a bonus) I have come across when auditing retailer product pages and the workarounds I’ve used for each.

1. Page speed

This is a much-discussed subject, and as of late, it is a mobile search ranking factor coming July 2018. It is key to sync with your web developers on the optimal page load speed, as images, related products and content will impact load times for this critical part of the purchase funnel.

Customer review content is best when optimized for both Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and page speed. Suggesting you open the floodgates to 500+ reviews on a product page is not ideal for anyone (adds content but also adds load time). Search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) and developers will agree most third-party review providers will issue a standard eight to 10 visible reviews on a page before transitioning to another mechanism for accessing the remaining reviews.

Ask your dev team the threshold of reviews on your pages (don’t feel limited to 10) before speed is impacted by your desired load time, and run tests.

There are a few different ways review content can be exposed to users and search engines:

  • Create a secondary page to “read all reviews.” This page can also host the remaining reviews and can be optimized for “product + reviews” search queries. Examples of this can be seen on both Amazon.com and Bestbuy.com in this framework:
auditing customer review copy for organic traffic
Image courtesy Ayima
  • Apply a paginated approach within the main product page, to load the next round of reviews following your determined threshold being hit. For example, after 20 reviews, click next to get the next 20 reviews and so on. If your pagination is implemented correctly (rel=next / prev), this content will still be crawled by search engines.
  • As a last resort, you could also consider using JavaScript to load more reviews following your determined threshold, for user experience (UX). However, all the reviews would be loaded to the source code via a tag should JavaScript be disabled. This will add page load time depending on the volume of reviews you have for a single page and allow search engines to still have access to the content.

2. Structured data markup: Have you done it right?

Marking up your product pages with structured data, including the aggregate rating and reviews, can generate a rich result in the search engine results pages (SERPs), which can increase your click-through rate (CTR) over competitors and provides more information to the crawlers about the content on your page. You already know the benefit of markup, but has it been done correctly? You may not know you have an error!

SERP rich result for customer reviewsIf you use a third-party provider for your reviews, they typically supply the markup on those reviews when they are syndicated to your site. We have seen two issues here:

  • Mixing two different schema vocabulary encodings. You’ve decided to code in JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data (JSON-LD), but your review provider is using Microdata. The result? Two different languages not speaking to each other. In order to achieve the rich result, all product properties must be encoded to the same vocabulary. Ask your review provider to update their feed with the same schema encoding you have on your site.
  • The reviews have been marked up outside the itemscope product. This applies to Microdata markup, not JSON-LD. Your page has a separate div the customer review content is pulled into, that lives outside of the div you’ve marked up with your Microdata product schema property. Unfortunately, this is like trying to have a conversation with someone on the other side of a door. Search engines can’t make the connection that the marked-up reviews pertain to the same product you’ve outlined in your schema and therefore does not assign the ratings and reviews to the rich result.

When testing either of these in the Structured Data Testing Tool, it won’t actually flag as an error or warning since it’s testing to see if you have structured data and the required elements, which you do. If you’re not getting rich results, one of these could be the culprit.

3. Shared or syndicated reviews

It’s not uncommon to see retailers pull reviews from a vendor site onto their own site, or sometimes a retailer shares customer reviews across multiple country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) where they sell the same product/service. If done incorrectly, both of these scenarios can cause duplication of the user-generated content and dilute the value of the page. Worst case: a penalty for the syndication of reviews!

Sharing vendor review content across multiple sites (typically retailers): Are you aware of how many retailers are getting the same feed for the same product information and reviews? Perhaps you’re the vendor and want to protect your unique content on your site while still sharing to retailers for increased conversions. Here is an example of a pair of UGG boots for sale on Macys.com but pulling from Ugg.com:

Potential solutions for the UGG boots review could be to block crawlers from he syndicated review content, or perhaps it should be embargoed on the original source for a determined period of time.

That time should be determined based on the content being crawled and indexed before it is shared with other parties. Check log files and crawl rates to determine an approximate time for your site; and test the indexation of that new content once crawled. This allows the search engines to determine the original source.

Often, retailers want to leverage the reviews from their other domains to help sell the product. This is fine, but the duplicate reviews must be blocked from the crawlers. This will continue to benefit the sale without harming or penalizing your site for duplicating the user-generated content.

Amazon is a good example of this. Years ago, they pulled the Amazon.com reviews into the Amazon.ca pages. This practice was later halted in favor of still showing the reviews, but blocking crawler access. Now, they simply provide a link to their Amazon.com site for more reviews.

4. Coding customer reviews

And finally, none of the above matters if the review content isn’t accessible to search engine crawlers. How you code your reviews to be displayed on the page (JavaScript vs HTML) will impact using that content for improved rankings and traffic growth.

This happens all too often: JavaScript is disabled and customer reviews disappear from the page. You can also test this in Google Search Console and run a fetch and render. Bear in mind cached content is not the same as having content in Google’s index; they are separate entities.

This falls into a bigger, much-debated and much-tested subject: Does Google crawl and index content rendered with JavaScript?

There’s no clear handbook on Google crawling and indexing different JavaScript frameworks; it’s something we’ve tested several times over. We’ve found many articles that try to help audit and explain JavaScript rendering for SEO, and while there are some good pointers, you must check everything against your own site, as we have found what works for one does not work for another.

We have performed our own in-house testing where HTML content is converted to JavaScript and seen no change to the page ranking and indexing. Therefore, we know it can work, but will it always?

JavaScript is not going away, yet it’s not clear it can be indexed. While client-rendered HTML can be indexed by Google, it is not always perfect.  Going forward, you will need to have server-rendered content for SEO purposes.

At the very least, perform the audit on your reviews and ensure Googlebot is crawling and indexing them.

You may need to speak further with your review provider to ensure the content is accessible to Googlebot. Depending on the provider and template, they can help resolve any errors or concerns here.

Bonus: 5. Use your XML sitemaps

Now that you’ve created customer reviews that will drive more crawlable content, let the search engines know! Updating the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap entries will be a strong signal to incentivize the recrawl of those specific pages and access changes sooner. Pending your crawl rates and the number of pages on site, it may be a long time before a crawler gets to all your updated customer review content.

Summary

To wrap things up, customer reviews are a fantastic source for growing your organic traffic by means of unique content. Audit your reviews for the following:

  1. Product page load time.
  2. Structured data markup.
  3. Audit of shared reviews.
  4. Crawler access to the review content.
  5. XML sitemap updates.

Following these guidelines can deliver significant organic search growth. Run the audit and take a closer look at the reviews on your site for improvements you could be making.

Source: Auditing customer reviews for organic traffic growth without losing speed or attracting penalties – Search Engine Land

06- Apr2018
Posted By: DPadmin
35 Views

Search outpaced social for referral traffic last year, driving 35% of site visits vs social’s 26% share of visits 

According to a new referral traffic report from Shareaholic, 2017 was the first time since 2014 search owned a larger share of visits over social.

After a year fraught with terms like “fake news,” and headlines centering around brand safety issues and extreme content, it appears the actions taken by social sites to curb the influx of malicious content is turning out to be a real boon for search referral traffic.

For the first time since 2014, Shareaholic says search outpaced social in the percentage of overall traffic it delivered in 2017. According to the analytic platform’s data, search drove 34.8 percent of site visits in 2017 compared to social networks which accounted for 25.6 percent of referral traffic.

Chartbeat, an analytics platform for online publishers and media organizations, has witnessed a similar trend with traffic from Google search to publisher websites up more than 25 percent since the start of 2017.

“Google Search has always been the largest referrer to Chartbeat clients,” writes the company’s CEO, John Saroff, on Chartbeat’s blog, “In late August, Chartbeat data scientists noticed that Google Search referrals across our client base were trending up.”

The CEO says his team initially thought the rise in Google referrals were attached to events like last year’s solar eclipse and Hurricane Irma, but traffic continued to rise even after news headlines around the events subsided. Instead of falling back into normal patterns, Chartbeat saw Google search driving even more traffic to publisher sites.

Search beats out social for share of visits

“At a high level, it’s clear that social media’s tenuous grip on being the top referral category is over. After beating out search for the last three years, it’s given back the title, driven by changes to the algorithms behind Facebook’s News Feed,” writes Shareaholic in its latest traffic report.

Shareaholic’s findings are based on traffic to more than 250,000 mobile and desktop sites that have opted-in to the content marketing platform’s publishing tools. The company says it analyzed a variety of traffic sources — direct traffic, social referrals, organic search and paid search — for websites that ranged in size from a thousand monthly unique visitors to one million, and spread across a broad selection of website categories (food, tech, fashion and beauty, marketing, sports, general news, and more).

Google was the top overall traffic referrer for the year, and owned a 36.82 percent share of visits during the second half of 2017. While Google’s share of visits was up more than seven percentage points between the second half of 2016 and the second half of 2017, Facebook’s dropped 12.7 percent during the same time frame.

Even with a double-digit drop however, Facebook remained the top social network for share of visits in 2017.

Shareholic notes the changes Facebook has made to its news feed algorithm, boosting content from “trusted” news sources while penalizing spammy, click-bait headlines, influenced the site’s drop in share of visits: “After a rocky 2016 US election year, Facebook made a number of major changes to what content they display in the news feed and how they display it.”

The two charts below, one from Shareaholic and the other from Parse.ly convey similar trends with respect to search vs. social referral traffic in 2017, through the third quarter of the year. The Parse.ly data reflects the upward trend in referral traffic from Google (all – including AMP – Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format) and declining trend in referral traffic from Facebook specifically (all Facebook – including Instant Articles).

Search vs. Social Referral Traffic – 2017 from Shareaholic

Google Search and Facebook Referral Traffic – 2017 from Parse.ly

Publishers also see continued gains from search driven by AMP

While Shareaholic’s traffic referral report is based on a wide category of websites, Chartbeat’s data is specifically attached to publishers’ web traffic.

As mentioned earlier, Chartbeat saw a 25 percent surge in traffic to publisher sites by Google search over the last year. Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat’s chief of product, engineering and data, told Digiday that Facebook referrals to publishers was down fifteen percent in 2017 — aligning with Shareaholic’s findings.

Facebook’s news feed algorithm tweaks to curb fake news and spam content are definitely impacting its overall referral traffic numbers, but Chartbeat reports the most significant factor driving traffic to its clients’ sites is AMP content. After analyzing whether or not the rise in traffic was the result of a bug, or “un-darkening” of previously dark social traffic and finding nothing, Chartbeat turned its attention to mobile versus desktop traffic numbers.

“We then looked specifically at search traffic by device and the answer was clear from our dataset. Mobile Google Search referrals were up significantly while Desktop Google Search referrals were flat,” writes Saroff.

Chartbeat then dug further into its data to evaluate sites using AMP and said it found a “stark” difference between the sites using AMP and those that were not.

“While Mobile Google Search traffic to our AMP-enabled publishers is up 100 percent over the same time-frame, traffic to publishers not using AMP is flat.”

Chartbeat says, during the last six months, Google Mobile Search referrals now outpace both mobile and desktop Facebook referrals.

Source: Search outpaced social for referral traffic last year, driving 35% of site visits vs social’s 26% share of visits – Search Engine Land

12- Sep2017
Posted By: DPadmin
116 Views

The Four Most Popular Myths About Paid Advertising: Debunked

Is paying for AdWords worth it? Well, yes and no.

To someone unfamiliar with pay-per-click (PPC), opening the Google AdWords dashboard might look like a seven-headed monster that no entrepreneur can slay. I saw this time and time again during my time at Google. It’s a big reason why my co-founder and I decided to start AdHawk in the first place.

AdWords is complicated and can be overwhelming, which means there is a lot of misinformation floating out there and plenty of myths that call for some debunking.

We at Adhawk have had thousands of conversations with clients and potential clients about these myths, so I’m going to put the most common ones to rest today. Let’s get debunkin’.

Myth No. 1: The top ad position is always the best.

It’s automatically assumed that the first results are going to give you the most return for your money, but that’s not necessarily true.

study by Hallam Digital found that while the top position drove the most clicks, the second and third positions drove three to four times more conversions, respectively. They conclude that providing useful information, optimizing your landing page, adding extensions, using relevant copy and improving your overall quality score should always be a higher priority than anything else.

They further suggest that the second and third results receive more high-quality clicks because the first position draws in a mass audience, many of whom are not qualified to drive that coveted conversion.

If your ad is not in the first position and you’re still driving conversions, budgeting correctly and turning a profit, then so be it. This brings me to the next myth.

Myth No. 2: Every business needs to double down on PPC advertising.

PPC is more effective for some businesses more than others, but what it really boils down to is budgeting. Brett Farmiloebreaks it down into these three easy formulas:

  • (Revenue / Sales Period) / Average Sale = Number of Customers
  • Number of Customers / Conversion Rate = Number of Leads
  • Number of Leads / Conversion Rate on Traffic = Amount of Traffic

What this means is that if the price to acquire a customer is greater than the customer’s lifetime value, PPC is not worth it for you.

This might be the case for low-traffic and high-competition industries, where PPC advertising may cut margins and not scale.

Myth No. 3: You don’t need PPC if you have high-ranking organic content.

Organic strategies like SEO, social and email go hand in hand with PPC strategies. If you have the bandwidth and resources to execute, do all of them.

Building organic traffic is a great strategy that will pay off in the long run. That being said, managing and updating your SEO efforts after every Google algorithm update can start to feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. The advantage of PPC advertising is how quickly it can be spun up to scale your business, and the relative stability it brings to the table.

The numbers speak for themselves. Paid search results drive 1.5 times more clicks than organic traffic, primarily because paid spots drive traffic to customized landing pages. Organic content is a great way to generate an audience, but if you want a predictable and direct method of acquiring customers or driving conversions, PPC is the way to go.

If you already have high-ranking content, you can double-rank on Google by creating paid ads for the same keywords your organic content ranks for. That’s double the real estate and double the chances for conversions.

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

Myth No. 4: Google is far superior to Bing.

For the record, no search engine is going to beat out Google in the near future. But Bing is in second place in terms of market share and it’s starting to gain significant traction.

Bing has its shortcomings (like less-advanced ad options), but it provides options that Google doesn’t, like being able to share budgets among all your campaigns.

Bing’s future is entertained by the fact that more than 50% of all search queries are now done through mobile. With Bing powering AOL, Yahoo, Amazon and Siri, things are looking bright.

This means Bing has a different user base than Google, which can provide a profitable opportunity to reach a new audience. For Search Engine Watch, driving conversions on Bing proved to be 63.23% cheaper than on Google.

The next time you hear one of these myths, share your newfound myth-busting knowledge with a friend, or tweet at me @AdHawk.

Source: The Four Most Popular Myths About Paid Advertising: Debunked

12- Sep2017
Posted By: DPadmin
174 Views

Don’t follow the leader: Avoid these 5 common e-commerce SEO mistakes

Competitive research is an important part of any SEO program — after all, it’s a zero-sum game that we’re playing. However, there is often a tendency for companies to become fixated on what dominant competitors in the marketplace are doing. The assumption is that because they’re getting the most SEO traffic, they must be doing things right.

In many industries, it is true that the high SEO traffic sites really are doing an exceptional job. But in the world of e-commerce, this is often not the case. Many of the highest traffic e-commerce sites are doing things that are objectively bad for SEO. It turns out that a strong backlink profile and other prominent brand signals can make up for an awful lot of mistakes.

Getting things right for enterprise e-commerce SEO can be really challenging. You often have to merge very different sources of product data into a single system and make everything work. There are more pages than you could ever curate manually. And in most cases, SEO is not the largest driver of traffic and may have to take a back seat to other priorities. It’s tough.

Eventually, people are going to figure out how to address the issues that make e-commerce SEO so cumbersome and hard to scale. Sites that apply these new techniques will gain an advantage, and then everyone will race to copy them and this article will be outdated. I believe that point is still some years away.

Until then, there are opportunities to gain an SEO advantage over most of the major e-commerce players by simply avoiding their most common mistakes.

1. Faceted navigation disasters

When faceted navigation isn’t controlled, you can often end up with more category URLs, by orders of magnitude, than total products on the site. Clearly, something is wrong with that picture.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have companies that are so scared of creating too many pages that they noindex their entire faceted navigation or canonical everything to the root page. Doing this can prevent indexation of potentially valuable pages (usually ones with two or one attributes selected) and it still may not fix the crawl problems that their navigation poses.

There is a middle path, and few try to walk it. While fixing your filtered navigation is an entire topic of its own, a good starting point is to consider using dynamic AJAX sorting for thin attributes, so users can refine the product set without changing the URL.

2. Slow site speed

There is plenty of readily available data about the impact of site speed on conversion and bounce rates. A couple of seconds can make an enormous difference in user engagement. So why do retailers seem to be competing to load the most external scripts? The retail market is underinvested in speed and overinvested in lag-inducing features that often have marginal benefits and may even serve to overwhelm the user.

My experience is that the SEO benefits of page speed are not yet as substantial as the conversion optimization impact. With all the information Google is sharing about the user benefits of fast, streamlined sites, it’s only a matter of time until speed becomes a more prominent ranking factor. However, when UX impact is also taken into account, there’s no reason to wait.

3. Reliance on XML sitemaps for indexation

If there is one simple piece of SEO wisdom that every enterprise manager should remember, it’s that each page needs to have a crawl path to have a chance to rank for competitive queries. There are many unique and exciting ways (from the perspective of someone who is paid to fix websites) that sites are able to orphan a large percentage of their product or other important pages from their browsable architecture.

Possibilities include broken pagination, creating nearly infinite URL spaces, and any form of link generation logic that doesn’t systematically ensure that every product has a crawl path.

If you’re unsure about whether you have an adequate crawl path, crawl your site and see if all your important pages are showing up. If you are not able to do a complete crawl of your site, that means either that you have too many pages or you need a better crawler. If you have a very large site, you likely need help with both. And if you’re spending lots of time looking at the sitemaps dashboard in Google Search Console, wondering why your pages aren’t being indexed, it’s most likely because they don’t have a good crawl path.

4. Using tags completely wrong

Many e-commerce sites have conflicting tagging signals on their category pages and tagging structures that are suboptimal. I have seen at least two Fortune 500 owned e-commerce sites that were making all the pages on their site canonical to the home page, which is equivalent to telling Google that none of the other pages on the site have anything else to offer. I have seen more sites than I can count on one hand do their pagination tagging incorrectly, which is surprising, because it’s a plainly spelled-out specification.

I suspect that Google’s assumed omniscience sometimes hinders the careful adoption of standards. People think they can get it close enough and Google will figure it out. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes, even if Google can figure out all your mistakes, it’s still a loss — especially if they are having to crawl extra pages to do so.

5. Ugly URLs

Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s set SEO aside for a moment and look at two different URLs that we might see in a SERP:

Site 1: www.madfancylad.com/c/armani-fedoras

Site 2: www.bromendous.com/search?product%20line=fedora&brand=Armani&REFID=23ghaWHY23093482

Which site seems more likely to make things easy for their shoppers, and which site seems more likely to make things easy for themselves? What kind of conscious and unconscious assumptions might a shopper make about each?

My experience is that short, clear and concise URLs tend to rank well and get more traffic than long, parameter-laden addresses. There are some correlational studies that support this observation. I don’t consider any of them definitive — but I know what I would choose to do for my site.

Source: Don’t follow the leader: Avoid these 5 common e-commerce SEO mistakes

10- Jul2017
Posted By: DPadmin
154 Views

SEO Vs. PPC: Pros, Cons And A Holistic Approach To Search

Attorneys are bombarded with information about digital marketing. To break through all of the information online, lawyers know having a strong digital presence is essential if they want to remain competitive.

Paid and organic search are two popular methods of online marketing with two distinctly different approaches. According to a 2016 survey, 53% of consumers use search to find a local business at least one time per month, indicating that attorneys need to have either an organic or pay-to-play strategy or some combination of the two.

Even seasoned internet marketers debate the benefits of paid search over organic search engine optimization campaigns for marketing a law firm online. Both have pros and cons, both require some investment, and both can be incredibly complicated.

There’s A Tool For Every Job

Before we go any further, we can’t say SEO is better than pay-per-click advertising or vice versa. Not every job requires a hammer, and each technique has its place in online marketing. More often than not, these two channels work in a holistic fashion to drive traffic to a website. As is true with investing, lawyers should not place all their eggs in one basket. A thoughtful, comprehensive approach is better than a laser-beam focus on one channel.

For firms that find themselves in the position of having to choose between SEO and PPC, here is the reality.

PPC: Fast, Targeted And Precise Traffic

Over the past decade, PPC has become a popular way for law firms to get direct exposure to the hordes of people using Google or social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Mainstream ad platforms make it easy for marketers to target the exact audiences they want (and not the ones they don’t care about). Despite the sometimes prohibitive costs of paid search, attorneys can use it successfully to generate quality leads for their firms. A huge plus for pay-per-click is the immediate nature of it. As soon as campaigns are approved, they can start generating traffic and leads. No other form of digital marketing has that kind of impact except email marketing (which assumes you have a large list to communicate with).

Here are some other pros and cons for PPC:

  • The cost per click (CPC) can be very high for legal terms (in some cases, close to $100 per click for competitive niches). However, top positions in search can then be bought, and not all legal terms are that expensive.
  • First-page search traffic can be obtained almost instantly; however, as soon as the ad budget runs out or ads are discontinued, the traffic disappears.
  • Ads can be shown to the specific audience a lawyer wants to reach, helping him or her land the cases he or she wants. However, ad platforms can be complicated and difficult to learn.
  • Although PPC for attorneys can be expensive, some data show that 84% of visitors convert on their first trip a site.

SEO: Long-Lasting Investment In Your Web Presence

Search engine optimization has been catching the eye of law firms that realize the growing need to have visibility on the internet and in search. Google has a dominant market share in the world of search, so it’s no surprise law firms fixate on it. Even though SEO can take a long time to show results (in many cases, four to six months), the dividends it pays last long into the future.

Even after SEO work has stopped, law firms can continue to rank well for their keyword terms for weeks or even months for less competitive keywords. A high-quality SEO campaign is focused not only on search but also an attorney’s entire web presence.  Things like generating good content, building citations out across the internet, and generating a presence on other websites for link building all help build authority for a law firm. In this way, SEO becomes a more thorough marketing initiative instead of a one-off campaign.

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

Here are some additional pros and cons of SEO:

  • SEO can give firms a solid footing in organic search but rankings can be lost to aggressive competition and algorithm changes.
  • Good SEO can help firms rank in applications like Google Maps, which is used by millions of mobile users. However, there are paid positions for those applications too.
  • Optimizing a site for search generates free traffic, but there are costs associated with hiring an SEO agency or spending a lot of your own time doing the work.

Above all else, lawyers should talk to a professional when they weigh their options between paid and organic search. Just like there are a lot of fly-by-night vendors for SEO, there are many for PPC management too. The channel you choose should align with your firm’s near- and long-term goals. It should fit into your budget and those dollars should go where they will get the best possible return on your investment.

Source: SEO Vs. PPC: Pros, Cons And A Holistic Approach To Search

24- May2016
Posted By: Guardian Owl
349 Views

Companies Will Spend $65 Billion on SEO in 2016, Much of it Will Be Wasted

Entrepreneur magazine contributor, Mike Templeman, shares his thoughts on the SEO snake oil being solicited by top agencies and advertisers alike.  SEO takes time and like Mike references, there is no “overnight” fix or silver bullet that can take you to the top.

———–>

Don’t get burned by a snake oil salesperson when it comes to your company’s SEO needs.Do you know what snake oil is? It’s a term used to describe any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. If you read this Wikipedia article on the topic, you’ll see that real oil from snakes used to be prescribed as a cure for everything from small cuts on up to arthritis and skin diseases.

And a recent study came out touting that companies will be spending $65 Billion on SEO this year.

Now, as the title to this article would imply, I believe that the SEO industry, and the digital marketing industry in general is full of snake oil salespeople. Individuals who knowingly are selling a product that either will not work for the buyer or that they know is of inferior quality.

Let me explain. I run a marketing agency. I have to hear dozens of horror stories every week about wasted budgets, sites damaged beyond repair, digital campaigns that produce zero results and everything else business owners and marketers are terrified of. These stories are the grownup versions of the campfire stories we told each other as children. Except now, they end in the loss of millions of dollars. Terrifying, I know.

Now, I mentioned that I run an agency, as such you’d think that we’d have a pretty good grasp on marketing. But you wouldn’t guess that if you looked at my spam folder. I receive hundreds, yes hundreds of unsolicited emails every day from marketers promising to take my brand to the #1 spot in Google (total lie). Or to bring me thousands of visitors in a matter of weeks (liar liar pants on fire). They tell me that my site is breaking numerous rules set forth by the search engines and if I don’t fix them my company will die a fiery death (oh really?).

Related: Here’s What Really Matters for SEO in 2016

These are the Exhibit A’s in the snake oil industry of digital marketing and SEO.

To see the Exhibit B’s you’ll need to reach out to an agency of your choice and ask to speak with their sales team. Odds are you’ll end up talking with someone that will guarantee that your wildest dreams will be fulfilled by focusing on SEO. Or maybe they’re a social media agency. If that’s the case, their silver bullet will undoubtedly be social media. Either way, they’ve got the tonic that will cure your website’s disease. And if you act now, you’ll be guaranteed results!

Look, as someone who has worked in SEO and every other digital medium for the last decade or so, I can tell you that there are no silver bullets and that nothing is guaranteed. I also know that SEO doesn’t work for some companies. Just like PPC isn’t for everyone, nor is social media. After all, billboards and commercials don’t work for every industry, so why would digital marketing be any different?

But let’s examine what makes a lot of SEO services snake oil and give you the information you’ll need to protect yourself.

Why is it snake oil?
Snake oil originated in the medical industry. It was used as a cure for ailments. It was easy for salespeople to pull the wool over they’re buyers’ eyes because back in the day, no one really knew what the heck was going on with their bodies. Medical information wasn’t as readily available. And since medical conditions are by nature quite scary, the sufferers were ready to believe anything that was thrown their way.

Well, guess what? The Internet is the new medical industry when it comes to snake oil. You see, the Internet is still not that old. It’s really only become prolific over the last 20 years or so. With that being the case, most people don’t understand the ins and outs of it. Yes, like a medical condition, they can tell when something is wrong. But they’re not really quite sure what the cause of the issue is. Enter the snake oil salespeople.

Whenever there are uninformed customers, there will always be predatory groups looking to take advantage of that situation. And with a 65 Billion dollar industry up for grabs, the streets are running wet with snake oil right now.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant

What I’ve seen.
While some snake oils can be rather harmless, when it comes to your digital marketing snake oil is anything but. For instance, I wrote an article a few years back about a large company that was removed from the Google search results due to their digital marketing activities. They had some sloppy marketing being done and it ended up making them disappear from the search results. Harmless, right? Wrong. You see, this company relied heavily on their search results for new leads to their call center. This call center was staffed by dozens of people. These people had families, mortgages, and relied on that income.

Well, when the phones just stop ringing one morning, it’s going to be very hard for a company to keep employing an entire sales floor. And while the company did their best to avoid the inevitable, they eventually had to face the facts and they ended up laying off the entire department.

So this one company that unfortunately trusted a snake oil salesperson, ended up having to lay off almost 50 people at a time when the economy wasn’t doing so well. I’m sure there was a lot of financial pain felt by these families.

So, yes, snake oil SEO can be extremely dangerous in today’s digital economy.

How do business owners avoid getting burned?
This is probably the most important part of this article. As I mentioned earlier, the reason these groups are able to prey on consumers is because of the lack of information. To this end, you need to gird yourself with knowledge. Do research on the topic you’ll be discussing with your potential agency partners. Have talking points and specific questions that you’d like answered. By doing this, you’ll be able to avoid the bottom-of-the-barrel snake oil salespeople that can’t even face mild scrutiny.

Related: The Top 4 Reasons SEO Is Dead

Once you’ve weeded those ones out, you’ll want to really do your research on the agencies that have made the first cut. Check the background of the founders, look for third party reviews. Ask them for case studies, testimonials, and references. Do not look at a slick sales deck and assume that because they can put together a decent PowerPoint that they can provide you with proper marketing services. I’ve seen hundreds of dreams crushed on the expectations set by a nice sales presentation. Any group you don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with should be cut after this.

Now that you’ve made it to your third round of choices, you’ll want to watch what they produce for you very closely. Don’t accept an agency that does not give you full visibility into what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how often I see shoddy work being done, and the business owner would have been able to identify that work as being shoddy, but because they weren’t aware it was being done, they had no way of stopping it.

Because of this you’ll want to make sure that the group you’re working with is willing to show you everything they’re doing and will actually take the time to explain and train you on what they’re doing. After all, an informed client is the best kind of client.

And if you follow these steps, you’ll be assured that you’ve probably weeded out all of the snake oil salespeople and you’ll be working with a reputable agency. Now, this doesn’t guarantee that you will get great results. As I mentioned above, sometimes SEO isn’t a solution for all industries and sometimes marketing campaigns don’t result in massive successes. But those are the chances you should be willing to take. If you know you’re working with the right group that does things the right way, then you’re in it together. And the engagement should feel like a partnership, rather then a vendor relationship.

So, as you’re out there trying to spend your marketing dollars wisely, watch for those shady characters that are touting the magical properties of their services. Odds are, there’s a lot of snake oil in their pitch.

Source: Companies Will Spend $65 Billion on SEO in 2016, Much of it Will Be Wasted