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Search Engine Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation

March 31, 2008

As a potential user of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services, as well as solicitors specializing in internet and related laws, we recently examined the market and reviewed the services that are offered. As expected there is a huge variation in price and terms on offer. Some SEO providers are charging well into the thousands for a monthly subscription service while others charge a tenth of that, and seem to achieve as good and if not better results. In other words, it rarely follows that the more you pay the better the quality of service.

The pace at which SEO has developed into a multimillion industry in its own right has surprised the industry itself. The market is already flooded with providers, making promises of results to increase your business’ visibility, accessibility and many more terms which have become industry standard in the field of SEO. More and more providers are piling in to the market. So, given that the industry is largely unregulated, and the cost of SEO services can be so high, potential buyers of SEO services need to beware before buying.

It is possible that something along these lines may have motivated American Express’s advice in its Small Business Guide to the effect that SEO is a waste of money. The paragraph in question states: “Don’t waste money on so-called Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O) specialists. Search engines are very quick to penalize sites that try to trick their filtering techniques, and once your site has been put on Google’s blacklist, it will take forever to get off.” Naturally the advice did not endear American Express to the industry – see this blog – nor is it particularly helpful to those businesses that have decided they do want to invest in SEO, but need to know how to select the right provider.

While we are not qualified to comment on the quality of an SEO provider’s services, we can help businesses to ensure they select an SEO company on proper terms. You do not want an SEO that takes your money without making any contractual promises whatsoever in return. A business needs to understand that what can work one week may not work another week. Google changes its policy on listings from time to time and there is a distinct possibility that those with an SEO who uses unscrupulous tactics could find themselves removed from search engine listings altogether. The example of BMW’s removal from Google listings because of alleged “Black Hat” techniques such as to draw in web users could be replicated with the techniques engaged in by some SEO providers and send a business’ web marketing campaign into meltdown. Many SEO companies do not offer proper terms of business to cover a relationship of such substantial value, let alone any redress if they were to positively damage your business in this way. On the contrary those that do offer written terms tend to smatter them with exclusions of all warranties for their services.

Given the general lack of understanding in society as to what SEO activities actually involve in practice, it may be more difficult and expensive to sue the SEO company in these circumstances, assuming they were worth suing in the first place. If a business is not careful when choosing a provider it could end up paying significant amounts of money, and exposed to many tall promises and little in terms of remedy should the service badly underperform. We would strongly advise small businesses not to part with their cash without first looking carefully at the provider’s terms and conditions. The most effective way to prevent any problems that may arise is to make sure that the SEO service provider and the business owner are aware of what each other’s expectations are. You need to be clear what the SEO is specifically going to do for you to achieve the hoped for results. How much time will they spend on your project? What input will they require from you?

From the point of view of the SEO provider, they will not be able to promise the earth, there are many factors outside of their control, SEO remains a curious process and business owners will need to be aware that there are limitations to what is possible. However, the business owner will also have to ensure that the services are providing them with a service that can be relied on – i.e. the SEO stand by what they claim to deliver. Therefore key is an agreement ensuring that there is a sufficient understanding between each party and there are adequate remedies when either party is in default of its promises. Beware that a good number of SEOs are trying to tie down business owners to long term deals, which could prove disastrous if the project were to fail to deliver. SEO contracts which cover the necessary points are few and far between, so you will need lawyers that understand this area to vet the agreement before you are bound to it.