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For every SEO service provider that offers you “the best” SEO campaign, there’s ten more that will tell you the first provider doesn’t know what they’re talking about. One reason for this, of course, is the competition factor. The second is because SEO technology changes so quickly, there’s always a chance that your SEO service provider may have fallen behind. Lastly, there isn’t just one formula, book or school that says, “This is how SEO is done”; there are hundreds.
SEO Campaign Strategies: White Hat vs. Black Hat
The impression you want to give your customers will define the type of SEO campaign you run, and the type of provider you choose:
Believe it or not, there are such things as unethical SEO campaigns; the authorities call this down-and-dirty practice “Black Hat SEO”. Though Black Hat started out as just “hedging” the rules of search engine optimization, it soon went overboard.
One practice of Black Hat SEO service providers is called “keyword stuffing“. This method involves taking long lists of keywords and stuffing them into a web page, hoping the search engines will give the page a higher ranking. Another method is invisible text – white text on a white background. The user never sees it, but the search engines will.
Black Hat tactics do work, but only if you want your site to go higher for a short amount of time – before it’s penalized. Like the good sheriffs of old, search engine spiders will eventually notice the trickery, as will your customers when they click on a page and see nothing but “blah blah long tail key phrase blah”.
This isn’t to say that White Hat SEO service providers are everything good, right and holy; there are unethical practices here, as well. However, these unethical practices are the kind that any buyer is used to: frauds, no work for all pay, etc. You can avoid companies of this type by doing research and asking for references.
White Hat methods include such things as keyword research, using keywords in good content, coding and many more. Like any marketing campaign, a SEO campaign takes time. White Hat methods are set in structured steps so that the campaign is constantly building power; instead of spiking your ratings to the top, you’ll see a gradual rise.
Blue Hat Strategies
There’s a trend rising through the SEO service providers called “Blue Hat” SEO. This is a mix of Black and White Hat SEO; its focus is to use the most advanced techniques of both practices to achieve the greatest, and most long lasting, results. Though still in its youth, Blue Hat SEO does have a large following, and is quickly growing to become a full-blown strategy of its own.
No matter which SEO service providers you look at, remember one thing: Running a SEO campaign takes time. Any provider that tells you they can have your site at #1 in a week is a provider you need to drop.
As most SEO service providers know, your competitors are rarely the companies you thought they were. With businesses that aren’t web based, the competition is easier to find; if you sell medical supplies, other companies that sell them are your competitors. It’s not so clear-cut with internet marketing, however.
If you’re starting at the bottom as a new website owner, it’s an unrealistic outlook to consider the head dogs – who have been in place for years – as your competition; good SEO service providers will tell you this. When building a web-based business, the competition isn’t necessarily those that sell what you sell. Instead, you’re competing for placement, with SEO as a main way to wrestle your way to the top of the Google SERP (search engine results page) dog pile; and SEO means keywords. Those keywords are the first step to finding your direct competition.
Finding Your Competition
Though all SEO service providers have their own methods for competitive benchmarking, you can take some basic steps on your own to get an idea whom your competitors are.
1. Put the keyword or phrase in the search bar and see how many results come up.
2. Write down (or copy/paste into Word) the number one site for each search phrase you use.
3. Use the same keyword search with the “intitle:” command and “inanchor:” command.
4. Write down the sites that come up in these results.
The sites in the number one positions and those that come up for the “intitle:” and “inanchor:” searches are your most likely competition. Although there are other things SEO service providers can do to narrow down the list, you now have a broad idea of who you’re fighting for the top position in your field.
Researching the Competition
Now that you know who they are, find out what they’re doing that makes their site more visible. To do this, first look over their content.
Is it informative, interesting and high quality?
Does it stand out?
How is it different from yours?
If content is an issue and writing isn’t your forte, most reputable providers offer SEO copywriting services.
Look at their navigation and take in the details. If yours is more complicated, perhaps that’s an issue. You want your navigation to be as uncomplicated as possible, but set up in such a way as to guide your visitors to interesting places on your site.
A word to the wise: While you’re looking over the competitors’ sites, don’t make the mistake of some SEO service providers. Don’t get so stuck on the idea of “I can do better” that you forget the bottom line, which is taking the best of all their sites and forging a top of the line site of your own.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to take notes! That way, when you’re ready to hire your own SEO service providers you’ll actually understand a little bit more of what they talk about and how they do it.