Reputation management is a facet of search engine optimization work, and ironically, it is exactly what SEO itself needs. Why? Do a little experiment: go Google “SEO is…” The autocomplete suggestions fill in the blanks with evil, bull****, dead, a sham, and more. SEO is also associated quite often with spam. Are there spammy, evil SEOs? Sure. Just like there are quack doctors or bad lawyers. But they are by no means representative of the industry as a whole.
High profile SEO missteps help perpetuate this perception. Take the recent JC Penney link debacle. The US retailer ranked first in queries for everything from Samsonite carry-on luggage to little black dresses. It turns out that the links that were driving JC Penney to the top of the SERPs led to a variety of unrelated sites, many of which contained only the links. The link scamming story was reported initially by the New York Times and spread as a cautionary tale for those who would hire SEOs. JC Penney claimed that it didn’t know that their SEO company had engaged in this type of “black hat” activity, and that they were summarily dismissed.
The stain on SEO that this, and other events, causes lingers, even as marketers and businesses increase spending on search engine optimization. How do you ensure that you do not fall victim to a black hat SEO – and Google penalties? It is a good idea to Google SEO firms and choose the top five or ten. Google tends to monitor the SEO field more closely, so top ranking firms should be reputable. “Should be” is not good enough, though. Get references before you consider working with a firm, and go back as far as you can. Often, black hat firms keep clients happy (or unaware) for six months or a year. If they have a track record with clients that goes back for years, listen to what these references are saying.
You can also talk to Google to get help. While the spam team, led by Matt Cutts, does penalize sites for infractions, they are also willing to help untangle the messes made by black hat SEOs.
SEO can be a remarkably effective tool for your business; choosing the best company is essential.