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Page 6 — Don't Buy the Snake Oil

The beat-the-system allure of search engine optimization seems to draw the same sort of folks who populate Las Vegas. That's what motivated me to write this article: Too many self-marketing site owners I talked to had bought into a cops-and-robbers game at the expense of their budget and mental focus.

What's more, some of the software solutions we looked at, which stuff tags and create gateway pages, did nothing ... or worse. You can guess why: Search engine developers buy copies of the same software, learn how to recognize its output, and then demote your site or block it altogether when they spot that pattern in your pages. At that point, the software's maker offers an upgrade (for a fee, of course) so you can get around the blocking. As soon as the search engineers figure out the upgrade, you're out again and need another upgrade. Great business model, isn't it?

What's even more repelling, some of the consultants for optimization were outright con men. One claimed to be CEO of a huge consulting firm — its website lists a dozen unfamiliar but big-sounding companies as clients — but if you call the office numbers listed on their sites, guess who answers the phone?

We're not saying all SEO consultants are crooks, but we do recommend that you research their results skeptically before you spend, especially since you can probably do just as well by yourself. This article entered Google's index at #7 for "search engine optimization" a month after it was published, ahead of hundreds of professional SEO sites, mostly because we took our own advice. (On that note: If you love this article, the best way to thank us is to link to it!)

While playing with Google's "link:" feature, we found a wealth of sites and mailing lists offering even more free advice. We emailed and called the best ones with a burning question: Where to send the 100 questions a month we're getting about this article? And a short list of starting points emerged ....

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