“No Hat SEO” = A License to Kill (Your Online Presence)

We have white hat, black hat, and grey hat SEO; but I think we need to add “no hat SEO” into the mix to describe people who claim to be an SEO professional but lack the knowledge they need to do things the right way. SEO agencies who don’t fully understand how search engine optimization works can cause as much damage as an agency that uses black hat techniques.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the availability of information on the internet about SEO and Social Media Marketing is that anyone can read a lot of articles, toss around the right words, label themselves an “expert,” put up a shingle, and do more harm than good to their unsuspecting clients.

No Hat SEOIt seems like there are SEO and Social Media “experts” and “agencies” popping up like daisies, or maybe I should say dandelions because what they bring to the table isn’t pretty. I recently trained someone who owns two websites that have been losing ground in natural search.

Interestingly he hired an SEO agency to work on his main site and his main motivation for taking the training was to learn more about SEO so he can go into business for himself and provide SEO services to others.

We quickly incorporated a review of the activities of his newly hired SEO agency’s activities into our discussions about things like keyword research, how to write and optimize content, and how social media plays a role in today’s world of SEO. On the surface it appeared that his self-admitted newbie to SEO is doing some of the right things, the problem is that they were ignoring some key strategies and the things they are doing aren’t even close to being right.

  • Website evaluation – as far as I can tell this must have been non-existent, instead of conducting an analysis to determine why traffic from natural search had declined so significantly, they just started doing stuff.
  • Keyword research – they did it, sort of. They provided him with one word that they “thought” would be a good one. They didn’t provide any reasons why it was a good word and there was no indication that they were planning on doing any further research.
  • On page optimization – this component was missing completely. They didn’t even mention words like title tag, meta-description, H1 tags, or internal linking as a part of their recommendations. Page titles and meta-descriptions are the most frequently overlooked opportunity for optimizing a web page and his website was no exception.
  • Create a blog and publish new content on a regular basis – I don’t even know where to begin on this one. They did indeed create a blog and they created it in WordPress, there are social share buttons, and it’s on the site’s domain. That’s where what they did right ends. The blog is visually unappealing, the content is not only poor it borders on keyword stuffing. It includes no links to external resources or back to the website. The articles are too short (which in this case is a blessing) and most of them are one solid block of text.
  • Create and share videos – they made a video and it’s fairly well done. Too bad it’s not about the main product he wants to promote and it’s not optimized for SEO. Instead of embedding it in the blog post, they included a text version of the naked YouTube URL (that’s right, you can’t even link to it and the URL is ugly).
  • Be active in the right social media networks – epic fail. They did set up Twitter and Facebook, but every tweet and post is self-promotional, there’s a complete lack of real engagement, there’s not a single “follow” button on the website. Although I’m not a social media expert, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb by guessing that they are completely under-optimized missing key social media opportunities.

The list could go on and on; unfortunately this SEO agency is doing more harm than good. The good news is that the website owner now has the knowledge he needs to do things the right way and recover his online visibility.

What I described may sound like grey hat or even borderline black hat SEO, but my instincts tell me it’s a lack of knowledge (aka “no hat SEO”) and not an attempt to trick or manipulate the search engines. The scary thing is that many business owners have the same level of knowledge about SEO, which makes it easy to trust an agency who claims they know what they’re doing when they talk about things like blogging, keywords, and social media.

Hiring an SEO agency is a leap of faith and is quite possibly one of  the most important decisions a business owner may make. Claiming to be an SEO expert without proper training and knowledge should be against the law; it’ like a “license to kill” someone’s online reputation and visibility.

When hiring an SEO agency keep these things in mind:

    • Thanks Robert. I couldn’t agree more – the fly by night SEO companies are so frustrating and it’s really scary to think about how many people turn their websites over to them.