The question comes up often. Many people have been burned by SEO Services, but many have also been rewarded by SEO Services. Like any business transaction or purchase you should only spend your money when you feel comfortable. Your comfort zone should pull from various dependencies, such as how well do you know this business, how long have you been doing business with this person or entity, what is your first impression, how do you personally feel about this person or entity ability to provide this service, and how well have you done your homework.

The truth about SEO services is that it is normally not hard work, but that doesn’t mean its easy. It still takes time, dedication, effort, strategy, technique, method, skill, and experience to perform quality SEO services. Anyone can use SEO services because it is within your reach to learn, but not everyone can apply sensible strategy to make SEO work. That is why SEO engineers are needed to accomplish the almost impossible, but the question is how do you know you are making the right choice and not overpaying for SEO services?

I can honestly say for the most part SEO service providers are on the up and up who want nothing more than to do professional business and provide quality SEO services. Identifying every shady SEO service may not be possible, but I have some recommended advice which should help anyone get a fair and quality rate for SEO services.

– Set yourself a “realistic” marketing budget and goal

– Shop around

– Don’t buy until you feel comfortable

– Remember “cheap does not always mean better”

– Ask for references / referrals / portfolio

– Verify references / referrals / portfolio

– Ask for statistical growth and progress reports

Set Yourself a Realistic Marketing Budget and Goal

This simply mean do not kid yourself and think you can pay $200 and overnight you will make thousands. Instead, create a budget depending on your marketing needs, competitive industry, projected outcome, and length of time. If you are looking for your website to rank in the Top 10 search engine result page for a particular keyword or keywords then expect to pay in the thousands, often times tens of thousands, for quality, professional, and reliable SEO services, almost always depending on the competitiveness of the keyword. If you want to rank in the top 10 for the keyword “Google”, this in most cases impossible, but I am sure there are some SEO companies who will accept the challenge, but will charge in the thousands if not millions to attempt this insane marketing goal.

Shop Around

Find the most appealing SEO services and compare those to other competitive SEO services. Don’t settle for “cheap” or “inexpensive”, but settle for “effective” and “strategy”. Anyone can do SEO work, but not everyone can improve results using SEO services. This is because, SEO is about technique and strategy. It’s not about just throwing thousands a links around the web and sitting back waiting for the explosion. Its actually a lot more complicated than that, as it is about having strategy, technique, and competitive edge. You must find SEO services which live by this principle and can offer you the strategic road map you need for success.

Don’t Buy Until You Feel Comfortable

You should always feel comfortable with entrusting your money into an SEO service provider paws. If you have special needs such as you want to sign a contract, you want a specific pay schedule, or you have any questions, make sure you get answers and are comfortable with the projected outcome then move forward. I personally suggest getting a contract which outlines the projected outcome and any other bullet points, then also exploring the consequences or possibilities if the projected outcome is not met.

Remember “Cheap Does Not Always Mean Better”

This is a buyer beware notice. When someone offers $20 SEO services or even $200 SEO services, I would say “buyer beware”. There may be a handful of highly skilled SEO providers who can offer you SEO services at a discount or for extremely low rates, but most of the time these providers either do not know their service worth or know exactly what they are doing, but may have had a lucky streak. You will have to pay top dollar or aggressively, yet still affordable for quality, strategic, and experienced SEO services. SEO engineers is what I like to call them. These are SEO’s who understand the SEO concept, who pioneer SEO methods, and who don’t always follow the trend, but know the trends.

Most of the SEO engineers are not going to be cheap, but well worth every dollar spent. If you take into consideration other marketing and advertising platforms, such as television broadcast advertising, print advertising, large tradeshow/fair booth advertising, etc. internet marketing and search engine optimization cost peanuts compared to these other advertising methods and have a farther audience reach. SEO services can easily cost between $5,000-$25,000, it can even be much more than this, depending on your needs, but this is far more inexpensive and cheaper than other advertising platforms. So, next time you think that SEO service cost too much, think about the other methods of advertising and their rates, along with return on investment (ROI). SEO services come out on top every time when compared against these other advertising platforms.

Ask for References / Referrals / Portfolio

Any SEO service provider should be able to point you to their qualifying work. SEO service providers should be able to present you with affectionate websites which they have performed SEO work on. This can even be the SEO service provider personal website, they should be able to point you to their rankings in the search engine as well as some result driven SEO work within the site or across the web.

Verify References / Referrals / Portfolio

Verifying information is not always easy or accomplishable. You should attempt to reach out and verify what you can. If a shady SEO business was going to scam, then I am sure this is where they would start, with testimonials. I suggest verifying what you can, but don’t get overwhelmed with referrals because it may be the shady SEO business giving self praise. I actually have some good verification tips, but that’s another article all within itself.

Ask for Statistical Growth & Progress Reports

The SEO service campaign should include periodic progress/performance reports so you can track your website progress. Tracking your website progress is important in many ways. First, it tells if the SEO engineer is doing their job. Second, it tells you if the SEO methods, strategy, and technique is working or not. Third, it tells you how well the search engines are reciprocating your SEO efforts. And lastly, it tells you how much progress is being made and at what rate. All of this advanced reporting information and trend tracking can give you an overview of your website potential while giving you the opportunity to design or redesign your landing pages to increase your return on investment (ROI).

Okay, to wrap it up, just be sure you stay out of shabby internet neighborhoods and when making any online transaction, do your homework first. Also, remember “cheap does not equal better”. Think about it, would you rather pay in the thousands to one SEO company for quality SEO work, which will produce results and increase your website overall performance or would you rather pay cheap $200 to many different SEO’s who don’t ever really give you the results you deserve. If an SEO engineer can increase your website sales and exposure by 80% without your site ever reaching the top 10 search results then you still got a good deal. This is the effect of skilled and experienced SEO services. The only difference between your website and the websites in the top 10, is those websites have SEO engineers working for them who understand SEO.

Leprechaun Repellent and Guaranteed SEO Companies – The Disturbing Link

When researching SEO companies, it is tempting to choose any company willing to offer guaranteed SEO services. It is human nature – people love a guarantee. This holds especially true for purchases where the buyer is purchasing something outside of his or her area of comfort. When companies first consider pursuing search engine optimization (SEO) as a potential marketing channel, particularly when there is an ongoing cost involved, they get a sense of comfort from purchasing “guaranteed SEO.” Unfortunately, with many SEO companies, this confidence in the guarantee is ill-placed.

A lot of questionable SEO companies offer what I like to refer to as a “leprechaun repellent” guarantee. In other words, it’s a guarantee that is easily attainable – if you purchase such services and are not subsequently harassed by a pesky leprechaun, the guarantee has been met. How can you complain?

The truth is that SEO companies do not control the major search engines, and any firm that claims to have a “special relationship” that gives it sway over the natural search engine results is simply counting on your ignorance. Fortunately, this does not mean that guaranteed SEO is impossible, especially when the guarantee has to do with aggregate results and the methods used to achieve them.

What follows is a partial list of some of the more popular types of guaranteed SEO out there – some of them roughly as useful as leprechaun repellent, and some of them actually meaningful.

Questionable Guarantees

The “Leprechaun Repellent” Keyphrases Guarantee

Many SEO companies boast that they will achieve a certain number of top rankings in the organic results of major search engines. This type of guaranteed SEO can be tempting, especially to those who are investigating SEO companies for the first time. After all, high rankings are what it’s all about, right? Isn’t that the goal?

The answer is an emphatic “No.” Quality SEO companies will point out that the real goal is to bring high quality traffic to your site. It’s quite simple to guarantee top positions if you choose non-competitive or obscure phrases – for example, “leprechaun repellent.” Want proof? Enter “leprechaun repellent into your favorite search engine. You will almost certainly find this article dominating the results (caveat – if you are reading this article immediately after its release, the search engines may not have indexed it yet. Wait a week and try again.).

It is extremely easy for SEO companies to achieve high search engine positions for phrases that nobody uses. Such rankings might impress your friends and neighbors, but they won’t send you quality traffic. They likely won’t send you any traffic at all. It’s important to note that the phrase “leprechaun repellent” is used only for demonstrative purposes. Many unpopular phrases may not sound absurd. There are surely countless phrases out there that sound extremely relevant to your business that are never typed into search engines. Good SEO companies will avoid such phrases. “Leprechaun repellent” practitioners will embrace them – it allows them to attain their worthless guarantees.

There is also another aspect of this type of guaranteed SEO in which SEO companies will guarantee you first place positions on unspecified search engines for more competitive phrases. Unfortunately, this type of guaranteed SEO often involves obscure engines that have very little market share and are not sophisticated enough to quickly eliminate web pages that use spam tactics. In a few documented cases, the guarantees involved search engines that the SEO companies actually owned and operated!

There are really only three major search engines at present – Google, Yahoo, and MSN. There are a handful of minor engines that are also worth mentioning, including Ask Jeeves and AOL Search. Any guaranteed SEO should involve prominent engines, not obscure ones.

The “Company Name” Guarantee

There is also a common guarantee that shady SEO companies will use that guarantees that a company will show up for a search on its company name. This, much like the “leprechaun repellent” flavor of guaranteed SEO, offers no real value. Sure, if your company name is “Acme,” it may actually be competitive – but chances are that if your website does not already show up near the top of the search engine results for a search on your company name, there is an easily fixed technical glitch that will resolve the issue. Quality SEO companies will address this area immediately. Moreover, ranking highly for your company name, while obviously desirable, provides only a tiny fraction of the potential value of search engine marketing. The real benefit for most companies is that search engine marketing attracts potential buyers who are not already familiar with the company name. Unless your company is a household name, it is unlikely that having your company name figure prominently in the results is going to have a huge impact on your business.

The Pay-Per-Click Guarantee

Some SEO companies will offer guaranteed SEO services that promise top positions for certain keyphrases on popular engines, but they are counting on dealing with prospects who do not understand the difference between natural search engine results and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. With PPC, it is very easy to guarantee a number one result, but this result will appear in the “paid” or “sponsored” results of the engine. Say, for example, that your company installs custom swimming pools. While a competitive phrase like “custom pools” might be difficult to achieve in organic results, the SEO company is not concerned with organic results. All it has to do is outbid the current highest bidder (using your money, of course), and your site will show up as number one in the “sponsored” results. Studies have indicated that sponsored results are held in a lower regard than natural results by savvy web searchers who recognize them as advertising. Also, as soon as you stop paying, your ranking disappears.

The “Submit Your Site to 50,000 Search Engines” Guarantee

There are many variations on this offer, primarily involving the number of engines promised. Regardless of the number, this is probably the most pervasive and persistent type of “guaranteed SEO,” and it is basically a scam that preys on ignorance.

Companies that believe that they have high quality websites are predisposed to believe that the only thing holding them back from search engine success is that the search engines do not yet know that their sites exist. However, search engines measure quality in a much different way than a website owner does. A properly optimized site does not need to be submitted to search engines at all (I refer to actual “spider-based” search engines such as Yahoo, Google, and MSN, not human-edited directories such as Business.com, the Yahoo Directory, and the Open Directory Project). Engines prefer to find sites on their own.

This “solution” offers no real value, except of course to the SEO companies offering the service. Also, as previously mentioned, there are not 50,000 search engines – or at least 50,000 search engines worth worrying about. Do SEO companies that offer this service meet this guarantee? Certainly – they use automated programs to do the submissions. Is this type of guaranteed SEO worthwhile? Not for search engine positions, but it may keep leprechauns at bay.

Meaningful Guarantees

Given the preponderance of “guaranteed SEO” that is meaningless, the seemingly Wild West nature of the industry, and the reality that SEO companies do not control the results of any major engine, it may seem that guaranteed SEO can never be a worthwhile endeavor. However, this is not the case. If you note the examples above, they are primarily involved in specifics – top positions, a certain number of submissions, a certain number of engines. However, good SEO companies, understanding that they have no control over individual results, should be confident enough in the results of their work in aggregate and in the safety of the methodologies that they use to offer guaranteed SEO that lives up to its promise.

The Custom Guarantee

In very rare cases, certain skilled, experienced SEO companies will be able to develop for you a custom guarantee derived from the analysis of your current traffic data, the competitiveness of your industry, and the status of your site. You will ideally be offered this type of specialized guarantee from the beginning of your dealings with an SEO firm because it ensures that you will be achieving targeted, meaningful results based on your specific situation, rather than on generalities that could apply to any business in any industry. Some SEO companies may tell you that a custom guarantee is not possible because they have no direct control over search engine results. However, SEO companies who have been in business for a while know how to weather the algorithm shifts and understand that there is more than one popular search engine. Such a firm will be confident enough to create and back a custom guarantee for you.

The Targeted Traffic Guarantee

SEO companies dedicated to showing value to their clients will take a baseline reading of current search engine traffic at the outset of a campaign. While, as previously mentioned, SEO companies do not hold sway over search engine results, they should at least be confident enough in their overall skills to promise that their clients will see an increase in targeted search engine traffic based on popular phrases relevant to the business. If the firm offering this type of guaranteed SEO charges on a monthly basis, any month of the engagement where traffic for targeted phrases does not, at a minimum, exceed the baseline should not be charged. After all, you are paying on a monthly basis to protect and improve your positions. While major algorithm shifts that make results on individual results unstable can and do happen, they rarely happen on all engines at once. You should feel confident that the firm you are paying has a very vested interest in making sure it adapts to the changing nature of search engine algorithms, and few things inspire such confidence as knowing that it will not get paid otherwise. If your prospective firm is unwilling to at least guarantee that it will send increased traffic to your website from targeted phrases, every month, it may be time to look elsewhere.

The “White Hat” Guarantee

SEO companies are commonly broken up into two camps – “white hats” (practitioners who remain solidly within the search engine’s stated terms of service) and “black hats” (practitioners who work to unravel the latest search engine algorithms and base their optimization techniques largely on technology, regardless of the engine’s terms of service). Both approaches are legitimate – after all, there is nothing illegal about exploiting a technical loophole for results. However, black hat SEO companies put their clients at risk of penalization or even outright banishment from the major engines. Getting back in can be a long process, and sometimes it is not possible at all. If you are concerned about potential penalization, get a guarantee from your firm that they adhere to the stated terms of service of all major search engines. If you can (and this is rare), get a guarantee that your site will not be penalized through any action of the SEO firm. This is harder for a company to offer, since the major engines frequently update their terms of service, and techniques that are acceptable today can be deemed unacceptable tomorrow. However, a confident firm that always errs on the side of caution when optimizing client websites will offer this type of guaranteed SEO services, since it will not use techniques that have a potential for penalization in the future.

Abusing the Metaphor (Beating a Dead Leprechaun)

Guarantees have been around for at least as long as leprechauns have been hoarding breakfast cereal and starring in bad horror films. So have guarantees that are essentially meaningless but sound respectable. A good guarantee should not only appeal to the base emotion of a potential purchaser, but it should also afford some real protection that the purchase he or she is making will provide meaningful results. Many of the most popular types of guaranteed SEO do not, and that’s a shame. The industry already has a questionable reputation due to “leprechaun repellent” practitioners – make sure you don’t go chasing their rainbow. After all, it’s your pot of gold they are after.

When researching SEO companies, it is tempting to choose any company willing to offer guaranteed SEO services. It is human nature – people love a guarantee. This holds especially true for purchases where the buyer is purchasing something outside of his or her area of comfort. When companies first consider pursuing search engine optimization (SEO) as a potential marketing channel, particularly when there is an ongoing cost involved, they get a sense of comfort from purchasing “guaranteed SEO.” Unfortunately, with many SEO companies, this confidence in the guarantee is ill-placed.

A lot of questionable SEO companies offer what I like to refer to as a “leprechaun repellent” guarantee. In other words, it’s a guarantee that is easily attainable – if you purchase such services and are not subsequently harassed by a pesky leprechaun, the guarantee has been met. How can you complain?

The truth is that SEO companies do not control the major search engines, and any firm that claims to have a “special relationship” that gives it sway over the natural search engine results is simply counting on your ignorance. Fortunately, this does not mean that guaranteed SEO is impossible, especially when the guarantee has to do with aggregate results and the methods used to achieve them.

What follows is a partial list of some of the more popular types of guaranteed SEO out there – some of them roughly as useful as leprechaun repellent, and some of them actually meaningful.

Questionable Guarantees

The “Leprechaun Repellent” Keyphrases Guarantee

Many SEO companies boast that they will achieve a certain number of top rankings in the organic results of major search engines. This type of guaranteed SEO can be tempting, especially to those who are investigating SEO companies for the first time. After all, high rankings are what it’s all about, right? Isn’t that the goal?

The answer is an emphatic “No.” Quality SEO companies will point out that the real goal is to bring high quality traffic to your site. It’s quite simple to guarantee top positions if you choose non-competitive or obscure phrases – for example, “leprechaun repellent.” Want proof? Enter “leprechaun repellent into your favorite search engine. You will almost certainly find this article dominating the results (caveat – if you are reading this article immediately after its release, the search engines may not have indexed it yet. Wait a week and try again.).

It is extremely easy for SEO companies to achieve high search engine positions for phrases that nobody uses. Such rankings might impress your friends and neighbors, but they won’t send you quality traffic. They likely won’t send you any traffic at all. It’s important to note that the phrase “leprechaun repellent” is used only for demonstrative purposes. Many unpopular phrases may not sound absurd. There are surely countless phrases out there that sound extremely relevant to your business that are never typed into search engines. Good SEO companies will avoid such phrases. “Leprechaun repellent” practitioners will embrace them – it allows them to attain their worthless guarantees.

There is also another aspect of this type of guaranteed SEO in which SEO companies will guarantee you first place positions on unspecified search engines for more competitive phrases. Unfortunately, this type of guaranteed SEO often involves obscure engines that have very little market share and are not sophisticated enough to quickly eliminate web pages that use spam tactics. In a few documented cases, the guarantees involved search engines that the SEO companies actually owned and operated!

There are really only three major search engines at present – Google, Yahoo, and MSN. There are a handful of minor engines that are also worth mentioning, including Ask Jeeves and AOL Search. Any guaranteed SEO should involve prominent engines, not obscure ones.

The “Company Name” Guarantee

There is also a common guarantee that shady SEO companies will use that guarantees that a company will show up for a search on its company name. This, much like the “leprechaun repellent” flavor of guaranteed SEO, offers no real value. Sure, if your company name is “Acme,” it may actually be competitive – but chances are that if your website does not already show up near the top of the search engine results for a search on your company name, there is an easily fixed technical glitch that will resolve the issue. Quality SEO companies will address this area immediately. Moreover, ranking highly for your company name, while obviously desirable, provides only a tiny fraction of the potential value of search engine marketing. The real benefit for most companies is that search engine marketing attracts potential buyers who are not already familiar with the company name. Unless your company is a household name, it is unlikely that having your company name figure prominently in the results is going to have a huge impact on your business.

The Pay-Per-Click Guarantee

Some SEO companies will offer guaranteed SEO services that promise top positions for certain keyphrases on popular engines, but they are counting on dealing with prospects who do not understand the difference between natural search engine results and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. With PPC, it is very easy to guarantee a number one result, but this result will appear in the “paid” or “sponsored” results of the engine. Say, for example, that your company installs custom swimming pools. While a competitive phrase like “custom pools” might be difficult to achieve in organic results, the SEO company is not concerned with organic results. All it has to do is outbid the current highest bidder (using your money, of course), and your site will show up as number one in the “sponsored” results. Studies have indicated that sponsored results are held in a lower regard than natural results by savvy web searchers who recognize them as advertising. Also, as soon as you stop paying, your ranking disappears.

The “Submit Your Site to 50,000 Search Engines” Guarantee

There are many variations on this offer, primarily involving the number of engines promised. Regardless of the number, this is probably the most pervasive and persistent type of “guaranteed SEO,” and it is basically a scam that preys on ignorance.

Companies that believe that they have high quality websites are predisposed to believe that the only thing holding them back from search engine success is that the search engines do not yet know that their sites exist. However, search engines measure quality in a much different way than a website owner does. A properly optimized site does not need to be submitted to search engines at all (I refer to actual “spider-based” search engines such as Yahoo, Google, and MSN, not human-edited directories such as Business.com, the Yahoo Directory, and the Open Directory Project). Engines prefer to find sites on their own.

This “solution” offers no real value, except of course to the SEO companies offering the service. Also, as previously mentioned, there are not 50,000 search engines – or at least 50,000 search engines worth worrying about. Do SEO companies that offer this service meet this guarantee? Certainly – they use automated programs to do the submissions. Is this type of guaranteed SEO worthwhile? Not for search engine positions, but it may keep leprechauns at bay.

Meaningful Guarantees

Given the preponderance of “guaranteed SEO” that is meaningless, the seemingly Wild West nature of the industry, and the reality that SEO companies do not control the results of any major engine, it may seem that guaranteed SEO can never be a worthwhile endeavor. However, this is not the case. If you note the examples above, they are primarily involved in specifics – top positions, a certain number of submissions, a certain number of engines. However, good SEO companies, understanding that they have no control over individual results, should be confident enough in the results of their work in aggregate and in the safety of the methodologies that they use to offer guaranteed SEO that lives up to its promise.

The Custom Guarantee

In very rare cases, certain skilled, experienced SEO companies will be able to develop for you a custom guarantee derived from the analysis of your current traffic data, the competitiveness of your industry, and the status of your site. You will ideally be offered this type of specialized guarantee from the beginning of your dealings with an SEO firm because it ensures that you will be achieving targeted, meaningful results based on your specific situation, rather than on generalities that could apply to any business in any industry. Some SEO companies may tell you that a custom guarantee is not possible because they have no direct control over search engine results. However, SEO companies who have been in business for a while know how to weather the algorithm shifts and understand that there is more than one popular search engine. Such a firm will be confident enough to create and back a custom guarantee for you.

The Targeted Traffic Guarantee

SEO companies dedicated to showing value to their clients will take a baseline reading of current search engine traffic at the outset of a campaign. While, as previously mentioned, SEO companies do not hold sway over search engine results, they should at least be confident enough in their overall skills to promise that their clients will see an increase in targeted search engine traffic based on popular phrases relevant to the business. If the firm offering this type of guaranteed SEO charges on a monthly basis, any month of the engagement where traffic for targeted phrases does not, at a minimum, exceed the baseline should not be charged. After all, you are paying on a monthly basis to protect and improve your positions. While major algorithm shifts that make results on individual results unstable can and do happen, they rarely happen on all engines at once. You should feel confident that the firm you are paying has a very vested interest in making sure it adapts to the changing nature of search engine algorithms, and few things inspire such confidence as knowing that it will not get paid otherwise. If your prospective firm is unwilling to at least guarantee that it will send increased traffic to your website from targeted phrases, every month, it may be time to look elsewhere.

The “White Hat” Guarantee

SEO companies are commonly broken up into two camps – “white hats” (practitioners who remain solidly within the search engine’s stated terms of service) and “black hats” (practitioners who work to unravel the latest search engine algorithms and base their optimization techniques largely on technology, regardless of the engine’s terms of service). Both approaches are legitimate – after all, there is nothing illegal about exploiting a technical loophole for results. However, black hat SEO companies put their clients at risk of penalization or even outright banishment from the major engines. Getting back in can be a long process, and sometimes it is not possible at all. If you are concerned about potential penalization, get a guarantee from your firm that they adhere to the stated terms of service of all major search engines. If you can (and this is rare), get a guarantee that your site will not be penalized through any action of the SEO firm. This is harder for a company to offer, since the major engines frequently update their terms of service, and techniques that are acceptable today can be deemed unacceptable tomorrow. However, a confident firm that always errs on the side of caution when optimizing client websites will offer this type of guaranteed SEO services, since it will not use techniques that have a potential for penalization in the future.

Abusing the Metaphor (Beating a Dead Leprechaun)

Guarantees have been around for at least as long as leprechauns have been hoarding breakfast cereal and starring in bad horror films. So have guarantees that are essentially meaningless but sound respectable. A good guarantee should not only appeal to the base emotion of a potential purchaser, but it should also afford some real protection that the purchase he or she is making will provide meaningful results. Many of the most popular types of guaranteed SEO do not, and that’s a shame. The industry already has a questionable reputation due to “leprechaun repellent” practitioners – make sure you don’t go chasing their rainbow. After all, it’s your pot of gold they are after.

Your SEO Service, Ethical SEO, and Competitor Monitoring

When a company undertakes a search engine optimization program, whether it is performed in-house or outsourced to an SEO service, most of the attention (and rightly so) is focused on the company website. This is the one aspect where there is a feeling of control–once a website is released into the wild, the company will have to see how its site fares against all the other websites out there, whether the other sites are using ethical SEO tactics or not.

Apart from changes made to the company website, the assumption is often that the company and, if it is using one, its SEO service, has zero control over what appears in search engine results. However, this is not usually the case. Often, you or your SEO service can have a direct effect on search engine results by monitoring your competitors and reporting them to the major search engines when the SEO techniques used on their site fall outside what is popularly referred to as ethical SEO. (Please note that while I believe that the word “ethical” is tossed around too often, “ethical SEO” has become the standard phrase to describe white hat techniques, and so it is the phrase I use throughout the article.)

Primary Competitors

To start with, let’s define competitors. Almost every company has at least a handful of other companies that it considers to be primary competitors–the ones that sell the same products and services, that are of similar size, and so on. It is important that the SEO efforts (or lack thereof) of these competitors, whether they are using ethical SEO techniques or not, be monitored on a routine basis. If they have not hired an SEO service of their own, or if they have not started doing SEO in-house at all, you will have peace of mind knowing that the use of this channel, for the moment, is yours. If your competitors begin an SEO campaign, with or without an outside SEO service, you can learn much about their sales and marketing tactics by evaluating the keyphrases that they target. And you can also investigate whether they are using ethical SEO practices in their campaign.

Your Online Competitors

It’s important to keep in mind that it is unlikely that searchers are going to decide only between you and the primary competitors you have listed. They are going to consider any company that matches their particular needs and that shows up for their search term. This is why your criteria for a competitor online should broaden to encompass any company that offers products or services like yours that outranks you for any of your targeted keyphrases. If your in-house staff or your SEO service not only continually monitors your search engine positions but also analyzes the companies that appear above you in search results, you can often identify forward-looking competitors of which you were previously unaware–your primary competitors of tomorrow.

Violations

This brings us to the key issue of ethical SEO. Search engine optimization is still a very new concept to most companies. Even the most respected companies can make mistakes in this arena, either by choosing the wrong SEO service, or by trying to avoid hiring an SEO service altogether by bringing it in house with well-intentioned but unqualified people. For example, BMW’s German site was recently removed temporarily from the Google index for using doorway pages–something that is not considered an ethical SEO practice. It stands to reason that your competitors are also not immune to violations.

Bad Firms

There are very notable examples of otherwise smart and established companies hiring an SEO service that put them in a worse situation than before they pursued SEO–by getting their site removed from major search engines for violating the engine’s terms of service, for example. Not long ago, there was a well-publicized example where most of the clients of a Las Vegas SEO service were penalized. Almost all of the clients claimed that they were not informed that the firm was not practicing ethical SEO and that they were therefore at risk.

SEO firms are generally divided into two camps–those called “White Hats” (those that use ethical SEO practices and will never knowingly violate a search engine’s terms of service) and those called “Black Hats” (those that do not use ethical SEO practices and that will attempt to unravel the latest algorithms and exploit any loopholes to achieve rankings at any cost). Neither approach is invalid–it is not against the law to violate the terms of service of a search engine. Moreover, black hat techniques can be quite effective. However, the tactics are risky, and anyone hiring an SEO service that wears a black hat and does not use ethical SEO practices should definitely be apprised of this risk up front.

Internal Resources

Firms are often tempted to avoid hiring an SEO service by performing SEO in-house, and the project almost always falls onto an already overburdened IT department. The problem with approaching SEO from a strictly technical mindset is that the strategies employed, such as the keyphrases targeted, will not necessarily be in line with the goals of the marketing and sales departments. In addition, an IT resource will usually approach SEO from a purely technical standpoint, without being aware of ethical SEO practices, and this can lead to trouble. Penalization is a very real possibility, and it is hard to get back onto an index once your site has been removed.

Monitoring

A thorough SEO service will monitor not only the handful of competitors that you deem crucial but also the sites that appear higher than you for any of your chosen search phrases. This may be somewhat controversial, especially to any SEO service or webmaster that uses tactics forbidden by the search engines’ terms of service. However, many white hat SEO service firms consider it an obligation to their clients to routinely monitor the sites of any competitor found on the engines to be sure it is using ethical SEO techniques.

There is a reason that every major search engine has a form to report sites who do not use ethical SEO tactics and who violate the terms of service so that these sites can be subsequently penalized or removed. Spam filters cannot catch all violations without also removing a large number of good sites. Search engines rely on their users to help them to keep their indexes clean and free of sites not using ethical SEO tactics. There are many techniques to spam an engine–far too many to list. However, a good SEO service not only knows what all of these techniques are but knows how to identify them when it sees them so they can be reported to the engine accurately.

The End Result

Business is business, and your interests often run directly counter to that of your competitors. When you report a website that is not using ethical SEO, it is very likely that it will be removed. This means there is one less company that you need to worry about in the online arena, at least for the time being. If the site in question outranked yours, you also get the added benefit of seeing your rankings improve as the violating pages are removed–provided, of course, that you are using ethical SEO techniques and steering clear of violations yourself, or you may be reported by a competitor of yours or its SEO service!

The engine also benefits from users reporting violations. Engines do not like people trying to trick their indexes, since there might then be pages showing up for particular search terms that are not actually relevant to those terms. Clearly, search engines understand this benefit–if the engines thought they could weed out all the spam themselves, they would not provide a reporting system. Supporting such a system, after all, is not free. Real people employed by the engine have to visit the offending pages to confirm that they are not using ethical SEO tactics.

In the notable example cited earlier of the firm that got most of its clients penalized, the owner of the SEO service in question was quoted as saying, “Google can kiss my ass. This is the Wild Wild West.” He may be right–maybe it is the Wild Wild West. But there are a whole bunch of new sheriffs in town–and they are wearing white hats.

What to Look for When Buying Pearls – Top Tips

Here are some top tips for things to look for when you’re buying pearls.

Please note, there is no discussion here relating to increasing in value over time – i.e. an investment. Generally speaking, it is unwise to consider the purchase of any type of jewellery from an investment viewpoint because values can rise or fall over time.

Check to see if the pearl has been artificially colored

This isn’t, in itself, necessarily a problem. Typically though, purists will look for naturally colored pearls and they might well command higher prices.

Things that might indicate the pearl has been artificially colored include:

  • color seemingly “wearing off” the outer shell;
  • a very dark core (indication of possible irradiation to change colours);
  • a very visible stratification of colour change on the inside of the pearl.

The final two above assume your pearl has a drill hole that you can look into with magnification.

Examine the regularity and symmetry of shape
Tiny irregularities of shape can be seen or felt – and that’s typically a good sign.If your pearl is perfectly round and perfectly smooth over its surface, then you’re probably looking at an artificial not natural (whether wild or cultured) pearl made from synthetic materials.

However, even if you have a real pearl, remember that significant deformations and irregularities may (or should) reduce the value if they’re particularly evident or severe.

Look at the lustre

Peals may vary in both body colour (their background colour) and their overtones (a surface shimmer of colour). Some may not have an overtone and that is not a problem. A lot will depend upon your own colour preferences.

However, this is very difficult to describe but look for pearls that gently shine. If they’re a dull matt finish it might indicate that there has been some damage (e.g. poor cleaning techniques with acid) that has taken the lustre off.

That can hugely reduce both value and appearance.

Read the advertisement’s wording carefully

Terms used in some pearl advertisements which may mislead (intentionally or otherwise):

Pearls from Japan“. That phrase would be true for pearls farmed in say China, shipped to Japan and then sold-on from there. Look for “farmed in Japan” to be sure – if that’s what you’re looking for;

Certified“. By whom? To what recognized standards? Remember, a label attached to your pearls means nothing if it’s just the seller’s.

Real pearls“. That should exclude synthetics but it’s ambiguous in terms of whether your pearls are natural (i.e. found in the wild – which is VERY rare today and they’re very expensive too) or cultured.

AAAA Grade“. Gradings are not standard across the globe or universally recognized. Trust some of the other tips on this page and your own common sense.

Price

Typically, if all other things are roughly equal, from most to least expensive pearls run:

  • natural/wild (sea);
  • cultured (sea);
  • freshwater;
  • synthetics.

If you see cultured pearls advertised at a price close to a set of essentially plastic ones, then something’s gone wrong and you should be sceptical.

Summary
  • If you have any doubts, you should contact an expert retailer for advice and guidance.
  • It might save you money and disappointment downstream.

Applying for a Personal Loan With Subpar Credit – What to Know

Anyone that finds themselves with multiple balances on credit cards that have high interest may consider looking for a personal loan with bad credit. This allows them to transfer those balances and take advantage of a lower interest rate to pay off their cards. Sadly, many banks will turn them down due to their credit. Thankfully, there are ways to get a loan that will help them save money, even with that low credit score.

Whether due to financial issues, job loss, or just striving to build a good credit score as a first time user it is difficult to get a loan. The way credit reports work is always changing and there are many factors that affect a person’s credit. It’s important to stay in the know about how to build it, and what your options are. There are likely more options than they think. Here are some ways to apply for and get a personal loan with bad credit.

How to Get a Loan with Bad Credit

Having zero credit or poor credit is a major issue when looking to secure a loan, because that person is viewed as a high risk customer who may default. It’s important to accept that until the credit score is raised, one won’t be able to enjoy the standard lending guidelines offered by big banks.

For anyone that’s been turned down for a loan or who doesn’t want to pay monstrous rates, here are some options:

Consider a Home Equity Line of Credit

If there is enough equity in owned property, it’s possible to secure a tax-deductible, low-interest loan or line of credit that can be used in any way. The only downfall is that many don’t want to tap into their home equity as it puts the property in jeopardy if they can’t repay it. However, with a steady income and a bit of discipline then this can be paid off and is a less pricey option no matter what the credit score!

Try and Apply to Credit Unions

Credit unions are so much better than a regular bank. That’s because they are member-owned. Usually they are founded by people who have something in common whether it be living in the same area, or working in the same profession. They are nonprofit and have a sole purpose of helping members. They offer great customer service and low fees.

Borrow from a Friend

Consider what’s called P2P or peer-to-peer lending. There are even sites online that let a person borrow from someone directly rather than a bank. This form of lending is getting very popular and is quite simple. It’s a winning situation for both investors who want to earn interest and borrowers who enjoy paying lower rates. It’s the perfect solution when looking to apply for a personal loan with bad credit. Current rates with P2P lending are as low as 6%. That’s far lower than most credit cards.

Family Loans

If an online peer doesn’t pick up a loan request, there’s always a chance a family member might. However, it’s more than important to treat a loan from someone in the family just as a professional loan. It should be documented and recorded. A written agreement should show the interest rate, terms of repayment and collateral that’s going against the loan. It should also lay out all the actions to be taken if the borrower does not repay.

What About a Co-signer?

If one is searching for a personal loan with bad credit and they don’t have a family member or a friend that is available to offer the loan, maybe they would consider co-signing. This is when someone who trusts that the borrower can repay the debt would take a chance on them and be a back up to repay the loan should that person default.

Why Is Display of Art In Hotels So Significant?

Are luxury hotels becoming fine art spaces?

Art has been a part of the hospitality industry for a very long time now. Hoteliers have often had to embrace creative strategies to make a hotel standout. By placing interesting and eye-catching artwork throughout the hotel, they’ve offered an exclusive experience to their clientele.

Artwork helps build the identity of a hotel and offers a superior aesthetic experience by creating inspiring and stimulating ambience. While the smaller accommodation options prefer cost efficiency and core amenities, artwork is almost integral to luxury, boutique, and design hotels.

The Need for Art

Artwork is a representation of the society because they served both as functional and symbolic elements. While some may say that art is a display of their ethnic sophistication, for some it may be more of an individualistic expression. As a functional element, artwork is utilized for psychological and healing purposes, for social causes, and even as a mode of communication. Personally, they connect people to their roots or the broader human condition. Artwork also evokes curiosity, interest and provides an exuberant experience.

Elevating the Style of Hotels through Artwork

Curating art for a hotel is often done by the hoteliers themselves, and, for this reason, it often reflects their values, creativity and the theme they are tying display. There is a separate budget earmarked for this purpose, and even though the investment in art is limited, it has given rise to different types of marketing strategies for hoteliers.

Use of paintings, sculptures or creative features in hotels, is without a doubt an effective way to revamp its look without investing in the structural changes, which could prove to be more expensive and time-consuming. Hoteliers who are experienced often say that simple changes in the color of the walls or the readjustment of the furniture can visually expand the room by as much as a feet. In fact the rooms that have framed artwork by famous painters are more expensive than others.

Integrating Artistic Communities and Galleries with Hotels

Famous luxury hotels are generally aided by the artistic community for new and exciting artworks. This helps hotels remain up to date with the latest trends while artists get a canvas to showcase their talents. It is a collaboration that is beneficial for both parties. As quoted by Paul Morris, the famous host of numerous international art fairs, including the Armory Show in New York City, “Hotels really can’t get away with putting mallard prints on the wall anymore. Therefore they need to tap into the artistic communities for help.”

Independent art consultants and interior designers are also known to frequently collaborate hotels. Not only do they help define the look of the property, they are able to source art locally from the best talent and get it at a great bargain. With the help of interior designers and consultants, hoteliers are able to achieve new heights in creativity.

Hotels That Have Brilliantly Integrated Art

In these times, art has become fundamental to a hotel instead of just being ornamental or an element of its design. As a result, hoteliers are inspired to think outside of the box and curate art in the most exquisite and unexpected ways possible.

Take for instance, the typical room at the Thompson LES hotel in Manhattan, which has an industrial-chic loft with exposed concrete columns and floor to ceiling windows. But what really catches your eye in the room is the artwork that hangs above the bed. It is a giant light box inside which there is a photo of a tree from photographer Lee Friedlander’s ‘Apples & Olives’ series. Stunning as the installation is, it also perfectly complements the organic setting of the room.

In the past decade, hotels like the Wynn Las Vegas, Chambers in Minneapolis, the Sagamore in Miami Beach and the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando have all displayed wide-ranging collections of art. The Gramercy Park Hotel, after being refurbished, has high-caliber artwork on display. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art is known to have taken a tour group to the hotel. I would call that high praise indeed!

Abstract artist Lynette Shaw painted a series of eight serene, textured canvases as large as eight feet across for the lobby and restaurant at the Wyvern Hotel in Las Vegas. Today the artwork is the most attractive quality of the hotel. Other hotels with famous artwork include the Ace Hotel in New York with four art-centric properties. The Pod Hotel in New York also features frameless art. J. M. Rizzi, the artist, has painted city scenes and abstract shapes directly on to the walls of the lobby and the corridors.

Most hotels commission and collect art that bring out the elements of the city inside the hotels. In some cases, they create a visual record of the rapidly developing neighborhood. For example in South Miami, the owner Michael Achenbaum commissioned Deborah Anderson, a London-based multimedia artist to shoot some of the area’s Art Deco architecture and also staged shots of tattooed models with ’50s hair and clothing. The photographer finally compiled 300 photographs, which were made into the 2,800 prints to be hung throughout the Gansevoort South.

Art in Indian Hotels

If you’re wondering where India stands on incorporating art in the hospitality industry, we have some stellar examples of our own. And why not! Indians have a reputation for being artistically inclined and we have some of the most beautiful examples of architecture in the world. There’s absolutely no way that we’d be left behind when showcasing artistic talent on the walls of our hotels.

Take for example the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad. In a land that’s famous for the creative sensibilities of the Nizams, the hotel does justice to its legacy and heritage. Falaknuma’s frescoed ceilings, carved furniture, and Venetian chandeliers have art aficionados in throes of ecstasy. The library in the hotel is a replica of the Windsor Castle in U.K. and is home to 6,000 books. You’re free to take a tour of the Falaknuma Palace accompanied by the hotel’s historian, who takes you through a trip back in time as he regales you with stories from days gone by.

Yet another name that pops to mind is the ITC Maurya in the capital of India. As soon as you enter the hotel’s lobby, you’re greeted by the stunning visual spectacle that is Krishen Khanna’s ‘The Great Procession’ – a rich depiction of the vibrant life in India. But your artistic experience doesn’t end here. There are other exemplary works scattered around the hotel, including Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Bull in the Landscape’ painting and AR Ramachandran’s Ashoka ‘After Kalinga War’ – a sculpture etched with Ashoka’s anti-war inscriptions in Devanagri.

There is no end to instances of brilliant exhibition of art in hotels. It is significant to their identity and being. In fact artists consider it an achievement to have their paintings hang at famous hotel chains. The melange of art in hotels is what makes them an aspiration place where people want to spend their holidays. And in many cases, it forms an intrinsic part of the memories that a traveler carries back with him when he comes away from the hotel.

To Be Better At Leading Change

70% of all change initiatives fail.

That’s a pretty startling statistic. Especially when you consider how important change is. I mean, we all acknowledge this, right? There aren’t many organizations out there saying, “You know what we need to do? We need to maintain the status quo, and we need to do it now!”

Every breakthrough involves change. Every innovation involves change. Every new product, policy, or service that moves you ahead of the competition involves change.

So change is vitally important-and yet 70% of change initiatives fail.

Why is that?

It’s because the people leading change don’t play the long game.

To put it another way, they declare victory too soon. Here’s why.

Change is difficult. There’s no getting around that. Change can be messy and uncertain-especially when you’re right in the middle of it. As Harvard professor and author of The Change Masters Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it, “Everything can look like a failure in the middle.”

In fact, the middle part of change-the messy, uncertain part-can be so painful that we declare victory the instant we’re through it. It’s as if, as soon as we start to see light at the end of the tunnel, we wipe our brow, give each other a high five, and say, “Whew! That’s done!”

But it’s not done. Yes, you’ve made it through the messy part, but you haven’t anchored the change. It’s not yet a part of the culture. It hasn’t “stuck.”

You played the short game.

The truth is, change is a long game. The average successful corporate change initiative is a seven-year process-of which years three, four, and five are the messy part. But notice that there are still two years of anchoring left before the change sticks, before it becomes part of the culture.

It’s the part after the messy part that determines whether or not your change initiative will last.

So what, as a leader, do you do during this part?

You reinforce the change.

You actively look for any and every positive outcome that is a result of the change, and you become relentless about communicating these outcomes to the team. You have to be the one connecting the dots of success back to the change because, left to their own, your team members will not make the connection.

Only by reinforcing the change can you anchor the change, and only by anchoring the change can you make the change truly stick.

And once you do this, you’ll be in that exclusive club of leaders whose change initiatives succeed.

Three Ways to Increase Property Values

Real estate investors live and die by their ability to add value. With no added value, there are no profits. This is true with any business, but what makes real estate such a great business and a great investment, is the number of ways you can add value and cash in on big profits. Here are three ways you can add value to your properties.

Upgrades and Repairs: OK, this is the obvious one and is the reason fix and flippers can make money. Some repairs add a lot more value than it costs to do. The more creative you are with the improvements, the more value you can add. For example, I have a client that adds square footage to every house he buys. He really likes the inner city properties because they are the hardest to add square footage. You either need to finish an unfinished basement, or add a second story. There is not typically enough land on the lot to add an addition by increasing the foot print of the property. This client does a lot of basement finishes and “pop tops,” but where he has made the most money is the basement that is only 5 or 6 feet deep. He will go in and dig out the basement to a full 8 or 9 foot height and then finish it. Something most investors would not think of, so he is able to get the deal most other investors pass on. I have also seen some investors find houses that don’t really fit into a neighborhood and they make them fit. This could be limited bedrooms or bathrooms or funky floor plans. All of that can be changed. Obviously many cosmetic fixes like kitchens and bathrooms add a lot of value too. There is a lot more to it than this, but the idea is to buy a property at its true ‘as is’ value, (don’t over pay), and then add value with the repairs and upgrades.

Owner Finance: I love this one because it is so easy to add value with very little to no work. You will need to wait to cash in on your profits, but it is a way to increase a sell price significantly. You can also use this strategy to defer tax gains over a few years, instead of taking a big hit all in one year. When you have a property for sale there are a limited number of buyers for the house, although right now that pool of buyers seems pretty big. If you can increase the pool of buyers, the demand for that one house increases, which forces the price to go up. Someone that cannot qualify for an ordinary loan, limiting the supply of houses to choose from for that buyer, will likely buy your property. That also increases the price. You are adding value by giving them the chance to own a home that they normally would not be able to own. For this value, you should be compensated with a higher price and a decent interest rate on the profits, while you wait for the buyer to refinance and pay you off in full.

Shared Units: This is one area of real estate that I have not dabbled in, but it is extremely inviting. The idea here is to sell your property to multiple buyers. You are seeing this a lot in resort towns. It is always a vacation or second home. Have you ever been to a time share presentation? They are pretty enticing aren’t they? About 13 years ago my ex wife and I were in Florida and got sucked into a time share sales pitch. We decided to go because they offered us free tickets to Disney. We sat there for about an hour and a half and then the hard sale came. They were very good at selling the “idea” of the time share and had my ex wife sold. She asked me to move forward with the deal, but I could not bring myself to do it. I told her that I was not comfortable with an emotional purchase and that we needed time to think it through. “Can I please have our Disney tickets?” was my response. As we rode back to the hotel that afternoon, I started thinking about the math. Each unit can be sold to 52 different people because your purchase only gets you 1 week a year. Add that to the annual maintenance fees and the numbers are staggering. I know people who have flipped time shares successfully, because you can get them for free or near free on Craigslist, but it is not an investment I was interested in. With that said, I have considered doing a half or quarter share on a house in a ski town in Colorado. In this scenario, you are sharing a house with 1 to 3 other people so there is a ton more flexibility. You can use or rent out your weeks and you can be guaranteed valuable high demand weeks every year. It is a way to get a second home without the full expense. From the seller’s point of view, it is a way to get more for the house. ½ a share of a house is going to cost the buyer more than ½ of the fair market value. I have seen business plans from investors that would buy a house and quarter share it out. The idea was that after they improved the property and sold ¾ of the house to 3 different buyers, they would own the last ¼ free and clear. Obviously this strategy will work best in areas where people want second homes. The downside is if there are any improvements or major issues. I can see there being disagreements, so this is something you would want, as a buyer, to work out with all the other owners in writing before you buy.

Using Advertising Flags to Increase Your Sales

If you are going to establish a new business, know that it is not going to be an easy job. Starting a business is not about setting up a new office. As a matter of fact, the most difficult part of running a new business is getting it promoted the right way. Nowadays, you can use advertising flags for the promotion of your products and services. You can find a lot of promotional tools in the here and now. As far as choosing marketing tools is concerned, you have a lot of things to choose from. One way is to use advertising flags. Let us know more.

Advertising flags

Since technology has introduced so many ways of promoting products and services, the conventional methods have experienced a drop in popularity. They have not lost their usefulness but new methods have rose in popularity with the passage of time. Flags for advertising were used in the past and they are still very effective.

If you have made your mind to make use of this marketing tool for your business, we suggest that you learn to use them well. Given below are some tips that may help you.

Offer discounts

You can make your customers glad by offering special discounts. And for this purpose, this tool can work in an effective manner. All you have to do is put these flags on the sales counter or other areas of your office or store. The thing is that you have to place them somewhere where they can catch the eyes of the visitors.

New products or services

Another way to use them is to put them outside your physical store like the car roofs, hotels, shopping malls, busy streets and restaurants, just to name a few. if you have a new product or service to promote or you want to give a huge discount, this marketing tool can help you a lot. Just put them somewhere where you know that a lot of people see them.

Online business

The use of advertising flags is not limited to new launches and deals. You can also use them for improving your web presence, and endorsing different contests, just to name a few.

Trade shows and exhibitions

If you are going to take part in a big exhibition or show, you may be excited to see a huge audience. You may want to let the people know about your presence or participation in the event. If your prospective customers don’t know about you, they are not going to get in touch with you. Therefore, what you need to do is make them aware of your presence in an easy way. And one way of doing so is to use a promotional flag. All you have to do is put them up at the right place so that others could see it.