Beware Your SEO Company
Written on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 by Geoffrey Cooling
Buyer Beware When It Comes To Website Management
Before we start, one question, would you be happy paying for the promotion of another Practice’s website? You might answer no right now, but I bet I can change your mind by the end of this article.
This is the story of the professionals, the disaster, denied access, the use of a Practice’s website to promote another and the hidden back links that could generate a Google penalty. A not so rip roaring yarn that should serve as a caution for Audiology Practices hiring on SEO Contractors. We recently took over the management of a Practice’s website in the States. They had contacted us some months ago as they were having some real problems with their web rankings. A quick analysis of their site revealed that the site had been set to no follow. Which basically means that the site was ordering the search engines not to scan or index it.
Disaster For Rankings
A no index is a complete disaster for rankings on the search engines. You may as well not have a website. It was obvious though that a lot of work had been done to ensure that this website ranked. There was a huge amount of pretty good content stretching back to 2010. So we surmised that someone at the Practice had ticked a box in their WordPress set up by mistake. We informed them of what the problem was and told them where in the set-up dashboard they could find the tick boxes.
They came back to us and told us that they didn’t actually manage the site, they had contractors who did it. They said that the site had been disappearing of the rankings for some months and they had been raising concerns. However the company was fobbing them off explaining that after a new build it would take time to be seen in the rankings. We told the Practice that unless the no follow was taken off, they would never be seen in the rankings. They told us who was managing the site and we were a bit shocked to be honest.
The company appears to be wholly professional and has been in business for some time with some success. So we were surprised that such a stupid error had not just occurred, but had then been allowed to run. We told the Practice in tech speak what the problem was, how we found the problem and asked them to pass it on to their company. We thought that would be that and promptly forgot about it.
We Got The Job
The Practice came back to us recently and asked us to re-design the site, publish it and manage it. We were happy to comply, so we started on a re-design process. we placed our designs on our example server and asked for feedback. they were very happy with the result and decided that we should move forward. We said that we would but to reduce costs we needed an xml export of the WordPress site that was in existence. This would allow us to design a blog page template and convert the existing blog posts to our theme.
This would save a considerable sum, because doing over 200 blog posts by hand is time consuming. Time is what we charge for, of course there is Steve’s genius as well, but it is mostly time. I told them to give us their log in details and we would take the XML export, now this is where it gets hinky!
No Log In Details, Seriously?
The Practice had no access to the site! Like what? We give full administrative rights to our Practices, then train them how to use those rights in anger. As we investigated it just got weirder, when we undertake a design, you purchase the HTML, that’s the design, you then own it. We also undertake to provide you with a copy and assist in the transfer of the site management if and when you want to go to someone else. We always keep the platform that the site runs on, but once you have the html it can be adapted to run on any platform.
This appears not to be the case with the company that they dealt with, so we told the Practice to contact the company and ask them for the xml so that we could convert the blog posts. In conversation with Steve I told him that I felt these people would mess us and the Practice around, so we should design a tool to extract a copy of the site. Steve did that and we continued the build. Just as well because we go live today and we still haven’t got the xml file.
In fact despite repeated requests from the Practice owner, not only have they not contacted us, they deleted her site. Nicely timed the site was deleted on the weekend, we had been monitoring it though and notified the Practice owner. She managed to get it sorted out and the site was put back up, although it appears to be a little broken.
The Hidden Links
Mean while at Audiology Engine Central, we were taking the copies of the blog posts that we had extracted and converting them. We had designed a tool that allowed us to auto convert them, but there was still some work to be undertaken by hand. During this work, we found hidden anchor text back links embedded in the blog posts. Back links that pointed to other Audiology Practices in the United States. Anchor text back links are used to pass authority and frame a term of reference to a target URL.
In other words if I write something like “the best place to get Audiology SEO, website design and content marketing managent” and embed a hidden link to www.audiologyengine.com. I am telling Google that I think that Audiology Engine rocks when it comes to web services, I am also sending a link to the site that will pass authority in the eyes of Google. So needless to say finding them in the blog posts of a Practice passing authority to another Practice, was a little surprising.
Back link Agreement, A Co-operative?
We approached the Practice and told them that they had over seventy hidden back links to over twenty different Practices in the US embedded in their Blog posts. We told them that we felt that Google may become aware of the situation and consider it spam linking, or part of a link co-operative or purchased back links. In other words we felt a little uncomfortable with it and could we remove the hidden links.
The Practice promptly told us that they had no knowledge of the links, they did not know they were there and they didn’t quite understand how it worked. We explained in detail how these things worked, their usual use in an SEO strategy and our perceived dangers of their continued use in this way. They told us to remove them, that they had no idea why they were there and that they would have never agreed to them if they were asked.
A Cautionary Tale
If you are hiring a web design, SEO or content marketing firm, make sure that you know exactly what they are doing on your behalf. Because it will be you who is penalised for any shady practices that are undertaken on your site. If you have somebody building a site for you, understand clearly who owns that site and get a copy of the html that you have paid for. Get access to your site content management system, most of the sites we see are being built on WordPress, there is no reason why you should not have access to the log in.
We have given full access to the log in to all of our Customers, it means we have to keep minute to minute site back-ups to guard against when they do something stupid. That is our problem to solve, not your worry as a Customer. We also have a clear agreement with our Customers that we will actively assist them and any elected party to move their site off our system. Make sure you get one from your contractor, because they can make it very difficult as we have seen.
A Very Real Cost
The intransigence shown in this case could have cost this Practice owner dearly if we had decided to charge for the conversion of the blog posts. We didn’t because we were pretty sure that we could extract them and auto convert them. However, I still had to go through those 200 pages and clean them up, removing outdated tracking information and spurious links. A job that we could have avoided if we had access to the xml file. That in itself is a monetary cost that a business could do without.
However, imagine the cost to the business if the back linking strategy followed by the contractors had have been flagged by Google? This site and every one it pointed to could have ended on Page 99 of the search results. In a time where we know Americans are searching more and more for healthcare solutions, what would that have done to these businesses?
A Stupid Needless Strategy
It was also a stupid needless strategy, we have devised a clean and ethical way to do the same thing. We were introducing it in the New Year to our Customers. We called it the associated Practices strategy. We were simply going to design a page that outlined partner Practices in each State, area, county, City etc, that a Patient could attend if they were on holiday in the area and in trouble.
It will allow us to generate strong, ethical back links and citations for our Customers without fear of penalty. because backlinks are important, but what is more important is the quality and ethical basis of them. That and the agreement of a Practice to help promote the website of another Practice as a quid pro quo.