The Bizz by

Business & marketing advice, news and features, design inspiration, and the art of gifting.

What Scams Should You Watch For When Hiring an SEO Firm?


By Fausto Mendez

    Finding and hiring a great SEO provider is tough. Some businesses can never find one, and worse, other businesses fall for dirty scams that cheat them out of thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s why you should watch out for the following scams when hiring an SEO firm.

    Our experiences with SEO companies has not been so great. Actually, we’ve never worked with an SEO firm that impressed us with measurable results and a reliable work ethic. As a result, we have enough experience to know what to look for in an SEO company that only offers ineffective services that are only designed to eat up as much of your money as possible.

    Search Engine Journal has a great piece on SEO scams. We summarize SEJ’s list below, and we follow up the list with a few scams that we’ve seen ourselves.

+ Don’t fall for “free” services. There is no such thing as a free SEO service that also works. It’s possible that the company selling you “free” services is stealing your data, your customers’ identities, or learning your trade secrets. In the best case scenario, a free SEO service is just a way for the company to get its foot in your door to sell you more expensive services.

+ Watch out for first-page guarantees. Any company that guarantees first-page rankings is (pardon my French) full of shit. Don’t get me wrong. Getting on the first page is certainly possible, but nobody has the power or skill to achieve first-page rankings so consistently that they can actually guarantee it. Real marketers never make guarantees except to guarantee to do their absolute best.

+ Beware meaningless services attached to big numbers, such as “submitting your site to hundreds or thousands of search engines”. The truth is that there are only a handful of relevant search engines, and it’s not hard to “submit” your site to these search engines. Anyone with a minimal level of skill and knowledge can do it.

+ Don’t believe anyone that says they have connections at Google. I’ve heard this line from every SEO company that we’ve talked to. It’s most likely a lie, and even if it’s true, NDA agreements and fat paychecks prevent Google employees from giving out insider knowledge or favors. 

+ Beware anyone that assumes they know Google’s Search algorithm. No one knows Google’s algorithm very well, not even former employees or even current employees. Google Search is developed and maintained by several sets of teams that specialize in smaller aspects of the engine. There probably is someone in the world that manages these teams and has better insight into the algorithm, but I’m sure that guy is paid far too well to risk getting caught handing over secrets to an SEO company.

+ No one has a secret formula for successful SEO. The information that you need to be a great SEO marketer is freely available to anyone that wants it. Even so, SEO is hard work and requires a lot of daily research. Any company that claims to have a secret formula is playing you for a fool. In SEO, the only secret is that there is no secret. Most successful marketers know what it takes to rank well. The problem is most people don’t want to do the hard work that gets them there. 

    SEJ’s list is great, but it feels somewhat incomplete. Here’s a few scams some companies have tried to sell us before.

+ Never (ever) buy backlinks or use a backlink farm. Google killed this strategy a long time ago, and any website that creates unnatural backlinks in mass is only going to encourage Google to drop the hammer of penalty & pain. 

+ Avoid companies that don’t have experienced and well-trained copywriters on staff. SEO firms that outsource copywriters often outsource really, really bad writers that only write English as a second language. That’s because they don’t have a writer on staff, so there isn’t anyone that recognize great copy. Google is getting much better at recognizing well written (user-friendly) content, and if it finds that you are creating a great user experience for your site visitors, your site should rank better over time. However, bad copywriters may actually hurt your rank.

+ Avoid companies that create tons of low-quality content to help your site rank better. Why? See the above details on bad copywriting. Basically, you don’t want to associate your site with low-quality content.

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#MarketingMonday - Google’s 10-Day Panda Update is Here


By Fausto Mendez

    Google’s search-algorithm updates sometimes occur too fast, causing some sites’ search ranks to undergo drastic changes, but Google’s latest Panda update is occurring over ten days. More importantly, the rollout has already started! Are you ready?

    Google’s new 10-day Panda update started last week, and it continues throughout this week. Like all of Google’s search-algorithm updates, it’s hard to know exactly what’s changed, but SEO experts around the Web are already commenting on their experiences with the updates.

    Search Engine Journal's Adam Morgan witnesses the following effects.

1. Impressions have risen, but click-through rates (from SERPs) have remained steady.

2. Rankings for informational sites, such as Wikipedia, have been hit hard.

3. Sites with high authority will rank better in SERPs.

4. Sites using Google+, such as authorship markup and Google +1 sharing buttons, are seeing some nice effects.

    Remember that Panda’s ultimate mission is to…


    So you’re best chance of surviving any Panda update is to use white hat SEO techniques and to follow Google’s best practices guidelines. Seriously, quit that black hat stuff! 

    It may be a few more days before your site feels the full impact of the new update, but have you noticed any major changes in your search rankings yet?

#MarketingMonday - Purposely Misspelling Your Brand Name in Ads Can Be a Smart Marketing Strategy


By Fausto Mendez

    Sometimes, the best marketing strategies take advantage of the most unlikely tools, glitches or places. For example, Lego famously leverages construction sites to send an inspiring and unforgettable message. In the same spirit, Snickers took over one of Google Search’s most beloved features - spell check.

    Snickers and Google partnered up for the snack brand’s latest marketing campaign, and if you’ve seen some of the more recent Snickers TV ads, such as the one with Joe Pesci at a party, you may already know the slogan, “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” Taking that same concept and plastering it all over Google Search, Snickers bought ads for about 25,000 misspelled search terms.

    When you search for these commonly misspelled terms, such as “snikkers candy”, you’ll notice an ad or two at the top of your search results. The ad varies depending on your specific situation, but our test pulled up an ad for the brand’s YouTube channel and also product ads to buy the candy at online stores. Some users are directed to a page dedicated to the campaign.


    More importantly, it doesn’t matter if you click on the ads themselves. If you know the slogan from the TV commercials, you should be amused by the same message after you misspell a word.

    The tactic is brilliant SEO marketing. Most professionals and businesses tend to execute safe and easy SEO strategies, which is wise - don’t get me wrong. But if you really want your brand to reach the top of the search lists, more often than not, you’ll need to think way outside the box. 

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#MarketingMonday - How Refinery29 Launched a Multi-Million-Dollar E-Commerce Store Built Around Content Marketing


By Fausto Mendez

    Content marketing is a powerful but often underestimated tool in the world of business, and despite being misunderstood, it is the vehicle that is turning average Joes from all walks of life into millionaires.

    Justin Stefano and Phillippe von Borries are the owners and founders of Refinery29, a fashion content and e-commerce company out of New York. It’s raking in multimillion-dollar sums every year, but it didn’t start out that way. About eight years ago, the website could barely pay a $28,000 salary to each member of the founding duo, but thanks to a smart and evolved approach to content marketing, it pulled in $14.2 million dollars last year. Stefano and Borries expect that number to increase by another ten million for 2013, according to Business Insider

    Prior to launching Refinery29, both Stefano and Borries held down relatively cushy jobs in law and politics, but they quit their careers to launch the website in 2005. It started out as a somewhat traditional blog on fashion, music and design in New York City, but their dedication and taste finally paid off after three years. Riding on a $28k salary purely from ads, the blog took off around 2008 as smaller, niche brands found a growing and receptive audience at Refinery29. 

    Oddly enough, Stefano and Borries know nothing - and continue to know mostly nothing - about the fashion industry. But Refinery29 eventually became the place on the Web to talk about emerging fashions and up-and-coming brands. What they didn’t realize at the time was that they were perfecting the practice of content marketing, which would set the stage for an e-commerce store that would launch Refinery29 to new heights.

    The addition of an e-commerce component to Refinery29 enables the store to generate another $3-4 million per year, and it doesn’t cost the duo much time or effort to get the store off the ground. After all the, Stefano and Borries don’t even buy inventory. They just take a cut from the products sold by the smaller, niche brands that their audience loves to read about.

    What Stefano and Borries did with Refinery29 is what content marketers all around the world aim to do everyday, but content marketing doesn’t always produce such favorable results. Their success stems from a few basic principles: 

+ They are genuinely passionate about their jobs (as owners of Refinery29) and the content they produce. People are attracted to passion, and passion makes it easier to work harder and more effectively.

+ They write for the reader, not for search engines. Writing for search engines can help you boost traffic in the short term, but writing for real readers produces passionate, dedicated fans that love to come back to the site on a regular basis.

+ Like in TV, high-quality (entertaining and/or useful) content comes first because that what attracts people. Without the content, there is no audience.

+ Many e-commerce stores underpay content marketers, copywriters and bloggers in the belief that their contribution is not as important as, let’s say, a web developer. But to underpay your writers and bloggers is like ABC underpaying its sitcom-writing staff. The writers of a major sitcom at ABC are some of the highest-paid employees of the company. Think about that the next time you expect a minimum-wage employee to generate major traffic. Appreciate your content creators.

+ A content marketer should have (or at least strive to have) the same skills and professionalism as a staff writer for Time Magazine or

+ Don’t forget to broadcast a healthy sense of humor. The Web is full of humor and people that appreciate a good joke. This is a fact of modern Web culture, and if you’re not in tune with modern Web culture, you won’t succeed as a content marketer.


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Social Media Has Taken Over SEO and Online Marketing: What You Need to Know


By Fausto Mendez

The old saying goes, “content is king.” This is still true, but recent developments in search-engine algorithms have forced marketing professionals to rethink their SEO strategies. Older SEO techniques are just about useless and, in some cases, dangerous to a brand’s reach, authority and reputation. Why is this happening? More importantly, what can you do to fix your SEO strategy?

    For better or worse, social media has taken over online marketing and search-engine optimization (SEO). The direct force behind these changes appears to be the search industry, but the real driving force is the online marketing industry. That’s because, in the past five to ten years, online marketers have learned to game search engines too well, so search companies were forced to rethink the way their search engines work in order to serve more relevant search results, not just the results of the companies with the most cash to spend. 

How Did Social Media Take Over SEO?

    The marketing industry’s relentless gaming of the system actually caused a significant drop in search performance, which is really bad for the good ol’ fashioned web surfer. And that’s really bad for the search companies, which are arguably the heart and veins of the Web.

    Marketers would game search engines by manipulating backlink counts. At the time, Google assumed that pages with the most backlinks are the most relevant and carry the most authority. For example, a New York Times article may be reposted, curated and outright copied thousands of times across the Web, which would create tons of backlinks to the original article. Google realized that such articles must be important because it is the target of so many links. But what happens if an online marketer pays a few teenagers to build some artificial backlinks to that article?

    What if it’s not a few links; what if it’s a few thousand links? What if it’s a few million links? In Google’s eyes, the page must be important, but if its backlinks are not genuine, chances are it’s not relevant to the end user. As a result, fake backlinks became a real problem, real fast. 

    Google had to diminish the SEO power of backlinking, but how would it measure authority without giving backlinks so much weight? Google learned that another signal of important content is social engagement, meaning the sharing, “liking”, reposting, commenting, etc. of keywords, content, links and brands. This is why social media has taken over SEO.

How do you adjust your SEO strategy?

    Now, how can your company take advantage of the new search algorithms? First, read Google’s just-released-to-the-public Search Quality Ratings Guidelines, which the company hands out to evaluators that manually rate pages for search relevancy. You’ll learn some critical stuff, but we’ve also made a quick and dirty best-practice list to help you get started fast. Check it out below: 

+ Google and search engines prefer user friendliness over relentless keyword optimization. Over-optimization can actually hurt you, and hiding keywords with invisible text or coding tricks is a red flag to Google. It was a cheap trick that worked back in the day, but those days are over. 

+ Set up sharing buttons on all your posts or product pages. If you run an e-commerce store, set up the sharing buttons on the product pages. You also need obvious links to your blog and other social-media accounts. A user shouldn’t have to think twice after deciding to take a few seconds out of his day to visit your brand’s social-media profiles. 

+ Content is still king (you just have to make sure it’s shared over social media). Before this year, you could submit your latest blog post to your SEO company, and suddenly you’d have hundreds or thousands of backlinks that push your post to the top of search-results lists. It’s not so easy anymore. You need real fans, not dead social-media profiles, to share your content. Work on social-media recruitment, and stop relying on services that fill your social-media profiles with fake fans. 

+ Use a tool or company to find poor quality backlinks, and remove them. If you paid for backlinks, chances are they are now hurting your search engine performance. 

+ If you need real fans and followers, that also means you’ll have to work on improving your content. Ugly, over-optimized content just don’t cut it anymore. It must really appeal to your fan base. Otherwise, it’s dead in the water. Amazing content is king.

+ Don’t forget about your robot.txt file and other website optimization. This makes it easy for search engines to find relevant content on your website, and it also boosts load speed to prevent impatient users from leaving too quickly.

+ Take advantage of microdata markup. This is the next level of meta tagging, and all the major search engines use it to read and understand the content on websites. In the eyes of a search engine, it defines content, such as “article” or “product”. Otherwise, content is just code and keywords, which is not good enough if you want to boost your SEO to the max. also competes with Facebook’s Open Graph protocol, so Google will use it more as Open Graph becomes more widespread. Actually, may prevent the widespread adoption of Open Graph since it’s more open and doesn’t require integration of Facebook’s proprietary API, JavaScript and other Facebook annoyances. Also, it was launched and widely implemented before OG.

    If you plan to integrate your business with OG, the best thing to do is to learn it, understand it and, if you decide it’s worth your time and effort, plan it into a long-term strategy. This is exactly our strategy at

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Is Your Business Ready for Facebook’s Open Graph Search?


By Fausto Mendez

Facebook is in the process of launching a new search engine called Open Graph, which will modify your search results from Facebook or Bing by considering your social-media activity and interests. You will, of course, need to update your website and marketing strategy to stay ahead in the SEO and SMM game.

    As early as last year or further back, Google began considering your businesses’s social-media engagement and popularity when measuring its authority for keywords to help it deliver relevant content to search users. Google has only increased the relevance of social media since then, and now, Facebook is in the process of launching the Open Graph protocol. If you want your business’s web properties to pull search traffic from Facebook or Bing, you’ll need to perform a few preparatory measures as Open Graph takes off.

+ First, make sure you and your business are on Facebook. This is important because it shows Open Graph that you’re having conversations with your customer base, so it means your business is alive and relevant.

+ Post to your Facebook page on a regular basis - either weekly or daily. What’s important is to engage your fans. It helps Open Graph define and identify your business and its keywords. Make sure you post any relevant content to your Facebook page, or Open Graph may not even know it exists. Furthermore, Facebook pages and posted content with the most “Likes”, comments and shares have much more authority and search relevance.

+ Implement Facebook markup (meta tags), which help Open Graph identify critical snippets of identifying information about your website, business and social-media properties. Double check your Open Graph markup with the Facebook Debugger to make sure your markup is working correctly. 

+ Add a “Like” button to your web pages, blog posts and any other content where it makes sense to have one. This helps Open Graph keep track of who “Likes” what, so it can modify search results according to social-media activity. Note: The old “Like” button is incompatible with this new version. If you installed the button before November 7th, 2012, it will not work with Open Graph.

    For more information on optimizing your website for the Open Graph Protocol, check out Facebook’s developer documentation and additional resources

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