Impatience can prove expensive. Impatience, combined with unethical behavior, can prove very expensive. Rushing to reach page one in Google, Yahoo and Bing rankings may put more than your search engine ranking at risk. It will make a direct hit on your creditworthiness.
As any website owner penalized by Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms knows, taking shortcuts to high search engine rankings can severely hurt your revenue stream. But what you may not know is that shady SEO practices can harm your finances in another way: they could scare off lenders and investors.
Before you apply for a business loan, launch a crowd-funding campaign or try to raise investment capital, take a hard look at what your website analytics say about your company. Does an analysis reveal that your company has used best practices to achieve its ranking and traffic reports? Do you have earned links from relevant sites or paid links from a spammy blog network? Do you think a lender won’t notice? Think again.
Alexa and Application Reviews
Lenders and investors are flooded with applications from business owners who need money to purchase equipment, buy buildings, increase inventory, launch products or bring their ideas to market. Reviewing a company’s financial statements, interviewing accountants, meeting with chief financial officers and visiting a company’s warehouse take a lot of time. Credible lenders will not spend that much energy on a prospect’s application unless it’s worth their effort.
Many applicants will be rejected after a single visit to Alexa. And it might not be low traffic that dooms you — many successful companies don’t rely on massive traffic — but the type of traffic and the way it was obtained.
$10-Million Link Mistakes
A well-established Florida real estate developer who used his website as a marketing tool — all of his business was conducted offline — couldn’t get a loan because of his Alexa report.
Why? Because the company website, located in Jacksonville, ranked higher in India than it did in the United States. And the only U.S.-based sites linking to the company came from paid links and content mills.
The developer would have been better off with zero links than the 252 links he had. The developer blamed his SEO provider, but shifting responsibility didn’t help him get the $10 million he sought. He was turned down for the loan, despite the fact that he had the necessary collateral, a stellar credit rating, more than 20 years of experience and a solid business proposal to support his application.
The $40,000 Link
The company’s questionable SEO practices raised questions about its ethics. If the company was underhanded in its link-building practices, in what other ways was it acting irresponsibly? Was it hiding financial information? Bribing inspection officials? Building unsafe condos?
In the big picture, the disreputable links may have meant nothing. The company’s ethics may have been completely aboveboard. But it didn’t matter. The bank had other loan applications to review and the single red flag raised by the Alexa report was enough.
The developer probably thought he was getting an incredible bargain when an offshore developer promised him page one rankings in Google for a few thousand dollars. But each of his 252 links cost him $39,683 in loan money he needed for a new condo project.
The developer’s SEO practices damaged his reputation. Don’t let this happen to you.
How to Make Your Online Reputation Sparkle
As any financial advisor will tell you, you should clean up your credit report before applying for a car or house loan. But you should also put your company’s online reputation to the white glove test before approaching business lenders or investors.
Here are four ways to check for “dust” in your SEO practices and take any necessary scrubbing action:
1. Review Your Alexa Report.
Make certain you know where all of your site’s backlinks are coming from — and the reputation of each of those sites.
Ask your SEO provider for the metrics of all the sites that link to yours. Or check them yourself using tools such as PR Checker or Webmaster Peak.
If a site ranks poorly, find out why. A new site with great content may not rank well because of its newness. This may be fine — your reputation can grow along with that of the other site. But if a poor-ranking site is obviously shoddy — its home page is littered with ads, for example — take steps to get the backlink removed.
Your site is judged by the company it keeps. A site’s overall reputation is important but so is its relevancy to your business. If you sell medical waste carts and you have links from a jewelry store and a candy company, Google might wonder about those links even if the jeweler and confectioner have outstanding reputations.
2. Study Your SEO Reports
Your SEO provider likely sends you monthly — or more frequent — reports. But how often do you read them? If you’re only looking at your current rankings, you’re missing a lot of information that could impact your website’s reputation — and your potential for raising or borrowing capital.
Find out where your links came from — and how they were obtained. If any of your links were purchased, they will hurt your credibility. Exceptions to this rule include links from business directories. Links in exchange for products are also dangerous. If, for example, you’re sending freebies to mommy bloggers to compensate them for linking to your site, the practice could prove costly.
The definition of “product” under Google’s Panda and Penguin remains undefined, but SEO expert Richard Oldale says that if you’re writing guest posts strictly for links, “Don’t be surprised to find this practice penalized when the algorithm is next updated and the net is cast once more.”
3. Examine Your Website
If you or your SEO provider optimized your website, find out how much optimization took place. Duplicate content — even if you wrote it yourself for another website and then posted it to your own — can hurt you. So can hidden links, sneaky footer links buried so far down the page no one would naturally read them, overused and irrelevant keywords and cloaking.
Remove — or ask your SEO provider to remove — any keywords or links on your site that don’t belong. And keep in mind that, if your name or company name is on the website, the responsibility for web content rests with you.
4. Learn from the Best
In early March, when the Ethisphere Institute released its seventh annual list of the world’s most ethical companies, it noted that 23 companies had made the list every year. The exceptionally ethical companies included America Express, Starbucks, General Electric and Fluor.
You might argue that the perennial winners are large companies whose CEOS can afford to be ethical, that companies such as Starbucks don’t face the type of online competition or budgetary constraints that your business does.
But every company started out small. And every company owner can choose to act ethically, online and off.
The opportunities to make money online continue to grow. E-commerce became a trillion-dollar industry in 2012 and online sales are expected to reach $1.3 trillion this year, according to emarket.com.
This means that there are a lot of investors who want to help your company grow, to help you (and themselves) to a piece of the ever-growing Internet pie.
Don’t give them a reason to pass over your proposal or application. Make certain that all areas of your business — including your SEO practices — are squeaky clean.
Geoff Lee is a Vancouver mortgage broker with over 22 years’ experience helping individuals and businesses get the right financing for their needs. He is also a founder of the Imani Orphan Care Foundation that supports orphaned children in Kenya.