Let’s face it. SEO work to optimize your website for search engines and to optimize for engagement with people isn’t optional any more. The fact is that if you aren’t optimizing to make the most of your web marketing assets while your competitors are, your site ranking in search results and your visitor traffic will fall behind theirs. But without guidance, many otherwise savvy small business owners are falling prey to SEO scams from those relentless telemarketer and email offers promising instant success — if only you will give them your credit card number.
We are focused on Google here since that search engine handles the vast majority of searches and is the focus of most fraudulent companies, but the warnings apply to any search engine.
13 Ways to Spot SEO Scams
1. Reports that your site is not listed
We get these calls even though we provide SEO services ourselves and are definitely listed in all the right places. Anyone who is telemarketing or sending emails with this message is lying — they have not looked at your site. They are simply using a canned sales script designed to alarm you.
“I visited your site and noticed that
you are not listed on Google.”
“Our records show that
you have not updated your free Google business listing.”
They may even use social pressure to get your attention.
“Several people you know have reported to us that
your site is not being found on Google.”
2. Affiliation with Google
“I’m calling from Google and we want to alert you that
your site has not been indexed by Google.”
“I need to speak to the business owner. Due to recent updates, you will need to confirm your Google business page or we will no longer be able to show it to Google users at the end of the coming month.”
Google does not do marketing cold calls! Anyone who presents themselves as calling from Google is a scammer. They might identify themselves as a Google Partner, as the Google Verification Department, or something similar. These people have gotten very devious to get your attention.
3. Threats if you don’t accept the offer
Some calls may sound threatening if you don’t take up their offer, where neither option is good. This is from a robocall we received a few days ago:
“Press 1 to get your site indexed by Google.
Press 2 to have your listing removed.”
Rest assured that a telemarketer cannot have your site removed from Google search results.
4. Guarantee of page 1 ranking
No one can guarantee page 1 ranking on any of the search engines. If SEO were that easy everybody would be doing it, and it’s only logical that everybody can’t be on page 1.
“Your business name on Google page 1 —
A fraudulent company might promise you a page 1 ranking for your business name, which you would typically already have anyway, and then claim credit for that.
Some companies will guarantee results within 48 hours: a ridiculous promise that can’t be fulfilled. It typically takes months of research and dedicated SEO work by an expert to get noticeable results.
5. Secret SEO methods
“We have inside knowledge
about Google’s algorithm secrets!”
Google is the only expert on their algorithms, and they don’t reveal all of their secrets to anyone. Any vendor saying this could be doing nothing or could be using unethical methods that will get you banned from search results completely by breaking Google’s rules.
6. Free SEO trial period
“Sign up for a free trial
and let us show you what we can do!”
SEO is hard work that builds over time, and no reputable company will work for free. The “free trial” offer frequently requires a credit card number and login passwords to your website or your hosting company, making you extremely vulnerable to a company you know nothing about. With this information they can lock you out of your own website and use this leverage to coerce you into paying more. NEVER give out this information to someone you don’t know.
7. Money back guarantee
“Your money back
if you are not 100% thrilled with our service!”
This offer typically includes a large setup fee (around $1,000) followed by a monthly service fee. Typically they aren’t even working on your SEO at all, and the setup fee is not refundable.
8. Hundreds or thousands of links to your site
Think about it. Do you actually know hundreds of sites where you could have links to your website that would make sense?
“We can create hundreds of links to your site
Link building by scammers means that they are putting meaningless links on link farm pages, which are nonsense pages jammed full of unrelated links. You can get penalized and/or blacklisted by Google for this practice, and getting those links removed once you discover them is tedious work that can cost into the thousands.
9. Article spinners
“We will submit your content
to over 2,000 sites!”
If an SEO company promises to create and syndicate articles for you throughout the internet to get links back to your site, they are creating low quality content on low quality websites. While the promise of hundreds of articles linking back to your site sounds appealing, when mechanical article spinners are used to replicate content, you end up with duplicate content that will earn your site a penalty when it’s discovered. Even worse, article spinners often do this to increase their own ranking, not yours. They may claim ownership of the articles so that in the end you don’t own or control the junk articles floating out there linking back to your site and making you look bad.
10. SEO done without your input
SEO is thoughtful work that requires information from you. Optimizing starts with the SEO company’s intimate knowledge about your ideal customer, your industry, your niche in that industry, and what makes you unique. If you haven’t spent time in interviews or meetings to set the stage for a proper marketing effort, it’s likely that the company is doing absolutely nothing while collecting a monthly fee.
11. Guarantee of traffic numbers
“We can get you thousands of site visits
Increased traffic numbers are nice, but it’s visits by your target market that could lead to sales that you really want. An SEO company that guarantees a certain level of site visitors will likely be producing those hit statistics through computer programs pounding your website to make it look as if actual people are visiting.
12. No deliverables promised in writing
Let’s say you are mesmerized by the promises you are given over the phone by an SEO telemarketer, and you sign up for services. Chances are that there will be no written agreement including the promises that were made verbally. You would be giving your credit card number to someone who is not obligated to do anything in return.
13. Offshore offers
So you ignore the sleazy verbal sales pitch or the poor English in the email offer, because you are enticed by the promise of success, and give your credit card number to an offshore company. How accountable do you think that company will be, and how responsive, when they have nothing to lose in the business community? When you realize several months down the road that you are being charged and that they aren’t delivering anything, your only option is to shut down your bank account or credit card, because there is no international authority who can mediate. The likelihood of you getting your money back is slim.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Once you’ve engaged with a fly-by-night SEO company, stopping the charges to your credit card can be really hard to do. We’ve known people who had to endure being insulted, screamed at, and called names over the phone when they attempted to stop continued credit card charges. Scammers are practiced at this, and they can be smooth talkers when it comes to defending their monthly fees charged to your credit card – even if they aren’t doing anything to help you.
Do Your Homework
- Get the name of the SEO company and the URL of their website.
- Search for their phone number online to see if there are complaints against that number.
- Watch for poor English. Offshore companies will often provide a photo of an all-American type person who is completely unrelated to them.
- Find out how long they have been in business and where they are located.
- Look for evidence of real business experts running the company, like profiles on LinkedIn, the Better Business Bureau, local Chambers of Commerce, or some other reputable affiliation.
- Look for social media accounts with a history.
- Look for reviews, but recognize that reviews can be fake plants to make them look good. Check whether every review has the same writing style.
- Ask someone local and reputable to check out the offer for you.
Honest SEO Works!
Before you get completely jaded about the value of SEO and give up on it, we want to point out that honest SEO done by a reputable company who actually cares about your success does work.
There are reputable companies that do nothing but study search engines full time and report on the impact of their very frequent algorithm changes. These findings result in best practices that guide honest SEO providers, and it takes experience and judgment to apply them to your optimization project.
If you get an offer that you are suspicious about, please contact someone local who is knowledgeable and who is known in your community to vet that offer. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is a scam.