Every industry has trolls. The SEO Industry has more than any other.
Because most folks out there are mentally back in 2010 (In SEO terms that means back in the Age of the Dinosaurs). They still think that by slapping an SEO plugin on a WP installation is all it takes for on-site SEO. Also, they think that submitting a link to directory sites is killer link building. So they brand themselves as SEO gurus and start offering on-site SEO and off-site SEO services a dime a dozen.
Then unsuspecting business owners, in a lack of reliable information, believe the claims and sign up. A few months later they’re short of a few thousand bucks, and their site is either ranking a lot lower than usual, or it’s de-indexed altogether.
While it’s hard to spot a crook from a cook, here are a bunch of things to watch out for. But before we go into listing things, the best way to spot an SEO crook is to take some time and learn the basics. You do it with buying second-hand cars (you do know that slick tires on an old Camry aren’t a sign of a race-ready car, but of a beat-up pile of metal, right?), so why not take the time to learn up on the technologies that are powering your business, right?
Anyway, off we go…
Our Top 22 Ways To Spot SEO Scammers
- Guaranteed Rankings: The old myth of #1 is old, and a myth. Past 2012 when Google introduced personalized search, there is no #1 position. What you get in search results is a tailor-made list based on your location and your previous browsing history. You can have two computers from two different people in the same house and they can get different results for the same search. Why? Because different people have been using those computers and each person’s browsing/searching history affects the search results on the same query.
- A tight relationship with Google: Nobody is in a tight relationship with Google so there are no priority lists, no inside information, no perks for friends. Google itself has ruined its own ranking on searches many times so far. And Google has a pretty tight relationship with.. well, itself. If sites owned by Google lose ranking on big algorithm edits, guess how much your SEO ninja has in terms of perks with Google. A bucket-load of nothing! And you’ll get that bucket-load of nothing if you hire such a crook.
- Offering free SEO trial services: SEO is tedious and very involved. The process required to achieve great results requires days of work, and no legitimate company is going to do this for free. Additionally, if in return for the “free trial” they ask for your FTP username/password or ask access to your hosting account, just imagine what they could do. Avoid promises that sound too good to be true!
- Submissions to thousands of search engines: So what. Google, Yahoo, MSN/Bing, and AOL accounting for over 95% of the search market. Just focus your attention on the ones that matter.
- Undisclosed or secret SEO strategies: Hmmm, a magic potion? A crystal ball? Is Harry Potter involved? Any legitimate SEO company should be able to explain what they will do to your site, as well as outline their link building strategy. Firms who reference “SEO trade secrets” are likely planning to use black hat SEO techniques that will get you banned by all major search engines at some point.
- Top Ranking within 48 hours: We’ve already discussed the concept of guaranteed top rankings; LET ALONE adding a deadline to this promise. The only way to guarantee this would be with Pay Per Click (PPC). They take your money, keep 50% (or more) and give the rest to Google for a completely unoptimized PPC campaign that will get you only sporadic results.
- The lowest priced SEO: If an offer sounds too good to be true, it is. As we mentioned, SEO is hard work and takes some serious time to do correctly. You’re better off learning how to do it yourself, rather than paying some “SEO expert” who claims that he can do it for an absurdly low price. You get what you pay for!
- We are partners with Google: No they are not. Google has no SEO partnership with anyone. There are Google Adwords Partners, but that’s not SEO. That’s PPC.
- We know the Google Algorithm, we are Google Algorithm experts: The algorithms used by the search engine are complex and dynamic. At best, people may know about certain aspects (link popularity, content, meta tags, etc). By the way, knowledge of the important aspects of SEO should be a given if you’re in the SEO world.
- Avoid SEO companies that take ownership of content: Anything you pay for should belong to you. Make sure that any agreement you sign does not give ownership to the SEO agency you work with. This content can be held hostage, or even worse, be sold to a competitor.
- Pre-packaged or bundled SEO solutions (buy x links, y Likes, x visits/month)
- Manual submissions to directory/bookmarking/social sites without a Content Strategy
- Too many techniques, too little research, and strategy: things like keyword density, over-optimization etc without any interest in your Google Analytics or your top 5 competitors is a clear sign that that SEO guru has a checklist and follows it blindly without any critical/statistical/strategic thinking. You may get some results, but not the bang for the buck you hoped for.
- Try us for 30 days: on-site SEO is a massive undertaking that will last the better part of 30 days. All you’d get for this trial service is a PPC at best. A 30-day free trial is even more dangerous as they’d ask you for admin access to your site and your Google Analytics. Guess what can happen if you hand over admin access to your site? It’s not a fun experience to find out, let’s just leave it at that.
- Extreme pricing: too low or too high is too risky. Usually, you end up owning what you pay, and this is usually the case with cheap SEO. Some kid in a shed somewhere in a remote village in Asia will get your $99 and return a big fat zero in results. Same goes for outrageously expensive and concealed SEO services. If you are a company that has the purchasing capacity of 5-figure per month deals, ask for a lot of analytics and strategic mapping of activities. If they ask for a big chunk of data (say a year or two of Google Analytics data) and show you some research they’ve done in the past, then you may be up to a solid deal. But if they give you an attitude of “Shut up, pay me” then… would you really want to be working with someone that you wouldn’t even have coffee with for at least 5 minutes?
- Copyright/paper pushers: While having a legal contract is a good thing, you may want to steer clear of SEO gurus that push papers under your nose before they prove any evidence of solid work and good recommendations from previous clients (aka Testimonials). Some SEO folks can ask to retain copyright to the text they insert on your site “for whatever reason”. Stay away from them. Retaining copyright in SEO work is like an architect retaining user rights to any house that is being built according to their drawings. If you sign such a document and stop paying retainer fees, the SEO expert has legal rights to pull down all the texts and optimization they’ve done on your site. Even though you’ve already paid for that work.
- Bragging too much, asking too little: Any solid SEO work starts with the expert asking tons of questions about your niche, your competition, your clients, any past experiences with SEO folks etc. They will also ask to take a good look at your Google Analytics data. But if you end up talking to someone who mostly brags and asks no questions… chances are they have a checklist of tweaks they do, and off you go with a $5000 bill and no results.
- Generic email address: While many solid people will use a Gmail account, the chances are that a person or company that invests in their business and branding will be using a branded email, i.e., email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. Then there’s the question of their email formatting: do they have a nicely laid out signature line, do they have a company logo, contact info, social profile links, etc? If they took the time to brush up their branding, they do care about their reputation and will try to provide you with a better service. There’s nothing wrong with Gmail. There’s nothing wrong with shorts and t-shirts… but you don’t show up dressed like that for a job interview. I hope.
- Research/Case Study Reports: This is very rare. Even good SEO companies fail to share their insights on their blogs. Yes, they will publish short articles on a specific topic but rarely does anyone take the time to map out a situation where they’ve done research, found problems, did the work XYZ and saw the desired results in 2-3 months time. While lack of such case studies isn’t a clear sign of a spammy SEO company/expert, it is something to be considered in a negotiation. With so many alternatives out there you would want to work with someone who isn’t afraid to speak openly about their work without disclosing sensitive information about the client, of course.
- Professional/Personal references: Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Over the years, I’ve had clients ask for professional and personal references almost on a regular basis. It’s easy for me to hand over phone numbers and email addresses as my policy of work are to do an excellent job for clients, and where possible, make friends. People want to see the person behind the expert. And most of the times, the person wins where the expert cannot. So make sure you ask for references. If you get them within 24 hours (you will need to give room to the SEO expert to ask for permission), and those people give you specific and detailed information about what that SEO person did, what were the results and what sort of experience it was for them to work with the expert, you’ve found a solid person who happens to also be an SEO expert.
- Before/After snapshots: SEO companies want to measure. We measure everything. So it is awkward to start working with someone on SEO without them taking a snapshot of the site’s state of on-site SEO and some key information like traffic, pages per visit, time on site, etc. With a Before/After snapshot SEO experts have an easy way of showing the results of their work on a monthly basis. You’ll want this. If the person doesn’t offer you a snapshot of your site or doesn’t give you a comparison for the first month of work… something doesn’t smell right, and you may want to look elsewhere.
- Ask a simple question: what will you do that will bring my site more solid traffic. If they go on about techniques and secret tricks and backlinks blah blah blah… walk away. Google is in the business of Search to organize the world’s data. That’s what their mission is, to organize the world’s DATA. If your SEO guru doesn’t start with DATA and what sort of data work they’ll do on-site (full site audit, optimizing existing content, optimizing site structure, creating content development calendar, etc), run away quickly! Run fast! There’s no secret ingredient in the SEO business. It’s all about doing the research, analyzing mountains of data and finding patterns that will help your ranking within a reasonable window of 2-6 months. SEO is not a thing where you get results immediately. A real SEO guru will make sure you understand this.
We stand behind each and every point described above. If you want to see our work in practice and how we implement those factors in the real world, please use our Contact Form to reach us.