01 Sep Watch Out for These Common SEO Scams!
Back in May of 2019, we published a blog post titled, “Beware of SEO and Google Scams – What Every Business Needs to Know.” Unfortunately, scammers are just as active as ever, so we believe it’s time to revisit this topic to give business owners a heads-up about these bad actors and their tactics. Because you’re busy building your own business, we understand that you may not have heard about them – but knowledge is the power you need to avoid becoming a victim!
Signs of an SEO Scammer
Once you can recognize the signs, SEO scam artists are easy to spot and avoid. They’re not particularly original, but count on your unfamiliarity with how SEO actually works to get you to take the bait. Here’s what they’ll dangle before you.
An unsolicited email offering their services – We’d be very surprised if you haven’t already received an email out of the blue from an SEO “expert” informing you that he (or his agency) conducted an analysis of your website, and noticed that it’s underperforming and failing to rank for important keywords – which the email doesn’t list.
Our original blog post about SEO scams includes a quote by Tony Wright, CEO of WrightIMC, from his insightful article for Search Engine Journal. It’s worth repeating.
“I have said on multiple occasions – I don’t care how good your SEO is, I can find something wrong with it. SEO is not an exact science – and there are hundreds of mitigating factors that go into a campaign. Many times, one person will do something different than another – and both SEO tactics will work. Other times, site limitations will prevent implementation of a known SEO best practice. And sometimes SEO items are prioritized based on the number of resources available to get things done. Budgets are real.”
But what about that website analysis?
“The messages may range from grammatically ridiculous to personalized and legitimate-sounding,” writes John Breneman, senior editor and writer for Vital. “But in reality, it is almost certain that no human being has spent a single second analyzing your website on the other side of the globe.”
In the same article, Breneman relates the true story about a Google employee who received such an email offering to make a few changes to get Google to rank higher on Google’s search results! So take these unsolicited pitches for what they’re worth: Garbage! Understand that this substitutes for a not-family-friendly word that would be more descriptive.
As Tim Kelsey – SEO and social media manager of Pronto Marketing – points out, “Professional SEO companies do not randomly send spam emails looking for new clients. They follow the same marketing tactics that you do – email campaigns, customer referrals, blog posts, online advertising, and of course, SEO. An unsolicited email should be an immediate red flag. Mark as spam and move on.”
FYI, Virtual Stacks Systems does not solicit business for our SEO services in this way. We never have and never will – nor does any other legitimate SEO and/or digital marketing agency. Some of our clients have been the target of such emails, which raises an issue we will discuss later in this blog post.
Guaranteed rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs) – This is closely related to the unsolicited email scammer sign, as a promise to get you “#1 ranking on Google” is typically included in the pitch about improving your “underperforming” website. Don’t fall for this, either! No one can guarantee a first-page ranking on Google – which Google itself makes clear. A similar phony claim is the promise of top organic ranking within a short time period, such as 48 hours.
You can’t guarantee results within a particular timeframe – much less results at all – as our blog post – “The Truth About SEO and How Long it Takes to Work” – covers in detail. Anyone who promises an increase in leads and conversions – or Page 1 of Google – in less than three months (or any such range) is lying. Even if they don’t blatantly make this claim, but strongly imply it, they’re still being dishonest.
It’s important to know that SEO isn’t all about rankings. “Rankings are simply an intermediary step in the process,” Kelsey writes. “SEO is about driving quality traffic to your site through search engines. Ranking #1 for a keyword doesn’t mean anything unless that keyword has the ability to bring traffic to your site.”
In addition, firms that reference “SEO trade secrets” to get your ranking to the top of the SERPs are planning to use black hat SEO techniques that will get you banned by all major search engines. An ethical agency will tell you its strategy.
They know Google’s algorithm or know someone at Google – Let’s make one thing clear. No one knows Google’s ever-changing algorithm except maybe Google’s Search Advocate sensei, John Mueller. Google’s Core Updates shake up the rankings of some web pages depending upon the nature of the changes, but there is no way to tailor your website’s SEO specifically to take advantage of them or avoid dropping a little in their wake. And the only person to know at Google would be Mueller – who, needless to say, wouldn’t be part of such a scheme.
The please-add-this-link-to-my-website-on-your-website pitch – We’ll let Jeff Ferguson – partner and head of production of Amplitude Digital – weigh in on this, as he did for Search Engine Journal. Ferguson sets up the scam as follows.
“The seller will provide you a link or a guest post on their ‘high DA’ website, claiming this will help your website rank better.
“How It Works: Obtaining a link from another ‘high DA’ website will usually increase your website’s Domain Authority, giving the false appearance of SEO progress.
“Why It’s A Scam: According to both John Muller and Gary Illyes of Google, not only does Google not use Moz’s Domain Authority (upper case) in any of its ranking algorithms, it doesn’t use anything like domain authority (lower case) for ranking at all.
“While Google has admitted to a few “domain-level” ranking signals, authority isn’t one of them. Despite this, people still love to point to the Domain Authority metric as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for their overall link building efforts.
“Sadly, the actual metric Google uses for page-level authority, PageRank, is no longer available to the outside world. While the page-level authority metrics available through Moz and other providers are based on some highly-educated guesses, they are still — well, guesses. They can be somewhat helpful in a directional sort of way but don’t bet the farm on their accuracy.
“If none of that impresses you, just remember that buying links is a big no-no for Google and the other search engines.”
The same goes for offers to provide you with a guest blog post. While it may be tempting, such offers inevitably benefit the scammer who made the offer much more than your business. James Parsons – founder and CEO of Content Powered – provides good reasons why you should just say no, including the following:
- The content you promise to publish could hurt your website.
- Most of the content you’ll get will be valueless.
- The site might not be real – instead being part of a private blog network.
- Their link may not be relevant to your site.
- The links look spammy.
The Additional Damage of Unsolicited SEO Scam Emails
Now it’s time to cover that issue we alluded to earlier in this humble blog post. If you receive an unsolicited email telling you that the sender has noticed deficiencies in your SEO and you’re already working with an SEO specialist or agency, you may question whether your agency is really doing all it can to get the best possible results. This casts doubt and suspicion into the client-agency relationship. As in every professional relationship, trust is essential. No legitimate agency that works hard for its clients wants a client to forward one of these scam solicitations with the not-so subtle accusation that the agency isn’t doing a good job.
Keep in mind that there is no magic formula for improving SEO or getting more out of Google’s services. Anyone who contacts you out of the blue claiming otherwise has their own motive – which is definitely not your best interest. Should you wonder if there are areas that can be improved, call your SEO specialist or agency and schedule a meeting to discuss strategy. Again, any legitimate agency is always happy to talk to its clients, listen to their concerns and revise SEO strategy as necessary.
Our SEO and pay-per-click specialists at Virtual Stacks Systems are always available to answer our clients’ questions and talk about their needs and goals – and provide strategies to help achieve them. If you’re working with any digital marketing agency, their specialists certainly feel the same way. Keep the lines of communication open, and keep away from spammers!
Contact us to learn more.