It was a cloudy, wintry Wednesday afternoon when I received an email from a valued client:
Yesterday someone called from Google to confirm information about our business – i.e. address, phone number, etc., and it essentially escalated into them saying someone from our company reached out regarding SEO and guaranteed placement on the first page of google results for our business. We scheduled a “demo” for tomorrow to show me how it works – and see if spending $399 a month to guarantee this placement would be something the boss was interested in.
Just thought I should let you know, and see what you think about this whole thing/ if it is legitimate and actually Google calling. (They did say they were calling from Google Quality Control).”
My reaction to this email was a mixture of emotions; It ranged from annoyance and anger to incredulity and disbelief.
(Skip intro, jump to “Top 10 SEO Scams in 2021“)
Incredulity and disbelief that scammers would be so bold as to pose as Google representatives (under the guise of “Google Quality Control”, which if you know anything about how Google works with the public, is nothing short of hilarious); annoyance and anger that this scammer was possibly making my business life harder by influencing my client to make ill-informed and bad decisions for their business and online reputation. Decisions that would severely hurt their online rankings and take considerable effort and money to recover from.
After looking past the initial emotions triggered by this email, I gathered my thoughts and began to craft an email response to my client in an effort to educate – while illuminating the high likelihood that this was a scam they were being pitched. There are no shortages of internet scammers trying to make a quick buck.
“Yeah, sounds fishy to me, you may be dealing with a rogue SEO:
- Google wouldn’t call any company regarding their SEO. Ever.
- Google wouldn’t call a company that is already managed by an agency that is handling their Google Ads. They would call the agency (if ever).
- Google won’t guarantee first page results and neither does any respectable, legitimate agency, because of Google SEO guidelines.
- We’ve worked hard on your business SEO for the past 2 years, getting the website to consistently rank in first place for valuable branded and unbranded keywords for many pages, so what exactly is their goal here?“
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a powerful way to get high rankings for your business website organically.
Organic listings on Google search results are trusted far more than paid listings and advertising.
Because of the massive power behind organic listings on Google search and the potential high return on investment on SEO services, business owners and decision makers are naturally gravitating towards investing properly in SEO.
And because savvy business owners and business professionals are becoming ever aware of the power of SEO to bring high quality business leads and sales for the long term benefit of their business, many self-titled “SEO Experts” have emerged to meet this demand by making unrealistic and fraudulent promises such as offering guaranteed rankings.
So, how do you defend your business against these unscrupulous scammers? The best defense against SEO scams is becoming more educated about the subject.
Since most small business owners don’t have the time and resources needed to become SEO proficient, ClearBox|SEO has put together a quick list of the most common SEO claims you should be cautiously aware of.
Top 10 SEO Scams In 2021
Unfortunately, many of these pitches are scams. In this post, you’ll learn how to spot common SEO scams and why you should avoid them.
Scam #1. “We Guarantee Page 1 Rankings”
Every business owner wants their website to be the first search result for their keywords. Also, just about every business owner doesn’t like hearing that ranking #1 may not be possible all the time, everyday.
Google’s statement on this scam is straightforward. “Google never guarantees top placement in search results or AdWords. Beware of any company making these types of promises.” Check out the webmaster guidelines from Google on this topic.
It’s important to realize that the competition for your business website’s keywords is going to be fierce unless you’re targeting niche or low volume keywords.
Realize that your competitors didn’t get to the first page overnight. Instead, know that your competitors are spending thousands of dollars a month on SEO marketing services…and they have been for years!
The average monthly SEO retainer costs between $1,000 and $3,000 per month. Taking the low end figure of $1,500 a month and multiplying by 12 months comes to a total of $18,000 a year. Multiply that by three years of SEO services, and you’re spending a total of $54,000.
If you’re just beginning to optimize your business website for internet search engines, you’re not only years behind your competition, but they’ve probably spent well over $50,000 over the years to obtain and secure their rankings.
If an SEO agency or “expert” is offering a $100 a month or $250 a month special, risk-free offer, which more than likely includes “Guaranteed Page 1 Rankings,” it’s almost certainly a scam. Like, a 99.99% possibility or likelihood.
You can’t expect to outrank your competitors on a $250 a month SEO package, and you should never trust this common pitch or any pitches like it.
If it was that easy to rank, EVERYONE would be #1.
Scam #2. “We Have the “Secret” Sauce”
I have a secret to share with you in regards to SEO and digital marketing in general: there is no “secret” sauce. Surprised?
While no one can claim to fully understand all aspects of Google’s algorithm (not even Google) there are proven techniques and best practices to rank well.
If the SEO company can’t or won’t outline their processes or tell you exactly what they’re doing, chances are they’re doing nothing at all, or even worse, they’re using black hat techniques that will have a negative impact on your rankings.
Google holds your website accountable for your SEO’s decisions. If violations are found, Google will de-index your website without so much as a warning, stating, “Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it’s best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to “help” you.”
Scam #3. Unsolicited Emails or Contact Forms
Just about all unsolicited emails or contact forms through your website offering SEO services should just be ignored.
If you didn’t actively seek out the person or company, you’re probably part of a massive auto-generated email send out. Bots and scrapers collect email addresses and automatically fill out contact forms on websites. Actual human involvement in these communications is rare.
Furthermore, SEO providers’ spam mail generally starts to build up in your inbox when your website is beginning to rank well in search engines – a sign that your current marketing company’s SEO campaign is producing results.
Scam #4. “We Know Someone Who Works At Google”
There may be some truth to this claim, but it’s still very misleading. And highly unlikely in any case that is relevant to your needs.
What’s important to know is that a company can have a Google Partnership for Google Ads, but not for SEO. Google doesn’t have a monetary incentive to provide business users any SEO service but does have a vested interest in keeping the inner workings of it’s search algorithm secret or at the very least, obscure.
To qualify as a Google Partner in advertising (pay per click or PPC), you have to create and complete a partners company profile, pass Google’s Ads certification, and meet certain spend and performance requirements.
Companies that are Google Partners are assigned an account representative. These Google employees have titles like “Agency Development Manager” or “Agency Account Strategist.” This doesn’t mean you have a “special relationship” with Google as some companies claim, and you certainly don’t have access to insider information on how the algorithm works.
You also do not receive any ranking benefits from any relationship with Google employees because even they don’t know the inner workings of the search algorithm.
The Google employee is more or less an account manager who is there to help you sell more advertising. This partnership has nothing to do with SEO. In fact, Google does not currently have any certifications for SEO and does not endorse any SEO companies.
Scam #5. “You’ll Get Over 1,000 Visitors Per Day to Your Website!”
Do not fall for this scam. More than likely, these “targeted visitors” are nothing more than traffic auto-generated by a bot. Traffic by itself is just a vanity metric, your conversions will not increase as a result of this traffic.
Bot traffic also misconstrues your Google Analytics data, and it can be a pain to filter out the bad data afterward. It’s best to ignore these offers.
Scam #6. “We Do The Best Link Building”
Link building scams will offer to create hundreds – or even thousands! – of links to your website overnight, made with a breathlessly whispered unrealistic promise of these links improving your rankings. However, as any good SEO digital marketing professional will attest to, the quality of back-links to your website is one of the most important factors in Google’s algorithm.
A quality link is relevant to your website and comes from a trusted source. A quality link is not paid for or easily acquired. If your website receives thousands of low quality links from low quality sites overnight, it’s going to look like you’re trying to manipulate the rankings.
Google algorithm is designed to detect unnatural links or link schemes and will automatically penalize websites that don’t exhibit a natural link profile. The Google Penguin algorithm catches on to link building schemes and tactics pretty quickly and devalues all of those links.
In fact, Google may even apply a manual penalty to your website.
Not only will you be wasting your money on worthless links, but you’ll have to spend even more money hiring someone to fix your website’s link profile and remove the manual penalty. Not easy and definitely not cheap.
Private Blog Networks, also known as PBNs, are an example of a popular black hat link-building tactic. A private blog network is a collection of thin content websites, which generally don’t provide any value to users. Their sole purpose is the creation of links pointing to the sites you make money on.
This tactic may sound appealing at first because there are actually some quality Private Blog Networks operating under Google’s radar for now. But beware: This tactic is against Google’s webmaster guidelines, and Google will act on it.
If people or companies are openly advertising their PBN and anyone can gain access to these networks, chances are it’s not operating under Google’s radar. Google has likely already found out about the network and devalued all the links and de-indexed the websites associated with it. But the company that owns the PBN won’t care if this happens. They will continue to offer the worthless service to anyone willing to pay for it.
Scam #7. “We Submit Your Website to Hundreds of Search Engines”
If you’ve ever received this “proposal” and looked carefully at the list of search engines they claim they will submit your website to (if they even include it) you will probably see that many of those listed are fake or haven’t existed for years.
There are 3 search engines that account for over 99% of the market share in the U.S.: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. The other hundreds of search engines don’t matter nearly as much…or even exist at all!
Scam #8. Web Design & Development Firms offering SEO Services
It seems as though every online marketing company offers some form of SEO services now – even GoDaddy!
Beware of these types of companies, especially if you look them up and they don’t even have a person on-staff specifically dedicated to SEO.
Many of these companies likely have a limited or basic understanding of how SEO works and bundle it in with their service package to stay competitive.
Make no mistake, you’re not going to get the same quality of SEO services as you would if you had hired someone who specializes in SEO.
Scam #9. The Free 30-Day Trial
Some companies will offer their services for free for 30 days. All you have to do is give them admin access to your website and maybe even your credit card information. Easy enough, right?
Don’t waste your time with these offers! Offering a free trial is a desperate attempt to get new business. An experienced and confident SEO will not offer to do it up front or even at all.
Furthermore, 30 days of SEO services won’t yield any long-term results…if it even works at all.
Google employees working specifically on the Google search algorithm recognizes that, “…in most cases, SEOs need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see the potential benefit.”
If you want to learn what to look for when hiring an SEO and avoid the pitfalls of SEO scams in 2021, I’d highly recommend watching this informative video from Google.
Scam #10. “We Can Do Everything Your Current Company Is Doing for Less”
The initial problem with this is it’s likely they don’t even know what your current company is doing for you, so when they claim they can do everything and more for less, they’re already deceiving you.
SEO isn’t something that is done, it’s a way of doing things. Imagine your current SEO or marketing company is doing things the right way, but you decide to hire a new company anyway. That new company can come in and then proceed to do nothing at all or make very minimal changes and you probably won’t notice any drops or drastic traffic changes for the first couple months.
SEO takes time. If all of our current clients stopped their SEO services right now and made no changes to their website, they would continue to see improvements for the next few months as a result of the residual effects of our SEO campaigns.
The main issue with these types of scams is most business owners may never see a drop in traffic even after a year or so of paying this new company, so it will look like they truly can offer the same work for less. A good sign the new company is scamming you is if after a few months you notice your month-over-month growth stops and traffic flatlines or even starts to decline.
BONUS CONTENT: Scam #11. It’s a HOSTAGE situation!! Companies that own your URL, social profiles, Google Analytics, etc. for ransom…
Of all the SEO scams, this is the worst!
Some SEO companies will set-up or take over the hosting for your website, add Google Analytics tracking to it and create multiple social profiles for the company. However, in the contract, you’ll see that they own the domains, social media profiles, and even the Google Analytics account!
As long as you work with them, this won’t be a problem…but as soon as you try to leave, they make sure you’ll realize how bad this is for your business. Very unscrupulous business tactics.
These accounts are assets specific to your business and are some of your most valuable resources. You should always own and have control over them.
It’s possible the company could hold all of these accounts for ransom, and you might think: “So what? I’ll just create another one or have my new company do it for me.” But now all of the work and business intelligence you gathered and paid for will be lost, and you’ll have to start over again.
There are no shortcuts to overnight, long-term success in SEO.
Even if there were, it would be through gray hat or black hat techniques. And it’s only a matter of time until Google catches on and adjusts your rankings, or worse, applies a manual penalty. Today’s gray hat is tomorrow’s black hat.
It’s not worth investing your time and money into anything that seems too good to be true, because it is.