10 Signs of SEO Scams, Fraud Tactics and Subplots

There’s a saying I often hear when I was growing up: Nobody will try to fool anyone if no one allows himself to be fooled. This piece of thought can be applied in search engine optimization, where a combination of personalities clash: demanding clients, pretending vendors, and more.

Here’s my take on businesses who should get rid of companies or individuals who try to get the business

1. We can rank your site in 72 hours!
Subplot: Within top 100 using your company name as search query.

This sounds too good to be true. While this is clearly a deception, this ranking pledge is very possible. Sadly, you’ll realize he did not make any commitment of first page ranking. We can rank your site in 72 hours, maybe within top 200 results for some unpopular keywords?

2. Our search engine marketing personnel are certified professionals!
Subplot: They left already, but yes we used to employ them!

broken-adwordsI noticed a Hong Kong company brags displays information about its staff who has a Google AdWords certification. Alas, when I clicked on that “certification” logo, Google promptly tells me:

You attempted to reach a non-existent page. Please check the URL and try again.

However, I still believe the claims of this company; the AdWords professional badge just expired and that the professional may have left the firm. Yet, since the site did not bother to remove the broken link, an important website maintenance best practice it should have preached to its clients.

3. We submit your site to 1000+ search engines!
Subplot: But we’re not sure if it works; we told you we just submit your site!

If I have to name search engines I tried in the past, I guess I would not go past search engine number 15. Google, Altavista, Yahoo, Cuil, Hotbot, Excite, Dogpile, Ask Jeeves, and a few more would be my final answer. Why so? Simply because virtually all people use the top 10 search engines available today. That means the rest are rendered irrelevant and not worth the effort of exploring them. This reminds me of stone age marketing practiced by some companies in Hong Kong.

4. We will get thousands of links to your site!
Subplot: Within the next decade.

Yes, they will get us thousands of links, but with no time frame ever mentioned, you’d wonder if it’s gonna be finished in a month or in 10 years. More importantly, the quality of links they might produce is dubious. Where do they get that number of links for you? Some sites are easy to link to and others aren’t. What if you fall into the second type? That’s a lot of questions to ask.

5. Have your site optimized and promoted for only HK$2,500 a month!
Subplot: Don’t look at us if you don’t get sales.

I know a company based in Kowloon that does this tactic. The boss showed me how they attract clients. They promise them keyword rankings and they get paid when they “maintain the rankings”. If the client tries to renege on an agreement, the company’s sales people will threat them that rankings will suffer. Poor clients get stuck to that HK$2,500 monthly fee just to hang on to dear rankings. Even if it means no sales at the end of the day.

6. We don’t disclose our methods as they’re patented / copyrighted / protected by laws.
Subplot: So take whatever we give you.

One of the commonly used scapegoats for companies to prevent pesky clients from inquiring further about their methodologies is that these are private information that can’t be shared outside of the company premises. They believe that by doing so, they’ll be respected of their “intellectual property” rights. But accomplishing SEO doesn’t require some sort of intellectual property, just mere common sense and best practice.

7. We know a guy at Google!
Subplot: He works at the cafeteria.

Some vendors even think that by telling clients about their strong association with search engines will eventually win them the business. They brag about having insider contacts with Google people, and think that it’s a cool selling point. For gullible clients who think they can torpedo the whole SEO process by simply appointing an agency who has business connections with search engines, they’re simply starting to let money fall down the drain.

8. We bring you thousands of hits!
Subplot: Via hosted images.

The number of visitors to your site is a more decent success measurement than keyword rankings. But along the way, some SEO vendors trick you into think that visits, page views and hits are the same. When they say they bring you hits, it means number of times an element on your site has been accessed: pages, images, scripts and so on. A simple email with images hosted from your site can register multiple hits from a single visitor. So it’s possible for someone to deliver hits without even visiting your website.

9. We guarantee first page rankings!
Subplot: On phrases nobody uses

top-rankingsIt is easy to be attracted by an offer of top keyword rankings. After all, SEO is about keyword rankings, right? Yes, at least to those who believe so. So it is not uncommon to see websites displaying guarantees of top rankings. If it worked in the past and have strong backing through genuine client testimonials and case studies, why not flaunt it? But the problem with guarantees is not just making clients believe the company can achieve such goals, but also misleading them that keyword ranking is the ultimate goal of SEO.

10. We offer SEO services at rock-bottom prices!
Subplot: Since that’s how low our work quality is.

Some SEOs command expensive rates and that’s because they are in high demand for their effective search marketing strategies. Others charge less because they are building a network of clients and want to do these clients a favor by trying out their services for less. Still, there are others who charge even lower rates. These are the folks who know little about the job and run away with your money.

There you go. Be aware of any practice involving these methods. There are more:

  • We cracked Google’s algorithm!
  • We need to do monthly contracts because we need to resubmit your site to directories monthly
  • We found out your site doesn’t have enough inbound links, let’s install directory links

I posted a list of tips in choosing the right SEO vendor as a follow up to this entry. If that’s not enough, here are Google’s guide on hiring SEO companies.

Good luck!