As SEO continues to remain an essential digital marketing strategy for businesses, the industry has witnessed an exponential rise in SEO scams.
Today, it is not rare to find the so-called “expert SEOs” lurking around the internet, making unrealistic promises and offering guaranteed rankings to desperate, and sometimes gullible, website owners.
Ranking on the top page of Google has never been a walk in the park. So, if anyone attempts to woo you with top ranked results that seem too good to be true, you need to think twice before taking them for their word.
Falling into the hands of SEO scammers will make you lose your money and also damage your brand reputation.
Fortunately, you don’t have to learn the hard way.
In this post, you will learn practical ways to identify SEO frauds and avoid them.
But before that, let’s start with the basics…
James Jernigan SEO – What Is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for search engine optimization. In a nutshell, this simply means the process of improving your website to increase its ranking and visibility when people search for keywords, products or services related to your business or brand in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. The higher the ranking of your web pages in search engines, the more likely you are to draw the attention of prospective and existing customers to your business.
James Jernigan SEO – How Does SEO Work?
Google, Bing and other search engines use bots or spiders to crawl pages on the web, going from one website to another collecting data about these pages and adding them to an index. The index is like a vast library where books (web pages) are stored and arranged in such a way that the librarian (search engine) can easily pull up any book (information) you’re looking for at a particular time.
Once websites are crawled and pages are indexed, search engines analyze and rank these pages using a set of algorithms. Google, for instance, takes into account over two hundred ranking factors or signs to determine the order these pages would appear in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for a given query or keyword. Google returns results for search queries based on its understanding of which page has the best and most relevant answers.
Unlike paid search, such as Facebook and Google ads, you can’t pay search engines to rank on top of the SERP for a keyword. Worse off, search engines like Google have never openly revealed their ranking factors. That said, the exact algorithm remains a secret sauce, and the biggest mystery left to SEO experts to unravel.
While Google has not openly revealed their ranking signals, they have not ceased from providing insights that could help webmasters to position their websites for better ranking in search engines. For example, content quality, keyword targeting, and page load speed are some of the key factors to consider when trying to rank your website.
However, there are also tricks that deviate from SEO best practices. This is often referred to as black hat SEO. The most common form of black hat SEO is spamdexing. Spamdexing is a deliberate manipulation of search engine indexes through a number of methods such as repeating unrelated phrases, keyword stuffing and unethical link building practice to manipulate the relevance of resources indexed.
Some of these tricks actually worked very well in the early days of search engines. Today, search engines use highly sophisticated algorithms that can easily detect foul plays. If Google detects your website is using black hat SEO, they may penalize you. Receiving a penalty from Google means your page or website ranking performance can be downgraded or, in a worse-case scenario, completely delisted.
The search engine algorithms are computed to rank relevant, authority pages that provide adequate user experience. Optimizing your site and its content with these factors in mind can significantly increase your ranking and boost your visibility in search engines. While white hat (proper) SEO practice may take some time before you start seeing results, the wait is always worth it.
James Jernigan SEO – Is It Difficult To Rank High at the Top of Google’s Search Results?
Google, Bing and Yahoo are some of the world’s leading search engines and have helped in decentralizing access to knowledge and information. With a few clicks of the button, users can easily find answers to their questions, read up reviews and get information about a business or brand.
However, most people do not browse past the first two pages of SERPs, which makes SEO highly competitive. This post by Search Engine People shows that 75 percent of clicks go to the first page. As a result, many website owners go out of their way to get their site to appear on page one of Google.
Website owners often apply SEO practices such as good reviews, Google Maps, and optimized content to ensure their websites are well positioned to be easily seen in search results.
Although combining basic and advanced SEO skills can help ensure that your website is well tuned to rank high in search results, the search engine has the final say.
To make matters more complicated, search engines like Google regularly roll out new algorithm updates to improve the quality of their search results. This means there’s always some tweaks to make to stand the chance of ranking high in search engines.
This is where you need SEO experts. An experienced SEO (professional) can shove the stress of having to handle the extremely demanding SEO work from your table.
However, not everyone offering SEO services has the interest of your website or business in mind. Some are SEO frauds looking to cash out from your hard earned money without delivering any value. They take advantage of the fact that many website owners only have a basic knowledge of SEO.
So they make many outrageous claims about having the expertise and knowing what to do to help your website rank at the top of Google’s search result. Some will even assure you of the exact time you’ll start seeing improvements in your website.
James Jernigan SEO – Common SEO Scams and Disadvantages
If you wondering how SEO frauds manage to carry out their nefarious businesses, here’s a list of common SEO scams and why they’re harmful to your website:
Links from Websites with High Domain Authority
This appears to be one of the most common SEO scams on the internet today. The SEO agency or seller sends a series of emails assuring you of a backlink or guest post on their high DA website.
While backlinks from reputable websites can help your website rank better and help you build online credibility when naturally obtained, you need to be wary about people engaging in links for cash.
Even if their links have some impact on your ranking at the initial stage, the consequences can outweigh the benefits by the time Google hits back at you.
Although Google agrees they use a few domain-level ranking signals, domain authority isn’t one of them. According to Google’s John Muller and Gary Illyes, Google doesn’t use Moz’s Domain Authority (that many SEOs often make reference to) is not in any of its ranking algorithms.
The actual metric Google page-page level metric uses is PageRank which is no longer available to the public. The page-level authority metrics available through Moz, Ahrefs and other providers are based on guesses and do not necessarily reflect Google’s true evaluation.
Buying links from websites with high DA rating or whatsoever isn’t only an unreliable way to rank your website, it runs counter to Google best practice and can get you penalized if caught.
Instead of buying or trading links, you can hire a publicist/PR specialist who can generate guest posting opportunities for you in highly placed publications.
If you’re operating with a small budget, you should be ready to do the hard work and build authority in your niche or industry so websites can naturally link to you without soliciting it. This seems to be the hardest, but not impossible to achieve.
Here, the SEO “expert” or agency offers their services with guaranteed rankings. Not only doesn’t this sound incredibly unbelievable, it’s fraudulent in nature.
The scammer might make some changes, such as updating a few tags, publishing some pieces of content and building a few links. You’ll come to you a few weeks or months later to show you the results they have gotten in the form of a report showing a web page or two from your website in the first position for a certain keyword or variation of a particular keyword.
Google uses very vast and complex algorithms which are kept from public knowledge. The few ranking factors professionals with are discovered through hints from Google themselves and research. Based on this, it’s impossible for anyone to boldly say their strategies would yield guaranteed results. They can only try and wait for results to reflect in the course of time.
The Google Partnership
The scam often starts with unsolicited email or targeted paid ads. The SEO “expert” or agency attempts to prove their legitimacy and efficiency by claiming they are a “Google Partner.”
What better professional do you want to hire for your SEO work if not someone has the insider knowledge of exactly how the search engine operates?
The implied endorsement or approval from Google is a strategy to appear legitimate and they are not anywhere close to it.
But is there really such a thing as “Google Partner” in the SEO space?
The answer is capital NO.
Although Google does have certification programs for Google Ads, Google Analytics, and a few other courses that help people learn about their product, there is no single one search engine.
Anyone that tells you they partner with Google for SEO is deceiving you.
Even if the company is actually capable of performing proper SEO work, chances are, if they could deceive with a fake Google badge, they’ll not think twice about something worse, even if it means running away with your money in the middle of their contract.
Search Engine Submission
This scam plays out when an SEO agency or individual offers to help you improve your website’s ranking performance by submitting your website to search engines, like Google.
Many of the companies involved in this type of scam claim they have proprietary software or an expert strategy that allows them to fast track your website to the first page of Google, regardless of your current ranking.
Although many search engines, including Google allow many submittal of pages through the Search Console (formerly known as Google’s Webmaster tools), these SEO frauds tend to project it as if they’re doing something extraordinary to get some bucks from you.
In reality, Google and most other known search engines use bots that constantly travel across the web to crawl new links and index them automatically. That said, you don’t necessarily have to submit your web pages to Google every single time you make changes on your website. The search engine will crawl and find your website and rank it accordingly.
However, if you’re impatient, you can manually submit your new web pages and blog posts in Google Search Console.
There are also reputable SEO services that can help you submit to local directories, but you can do all this yourself or hire an intern for it.
Unsolicited Ranking Monitoring
This happens when an SEO agency or professional sends out an email claiming that they noticed that your website isn’t ranking for certain keywords that are important to your business on Google.
For some businesses, there is nothing more frightening than not showing or ranking on the search engine for keywords they consider relevant, even if they haven’t put in much work to deserve a juicy spot on Google. So this scam takes advantage of them using their greatest fear.
Why is this a scam?
Many of the emails of this nature are sent to a large list of companies in your industry or niche, and not specifically about your company. And that’s why you notice the email doesn’t specify the particular keywords your website isn’t ranking for.
Even if the service is genuine, it’s unsafe to hire an agency that uses scare tactics to get new customers. If they could do that to you, what makes you believe they would not act dubiously by the time they start working for you?
Make sure to do your homework before you hire an SEO company. Don’t trust your website and money with a tactician who goes about raising an alarm to sell their gig.
James Jernigan SEO – How To Identify SEO scams
SEO scams manifest in diverse ways, however, there are a few common red flags to watch for when hiring an SEO agency or a freelancer for your SEO work.
1. They Promise Quick Results
Search engine optimization is not a quick fix. Proper SEO work can take weeks and even months to yield results and there are no shortcuts to success. Google, Bing and other search engines are constantly improving their algorithms to ensure that users receive the most relevant search results. As a result, it takes them some time to enable changes made to your website to have effect to avoid misjudgment or mistake.
Additional, effective SEO strategies require a lot of planning upfront. SEO agencies or freelancers need to take the time to inspect your website to look at your current performance, research your competitors and then check areas that need improvement. After that, they come up with content strategy, link building strategy, perform keyword research, and much more.
Depending on the condition of your website, research and implementation alone may take weeks. Once the implementation is completed, it will take additional time for search engines to allow the changes to reflect.
If a prospective SEO professional or agency is promising you results within a week or two, or they are extremely specific about the time frame, they are not worth your time or your money.
2. They Claim “Insider Knowledge”
Absolutely false, no SEO agency or expert has “special relationship” or access to insider knowledge from Google. Any SEO company that makes this claim is simply deceiving you.
The truth is, Google and other search engines never openly revealed how their algorithms work. The algorithms used by search engines are so complex, mystic and dynamic. At best, people may know about certain aspects such as meta tags, link popularity, keywords and content.
Successful SEO is achieved through industry experience, testing, and information available in the public domain from Google. As such, it will be incorrect for anyone to claim insider knowledge.
3. They Guarantee Number #1 Ranking on Google
Reputable and successful SEO agencies can promise things like ranking on the first page for certain keywords within a particular time. That is okay, and is not necessarily a red flag.
However, you should be suspicious when an SEO centers their pitch on a guaranteed placement or ranking in the number #1 position for a highly competitive keyword within a short time frame. Guarantees like that are very controversial and infeasible.
In fact, Google has made it clear on many occasions that on one can guarantee a #1 ranking in their search engines. Therefore, the search engine asks website owners to beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings.
Some industries are more competitive than others. Businesses in more competitive, crowded industries or niches will always have to wait longer to see results. If anyone agency or professional approaches with a guaranteed #1 ranking, you should be skeptical.
4. They Mention Outdated Techniques
Like many things in digital marketing, SEO is constantly evolving. One of the telltale signs you are about to work with an SEO fraud is that they mention outdated techniques. However, this can be difficult to catch, especially if you are not grounded in SEO knowledge.
Many things have changed in the past decade. There are some SEO techniques that used to work years back when Google’s algorithms were still at the incipient stage. Most of these tactics don’t work anymore and implementing them in your SEO strategy can significantly hurt your ranking.
Here are some of the old SEO practices that are now consider unsafe:
Keyword Stuffing: In the early days of Google, it’s possible to manipulate the search engine and rank for a specific set of keywords by cramming as many keywords as possible into your content and/or meta titles. This technique is not only outdated, it can have many negative consequences on your website if detected. Google can de-rank your page or completely de-indexed.
Buying or trading backlinks: Backlinks (links coming from other websites) is one of the dominant ranking factors in Google’s algorithms. When you have many authority sites linking back to your website, it tells Google that your website is useful. Paying website owners to link to your website or engaging in link swap is a poor SEO practice that attracts serious penalties, such as degrading or delisting of your website pages.
Private Blog Network (PBN): a private blog network is a list of authoritative websites that are used exclusively to build links for a single website. This practice is considered unethical SEO practice which can significantly hurt your ranking in the long run.
While some of these black hat techniques can be effective in the short term, they’ll get your website penalized or even de-indexed from Google If caught using them.
5. They’re Ambiguous about Pricing
While there is no such thing as industry standard pricing for SEO work, you should expect a reputable agency to provide you with an upfront cost estimate depending on your specific needs. If an agency or freelancer is sketchy about their pricing or offers absurdly low prices, you should have to give it a second thought before you proceed.
SEO requires serious work, including research spanning days or even works, testing and plenty of SEO tools. Not being straightforward with pricing could be a sign that the agency is only concerned about getting the gig and then inflating the costs down the road.
6. They Can’t Provide References
Reputable SEO agencies gain expertise and experience from years of working with running their own websites and working for different clients. When choosing an agency, the first question you should ask is if they have worked in your industry before.
A legitimate agency should be able to provide you with a portfolio of lists of references that you can get in touch with at your leisure. Knowing that they have handled a similar project as us in the past will give you rest of mind regarding their ability.
You should be suspicious of an agency or freelancer who can’t provide proof of experience by showing you the last works they have done.
7. They send Unsolicited Emails
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with professionals marketing the services they provide, sending random, unsolicited emails can be a huge turn off. Most SEO frauds come by proposing to sell high domain authority (DA) links.
Legitimate agencies use ethical, non-invasive marketing practices such as blogging and SEO to attract and nurture prospects into paying clients.
If you keep receiving mail from someone or company you can’t remember subscribing to, there’s a likelihood that you are added to an auto-generated email list. Scammers use bots and scrapers to harvest email addresses and automatically fill out contact forms on websites.
8. They own all your SEO Tools, including Google Analytics, Search Console, Moz Account, etc.
When you hire an SEO agency, they manage everything from your regular blog publishing to creating a series of accounts with SEO tools like Google Analytics and Search Console to evaluate the performance of your web pages in search engines. All these accounts are supposed to be created using your business information, such as email.
However, some agencies stealthily create these accounts, including social media profiles using their own information. As long as they are still working for you, this won’t be a problem. But as soon as you part ways, you’ll realize how bad this can be for your business.
These accounts are part of your business’s digital asset, containing lots of valuable resources and information about your business. Therefore, you should own it outright.
The company can lay claim to it and refuse to share the login details with you. Even if you try to create new accounts, you might not be able to retrieve the important information on the previous ones, which means all your data and money are lost and you’re left to start over again.
James Jernigan SEO – How To Hire the Right SEO Company
1. Be Specific about your Goals
Before you start searching for the right SEO agency for your business, you should take the time to carefully define your goals. Why do you need an SEO service? What do you intend to achieve by hiring an SEO agency? Do you want to rank higher for a particular keyword? Or you want to increase organic traffic to your local business?
Providing honest answers to each of these questions not only helps you to avoid ambiguity, but also helps in selecting the right agency with proven expertise in the area of SEO you need. Being clear enough about your goals and expectations will help you to be on the same page with the agency. This also makes it super easy for you to measure performance.
For example, if your goal is to increase product sales by ranking for certain keywords, you can easily measure the effectiveness of the SEO service by comparing your sales volume.
2. Don’t Take the Agency for their Word, Look for Reviews and Case Studies
Virtually every agency or freelancer understands the theory of SEO, and this is why you shouldn’t hire an SEO agency simply based on what they tell you. Instead, look for reviews on their websites and on independent review platforms such as Yelp. By reading reviews from their past and current clients, you can learn about the agency’s experience, their strength, their weakness, and their reporting process.
In addition to client reviews, it is also useful to check their case studies. Case studies have to do with a comprehensive review of the past works of the agencies, their specific challenges they confronted and how they were able to solve the problems. From these various accounts, you can determine whether or not a particular service is a good fit for you.
3. Meet the SEO Agency and Ask Questions
Before you decide to work with an SEO agency, it’s important you create the time to meet them. You can decide to meet them face to face or schedule a virtual call through a video conferencing tool like Google Meets, Zoom or Slack.
During the meeting, you want to ask important questions about their experience with your industry, their process and their pricing. A legitimate SEO company should be enthusiastic about sharing their experience working with past clients with you. They should be confident about the results they were about to achieve and how they did it.
Importantly, a legitimate agency will be upfront about their pricing, no hidden costs; no surprises.
4. Avoid a Company that Offers SEO Guarantee
While the best SEO agencies have good ideas about how to get optimum results, Google algorithms are constantly changing, making it difficult to confidently say when a client will start seeing results.
In other words, there is no single fail proof strategy when it comes to SEO. No one can accurately predict the SERPs. The best thing anyone can do is to keep applying the right strategies, and testing until the desired results are achieved.
So be suspicious if any SEO agency offers a guaranteed ranking in the search engine.
5. Don’t Choose a Cheap SEO Service
When your decision for choosing an agency is because they offer the lowest price, you may end up paying a much higher price for corrective service down the line if they don’t live up to expectations.
The need to save cost, especially when you’re just building a business is quite understandable. But you need to be realistic with your budget.
The truth is, SEO is complex, and the best guys in the industry want to be adequately remunerated in exchange for the quality service they provide.
Most services that offer low prices often end up performing below expectations. Some of them rely on outdated SEO strategy or copy-and-paste approaches, which often result in extremely poor service. Some may stop communicating with your team.
With Search engine optimization, you get what you pay for. However, the highest price may not translate into the highest quality service.
When setting a budget, it’s recommended you get quotes from different companies. SEO agencies charge between $750- $2000 per month – the rate varies depending on your goal, the size of your company, and more.
James Jernigan SEO – Wrapping up
If you truly want to grow your online presence and come at the top of search results when prospective and existing customers are searching for keywords related to your product, service or brand, then you need to start prioritizing SEO in your digital marketing strategies.
Search engine optimization is a valuable investment that can set you apart from the competition and help you cut through the noise in today’s crowded market. When you’re ready to get started, it’s best to hire an SEO agency with the right experience and expertise to increase your business’s competitive strength online.
But finding the perfect SEO agency isn’t always a walk in the park. There are many SEO scams on the internet whose primary goal is to defraud you and leave your website more broken than the way they met it. Follow the insights in this post to avoid SEO fraud.
Hopefully, this post helps you to make the right decision about who to hire when looking for the perfect SEO agency for your business.