As a website designer and promoter who works closely with a small number of businesses, I get to hear second hand about SEO scams that shady business are using to target my clients with. Although most of the scammers seem to be individuals working from their home, some are actually huge brands that are household names.
The problem with determining if a company is a scammer or not is actually inherent in the nature of SEO itself. Gaining traffic and leads via competitive terms on a search engine is a long term project and takes months if not years of work. Long term contracts are common, and this makes it attractive for hard-sell salesman who are good at convincing people to bite.
The no-brainer about finding a good SEO company is that if you search the internet for one, you are prequalifying the prospects. If they got themselves in front of you with their SEO, they likely can do the same for you with your prospects. Don’t respond to someone reaching out, because it will be virtually impossible for you to tell if they are lying to you. There are, however some red flags that can alert you that you may be the target of an SEO scam.
We can make you rank Number 1 on Google.
It is extremely easy to make a few tweaks to a website and be Number 1 on Google for a non-competitive search term that brings in little traffic and no new business. Saying something like “We can make you Number 1 on Google” is a vague and even an absurd and meaningless statement to someone who understands SEO. My guess is no one but a scammer would use it.
You receive and email that says something like:
I’ve visited your website and you are not on the first page of Google. Contact me for your free website analysis.
First of all they likely visited your website just to get your contact information.
Secondly, you must ask yourself, if a company is so good at SEO, why do they need to send SPAM email to get business?
Again, you have to ask yourself, if this company is so good at SEO, why do they need to use the phone to get business?
I have a client who is consistently getting calls from a person that claims to be with Google and insists that their “listing” will be taken down if they don’t take action. After reassurance from me that this was a scam, my client got me their phone number, so I could find out what was going on. The phone number was to company called “Splatr, a division of LocalWebIQ.” When I questioned the person who answered the phone, she said she would have someone from IT get back to me. As I was on the phone, I searched for their parent company and came up with this website:
“Never mind. Thanks for wasting my time.”
A more common scare tactic is a personalized claim that there is something very wrong with your existing website or SEO strategy, and of course the spammer or telemarketer has the easy solution.
Brand Name Scams
Ever heard of YellowPages.com? Think going with a well-known company is a safe bet? Think again. The shady practices I have personally experienced with this company will keep me from using them myself, or recommending them to others. Maybe there is value there for some businesses, but here are the things to watch out for.
A basic paid listing will probably not break the bank, but neither will it have much advantage over the free listing. I was promised a 70% conversion rate for my listing. That in itself is not only unheard of, but in reality it was a 0% conversion rate. I got no new business from my listing in the 6 months it ran. The bottom line is, make sure that you can afford to throw the money away, and don’t get sold on pie-in-the-sky results by a telemarketer who doesn’t know what they are talking about.
We will build you a new website that will get you leads
I worked with a client who bought into one of these programs with a 1 year contract. They already had a website, but YellowPage hastily slapped together another one, based on a template. My client had absolutely no direct access to the traffic stats for this new website and needed to rely on reports they were provided. The heart of the scam was that YellowPages had optimized the new site for my client’s business name, and was actually competing for searches on that keyword with my client’s existing site. My client had a successful and established business, and searches for their business name and contact information was significant. In the end they were being sold back their own traffic that was stolen by this new template site.
We will manage Local search campaigns for you in one affordable package
There are companies out there who basically exist to upcharge their clients on PPC clicks from search engine advertising programs. They will find the lowest cost PPC keywords on Google Adwords or Microsoft adCenter, run those for their clients, and charge their clients as if they were running ads on higher cost competitive terms. The key questions to ask are
- Do you, as a client, have access to the raw data on their direct costs from the PPC programs they are using.
- Is there a significantly long-term contract that you must sign, regardless of performance. If so, compare the cost to hiring a professional to run an Adwords campaign for you directly.
Real SEO is complex, time-consuming and expensive, but provides solid results that help you grow your business. SEO scammers take advantage of the complexity or the technology, just as shady car mechanics take advantage of their targets for not knowing what goes on under the hood.
- Look at the websites on the top of the search engine results pages (SERPS) for other local markets in your area. Can you find out who they are using to promote their business? Local business networking associations may be a good source for this information. Research SERPs that you know have a comparable dollar value to yours before you ask the top businesses who they are using. Obviously non-competitors will be your best source of information.
- Seek out a local SEO company using search-engines; don’t let them come to you.
- Ask for references from other know local businesses, and check them out. Make sure the SEO is not just using their friends as references.