More than 70% of businesses are pitched Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services at least once per week. So as a business owner, how do you know who to hire when the market is so seemingly flooded?
Or is it?
The 14 Most Common SEO Scams
Unfortunately, many of these pitches are scams made by fraudsters. Learn how to spot the most common SEO scams and check out these simple tips for avoiding them.
Scam #1. “Guaranteed Google Page 1 Ranking”
This is the most popular scam, likely because every business owner wants to be rank 1 for their keywords, and most don’t like hearing that it may not be possible.
Google’s statement on this scam is straightforward. “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings…”.
Unless you’re targeting niche or low-volume keywords, the competition for your website’s keywords will be fierce.
Your competitors didn’t get to the first page overnight. Instead, they spend thousands of dollars a month on SEO or marketing services and have been for years.
The average monthly SEO retainer costs between $500 and $2,500 per month. Taking the average cost of $1,500 per month and multiplying by 12 months comes to $18,000 a year. Multiply that by five years of SEO services, and your competitors have already likely spent $90,000 to obtain and keep those rankings. So if you’re just now trying to overtake your competition, you’re not only years behind them, but they’ve probably spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years to secure their rankings.
If an SEO company offers a $100 per month or $250 per month special, risk-free offer, which more than likely includes “Guaranteed Page 1 Rankings,” it’s almost certainly a scam. You can’t expect to outrank your competitors on a $250 per month SEO package, and you should never trust this common pitch or any pitches like it.
If it were that easy to rank, everyone would be #1.
Scam #2. “We Have the ‘Secret’ Sauce”
There is no “secret” sauce.
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 company can’t or won’t outline its 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 hurt your rankings.
Google holds you accountable for your SEO’s decisions, 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
Almost all unsolicited emails or contact forms through your website offering SEO services should be ignored.
You’re probably part of a massive auto-generated email list if you didn’t actively seek out the person or company. Bots and scrapers collect email addresses and automatically fill out website contact forms. Actual human involvement in these initial communications is rare.
Furthermore, this spam mail generally builds up in your inbox only after your website generates organic traffic – a sign that your current marketing company’s SEO campaign is producing results. To protect your website (and your inbox) from this spam, try adding reCAPTCHA and a honeypot to your forms.
Scam #4. “We Know Someone Who Works At Google”
This claim may have some truth, but it’s still very misleading.
A company can have a Google Partnership for Google Ads, but not for SEO. To qualify as a Google Partner, you must create and complete a Partners company profile, pass Google’s Ads certification, and meet particular spending 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 don’t have access to insider information on how the algorithm works. Nor do you receive any ranking benefits whatsoever.
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 explicitly endorse any SEO companies.
Scam #5. “You’ll Get Over 1,000 Visitors Per Day to Your Website”
If you regularly check your website’s contact form entries, you’ve probably noticed offers to receive 500, 1,000, or more “targeted visitors” to your website per day. This offer may even include a free 30-day trial offer.
Do not fall for this scam. More than likely, these “targeted visitors” are nothing more than bot traffic. Traffic by itself is just a vanity metric; your conversions will not increase due to this traffic.
Bot traffic also misconstrues your Google Analytics data, and filtering out the bad data afterward can be a pain. It’s best to ignore these offers.
Scam #6. “We Create Instant Link Building”
Link scammers will offer to create hundreds, or even thousands, of links to your website overnight, coupled with an unrealistic promise of these links improving your rankings. However, the quality of links is what’s most important 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 will look like you’re trying to manipulate the rankings.
Google doesn’t like it when people try to game the system and has become very good at detecting unnatural links. The Google Penguin algorithm quickly catches on to this tactic and devalues all those links. In fact, Google may even apply a manual penalty to your website. Trust us; you don’t want this to happen.
You will be wasting your money on worthless links, and you’ll have to spend even more money hiring someone to fix your website’s link profile and remove the manual penalty.
Scam #7. “Undetectable” Private Blog Networks
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 that generally don’t provide any value to users. Their sole purpose is the creation of links pointing to other sites as a way to build backlinks.
This tactic may sound appealing because some quality private blog networks are 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 openly advertise their PBN and anyone can access 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, deindexed the websites within the network, and possibly penalized the websites these networks link to. The company that owns the PBN won’t care if this happens. They will continue to offer the worthless service to anyone foolish enough to pay for it.
Scam #8. “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.
Four search engines account for more than 99.5% of the market share in the US: Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. The other hundreds of search engines don’t matter nearly as much and likely won’t send a meaningful amount of traffic to your website.
Scam #9. Web Design and Development Firms Offering SEO Services
It seems 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 their team dedicated to SEO.
Many of these companies likely have a limited or basic understanding of SEO and bundle it 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 #10. Free Trial SEO Services
Some companies will offer their services for free for 30 days. You only have to 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 company will not offer to do it upfront.
Scammers have used this tactic and other similar offers to inject malware into websites after gaining admin access. Beware of sharing admin access to your website with anyone who isn’t reputable.
Furthermore, 30 days of SEO services won’t yield any long-term results — if it even works at all. Even Google’s Maile Ohye 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 expert, I’d recommend watching the entire video.
Scam #11. “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 of months.
SEO takes time. If all of our current clients stopped their SEO services right now and made no changes to their websites, 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 that 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 can offer the same work for less.
A tell-tale sign that the new company is scamming you is if, after a few months, your month-over-month growth stops and traffic flatlines or even starts to decline.
Scam #12. Companies That Own Your Domain, Social Profiles, Google Analytics, Etc.
Of all the SEO scams, this is the scammiest.
Some companies are more than happy to set up or take over the registrar and hosting for your website, even add Google Analytics tracking to it and create multiple social profiles for the company. However, you’ll see they own the domains, social media profiles, and even the GA4 account in the contract.
As long as you work with them, this won’t be a problem, but as soon as you try to leave, you’ll realize how bad this is for your business.
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 the work and business intelligence you gathered and paid for will be lost, and you’ll have to start over again.
Scam #13. Fake Calls, Emails, or Texts: “Google Listing is At Risk or Expired”
This scam preys on business owners who were somewhat involved in setting up their Google Business Profile; maybe a few years ago, they went through the postcard verification process and filled out the listing with as much information as possible. However, since they don’t actively update their listing or stay updated on trends and changes, they’re not sure if there’s a reason to be concerned.
Google business listings do not expire. Google also won’t tell you a listing is “at risk” either; their automated system generally suspends the listing without warning. On top of that, real Google employees aren’t going to call or text you about your business listings out of the blue, although you may receive a notification email if your listing is suspended. The automated robocalls should be fairly easy to spot as scams; however, the text messages and emails can sometimes be less suspicious.
If you are concerned about your business listing, it’s best to contact Google Business Profile Help directly. Do NOT respond to phone calls, text messages, or even email notifications that seem suspicious without verifying.
BONUS Scam #14: SEO Agencies That Scrape Content & Pass It Off as Their Unique Content
I wrote this blog about SEO scams back in 2019, and while updating it to feature new scams, I came across an article that looked oddly familiar. It seems like the CEO of PageTraffic liked my content so much he decided to pass it off as his own, scraping the bulk of my content about scams, lazily re-writing it ever so slightly, and just adding some intro sections and a new conclusion.
While they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, do NOT trust a company that would do this. If they cut corners on their own website, they’ll have no issue implementing this same “strategy” for their clients — plagiarizing content while touting “high-quality” blog writing and content marketing services. If they’re taking shortcuts on producing quality, unique content, you have to wonder what they’re doing behind the scenes while working on other aspects of your website that aren’t so obvious to spot.
At the end of the day, you, as the business owner, are responsible for who you choose to work with on your website, so if they’re using black hat or spammy tactics, then it will be on you to hire the right company to clean up and fix their mess.
If you’re looking to hire an SEO or marketing agency, watch this classic video from Google on “How to hire an SEO” before you make any decisions.