How to Spot an SEO Scam

February 24 , 2016 by in How-To's
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how to spot an SEO scam

We’ll get you to the first page of Google in less than a month, because we know someone at Google. Also, my uncle works for Nintendo. I get to play all the games before they come out. But don’t tell anyone.” – Typical SEO Scam

Unless you’re a doctor, you have to trust your doctor at their word. You can get a second opinion, but you won’t understand the minute details of what they do. The same goes for your mechanic, your home services contractor, your attorney, or your SEO company. You might be an expert in one of these fields, but it’s impossible to know the complicated technicalities in a specialized field, unless you’ve studied. That’s why either you, or someone you know, has been taken for a ride by an SEO scam.

SEO scammers have been preying on small business owners, in many different forms, for years. I can’t find exact records, but I imagine SEO scammers have been around since SEO, as a service, has been around.

Just like humans have always been accompanied by worms and lice, SEOs have been accompanied by SEO scammers.

The good thing about SEO, though, is you can learn about it. I could never be a doctor, a lawyer, an electrician, or a mechanic, but I did learn the basics of SEO. I didn’t get the best grades in school and I have a five second attention span, so if I can learn it, anyone who actually owns a business can learn it, too.

SEO scammers are counting on your ignorance. Thankfully, you’re already researching SEO scams, so you’ve got a leg up on most people. You’re pursuing enlightenment, so I respect you like the bear respects the mountain cat.

If you learn the patterns, commonalities, and intentions behind common SEO scams, you won’t have to worry about accidentally buying snake oil.

guy with mustache, probably a huge jerk

Or, you know, having your business’ website tied to the railroad tracks by some guy with a Snidely Whiplash mustache. He needs the extra money for League of Legends in-game transactions.

Even if your heart bleeds for his cause, don’t buy anything from him.

Here’s how to spot him in the wild.

The Worst

SEO scams come in all shapes and sizes.

I witness one of the dumber methods, almost daily, in our comments queue. This is why comment moderation was invented. The scam looks something like this:

seo scam blog comment

At this point, I’m not even going to blur out their IP addresses. They made their own filthy bed, and now they get to wallow in it.

Hopefully you’re not going to buy SEO services from someone who leaves a poorly worded sales pitch in your comments section. Even if they are giving you SEO tips that might be technically true, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. No, I didn’t feel like “properly using bold and italics” or “using all three H tags.” And I had my reasons.

Quit being such a busybody, SEO scammer!

If I click the link in the comment, I see this:

seo scam blog comment

What’s worse than an SEO scam? An SEO scam that doesn’t even direct me to an SEO service. I don’t know who Timothy Marcus and CNBC’s Anthony Grisanti are, but I’m holding them personally responsible.

Stop spamming our blog, Finance Guys. You’re not even going to help me use bold and italics properly, so step the eff off.

You’re the worst.

The Warning Signs

Not every SEO scam comes in blog comment form. In fact, they can be much more insidious. As it turns out, some SEO scammers are actually pretty smart.

They’re sort of like Scooby Doo villains– they do everything they can to hide their tracks and stay one-step ahead of you, but you can always unmask them in the end. If you follow the clues.

scooby doo villain

I’ve had SEO scammers call me, email me, and comment on my blog posts. While working for companies who offer SEO as a service.

I can only imagine what you, the business owner who doesn’t work in SEO, have to go through on a weekly basis.

I haven’t seen all of these in action, and hopefully neither have you, but here are some warning signs– the average, everyday tactics used by your friendly neighborhood SEO scammer.

1. SEO Pitches in Blog Comments

If someone comes into your comments section and leaves you a long-winded SEO pitch, be wary. Especially if “SEO” is their user name. I mean, I just wrote a whole section about that. Did you read it?

If so, thank you. You’re very kind.

Once in awhile, someone legitimate will offer to help you with an SEO problem. That help will usually come in the form of an email, and they generally won’t want anything in return. Even in these situations, remain skeptical.

2. Google Offering SEO Services

google call seo scam

If Google calls you, they’re not offering SEO services. Chances are, unless you’re hearing from an account manager you’ve worked with before, they’re not trying to sell you anything.

If someone claiming to be from Google is trying to sell you SEO, they’re not from Google.

And those robocalls you get “from Google” that try to sell you on better search rankings? Yeah, they’re probably not from Google, either.

Local U posted a quote from Elizabeth Powers, Google’s My Business Community forum manager. She said:

Please remember, Google will never make phone calls offering to improve your ranking or manage your business information. There are many companies out there which would love to manage your local presence, but do know that Google will not be making this type of call to you. Should Google call you, it will typically come from our local area code–a US number beginning in a 650 area code. Additionally, Google would never call asking you for private information like your password. Please find more information on avoiding phone scams here.”

Additionally, Google says it will never:

  • charge for inclusion in Google My Business or in Google Search.
  • offer to improve your search ranking or manage your business’s online profile.
  • ask you for your password or verification code. You should never provide sensitive information
  • about your account (like your password and verification code) to a caller.

You can read more about Google and phone scams here. It’s the best help you’re going to get until all the robocallers are stopped. But they’ll be here at the end of the world, just like Twinkies and cockroaches.

3. Offering Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings

Review911Ranking for competitive keywords in Google doesn’t happen overnight. It sometimes doesn’t happen at all, no matter how hard you try.

SEO experts know their stuff, but they usually don’t guarantee top search engine rankings, because they don’t know everything about Google’s search algorithm. No one knows exactly how Google’s search engine rankings work except Google.

A good SEO can follow best practices and help you gain search engine visibility, but not even the best of the best can guarantee top rankings. It’s not something they can control.

There’s more to it than that, though.

I like what Mike Tekula at Unstuck Digital had to say about it:

I had the unfortunate experience of working for a company that offered “50 page one Google rankings guaranteed” as an incentive for uncertain prospects. Not to say hard work wasn’t being done – it was. But guaranteed rankings are meaningless…

… First off, nobody can guarantee a ranking. Secondly, your website already has hundreds of page one rankings. Here’s an example: search for “mike tekula unstuck.” I guarantee you UnstuckDigital.com (my website) is the first result. Shouldn’t it be?

Go through your own website and put together a list of similar obscure, specific keywords that probably only show up in that order and proximity on your page. Search for them. You’re going to find lots of page one rankings.

Rankings have never been the goal. They’re merely a means to an end. The end is leads/sales/whatever your goal is. Qualified traffic that converts. A ranking by itself means nothing if it refers no qualified traffic.”

4. Offering Fast Search Engine Rankings

Search engine marketing results, just like most marketing results, don’t happen overnight.

Unfortunately, many SEO scammers (who seem otherwise legitimate), work their black magic on business owners who are in a huge hurry for their website to rank in competitive Google searches.

We all want fast results, but legitimate SEO results never happen within 48 hours. It’s a long game. Anyone who promises lightning-fast results, is a scammer; unless they’re trying to sell you on a pay-per-click ad service.

PPC ads definitely help drive traffic in the short-term, but they won’t offer long-term results like solid on-page SEO and relevant backlinks will. They can still be effective, but they’re not the same thing as organic search rankings.

Even if the phone isn’t ringing as much as you’d like, don’t believe anyone who promises overnight rankings for real keywords. It can’t be done.

Not even Criss Angel, Mindfreak, could do it. Not even Gandalf. If you find a genie from a magic lamp, though, I’d trust it. Just make sure you word your SEO wish very carefully.

5. Insanely Cheap Pricing

cheap car with seo license plate

pictured: expert Photoshop skills

Quality SEO work, that won’t damage your site and damage your reputation, isn’t quick or cheap. When it’s quick and cheap, you get links coming in from spammy sites, and your business becomes associated with shady websites.

SEO requires some amount of expertise, which costs some amount of money. If it looks too cheap to be good, it is too cheap to be good.

Some SEO firms are very reasonably priced and affordable, but you can’t pay shortcut prices if you want lasting results.

6. Random Emails

If you’ve never heard of or from an SEO company before and they try to sell you on something in their first email? It could very well be a red flag.

It probably is, in fact. If you’ve signed up for an SEO firm’s newsletter, downloaded a guide, or watched one of their webinars, they will contact you at some point. We all understand how that works.

Some cold calls are even legitimate, if emotionally exhausting.

Random, cold emails, though? Not a good sign.

From search engine expert Marie Haynes:

… any GOOD SEO company who can legitimately do Google-friendly SEO is not going to need to randomly email people in order to get business.”

Marie’s built up quite an archive of SEO scam emails, and I encourage you to check it out. She explains why each one is a scam, and she’s basically the best person in the world when it comes to putting things into perspective.

If you take nothing else away from this article, read Marie’s SEO scam email post.

Additionally, if you get a cold email pitch, check the email address. It should, at the very least, come from the company’s own domain and not a random Gmail account.

7. Google Insiders

Have you received an offer from someone who claims to be an insider at Google? From someone whose father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate works at Google?

They’re lying. No one has an inside connection. No one trying to sell you SEO services works for Google. The emperor has no clothes. The cake is a lie. Other, more modern and topical cliches apply, but I live in Idaho so I’m not hip enough to know them.

Don’t buy it.

Also, no one’s uncle works for Nintendo. They’re lying to you, too.

8. Free Trials

SEO, by its very nature, requires lots of time. It’s very hard for a reputable firm to put the hard work and time in, produce results, and give you those results for free. Even if they just offer it for a month, it’s really not sustainable on their end if they’re going to deliver any results.

I like the way this Monitor Backlinks post puts it:

Successful SEO is a result of loads and loads of hard work done over a long period of time. How long will a company give you this expensive free service? They will be time bound to show you some sort of results and this is where they turn to black hat or unethical tactics to impress you and get business.”

So, yeah. A free Google penalty comes with your free SEO service. Great deal!

9. Secrecy

secret

SEO can be complicated, but you should never pay for “secret techniques.”

I’ve worked in SEO, link building, and digital marketing for a few years now. On the outskirts, at least. And even I don’t understand some advanced tactics and technical on-site stuff that some SEO experts can deliver.

It’s okay if you don’t understand every single detail of what your SEO agency does in their day-to-day operations, but they should at least try to explain the basic concepts to you.

And they should provide detailed reports. Transparency is important when you’re paying for SEO services.

If anyone claims they have a Secret Method For Search Engine Success, just hang up on them. That usually just means they’re doing shady crap or not doing anything at all.

If you’re paying someone, they can tell you what they’re doing. Don’t settle for secrets.

10. Excessive Reciprocal Linking

If an SEO agency pitches you rankings in the form of a link exchange, or excessive reciprocal linking, it’s not a good deal. It won’t provide search engine visibility and, depending on the extent of their operation, it might result in a Google penalty.

Some amount of reciprocal linking is just fine. People link to each other. It’s natural. But when your small business website turns into a free-for-all directory? You’ll see a bad moon rising.

The same goes for getting involved in link farms and link networks. These usually don’t involve human-curated links, and they won’t be relevant to your site, your location, or what you do.

Once again, I’ll turn to Mike from Unstuck Digital:

Your SEO consultant/company is basically telling you that their link building strategy amounts to nothing more than a thin link exchange program. Run screaming. They might not be knowingly scamming their clients, but they don’t know SEO.

This method was already stale and fruitless when people were still listening to Creed (isn’t it nice to let the past die?).”

Don’t create your own prison.

11. Dozens or Hundreds of Links for Cheap

If an SEO firm promises you hundreds, or even dozens, of links for a low price, it’s time to turn off the lights and pretend you’re not home.

You really do have to worry about low quality, irrelevant links from shady websites.

Why do you think Google provides a tool for disavowing crappy links?

No one can build a hundred quality links for $300. No one.

It might sound appealing, but it’s too good to be true. Real SEO and link building take time and cost money.

Reputation and the SEO Scam

SEO shark

someone actually got paid to make this. by a stock photo site. what a world. 

Since we’re a reputation management software company, I feel like we need to address reputation.

Before you hire an SEO company, even if you’re 100% sure they’re not scamming you, check their online reputation.

You should:

  • Search Google for ‘(company name) reviews’
  • Ask for references, ask to speak to current or former clients
  • Browse their site to judge the quality of their content and see how they present themselves
  • Ask every single question you have, even if you think they’re dumb questions
  • Verify that they have a real ‘contact us’ page with an address and phone number
  • Speak with a real person before you sign up for anything

Remember that no business, either your own or an SEO firm, can please everyone. You might see one or two negative reviews, even for the best SEO agency in the world.

Look for patterns in those negative reviews. If you don’t spot any, chances are they just dealt with some difficult-to-please customers. If you see a pattern, there’s a larger problem. At least address that problem with the agency before you sign up.

 

Truthfully, most SEO firms and consultants aren’t out to scam you. There are plenty of people, however, out to make a quick buck by offering unsustainable, unrealistic, and outright fraudulent SEO services to unsuspecting business owners.

They’re counting on your ignorance, and they want to prey on your fears. But you’re not stupid, and you’re definitely not a coward. By stepping back and thinking critically, you can stop even a clever SEO scam right in its tracks.

 

About Dustin Verburg

Dustin Verburg is a writer, journalist, and musician who writes for several web and print publications. During most of his waking hours, he produces content for ReviewJump. Dustin lives with his guitars, comic books, and collectable Star Trek plates in Boise, ID.

25 responses to “How to Spot an SEO Scam”

  1. Dustin,
    What is your knowledge of AD IQ out of Los Vegas? They have three out of the 11 watch outs you speak of. There are not many reviews to base a decision on. However, all the reviews all negative. They offered me Google paid AD section placement, map section placement, and organic ranking placement on the 1st page within 90 days. ( All this for $4,000.00/yr )

    I’m also dealing with Yellow pages. They are much more expensive: about $18,000.00 more year. They guarantee me about 46 calls a month + all mentioned above which AD IQ offered.

    Please let me know what your knowledge is on this subject. Thank you!

    • Hey Michael,

      That’s a great question! The fact that you’re doing your research prior to making a decision is a fantastic first step!

      As for AD IQ in Las Vegas, my team and I don’t have any specific first-hand experience with them. If it makes sense, you can always give us a call at the office and speak with one of our team members to feel them out a bit more. From our experience (and this is not a direct reflection on AD IQ, but more marketing agencies in general), any SEO/marketing agency that guarantee’s a spot on the 1st page of SERPs should be cautiously approached, as there’s a multitude of factors that influence rankings.

      Thanks again for reaching out, Michael! If you have any further questions, or would like to chat with one of our team members, just let us know. 🙂

    • I am current customer of adiq. That is what brought me to this page. They have created a webpage and several social media pages for me. That being said, there are a few changes I would like to make. Im having a hard time finding a phone number for them. Every time they call me its from a local area code. Im unable to call these numbers when Ive tried. Not sure if Ive been scammed yet, but my spidy senses are tingling!

  2. SEO, IS NOW A SCAM. THE END! The bottom line is that the major search providers, including, but not limited to google, bing, ask and other search providers have modified their searching routines, crawler bots and algorithiums. They have modified it in such a way as to make “SEO” absolutely ineffective, and have opted for an account based system, that is then followed by the crawler bots. Now you have to work within their system, instead of trying to “hack it” or exploit it. This is better for the consumer, and has put an end to the SEO Firms. As far as I am concerned, if anyone even mentions “SEO” they are a scammer. THE, END!

    • Hi Yasmine!

      We haven’t had any personal experience with BeAkira.com. We’d suggest doing your homework as much as possible before hiring anyone to work on your SEO campaigns: check out their website, check out a Google branded search for the prospect, ask for references or case studies, etc.

      Let us know if there’s anything else we can help with, Yasmine, and have a great Monday!

    • Hi Ben,

      That’s a great question. Our team doesn’t have any personal experience with FormSEO, so we’d recommend doing as much research as possible prior to making a final decision.

      Our 11 warning signs noted above in the article are a great start, but you can certainly do more research. If possible, try and ask for a case study from previous clients, or better yet, a client you can speak to about their experience with FormSEO.

      I hope this helps, Ben. And thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for getting me out of a AD ID contract as it was unfolding on the phone. I did a quick search and found this article and the comments. Appreciated.

  4. I was just scammed by Ad.IQ …I got a phone call on my business line from “Google” trying to confirm that my business listing has accurate information. They asked me for name, business name, business description, email and phone number and then they asked if I wanted to improve my listing on Google (supposedly “Google” asked me that!) I answered yes and “Adam from Google” transferred me to “Kyle from Ad. IQ”… I didn’t have time to talk to Kyle so I asked him to call me back the following day…. I was very busy for the past 6 days and didn’t want to deal with “Kyle from Ad.IQ”. I would receive a phone call from Kyle every single day. That’s when I was …something is up. I did research and got a gut feeling that I’m about to get scammed. I just called Kyle from Ad.IQ and I asked to have my phone number removed from their database and I asked for him to not call me again. He “played” the “but you asked me for help, right? and I did all this research…” when I politely kept repeating “I’m not interested, please do not call me again” he hung up on me. To me it’s a confirmation that Ad.IQ tricked me into believing that Google called me and recommended them and all they do is scam into “putting your business on the 1st. page in Google”. LOL! watch out

    • Hi Mary – thank you for sharing your experience with us and our readers! We’re sorry to hear you were scammed by Ad.IQ. Hopefully there wasn’t any major negative impact to your or your business!

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing. We hope you have a good weekend!

      • I too was called by “google”, then transferred to a “partner” and initially did not sign on. but after 3 days with google adwords, not knowing how to really work with it and getting no calls, but enough clicks to cost me $66 for just 3 days – I stopped it and contacted ad.iq. I got a “deal” for 3 moths at $119 a month. They are very fast to respond and change stuff -I am about to pay my last month and have only gotten 2 leads – both emails and both scams. I look for myself, do not come up and those sites who quickly look for you online and give you a display of where you are not listed say I am not listed anywhere. I contacted yext previously – how are they? what do they really do? Is yext a scam also? I don’t have the time or the skill to do this on my own, I need help, but legit help. Who is actually legit?

        • Sorry for the slow response. Somehow your comment fell through the cracks.

          Who is legit, you ask? I could refer you to our own Inbound Systems, but then again, how do you know if I’m being entirely truthful? I suggest using this article as a checklist. When it comes down to it, trust your gut.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Mary, I too have been contacted by the same robot method then transferred to Kyle and he has also been calling me everyday because just like you I have been busy. After about a week he emailed me some information about his company in the website looks really professional so I did a little bit more research on the company and all I can find are not so good reviews so I just want to thank you for helping me confirm my decision of not getting involved with ad.iq

  5. Thanks for the information. Now if I could get out of the situation with out losing my money that would be great.

    I really like the web site that ad.iq has created for me, and I would like to keep it. They say that I will have full control of its content after the year with them is up. I now understand that this is a scam and need to figure out how to get the content back to me.
    In the past they have done what I have asked of them on the design and content. Problem is they have not driven the customers to me. Al my contacts have been by my own calling . I am a local DJ new to the area.

    They still want people to call their number and send the info to me. I want the calls my self. I have a web address that I want to keep also. It is on all my business cards.
    Just may eat all the costs and start over.

    Thanks

    • Hey Randy,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with ad.iq! It sounds like you’re not alone with the struggles you’re experiencing, and we wish you all the best in trying to get full control over your site and assets.

      If you think there’s something we may be able to help with, give our office a call. We can always help point you in the right direction, or provide any input/advice our team may have, if it makes sense. We know how stressful it can be when you’re in a situation like yours, so if we can help, we’re here for you.

      Thanks again for sharing, Randy, and we hope everything works out for you with ad.iq! And from everyone here at ReviewJump, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

    • One of my best 1st things I do is go to the state any company who calls me from checking into #1,When or IF company was created,INC, or LLC & who was this done by? #2 BBB check of company to get any and all info on the company by name,ceos,president,vp,other names of sister/previous name companies,addresses,phone numbers…make yourself a file on ANY and EVERY advertising or SEO soliciting you PERIOD (keep “legits” in one folder and “non legits” in another…also keep a ” questionable” file #3 If you,as the Advertising Manager, got fast talked into something or the owner got called instead of youand agreed to any setup or trial period and you recognize its a scam IMMEDIATELY call your bank and/or CC Co you gave them for payment and have new cards issued. Beware of small montlhy or random charges as there was a man in CA who was doing this to 100s of Small Businesses and wound up with over 11 million dollars doing this in less than 3 to 4 years. MANY scams such as “local map” ads,”local guide” ads will rebill for renewals on products never created,produced or delivered…not even an actual single freebie for you to look at…and “services not as promised” is the way to request your bank or CC company should be wording/filing the request for monies back for any type of charges/monies scammed from you to get the money back to them after crediting you. #4 ALWAYS require a copy of the “contract” with total itemized breakdown of terms,fees,services to be provided emailed to you for review before you agree or “esign” such contract and give them payment information. Make and keep copy in file as this is your proof if/when you needed to request refund or termination of contract and can give this to your bank or CC company to use in the “services not as promised” process #5 Just a small note on my personal experience…I took a local towing company and cut their advertising expenses per year from 15K down to $1200. All from home by doing the 4 things Ive listed and a few more ins and outs. Nothing hits home more to my heart than hard working people being conned,lied to and ripped off of their bread and butter by these types of low life scammers. Sorry so long and I probably replied way more than you wanted,but I will always share any thing I know and have learned to avoid this happening to anyone I can.

  6. Hello Brodie-
    I’m trying to find out info about a company called Bird Online Advertising. They are offering a biz opp for $500. They do closing/ customer service. The person buying into it would just post ads. They are out of Las Vegas but They are not listed with the Secretary of State. I’m hesitant to invest if I can’t find them registered. Do you know anything about them? Any info would be appreciated.1

    • Hi Liz,

      Happy Holidays!

      Thanks for reading and reaching out to me and my team! Unfortunately my team and I don’t have any first had experience with Bird Online Advertising. I’d recommend checking them out online (Google, social media, directory sites, etc), and if you still can’t find much about them, reach out and have a conversation.

      Listen to what they have to say, ask questions, see if they have any case studies or clients you can speak with that can attest to what they say they do, and go from there.

      Thanks again for reading, Liz! If there’s anything else my team or I can help with, just let us know. And have a safe and happy New Year!

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