The eight scams peddled by SEO consultants

The eight scams peddled by SEO consultants

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In the earlier years of internet marketing, the most common question I heard about search engine optimisation was, “SEO? What’s that?” Today I am more likely to hear, “SEO? We tried that and it didn’t’ work.”

The biggest challenge I now face with new SEO clients is cleaning up the mess left by their previous search engine optimisation company or individuals.

It’s not unusual to begin a project removing link farms, taking down doorway pages, stripping away clumsy optimisation tactics, cleaning stuffed keywords, rewriting titles and descriptions that barely make sense for search engines and re-writing content that doesn’t make sense to the users!

Most SEOers define SEO as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.

I see it differently. SEO is about:

  1. improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web page (not a web site) from search engines via natural resources, and
  2. maximising your outcomes and ROI on investment from the process.

One more point: SEO is not free. It can certainly bring great percentage ROI, but it requires investment, time and planning.

Optimisation needs to be understood differently to maximisation. Every single page on your website is a potential point of conversion. Every single word and every single part of your whole web exercise should be crafted with this in mind. SEO should not drive traffic to your website generally but to the individual pages that are closely aligned to your prospects’ interests.

Remember, search engines crawl, index and present web pages, not websites. And while some people think of SEO as the Holy Grail, it is, in fact, just a means to a business end.

The main ‘end’ purpose of SEO is to generate commercial benefit to a business. It’s not to generate traffic, although that might be one of the ways of execute the strategy.

Traffic is the primary ‘How’. Conversions, sign-ups, donations are the ‘Why’.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEOers out there taking advantage of the unknowing site owner, selling snake oil and giving SEO a bad name.

Here are eight warning signs that an SEO “expert” is trying to rip you off.

Scam warning sign #1:  Asking you to invest all your budget in SEO.

While SEO can deliver a fantastic ROI, the reality is that Search Engines can change, your reality can change and SEO might not be the best option for your business in the future. So think twice before you invest a large chunk of your marketing budget in SEO. Think about alternatives to reach your clients. Consider pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, online coupons and starting a social media campaign.

Scam warning sign #2: “All search engine optimisation is about your home page.”

Every page of your site is a potential doorway. Users navigate via search, so map out keywords and selling propositions against URLs and try to offer the most relevant user experience in and out your website at all times.

Have every page of your website optimised for the particular subject you are describing. Having different meta tags for each page helps both users and search engines, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain.

Every single page offers a chance to convert customers. Why list your telephone number just on the contact page if you have buyers coming and landing on every single page?

Scam warning sign #3: “We will submit your site to 2,000 search engines!”

Google, Yahoo and Bing (let’s leave YouTube for the moment) are enough. Medium-smaller size search engines are usually powered by the big search engines, meaning if you are listed on the big three you will be automatically on the smaller ones.

In fact, the major search engines have been in this business for years, and they’ve gotten pretty good at finding sites themselves.

No need to submit, no need to pay someone to do so.

Scam warning sign #4: “Have your site optimised and promoted for only $29.95 a month!”

It’s simply unrealistic to expect good work from a professional SEO for such a small fee.

SEO is a long-term exercise base primarily on strategy. You need to build a base, go out, make good connections and relationships to your website, learn, improve, etc. This is simply not a free exercise. SEO is not a commodity as some companies might wish.

Does that mean that small companies with limited budget can’t do it?

No. It means that small companies with limited budgets need to understand the timeframes involved and question whether optimisation is the best answer for their needs.

Think about making incremental improvement to your web business using testimonials, new products, promotions, partnerships, constant updates in content, etc. That will help your rankings.

Or, if you’re insistent on optimisation, put extra effort into the start of the process, finding keywords with less competition but still with high value.

Scam warning sign #5. “We can’t tell you what we are doing — it’s a trade secret.”

Other than a few tid bits you uncover over years doing this kind of work, there really isn’t a whole lot of “secret” information. SEOers aren’t paid because they have some incredible secret wrapped up. They are paid because of the experience they have in dealing with the search engines, and the success they can bring to a site. They are being paid to offer the best solution in the context of your needs and reality.

If they can’t (or won’t) tell you what they’re doing, it’s probably because they don’t know and are trying to conceal this fact with smokes and mirrors.

Scam warning sign #6: “We know a guy at Google.”

I love this one, mostly because I know a guy at Google. I also know a guy at my local pub, but I still pay for beer. I know a guy at Telstra, and I still pay a monthly phone bill.

Trust me, Google is not going to risk the integrity of its search results just because someone knows someone. How naive!

Scam warning sign #7: Messing with keywords

Keywords are the soul of SEO.

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it.

Knowing how to use your industry jargon, important keywords and most searched keywords is important.

But here’s the key: understanding the difference between popular keywords and keywords that are close to the end of a buying decision can make all the difference to your ROI.

Example: When performing SEO for a travel agency in Australia, we were researching keywords and trying to decide the leading word. It came down to decision between “Travel” and “Tour”.

Although there were four times more people looking for the keyword “travel”, we opted for “tour” because using pay-per-click for testing, searchers typing “Tour” were 70 percent more inclined to convert.

For every person searching for “seo” or “sem”, there are probably 10 people searching for more obscure queries like, “How do I promote my business on Google?” You can see how our page about link building ranks for hundreds of related keywords.

Try to pick a market position you feel you can dominate. The #20 result for “insurance” produces traffic worth $0. The #2 or #3 results for “pet insurance” yields far more.

Scam warning sign #8: “We guarantee page 1 rankings!”

Nobody can do this. Nobody. Check out what Google says.

In SEO, there are no guarantees on rankings, traffic or any other measure. Think of SEO like advertising (that’s really all it is, just online). The best marketing guys don’t guarantee anything, either. Neither do doctors or lawyers. You hire these professionals based on the questions you’ve asked them, their past successes, experience, etc. SEO is no different.

Good SEOers are good because they have spent years learning and testing, and know the measures most often needed to produce results. So if anyone guarantees anything, they are only guaranteeing that you will be wasting your hard-earned money.

Lucio Ribeiro is Partner/Founder at The Online Circle Interactive, a full-service interactive agency that applies technical savvy, creativity and business accountability to internet marketing and effective cutting-edge solutions for the digital age. He was recently elected one of top 10 most trusted SEO/SEM professionals in the world by Marketing Today. Follow him on Twitter: @lucio_ribeiro.

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  • http://[email protected] Jason Anderson

    I agree with everything you said except for the very last point.

    Yes people CAN guarantee #1 search engine placement. Depends on the terms of the guarantee.

    For example, if someone wanted to guarantee a number one spot for the term “Jason Anderson” and they offered me my money back if they didn’t get it….I might take them up on it (depending on cost of course). So the guarantee is really something that’s on the SEO company to deliver.

    But you’re right, you need to trust your “red flags” in your mind when you see guarantees like that. You need to look at the terms of the guarantee.

    • Phil

      Well Google changed there algorithm about 300 time last year. So you might only be number one for the day!

      • http://twitter.com/farmasiturkiye farmasiturkiyeorg

        Well Google changed there algorithm about 300 time last year. So you might only be number one for the day!

        www.

        • http://twitter.com/farmasiturkiye farmasiturkiyeorg

          Well Google changed there algorithm about 300 time last year yeaah

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  • http://www.propellerglobal.com Damien Buckley

    Ansolutely superb article – finally someone has said it… #8 is particularly important to note and I cant agree more – I’ve built more than a few #1 ranking sites but there was no smoke and mirrors, just plain and simpl good standards-based site building. Even though we’ve a good track record building high-ranking and high rank-sustaining sites, I advise all clients that there are no guarantees with this, no short-cuts and it takes time. Currently, a national chain of computer stores is advertising this – guaranteeing it on billboards etc – cant be long before they get sued – unless they have a particularly lengthy and water tight set of t&c’s of course. Which, does great things for the legitimate side of the web design industry – kind of like a hole in the head…

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  • http://www.dbgtechnologies.com.au/ Daniel Wilson

    Great article! We often get customers coming to us who have been messed around by other SEO companies who promise page 1 rankings for $30 p/m and who obviously don’t deliver. I definitely agree with all your points and am still surprised how often I hear “this other company told me they knew some one in Google” line…

  • http://majic3.com Sam

    Very well written clear and informative – thanks for sharing

    “If they cant (or wont) tell you what theyre doing, its probably because they dont know and are trying to conceal this fact with smokes and mirrors.”

    SEOers have been urging clients to wear woolley sunglasses for years, its been a serious case of Emperors new clothes.

  • http://www.webwitches.com.au Jodie

    Just the fact that I read this article from start to finish proved his point!!

    Great article

  • http://www.hrlt.com.au Adrian Rafter

    This is a good article. I’m amazed when discussing SEO with colleagues or friends and they think that SEO is some sort of magic trick. I’m contacted by scamming SEO consultants regularly for a particular web site, and some of the quotes/reports I receive are a joke. I hope that more of these scammers get found out sooner rather than later, before all SEO consultants are tagged with the bad reputation these scammers are building.

  • http://www.advmediaproductions.com Johan Rijk

    This article is one of the best I have seen yet on SEO. The scam warnings are very accurate and make great advice. Keep up the good information sharing about SEO!!

  • http://theonlinecircle.com lucio ribeiro

    WOW, thanks Guys, I’m pleased you guys like the article.
    Hope my article helped you guys sharing some light from the learning I’m collecting along the road.
    Cheers
    Lucio Ribeiro
    @lucio_ribeiro

  • http:/www./magnity.com David Shantz

    SEO is a vital part of integrated marketing. The big opportunity is to move your organization from outbound marketing (advertising, promotion and sales)
    to Inbound marketing (Web search, dynamic content, interactive sites, engagement) SEO is a component of one spoke in interactive marketing.

    1. More cost effective, measurable results
    2. Builds Relationships that create loyalty rather than selling on price
    3. Builds marketing assets – (data vs. impressions)

  • http://www.pragmites.com Prakash

    Extremely well written article. What you call scams are FAQs from prospective SEO clients. Quite possibly because some other SEO provider has made some promises.
    -Will you guarantee Google Page 1 rankings
    -I want to be in the top 10 for ‘Travel” “Credit Cards” “Insurance”
    -How many search engines will you submit my site to/how many links will you build.
    – I want to switch my entire PPC budget to SEO.
    -What’s your monthly ‘package’ price

    For any ethical SEO consultant or agency, educating the prospective customer is often a long haul. Often it means letting him go to the scamster.

  • http://www.sumsera.com Jacques

    Good summary. The 24-hour guarantee is not a scam as such – as they (we) can achieve a number 1 ranking – it’s just for some ‘unpopular’ combination of keywords, so you can expect hardly any traffic. Which they conveniently forget to mention…
    I feel many used-car salesmen ended up in the webindustry, not knowing what they are talking about – first selling overpriced non-performing websites, now selling SEO, using ‘Google’ as their magic keyword for uninformed, gullible prospects – but then, there are enough reliable sites out there to inform yourself before you sign anything – this article is proof of that.

  • http://marketingeasy.net lucio ribeiro

    Jacques, love what you say.
    Thanks for the compliment

  • http://www.seobootstrap.com SEO Bootstrap Blog

    Point #5 – telling customers what you’re doing – is really only valid if the customer is already paying fees. Too many companies shop around SEOs, listen to the ideas, and then select a low-rent freelancer to implement in an attempt to get value for nothing.

    And truthfully, while the algorithms for SEs are well publicized, not all the techniques that are white hat are known to everyone. There are still proprietary methods out there than can have an effect without getting a site banned.

  • http://www.canuckseo.com Jim Rudnick

    Very good article, Lucio….agreed with all of them…but would like to add that I can think of 3 more….paid links, free directories and yup, one more….

    But I’ll keep that one for an upcoming post of my own on my canuckseo.com blog!

    :-)

    Jim

  • http://www.theonlinecircle.com Lucio Ribeiro

    @SEO Bootstrap Blog – Agree with your points. Generally speaking I’ve seen many companies saying they have a secret algorithm that talks better to Search Engines, bla bla bla.
    It’s not about disclosure your IP but about having a clear strategy.

    @Jim, I’m jumping right now to your blog to find out the one more :-)

  • http://www.1300webpro.com.au James Deck

    Great article Lucio. Thanks.

    It is also probably worthwhile to point out that according to Google, “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”:

    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html

    Having said that, we still include them as we see anecdotal evidence in site statistics to suggest it still improves traffic to some degree. Whether this is Bing!, smaller search engines, or something else, I don’t really know…

    What is your opinion on the keyword meta tags?

  • http://SassySEO.com Kristin Rohan

    Hello Lucio – thanks for the great article and your clean, simple and ethical approach to SEO. That is the kind of SEO/SEM I practice.

    Now that Social Search and Real Time Search are new buzzwords, the people who have been focusing on Social Media now realize they need SEO and SEM to validate, measure and ensure success for their campaigns. We are in good positions to help a lot of businesses next year.

    I cover each of your points in full at almost every new business meeting — it seems a lot of people get the same information before they find us. I’m glad they do so I can help them understand that SEO is not magic or voodoo. Every one of them appreciate the good and honest advice.

    But it’s refreshing to see these all in one place. I will share your article with pride. Thanks for being a positive voice in the SEO arena.

    Happy Optimizing,
    kristin rohan
    SassySEO.com

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    Great article. This should be a warning to all companies/individuals looking for SEO services. Though there are things that you can do for SEO, there are really no guarantee when it comes to SEO.

  • http://christophercopywriter.com christopher copywriter

    You have to admit – while there isn't necessarily any 'grand master secrets' to SEO – the amount of experience and knowledge it takes to craft SEO effectively, to make the best informed decisions to gather hits AND conversions does take a few years to acquire and there's a few different methods and styles to do this – right!?!

    Yes..

    While I'm not so sure there are many Western Companies using silly sales tactics to sell SEO services; there is definitely many Indian based companies pulling spam, sales scams and attempting black hat methods of SEO; and they do this while not being able to write webcopy very well in English and for the localised market they are trying to sell to.

    If businesses buy into this, thinking it's a clever business move, they are opting for some heartache and vastly inferior copywriting, web design and internet marketing for that matter. Not to mention the breakdown in communications in order to get the best job done for the particular requirements.

    Warm regards,

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    Well written, I hope some potential SEO clients will get a realistic idea of what they can expect for their money and when they're surely being conned.

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    guaranteeing a client to be on first page, let’s face it, does works – yes anyone can guarantee that but you certainly can’t say when nor the site would be on page 1 forever

    SEOs know that putting a site on page 1 is achievable and very much possible – with right works and hard work but there’s no telling when it will happen – sometimes it happens like with a snap or will take a year depending on the market

    • http://www.page1guaranteed.com.au Australian SEO Services

      oh forgot to add – if putting a site on page 1 is not possible why do SEO in the first place?
      I mean that’s the very goal of SEO – for the site to be on top of all other sites

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    This article is one of the best I have seen yet on SEO. The scam warnings are very accurate and make great advice. Keep up the good information sharing about SEO

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    Yes..

    While I’m not so sure there are many Western Companies using silly sales tactics to sell SEO services; there is definitely many Indian based companies pulling spam, sales scams and attempting black hat methods of SEO; and they do this while not being able to write webcopy very well in English and for the localised market they are trying to sell to.

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    Great article. This should be a warning to all companies/individuals looking for SEO services. Though there are things that you can do for SEO

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    For every person searching for “seo” or “sem”, there are probably 10 people searching for more obscure queries like, “How do I promote my business on Google?” You can see how our page about link building ranks for hundreds of related keywords.

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    I love this one, mostly because I know a guy at Google. I also know a guy at my local pub, but I still pay for beer. I know a guy at Telstra, and I still pay a monthly phone bill.

    Trust me, Google is not going to risk the integrity of its search results just because someone knows someone. How naive!

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    It’s simply unrealistic to expect good work from a professional SEO for such a small fee.

    SEO is a long-term exercise base primarily on strategy. You need to build a base, go out, make good connections and relationships to your website, learn, improve, etc. This is simply not a free exercise. SEO is not a commodity as some companies might wish.

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  • Heuslerpr

    Hi Lucio, i’ve referred your story to my Public Relations clients, before we let them loose on SEO or SEM we spend time developing strategy, key messages, and story lines that reflect the business philosohy of our clients – only when you have that set up can you get any value from SEO. It less about ranking and more about message. all the best, Elizabeth – Heusler Public Relations http://www.heuslerpublicrelations.com

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    Trust me, Google is not vacant to expose the integrity of its search results solely since someone knows someone. How naive!

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