Search Engine Optimization | 16 min read time
Sneaky SEO Scams & How to Spot Them Early
Written by Rachel Mewborn

In recent years, search engine optimization has gone from an intriguing and wonderfully beneficial aspect of digital marketing to a source of intimidating risks and costly tricks. The ever-shifting nature of search engine analytics makes it easy for malevolent marketing firms to take advantage of eager yet naive clients with devious SEO ploys. 

Budding entrepreneurs would be wise to read on and become aware of the most common SEO scams and how to avoid them! But, if your company is ready for help from trusted and experienced SEO experts, we encourage you to check out our digital marketing packages page to learn how proper SEO is done! 

What are SEO Scams?

SEO scams are fraudulent practices created by digital marketing firms and contracted SEO consultants to swindle entrepreneurs and business owners into paying for search engine optimization services that reap no actual benefits. Since all successful digital marketing campaigns, today have a strong focus on UX and SEO strategy, it’s important business leaders do some SEO homework before speaking with any potential SEOs for their company. 

What are SEO scams?

SEO Scam Prevention

Having a solid understanding of SEO basics will allow entrepreneurs and hiring managers to make an informed decision when hiring an SEO Specialist. Reviewing the initial technical audits along with detailed SEO service quotes and lengthy implementation plans may seem overwhelming at first, but a professional SEO agent will be patient and knowledgeable enough to explain it all in a way that’s easy to grasp and build upon. 

The most important thing to remember is that while SEO may call for some complex, nuanced tactics, none of them are so difficult to understand that the SEO candidate would not be able to explain them to their potential customers. An experienced SEO professional understands that it is their other job to make sure that their clients have a quality understanding of their company’s current digital marketing influence, the relevant search engine optimization elements needed, and how these tactics will optimize their visibility online. 

8 Sneaky SEO Scams to Watch Out For

Entrepreneurs will find success with an SEO firm whose top focuses are their customers’ continued success and satisfaction. SEO consultants and marketing agents who consistently push the idea of all new websites, content, and other vague ideas without any awareness of current content and rankings are probably not in it for the right reasons. 

The following list is not all-encompassing but it does give unseasoned business owners an idea of the most common SEO scams and SEO predator tactics. 

1. #1 Ranking on Google – Guaranteed! 

This is the most commonly used scam by far. There is no way to ensure #1 placement, let alone any other position, for any industry on any search engine results page. Search engine algorithms change more often than the stock market. Not even Google can guarantee top placements which levels the playing field for all businesses and industries, encouraging integrity in all SERPs. Any SEO or digital marketing firms that claim or ‘guarantee’ to have this imaginary power needs to be left behind.

2. More Links = Higher Rankings

One of the ways Google assumes the consumer value, or SERP ranking, of a website’s content, is by the quality of its links. In the beginning, it was the mere quantity of links that was attractive to Google and resulted in higher SERP rankings. But once Google realized that more links don’t necessarily mean more quality, they created a new way of analyzing website content and links. 

Now, as Google judges a link, it takes into consideration all of the content of the linked web page and its overall SERP ranking. SEO experts are aware that this tactic is no longer seen as ethical in the eyes of Google, but they are also banking on the fact that their clients don’t.

SEO scammers will try to encourage business owners to take part in mass link buying and selling schemes that usually include excessive partner linking and unethical link exchanges. The best way for businesses to benefit from linked content is to make sure that they are linking to reputable websites with quality content and a positive user experience. 

3. Supporting PBNs and Recycled Content

While there are PBNs, or private blog networks, that provide links to acclaimed websites with significant data and content, most PBNs were created specifically for the false promotion of useless partnerships to increase their authority in the eyes of Google, so their content is subpar. The rules for Google are the same as they are in English 101: plagiarism is bad.

The information on these websites is considered below average due to the fact that they contain scraped content. Scraped, or plagiarized, content is content that was copied, linked, or stolen from a more reputable site without proper acknowledgment or representation. 

Most SEO scammers do this under the guise and naive assumption that more content, in general, means more relevance to searchers. As previously stated, for Google it’s about quality, not quantity. Companies should strive to create unique content that will be useful for their industry and target audiences. 

4. Dead-End Doorway Pages 

Doorway pages are web pages created for the sole purpose of ranking highly for unique search queries with the intention of funneling users to their client’s site. This tactic is shady and does not allow the more deserving websites a place at the top of the SERPs. Initially, this SEO tactic may sound like common sense and guaranteed success: more doors, more access, more people, more sales; but it is anything but successful. In fact, this tactic is instantly detrimental. 

Overloading search engine queries with similarly produced and designed web pages that are all linked to the same destination confuses search engine crawlers, ultimately lowering the ranking of the client’s website altogether. When it comes to the number of homepages for a website, less is more; really only one is enough. 

5. Profile Password Hoarders 

Of all the scams this is by far one of the most detrimental. After all of the money and time invested in creating a comprehensive marketing plan with domain hosting, website design, content creation, social media accounts, and more, businesses need to make sure that they have control of their assets. It would be devastating for a business to lose all of its investments if they decide to choose another SEO firm in the future.

SEO companies are usually more than happy to help set up a website but after its launch the clients should have full admin access, only allowing visitor privileges in the event of a maintenance emergency or monthly content addition. Companies should stay away from any SEO that requires ownership of the URL, social media profiles, and Google Analytics data.

6. Using Hidden Text and Links

Back when search engines relied on simple text matching algorithms to decide the efficacy of a website, a spam technique was created that tricked web page crawlers into believing there was more information and more resources on a web page than there really was. 

By placing relevant industry keywords and links all the way at the bottom in the same color as the background, the content was still applicable to Google web crawlers but it was practically invisible to human visitors. Google has since become enlightened of this tactic and reprimands all websites that take part in unethical SEO practices. 

7. Surprise Redirects

While this can be used for legitimate reasons like rebranding and page consolidation, sending a visitor to a different URL than the one they initially requested is normally not a good idea. This tactic of link concealment is used to trick the search engine crawlers into attributing a different kind of content to that website through its “partnerships” and field of influence. 

SEO scammers will probably try to sell this tactic as a great way to gain authority and higher rankings on SERPs, but once Google and their consumers catch on, the damage has begun and it could be irreparable. 

8. Shadow Domains & Phantom Pages

The creation of these domains and pages is yet another way to trick search engine web crawlers into thinking that the page has much more quality information than it really does. Most of this is done by cloaking the website data through code and is like applying different masks to a website depending on who or what is watching.

When cloaked websites are visited they can serve a page of HTML to text web crawlers while showing a page of images to human users, or insert keywords into a page only when the user agent is a crawler and not a human. The practice of presenting different content and links to human users vs search engines is often used by SEO crooks, but it can also be used by hackers to hide maliciously implanted content.

How to Avoid SEO Scams

How to Avoid SEO Scams

The best way for business owners and marketing leaders to avoid SEO scams is to intercept the lies before they even start. While some SEO scams can be easy to recognize once in action, the obvious problem is that the damage is already done and the effects could be slow to heal. Companies can protect themselves from becoming victims of fraudulent SEO services by educating themselves on the verbiage used by most silver-tongued SEO scammers. 

Spot the SEO Scammer

For companies just beginning their SEO adventures, the process of hiring the right SEO specialist, while trying to avoid the wrong one, is time-consuming, and oftentimes, very intimidating. With as much time and energy as it takes, the interviewing process can be discouraging for entrepreneurs who don’t have a basic understanding of SEO or search engine analytics. 

The temptation to delegate the hiring process or hire quickly may be strong due to certain grievances, but the role of an SEO specialist is too important to complete the process hastily or leave it up to chance. The words and phrases used by the candidates during each phase of the hiring process will exemplify their professionalism, awareness of SEO, and overall intent. 

Verbiage Used by SEO Scammers

SEO scammers are very good at disguising sinister strategies as miracle solutions. When a prospective SEO candidate provides their audits and proposals to implement certain SEO tactics, the explanation, although intrinsically devious, can sound like music to the ignorant ear of a desperate business owner. 

The following list provides some of the most commonly used phrases used by SEO scammers to manipulate and persuade truthful, righteous businesses to follow through with shady practices.

5 Common SEO Scammer Promises

1. “We can exponentially increase your website traffic overnight!”

Increasing website traffic is a definite win for any SEO marketing campaign, but if the prospective SEO firm fails to mention an equivalent increase in customer conversion rates, they should be shown the door. Companies should stay away from SEO firms that focus their sales pitch around this metric because like many other vanity metrics, it’s commonly used as a distraction from the truth: any investments made toward the success of this metric alone have no real return. 

Acquiring loyal customers and increasing sales is the goal for most companies. Increased customer conversion rates normally come from an influx of genuine traffic from actual customers aka the target audience. Most of the time SEO firms like these will boast that the increase in website traffic will come from ‘targeted visitors’ (another term to be wary of).  

This SEO tactic may sound beneficial when interpreted with an enthusiastic voice and unfamiliar vocabulary but the truth is, the new visitors are probably a little more computer than human. Bot traffic not only drains server resources, but it also diminishes the value of current and near-future traffic metrics, it taints the results of other analytics applicable to website traffic, and it slows website performance ultimately impacting the user experience and altering the overall success of the company’s digital marketing plan. 

2. “We have a special relationship with/know someone who works at Google!”

Google does provide resources for digital marketing, SEO, and business processes to their affiliates through Google Partnerships, but there are no special developer connections, no special information pipelines, or privileged SERP placements for employees of, or friends of employees of, Google. In fact, most employees of Google Search have no idea how technical SEO analytics really work at all.

In addition to bragging about meaningless relationships with Google employees, any SEO firm that claims to be ‘preferred by Google’ or ‘Google’s Premier SEO Firm’ should be omitted. There are no SEO companies currently endorsed by Google, nor do they offer any special certifications for their SEO resources.

3. “We will send your company’s information to hundreds of search engines!”

For business owners who have tried to use geo-local SEO marketing programs, this may sound like a dream come true, but there are only three search engines that makeup 96% of the market share: Bing, Yahoo, and Google. If an SEO firm makes claims like this, the hiring company needs to request a list of the aforementioned search engines and directories as well as their links. 

The dated, yet still commonly used proverbs “Birds of a feather flock together”, and ‘Guilty by association’ speak to the judgment that’s passed on an individual or entity when it comes to the quality of those around them. It’s better for companies to be associated with a few reputable search engines than multiple extinct search engines and irrelevant online directories. 

4. “We will place you at the top of the SERPs!”

If a potential marketing firm promises that they can place their client at the top of the SERPs, the hiring company must ensure that they are not trying to replace actual rankings with SEM, or search engine marketing. While paid advertising on SERPs may provide short-term success, that is not what the SEO professional is hired to do. Success in search engine optimization can be attributed to the marketing efforts that they created, implemented, and maintained; not due to SEM/PPC tactics.

5. “Try our Free 30-Day Trial!”

There is no return from or disguise for this tactic, as it is a blatant scam. The process of implementing and benefitting from SEO tactics is similar to that of farming. The small SEO seeds that are planted throughout a company’s website need consistent care and time to grow. Growing at their own pace, most SEO trees- or in this case SEO strategies -need at least four months before companies can begin to reap the benefits. Business owners should be wary of any SEO or marketing firm that offers ‘free’ 30-day trials. 

Internet Marketing Scams

Helpful Tips to Identify Other Internet Marketing Scams

Unfortunately, with every new advantage, someone is going to take advantage. As advantageous as it is, SEO is now one of the many niches of costly digital marketing scams. The following is a list of non-SEO marketing schemes commonly used by swindlers all around the world today.

Long Term Initial Contracts

SEO contracts can be extremely beneficial for both parties as long as the intentions are pure; unfortunately, with scammers, that’s not the case. SEO scammers commonly use long-term contracts to take advantage of clients by making them pay for services that end up only lasting a small portion of the contracted time, services that the SEO never planned to provide, or services that are knowingly not enough.

Depending on the size of the company and the depth of their SEO campaign, a long-term contract might be necessary. Any ethical SEO company understands that their customers’ overall confidence, success, and happiness are paramount to their SEO marketing strategy. SEO strategies take at least four months to show real results, but if the customer is unhappy before that time, an ethical SEO will try to amend the issue or allow the customer to stop their SEO services the next month. 

Watch for Double Dipping on Services

SEO scammers bank on the fact that SEO verbiage and acronyms are nuanced and complex. SEO consultants that advise companies to invest in SEO, PPC, and SEM are trying to take advantage of that and double-dip on similar SEO services. SEO is a little different from SEM and PPC, but if the SEO is doing all three, one of those investments is going to have a negative ROI. 

SEO allows the strategy of the marketing plan to dictate the rankings on SERPs while SEM and PPC use money to get there faster, but these tactics are expensive and short-lived. SEM, search engine marketing, and PPC, Pay Per Click, marketing use ads to create their clients’ position on the SERPs.

Don’t Be Blinded by the Lights

Ugly numbers can be made beautiful with a little rearrangement and redirection. Success in SEO is found in the small details and the audits are nothing to sprint through. Entrepreneurs need to be careful of the awesome-looking dashboard with no real information. It’s recommended that business owners know what information is necessary to understand what’s driving their conversions and then ask to see those results and the other numbers that really matter.

Interviews Random Requests for Prestigious Media Promotions

By way of interview, marketers may ask to do an interview with the business owner and state that they will publish an article written about the company for some free PR. Assuming that this person is a legit reporter from a reputable magazine like Forbes, the owner and PR will most likely jump at the idea for free publicity.

Whilst answering the questions about the company the ‘journalist’ will show their true colors and slowly shift their focus towards internal marketing affairs. Before the questions quickly turn into a marketing proposal, business leaders should ask to end the meeting until a more fitting interview is prepared. 

Avoid Bundling Services Without Clear Descriptions

Sneaky marketing agents are professionals at using homemade terms that reflect the services they provide without completely defining what they mean or include. Many times, these terms will end up representing separate areas of the same service. Not only do business owners need to be aware of double-dipping with similar services, they need to be aware of triple dipping for the same service. 

To avoid this type of scam, companies should choose an SEO specialist that is willing to go through an itemized list of all the services they will be providing and why that is relevant to SEO. Each invoiced service should be valued from the beginning so it’s obvious where the SEO investments are going. 

Promising Major Directory Listings

With this scam, there is an added level of geo-local visibility and a possible increase in site traffic, but these results are normally short-lived and the listings themselves can become detrimental by association alone. SEO scammers will submit their clients’ information to as many directories as they can regardless of the directories’ reputation. 

Like Google, consumers believe that birds of a feather flock together, so to mitigate this, entrepreneurs should ask for a record of all submitted directory listings to make sure that they are reputable and relevant to your industry.

seo scams to look out for

Online Marketing You Can Trust

Successful entrepreneurs have a high level of awareness; they are good at following trends and listening to their intuition. And, intuition isn’t a liar, but it is highly influenced by experience. Unfortunately, sometimes a lack of experience can cloud judgment, instilling a sense of personal doubt, and providing an opportunity to be taken advantage of. 

Business leaders need to feel confident when hiring a new SEO specialist because of the impact their position will play on the rest of the marketing team and company. Allow us to instill confidence in not only your capabilities but ours as well. Allow us to provide you with the most professional and comprehensive SEO services available. 

Contact us today to start your most successful SEO marketing campaign yet!