Let’s face it. On the surface, search engine optimization (SEO), sounds a little like a scam. Google is a search engine that provides the most authoritative and relevant results. An SEO expert will use a set of strategies that “game the system”, ensuring your site ranks higher on search engine results pages (SERPs).

However, in most cases, SEO is not only ethical but beneficial for the entire online ecosystem. To rank on the SERPs of Google and other search engines, you must create great content, build your reputation, and provide the best possible service to users in order to rank higher on search engines.

Unfortunately, not all SEO companies have high ethical standards. In fact, the industry is filled with both sharks and ineptitude. This makes it difficult for those unfamiliar with search engine optimization to know how to choose an SEO agency.

What is SEO and why do I need it?

Having a great custom website is of little benefit if no one ever visits it. That is where search engine optimization, also known as SEO, comes in.

SEO is the process of “optimizing” a website to rank in the results pages of search engines in order to be found by users searching online.what is an SEO scam

Setting up a few Google Ads is NOT SEO!

This process involves keyword research, using Google Analytics, link building, meta descriptions, and other digital marketing strategies to achieve better rankings through Google’s algorithm.

Many people are under the impression that when they have a website built, website traffic will just flow their way. Although many web designers claim that SEO is included in their web design, they put little effort into any real SEO strategy.

Most web developers that don’t work for an SEO company build sites that look “pretty” with the mindset that if the website is custom and looks good, everything else will fall into place. They are not built for ranking on search engines.

A good SEO agency will use on-page SEO strategies utilizing Google’s best SEO practices. They may also runs link building campaigns to get high-quality back-links to your site. And of course, adding quality content to the website should be the main thing that any good SEO company does.

Black hat tactics

An SEO scam isn’t just relegated to an SEO company taking your money and not doing any actual search engine optimization. Black hat SEO tactics are among the worst things that can happen to a company’s online reputation.

Black hat SEO is when is when your SEO provider implements practices that are specifically designed to trick Google’s algorithm and, more importantly, are forbidden by Google. These SEO efforts can actually hurt the rankings of your company website.

The reason why many people think so poorly of this practice isn’t just because it is unethical, but it is also ineffective and dishonest – three words we should all try our hardest not to be! Here are some of the most common black hat tactics (aka: common SEO scams):

  • Automatically creating tons of spammy web 2.0 backlinks
  • Keyword stuffing in content
  • Buying backlinks from link farms or private blog networks
  • Hacking a website to inject backlinks
  • Backlinks from non-industry specific websites
  • Creating Multiple GMB listings that use exact match business names where a true office doesn’t exist

Pro Tip: Any SEO company offering guaranteed rankings is an SEO scam!

watch out for SEO scams

What to do if you are looking for a reputable SEO firm 

The SEO industry is highly competitive and there are many agencies that provide marketing services that can be confusing to tell apart. It’s hard to know what the best option is for your company, but we’re here to help! We’ll go through some of the things you should keep in mind when looking for an SEO company and how to avoid scams.

SEO Scams are a real threat

While fraud and scams are a real threat in most industries, it is particularly prevalent in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Working with an unethical SEO company stings twice. Not only is the money paid to them wasted, but their actions can also have negative consequences for your long-term prospects.

Here are some examples:

  • Penalties: Google penalties can be imposed for violating Google’s terms and conditions or using SEO services in an incorrect way. You could lose visibility and rankings in the best-case scenario. You could also be removed from search results by Google.
  • Negative reputation: A shady company will link low-quality content to your brand. Malicious companies will use manipulative links. While a few infractions may not be a big deal, over time, a bad SEO company can cause serious damage to your brand.
  • Loss of investment: Although a low-quality SEO company may be inexpensive, at least in comparison, they could still cause you to lose hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars by offering SEO services that are against the rules.

Pro Tip: Real SEO work takes a lot of time. If an SEO company is only charging 200 or 300 dollars per month, it is probably an SEO scam.

Be aware when researching SEO agencies

It is possible to spot SEO scams and unprincipled practitioners in the SEO world by doing a little bit of research.

  • SEO fundamentals: It is important to understand the basics of SEO. If you know the basics of SEO, you’ll be able to assess whether the SEO company in question is following the correct procedures when implementing and SEO campaign.
  • Processes and staffing: It is important to examine the processes and staffing of each potential SEO company. Who will be responsible for this work? What kind of SEO work will they be actually doing?  How will they get there? It is not enough to believe the vague promises of better SEO results.
  • Testimonials and reviews: Make sure to take a look at testimonials and reviews of the SEO company. These are third-party indicators of trustworthiness. Although testimonials and reviews can be faked you will eventually hear about illegitimate or manipulative SEO services a company is using.

This is where you may want to ask for a client portfolio.

seo scams

Important red flags from an SEO company

These are the most important red flags in the SEO world that you should be looking for when doing your research on various SEO companies. Most common SEO scams will implement at least a couple of these.

  • Big promises. SEO is a time-consuming process. Ranking for any given keyword can take months or even years if it is very competitive. Be wary of anyone promising quick or guaranteed rankings.
  • Low prices. In SEO, you get what you pay for (for the most part). There may be a reason why an SEO company offers a service with lower SEO pricing than its competitors, but if it’s too much lower, it may be an SEO scam.
  • Native writers. A native (to your language) is the best at writing quality content that reads easily and is understandable. To cut costs, SEO companies often outsource their work in developing countries to inexperienced writers. In most cases, this content isn’t of a high enough quality to rank.
  • Uncertain processes. Are they unclear or ambiguous about the process that your SEO campaign will use? Is it difficult to find information on their website? This is a red flag.
  • Willful violations of Google’s terms and conditions. Google has made its terms and conditions very clear. Keyword stuffing, spamming, and other similar tactics should all be avoided as they are basically SEO scams. This will have a negative impact on your website rather than a positive one.
  • Transparency. Do you get an honest answer when you ask this SEO company questions? Companies running SEO scams will only give vague answers that are hard to quantify.
  • Pushy salespeople. Shady SEO agencies often use pushy salespeople to get you to sign a contract quickly. This is a major red flag.
  • Poor reputation. The industry will speak for itself. Do your due diligence and research the SEO firm you are looking to hire.

SEO scams aren’t always obvious

Remember – no SEO company can offer guaranteed rankings. And it’s really easy to get scammed if you don’t do your research. Experience in the field will give you more negotiating power when dealing with potential services, and let you know if an SEO company is completely dependent upon black hat techniques.

You will know what questions to ask and what services to request. It’s no secret that businesses are expensive to run. And the last thing anyone needs is another money pit, where costs pile on top of one another.

That being said, finding a true SEO expert can do wonders for your business. They can generate traffic through search engines and ultimately produce a positive ROI with their SEO services.