Recently, a trade association we work with learned that its members were affected by some underhanded, deceptive search engine optimization (SEO) techniques by a shady SEO provider. The SEO provider, hired by a non-member company in their industry, littered YouTube with multiple copies of the same video, tagging members’ company names, in order to deceptively drive web search engine traffic their own way.
SEO is important to most businesses these days, and there are a lot of SEO companies out there that can help (or harm) a business as it tries to increase its search rankings. But how do you spot a bad SEO company? How do you select a good one?
In general, good SEO companies will use techniques that are ethical and involve no deception. This can take time and money, but the results can make it worth it. Bad SEO companies, on the other hand, often employ deceptive practices that are not approved by search engines, which can result in a site eventually being banned, de-indexed or penalized through lower rankings. Any short-term gain received by bad, deceptive SEO practices is NOT worth this kind of risk.
Bad SEO (or what some call black hat SEO) techniques include keyword stuffing, doorway and cloaked pages, link farming, hidden texts and links, and blog comment spamming. Good SEO (or what some call white hat SEO) techniques include research, analysis, re-writing meta tags to be more relevant, content improvement and web redesign.
Below are several tips and red flags to help you recognize a bad SEO company and avoid getting scammed:
1. They Offer Free Trial Services…and Want Access to Your Website.
Companies using this tactic may make you an offer to try their services free for 30 days, if you’ll just give them access to your site. This is a red flag. Don’t do it. Never give your website login info to anyone offering you a free trial or to anyone else you do not know and trust.
2. You Were Made Aware of the Company Only through Email.
Unsolicited SEO offers via email or a cold call should give you pause. Spammers often use spiders to crawl for a list of URLs and email addresses, so when you get an unsolicited offer via email from someone who claims to have visited your site, be wary and realize that may not be entirely true. Do your research before hiring any SEO company.
3. Their Services are Under Priced or Overpriced.
Beware of really inexpensive SEO service offers from sites like Fiverr and Elance. Good SEO takes time, expertise and working within the rules. Be leery of someone offering services at a significantly low (or high) price.
4. They Make Promises and Guarantees About First Page (or First Rank) Positions on Google or Other Search Engines.
Good, effective SEO cannot be done quickly, unless it is done using bad practices. It takes time, research and likely some rework on your website to do it well. Do not do business with anyone that promises a particular page rank or page ranking in a short time frame. Ranking is done periodically by Google, not on a daily basis, and nothing you can do will speed up the process. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for a page to get ranked, and your ranking is also impacted by other sites’ rankings.
5. You Are Promised Hundreds (or Thousands) of Links to Your Site.
Lahle Wolfe, CEO of LA Wolfe Marketing says: “Any links you get from such claims are more likely to hurt your site than to help it. Building links too fast to the wrong sites is considered black hat SEO and could damage the credibility of your website in search engines. If Google catches you building links with black hat strategies, your site will be penalized or blacklisted.” Instead, she recommends spending time building your own quality in-bound links by offering meaningful content and suggests avoiding reciprocal linking (an old SEO tactic that is no longer a good idea). “Robots are smart and know when you are trying to cheat the system,” she advises.
6. Companies That Are Not Easy to Reach and/or Will Not Answer Your Questions.
Ask questions (and lots of them). If you get the runaround or get told the answer is a “trade secret technique,” look elsewhere. You are hiring experience, not trade secrets when you work with an SEO company. You should also be able to easily find the SEO company – online, via phone (and not just a cell phone) or meet with them in person. You should also know who is going to do the majority of the work. Will it be done in-house or will it be outsourced to people in another country? Will they answer these questions?
7. The Company Does Not Easily Refer You to Past Clients.
Ask for referrals. If the company refuses, is hesitant or only gives you a couple references, it may be best to look elsewhere for SEO help. It may be that the SEO company is to blame for the deceptive videos pumped out on YouTube that affected our client’s members, but the company they did the SEO work for will be the one reported and harmed. It’s important to choose carefully and to have a clear understanding of what the SEO company will be doing for you and their techniques.
Note: This article was adapted from an article we originally wrote for the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association.