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Snake Oil SEO: Get Smart, Not Scammed

By February 14, 2014July 1st, 2015Search Marketing
Snake Oil SEO: Get Smart, Not Scammed

These are the scenarios that make up a scammer’s dreams. Panic, fear, insecurity. The more you worry about your SEO the better it is for the next scammer to get your attention. And the less you know about SEO – and the scams it perpetrates – the richer those scammers get.

I say: no more! Avoid the lies, deceptions and charades that scammers perpetrate. Here’s how you can arm yourself against bad deals, shady offers and a big, missing chunk of budget or worse – a site banished to the depths of Google’s search results.

The “I Noticed You’re Not On The First Page Of Google” Farce

I’ll bet you that whoever says that didn’t spend two seconds looking for your website on Google. The funny thing is, they’re not even lying to you.

Even if they did manage a perfunctory search, they probably looked for your landscaping business under an awesome phrase like “plant trees”. You know, something really helpful.

But really, they never Googled you.

I’ll also bet you that 100% of the time, they will never tell you what keywords they searched for. They’ll almost always say something vague like, “I didn’t see your site for your primary keywords.”

And how would they know what your primary keywords are? Have they spent time to research your company, geography, competitors, website content and come up with a keyword analysis?

Come out on the limb with me here… no.

They did not. Because that takes time and skill. And nobody does that for free. Certainly not the scammers.

Besides, I bet I could Google your site for about a billion trillion keywords right now and never find it on Google. But who cares? This site right here will never be found on Google for “giant pink elephants” but I’m pretty ok with that.

(Or now maybe it will!)

The “I Can Get You On The First Page Of Google” Lie

This one is just as ridiculous as the first, for exactly same reasons. Here’s a fact: I can also get your site on the first page of Google… for some ridiculously obscure long-tail keyword phrase that no actual human being on the planet will ever use.

Heck, you can try it yourself. I’ll wait. It won’t take long.

Much like the scam above, they will never tell you what keywords they’ll get you on the first page for. And I guarantee you those keywords certainly won’t be anything resembling “primary”.

The “Ranking Guaranteed” Deception

This follows perfectly from the former point because ranking is a myth. The idea that you will rank anywhere is a remnant of a time somewhere around the Pleistocene era when you could gauge your search engine success by Googling your site once a week or one a month and tracking its movement from Page 3, Position 5 to Page 2, Position 1.

But even in the good old days of ranking spreadsheets, there was still no such thing as a guaranteed ranking.

Let me ask you a question: can you guarantee me that Google will not change its algorithm again? Can you guarantee me that no other websites will be built by your competitors? How about guaranteeing me that the internet will stop growing and stay exactly the same, that technology will never move, that search engines will freeze in time?

Ok, then I can’t guarantee you a ranking.

It’s a stupid concept anyway because rank doesn’t matter. Traffic matters. Qualified traffic matters. Conversions matter.

There is also the inconvenient fact that your rank can change based on who is doing the searching. And where they are searching from. That’s right, you can see your website ranked in a completely different position than I may see it. Or that your customer may see it. Or that some guy in Iowa is seeing it. For the same exact keyword. The difference is based on geography, search history, personalization – all things scammers won’t tell you about.

The “I Can Get You Set Up On Google Plus And Google Maps” Charade

They probably can. And so can you. This is just an easy way to sneak a few bucks from your pocket because it sounds like work. It’s not.

Well, it is, but it’s pretty simple and straightforward work. It’s a few minutes to fill out some basic info and a few more to verify it all.

You could argue that there’s some work involved in crafting a good profile but I bet it’s not half as much work as your bill from a scammer will suggest.

The “I Am A Google Expert” Joke

Does it seem to you as if a plethora or experts, gurus, ninjas, mavens and mavericks have suddenly sprung up around everything from SEO to “how to earn six figures in five minutes”?

Can we stop falling for that now?

I don’t believe there are expert anythings. There are some really smart people. There are people who know a hell of a lot more than I ever will about a lot of subjects and who I would be happy to defer to in their areas of… er… wisdom.

Mostly there are people who have worked really hard, tried a lot of things, broke most of them, got stuff wrong and picked it all up to figure out how to make something happen.

And those people don’t call themselves experts. If someone says that to you, just laugh. It will make me feel better.

This claim usually comes in conjunction with one about working with Google or on the inside of Google or having some sort of Google-like knowledge that mere mortals never could.

I’m pretty sure Google isn’t sending people out into the world with secret Google knowledge just so they can make a few bucks off you.

If the logic of that doesn’t convince you, take it from Google itself:

Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.

The “We Can Help You Get Fast Results” Fiction

Fast, easy, cheap. That’s how we want everything in life, isn’t it? Yet how many things actually are?

Here’s what’s fast and easy: losing money to a scammer.

And here’s something you can take to the bank: if you attempt to do anything fast when it comes to business and marketing, you’re skydiving without a parachute.

SEO is one of the longest games in town. You may be able to close a sale on the first try or get an email subscriber with one nifty offer, but the big successes take time. SEO is about content, social signals, online authority – none of which can be drummed up in an hour or a week or a month or even a few months. That’s right, successful SEO can take months to set in motion. And notice I said “set in motion” because SEO is never really done. Remember what I said about the internet never changing and Google keeping its algorithm the same? Right. SEO is something you’ll need to work on and adapt to for as long as you care about SEO.

The “For The Low Cost Of…” Absurdity

Plenty of people are willing to part with a little bit of money even if that money is gaining them nothing. It’s the paradox of the small fee. Charge something small enough and it will disappear into the credit card ether of recurring fees that get ignored even if the money is being wasted.

Scammers count on this. They’ll offer you a cost small enough to seem like a no-brainer and you’ll hand over your credit card with assurances of guarantees and first page rankings and fast results. Next thing you know, nothing has happened… or worse, your site is penalized for fast, cheap, easy tactics that Google has warned against over and over but that some unscrupulous people will do anyway because… well, because they’re fast, easy and cheap.

If a cost sounds like a no-brainer, then it is – a no-brainer to run the other way. SEO, like any good marketing, takes time. Time costs money.

The “We’ll Submit Your Site To [Some Absurd Number Of Search Engines]” Buffoonery

Submissions are a thing of the 1990s. Yet the scam lives on. It probably sounds cool to think that your site will be in ten thousand search engines and directories!

But there’s zero value in it.

There may, in fact, be directories to which you can submit your site depending on your niche. But probably not a lot. And it would probably take something to dig them up. It may also cost you money for a listing, which can be perfectly legitimate but is certainly not what a scammer is going to do for you.

Here’s all you need: an XML sitemap and a Webmaster Tools account. You can have both in about five minutes and then you can submit your sitemap to Google and Bing and be reasonably assured that those are the only submissions that matter.

A Disclaimer About The SEO Acronym

The problem with SEO is the O part. “Optimization” is a finite thing and ends when your site is optimized.

So it sounds like I’ve just contradicted myself because earlier I told you that SEO is never done.

Well, that’s the problem with the acronym. SEO is what we all know and fear and so the acronym lives on. But it would be far more accurate to talk about SEM – Search Engine Marketing.

SEM is everything that takes place after the O. It’s the blogging and content creation. It’s the ongoing efforts at building social signals and authority. It’s the influence marketing and relationship marketing and all the things that contribute to making your site likeable, linkable and ultimately findable.

So stash SEO somewhere in the back of your brain. Yes, there are important optimization things you can do to make your site friendly for search engines. But once you do those, start thinking more about SEM and the ongoing ways that you’ll be earning your place in customers’ search results.

Do you receive SEO “offers” and wonder if they’re legitimate or scams? If you have any questions or concerns, ask me in the comments.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Its because of these sorts of messages that the SEO community has such a terrible reputation! Good breakdown Carol.

  • Steven Carey says:

    great article Carol Lynn, I tell my clients build a great standards compliant site and they will come.

  • Linda says:

    I have had to rescue clients from these types of scammers. The tough part is because such companies are out there promising the moon, clients sometimes think *you* may not be doing enough for them or *you* don’t know your stuff. The message of easy returns is seductive, and persuading clients not to listen can be a challenge.

    • So true. It’s a lot more attractive to hear that your site will rocket to the top of Google for only a few bucks. People don’t like to hear about the long, challenging (and sometimes expensive) real way. Some people you can educate but others will buy the snake oil. You just have to figure out which one is which.

  • Tracy Vides says:

    You nailed it, Carol Lynn. I’m surprised people still fall for these scams, as even a cursory online search for SEO best practices tells you such a lot. And you can easily gather – given the spelling mistakes they make in their emails – that they’ll never manage to get your keywords right!

    The “Google Expert” problem is compounded now that Google is handing out “Google Partner” badges to anyone who has passed a couple of exams and reached “a minimum level of managed spend in the accounts” within the AdWords MCC. They’ve stopped just short of selling them.

    Speaking of SEM, people seem to include “paid” marketing and advertising in the term whereas SEO is generally associated with “free.”

    • That’s a great point Tracy – Google “Partners” can be very confusing for people and considering it’s legitimate, that can be easily exploited by scammers. It’s intended to be specifically for AdWords and not SEO but that doesn’t mean people understand the difference. Another thing to add to the “beware” list!

  • Such a GREAT article @carollynnrivera:disqus. When I first started out building sites and helping clients, I was approached by a number of SEO guys saying the same exact thing.

    I then learned that you could slap a price on just about anything and call it “complicated” enough to overcharge for it. I am pretty sure that I’m in line with your thinking when you MARKET your website instead of optimize for it.

    Sure you can optimize all you want all day long, but building constant content and marketing your brand is what will give you the attention that you deserve. Blogging, podcasting, social media, etc. These are tools to drive traffic back to your site. When SEO guys say that listing your site to a billion directories is what is going to bring cash in the door, I scoff.

    At the end of the day we are all just trying to the best we can and I understand that from the SEO guy’s POV. HOWEVER, the “first page of Google” thing drives me nuts. We used to get calls from these guys all the time before I called them out on their bullsh*t.

    Thanks for authoring this! I’ll be sharing it out to my friends. 🙂