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The Perils Of SEO: Are You Being Scammed?

By July 26, 2013June 29th, 2015Search Marketing
The Perils Of SEO: Are You Being Scammed?

This post has been modified from an email that was part of our Thursday chat emails.

After it went out, a bunch of people reached out to tell me that the content was important enough to put on the web for everyone to see.

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This topic, in fact, comes from a conversation I had with a reader and subscriber. She had been working with an SEO company for a little while and wasn’t sure what they were doing… or why… or whether it was working.

Sadly, too many people are content to exist in that world of not-knowing, leaving “the experts” to their own devices. And that can lead to complete disaster.

Fortunately, my subscriber friend was smart enough to ask some hard questions early. Our conversation about SEO started with these two:

How do you know if your SEO company is doing a good job?

And…how can you make sure they don’t blindside you with unexpected fees?

Those are great questions because I see so many people get bamboozled, spend money poorly, get no results and then either give up or just plain run out of money to try again.

That does NOT have to be you.

How Do You Know If Your SEO Company Is Doing A Good Job?

It starts with understanding SEO. Before you get nervous, I don’t mean that you have to know how to do it or even what it all entails.

The most important thing you can understand is that there is good SEO and there is bad SEO.

Not to oversimplify, but good SEO is anything that would fit well within Google’s guidelines for webmasters and bad SEO is everything else.

You can avoid a lot of problems by asking: WWGD? What Would Google Do?

If it sounds shady or your SEO company can’t or won’t explain, that’s a pretty good indicator that something is fishy.

If you want to educate yourself, Google Webmaster Videos is a good place to start. They’re short and answer common questions.

Ask What Tactics Your SEO Company Is Using.

SEO is not magic. If someone refuses to tell you what they’re doing because of trade secrets or special formulas then that should be your first warning sign. And your last… because if you can’t get clarity on what someone is doing in the name of your business, then RUN.

Are they using keywords in your title tag? WWGD?

Are they editing your page copy to include keywords AND compel your target audience to read and learn more? WWGD?

Are they buying up links or spinning your blog articles so you can build popularity and page rank? WWGD?

The answers to those questions, in order, are: use them, do it, and holy cow have you not been paying attention to the latest algorithm updates you dummy??? (Um… them, not you!)

Ask your SEO company whether any given tactic is a good idea (WWGD?) Then take their answer and GOOGLE IT. That’s right, ask Google if what they’re doing is cool with Google.

Don’t simply trust that your SEO company is doing the right thing. Challenge them on it and make sure you get answers you like. A reputable company will welcome the conversation.

They should also be able to explain things to you simply enough that you can then explain it to your business partner… or your mother… so that it makes sense to everyone.

Straightforward simplicity is a good sign.

Ask About Guarantees.

This is a trick question because when it comes to SEO there are no guarantees.

If someone promises to get you to the top of Google then they’re lying, naïve or just plain crazy. Google explicitly states that nobody can guarantee you any position in its search results.

And if there’s anything Google has shown with its latest algorithm updates it’s that Google wants Google to be in charge of determining a site’s rank – not your SEO company.

In a recent conversation, someone told me that she was angry that her SEO company wouldn’t promise her a certain rank. She asked a valid question… “If they aren’t going to get me a top rank, what’s the point?”

The point is… that SEO company was probably the most honest company she could have found!

Ranking is a deceptive concept anyway. Your search results are going to be different than my search results, so whose counts more? And if you rank for an ineffective keyword, there’s even less of a point to that.

When it comes to results, you don’t want to get hung up on ranking and you certainly don’t want to trust anyone that promises you a certain rank.

Ask about real results instead. Which leads to my next point…

Measure Results.

There’s no point to any SEO tactic, good or bad, if you don’t know what the result is.

“Ranking” is what most people **think** they want, but wouldn’t you rather have traffic?

But wait… even if you **think** you want traffic, what you really mean is targeted traffic.

And ultimately, what you REALLY want is conversions – people who visit your website and call/email/sign up/buy or do whatever thing it is you want someone to do on your site.

If you’re pouring hundreds of dollars a month into SEO and neither your traffic nor your conversions are increasing then something is clearly wrong.

It could be that you’re not targeting the right keywords.

It could be that your keywords are too competitive.

It could be a lack of compelling content and social signals.

It could be that even once people are getting to your site, they aren’t finding what they need or liking what they see.

Without measuring the effects of your SEO tactics, you’ll never know.

Pay The Right Price.

No, this is not going to be a lesson in SEO fees because depending on what’s being done and who’s doing it, fees can vary widely.

But here’s one rule you can hang your hat on: never pay only a few dollars a month.

I can’t stress enough how useless any program is that offers SEO services for $20, $50 or even $100 a month. Prices that low mean one thing in this industry and that’s BAD SEO.


Because SEO may not be magic, but it is work. To do it right it can be a lot of work. And for years and years, scammers have thrived on charging people a few bucks a month and doing either genuinely useless things or worse, questionable ones that could harm your site.

The trick is to get people to believe it’s “only” $20 a month then obfuscate the tactics and results with big words and stupid jargon. After that it’s simply a matter of hoping you forget about that small recurring charge on your credit card. Don’t do it!

Listen For Telltale Words.

I’ll make this easy on you. If your SEO company is charging you a recurring monthly fee and isn’t talking Content Marketing then they’re either scamming you or don’t know what they’re doing.

The whole SEO acronym is becoming obsolete because once your site is OPTIMIZED it doesn’t suddenly become UNOPTIMIZED and need someone sitting at a computer “fixing” or “tweaking” things every month. That’s very 2001.

SEO is really SEM – where M is for Marketing – and that means content marketing, social marketing, local marketing and even possibly advertising.

And as you may know from composing a single blog post or trying to perfect your “about” page, content can be time-consuming and challenging to create. So you can see where the cost starts to creep in and why “tweak title tag” may not be the best way to spend your money.

What About The Unexpected Fee Issue?

Could you be paying the right price with the right company and STILL get hosed for extra fees? Ugh.

The easy solution is: have a contract! The same way you challenge your SEO company on tactics, you can challenge them on price. Ask what you’ll be paying. Ask why. Ask whether there are any other fees that will be charged to you. Ever. If the answer is “yes” ask what for. And get it in writing.

Sometimes you may need to pay extra fees. Maybe you need a new SEO plugin for your WordPress site. Maybe there are some advertising fees. Maybe your SEO company wants to try an out-of-scope tactic and then plunks on the extra billable.

Those things aren’t terrible but they can be unpleasant when you get a bill for something you didn’t budget for. Avoid the whole mess by having a contract that lays out fees and stipulates that NOTHING will be billed without your prior knowledge and consent.

SEO can be a touchy topic because for a lot of businesses, it can make or break you and too often it’s shrouded in mystery and unnecessary lingo.

Find an SEO company you can trust by keeping these tips tucked under your hat the next time you’re looking for one.

If you have any questions, concerns or just want to share a “My SEO company totally scammed me” story, let me know. We help clients with SEO every day so we’re up for all of your challenging questions!

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Hi Carol,
    Great post! I’ve heard most of this before, but I hadn’t thought about “asking” Google. I will certainly keep that in mind for the future!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Especially when it comes to SEO, Google is pretty vocal about it. Definitely a good place to look!

  • Hi Carol. Really great post. The SEO world is really tough these days. Companies that do SEO (mine included) are not competing on a level playing field. Especially if you operate with ethics and do the right thing for your client. There are a ton of bad eggs out there. And now you have the Yellow Pages, newspapers and radio all jumping in to SEO because they can no longer make any money selling ads. So they jump into SEO and provide terrible services. Yellow Pages sites are not even optimized well. Anyway, great stuff here. By the way, I had a prospect tell me I was way out of line with my pricing. The local radio station told him they can do his SEO for $10 a month. Love it.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Ah yes, the infamous $10 a month. Some people can be educated and some people can’t. It’s a shame that so many people are willing to bury their head in the sand for the sake of thinking they’re getting some kind of great deal but in the end it’s only going to hurt them.

    • Spook SEO says:

      Paying $10 a month for SEO..? I wonder what kind of service they’ll get from that? Or if they’ll get any service AT ALL.

  • Spook SEO says:

    I’m with you on asking the SEO company the techniques that they use when SEOing. Most companies who spam and don’t really know what they’re doing will give you the standard answer “Can’t answer that. It’s a secret method to help you rank, blah blah blah…” The moment I hear the word secret from them, I just end-up ignoring them period. With how smart the search engines are, now’s really not the time to be trolling around with your SEO.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      There are no secrets in the world. I wish everyone were smart enough to run at the mention of them!

  • Jenny says:

    I’ve gotten a lot of emails from companies wanting to help me with my SEO and not to be mean or anything but I’ve noticed they’re all coming from India… I’ve had bad experiences with Indian advertisers on my site before so I kinda just delete them. I think I could figure this out on my own if I really put my mind to it but with a blog like mine I honestly don’t think there is any point. It’s small and random and has no audience really whatsoever… Makes me sad.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I think when working with an SEO company or any company that has a direct impact on the success of your business, it’s always a good idea to work closely with them. It can be tough to do that across countries and time zones. It’s not like they’re building you a widget and mailing it – it’s a huge undertaking with serious consequences. Most of those emails are spam anyway (no legitimate company would send unsolicited emails like that).

      Search traffic is more important for some businesses than others. Retailers obviously want their products found. But for bloggers, social might be the better way to go. You can try online communities like Triberr (and plenty others) to find people who will enjoy and help promote your content without obsessing about keywords!