Don't get Conned by a Rogue SEO Company

Be very wary of any “SEO” company that cold-calls or cold-emails you. Be wary, also, of any SEO company without a proven track record and/or a transparent and legitimate action plan.

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There are many sharks in the SEO world and we have had customers being smooth-talked into paying for virtually useless SEO.

Even worse, in today’s anti-spam world, an incompetent or unscrupulous SEO company could bring down the wrath of Google onto your unsuspecting website and result in SEVERE penalties that are EXTREMELY time-consuming to undo.

A bad SEO company can seriously damage your site

Some warning signs to be especially wary of:

  • Emails with no website address listed – what have they got to hide? Such emails should be trashed without a glance.

With any SEO company, check that they themselves are listed – and listed high up – in Google. If their website cannot be found, or appears way down, in the search results, chances are their “seo” has got their own site deindexed or massively penalised.

  • New websites – new websites often go through a probation period on Google when they are held artificially down and do not do well; some unscrupulous SEO companies target new website owners who do not realise this and promise to “help” them. Once the website starts to rise up the search engine listings to its natural position, the SEO companies then claim the credit.
  • Worthless guarantees of site position – some SEO companies promise to get you on page 1 of Google in return for a fee (sometimes there is a no-win-no-fee type of offer) and we ourselves have had customers being conned by such companies. Note that Google warns against them.

Typical trick: choose obscure terms that are very rarely searched for (and therefore take little effort to get onto page 1) but will be of little use to you and then lock you into a contract so that you have to pay them if your site appears on page 1 for these terms. It is probably not work paying £x00 per month to be somewhere on page 1 for “green and pink widgets in Bury St Edmunds”.

  • Worthless guarantees of traffic – some companies promise you x000 visitors per month as a means of selling their services. Customers don’t always realise that this artificial traffic will – often – be almost useless to them.

There are various tricks that can be used to bump up your website traffic. One is clicking banner ads on websites – if an unsuspecting visitor from Glasgow (Scotland) clicks on a banner-ad, is her or she really going to employ a carpenter in Suffolk (England)? Likewise, whether someone engaging in an auto-surf traffic exchange system is really going to buy your gardening services in a different part of the country (or even different country) is something you can easily judge.

  • Guaranteed x00 links per month – a massive red flag in today’s age of Google penalties. Companies that offer you x00 backlinks per month for a fixed fee are most likely using automation in some way shape or form and could get your site a penalty that you will need to spend a LOT of time undoing.

Note that it is possible to use automated programs to get your website listed in hundreds of low-quality directories, use article-spinning software to “rehash” a single article into dozens of slightly different respun versions, automatically get each blog post listed in hundreds of different social bookmarking sites etc etc. This was clogging up Google’s indexes with worthless spam and Google has introduced B-I-I-I-G crack-downs on websites whose backlink profile includes links from automated sites – regardless of whether those links are acquired gradually or over a period of time.

  • Rented links – many SEO companies essentially “rent” links to you (either from their own websites, from shadow domains that they create for you or from sites that they themselves rent from other companies). Once you stop paying a monthly retainer, these backlinks will disappear and your website is likely to fall in the search engines – worse, if your relationship ends on a bad note, these rented links could be pointed to a competitor’s site!
  • Bought links – buying links can get your site penalised. Full stop. Adverts MUST have a nofollow tag to prevent this penalty.
  • Black hat or spammy techniques – black hat SEO is against Google’s code of conduct and could result in your site being banned and deindexed. Most SEO companies are smart enough to claim to be white hat – but if they employ spammy techniques (either on your site or in your link building) then you could also get a massive penalty.

A company that uses spammy link-building or spammy on-site techniques may attract a penalty for your site now or at some stage in the future (Google’s algorithm is constantly changing and its penalties are harsh in the extreme). Google’s current definition of unnatural backlinks includes anything designed to manipulate page rank such as – large-scale – blog commenting, forum signatures, link exchanges and press releases (unless those releases are nofollow). See’s Google’s guidelines below.

  • Excessive Link Exchanges, Blog Networks and the Like – the days of you link to 100s of sites and 100s of sites link to you are long gone
  • Special relationship with Google – Google warns against any company claiming this.
  • Copies your site – a particularly unscrupulous UK company has taken a copy of one of our customer’s sites (design, wording the lot), added a few extra obscure keywords into the footer and then charged the customer a monthly fee for the privilege. When challenged, they conned the customer (who did not understand SEO) by saying that “content is king” and that their strategy was good! Google’s policies on duplicate content and duplicate domains make this a risky strategy.
  • Bought followers – as Social Media is becoming more and more intertwined with SEO, it is worth warning against the bought followers and follower exchange systems for sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Follower exchange systems generally require you to surrender control of who YOU follow in order for the organisers to generate automatic following exchanges – do you REALLY want your business account to be following dozens of wanna-be porn stars and other people not related to your industry? And if you have 10,000 people following your Facebook page and nobody leaves a comment or likes or reshares your content, do you not think that might look just a teeny bit false to Google?
  • Employs deceptive practices – any form of deception to trick the search engines into thinking that your site is better or more authoritative than it actually is could trigger one of the Big G’s feared penalties.
  • Refusal to be transparent – this point is really linked in with the employing deceptive practices point above. If a company tries to blind you with jargon or claim that they have a “secret formula”, be wary. A reputable, above-board company using reputable, above-board methods should be happy to be open; in today’s world, SEO is about honesty, trust and earned-authority rather than about secret tricks.
  • Asks for Your Google+ Password – make sure that you completely trust anyone before giving them your Google+ password. There are fraudsters who, once they have your Google+ details, will threaten to delete your Google+ page unless you pay them a significant amount of money. Note that – if they do not have your password – then they cannot delete your page and you can simply ignore them.

If you are not happy with where you are in the search engine listings, then you can help your own SEO

  • Start by ensuring your CONTENT is first-class and unique. Great content is the foundation of all SEO in today’s world, even if you do not have the time or skills to create a blog.  See our beginner’s guide to SEO without a blog for a comprehensive list of the on-page SEO that YOU can do for your own site.
  • If possible, create a blog or resources section and work at adding great posts that are really helpful to your readers and that people naturally WANT to share. See beginner’s guide to backlinks for ideas as to how to get backlinks.

Note that duplicated content can get your website a penalty; too many pages of thin content with no value-added information can also penalise your site.

Note that, for those out to save money, it is usually cheaper to work with your web designer to add extra resource pages or to add the ability to create your own blog than it is to employ a SEO company to do the basics.

  • Promote this good content – see the above links for ways of promoting this good content in a Google-friendly way. Most of this basic work you can do yourself, thereby saving yourself a L-O-O-O-T of money.

Note that, as Social Media followings generally take a long time to build up, it is worthwhile establishing a presence for yourself and/or your company on sites such as Google+ and Twitter BEFORE your wonderful content is ready – that way, once you have created your helpful and unique blog posts, you have a following to help you promote them.

  • Ensure Other Ranking Factors Are in Place – ensure your website loads quickly and that it is well laid out, easy to navigate and attractively designed with useful information that the visitor to the page will need. Aim to keep the readers engaged on a page, moving onto the next useful page and returning over and over. A high bounce rate signals to the search engines that your site was not a good match for a query and/or that the quality was not high; a low percentage of return visitors may (depending on the niche) indicate the same. Pages that load excessively slowly may get “marks deducted”; websites that are responsive (adapt to the width of mobiles, tablets and PCs) are thought by Google to improve the experience of mobile users and so may well get a boost for mobile queries.

Choosing a Reputable SEO Company

If you do decide to employ a SEO company, then do your own research and choose a reputable company with a proven track record. Search Google for terms like “SEO UK” or “Social Media Company” and compare and contrast the services offered by the companies that can make their own website do well for a competitive term. (Obviously, ensure that THEIR website is doing well and has not been penalised out of the search engine listings.)

Understand exactly what techniques the company will use – and satisfy yourself that they meet Google’s quality guidelines (See below). In today’s anti-spam age, this company should be looking at ways of creating HIGH-QUALITY content first – and then at ways of promoting this high-quality content second.

Check out their Social Media pages as well – a SEO and Social Media specialist with just 100 followers on Twitter does not inspire confidence.

What Google has to Say

Google’s Quality Guidelines

Google’s advice on choosing SEO companies

Google’s explanation of unnatural links

Important Disclaimer

This post is NOT saying that all SEO or Social Media companies are unscrupulous. It is simply saying that, as in many professions, there are sharks out there and customers should thoroughly check out a company before employing them.  If something smells spammy to you, the chances are Google’s algorithms may think so too.

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