SEO Services & How To Spot SEO Scams!
On an almost daily basis I receive emails about SEO services offering to “optimise” my site and improve my Google search ranking. These SEO services often claim to guarantee to get my site at the top of the first page of Google (even though I have already achieved that), to send more visitors to my site, to fix broken links, provide site analytics and get more authoritative links to my site.
But, are many of these SEO services just a scam to get money from unsuspecting clients? Although there are many excellent SEO services available from experts. On search there are also many companies that see SEO as an easy way of exploiting a general lack of understanding of how it works.
What the hell is an “optimised site”?
Any SEO consultant who offers to quickly “optimise” your site for SEO or any other purpose is a fraud and is probably charging you a lot of money for little, if any benefit. It normally takes weeks, if not months to configure a site for SEO and to build backlinks to improve your domain authority. There is also no such thing as a “fully optimised” site. It’s like repairing the roads, the job is never really done.
For example getting back links is a costly and time consuming process. You will need a number of strategies to obtain high quality back links and this is an on-going process. If your SEO services provider guarantees to quickly obtain high quality backlinks it is likely they are either misleading you or they are using black hat SEO techniques. Such as private blog networks. Be very careful how your SEO services company gets back links. If they use techniques frowned on by Google you could end up being penalised by search engines.
Most SEO scams start with a guarantee to optimise your site and get first place on Google. Be careful about such SEO services.
80% of SEO is pure hype:
Since 24th April 2012 when Google released their “Penguin” update most of what SEO services previously did became irrelevant. Even more worrying though is that a lot of what some of these SEO services offer to do may actually harm your ranking and they certainly can’t guarantee to put you on the first page of Google.
The old tricks don’t work anymore:
Stuffing your site with keywords, content cloaking and blasting blog sites with links to your site don’t work and are more likely to get you penalised. Even keywords are much less important than before as there is evidence that Google now evaluates the content on the pages that link to your site to identify what searches you rank for rather than relying on the keywords that are on your page.
Search engine algorithms are much better than before at spotting attempts to play the system and conversely are more adept at identifying good quality and relevant content. There are still SEO best practices, but these are more about avoiding mistakes than using any tricks of the trade.
What drives SEO rankings?
Part of the problem with SEO and why so many SEO scams are circulating is that Google and the other search engines don’t publish exactly what gets you a high page ranking. However, SEM Rush have conducted extensive research to identify what drives SEO search rankings. This shows that direct website visits, time on the site and pages per session are the strongest factors in influencing search ranking.
Close behind these factors are factors that SEO services can directly influence. These include referring domains, total backlinks to your site and referring IPs.
Image Source: SEM Rush, 2017.
Most basic tools are free:
For many of the genuine aspects of SEO there are free tools available that you can easily access. I’ve previously written a post on how to use Google’s Search Console. This is a great free tool that will answer most of the questions you may have about the performance of your site including; crawl errors (e.g. page not found – 404s), external links to your content, average page rank, clicks, impressions and structured data errors.
Google Analytics is also free and allows you to identify your most popular content and track page speed and conversion goals. If you have the time and resource there is no need to pay SEO agencies lots of money to identify where your problems exist.
Why don’t SEO services tell you this?
People have a made a lot of money out of SEO and continue to do so and so why would they admit they add little, if any, value? There may also be an illusion of skill for some SEO agencies that psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums it up nicely:
“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow
This is not only a waste of money it is quite dangerous for companies. By measuring metrics that don’t influence your bottom line (e.g. Likes and Shares), people can’t stop themselves optimising campaigns using such meaningless targets (see Cobra Effect).
A lot of investment has also been made into SEO and optimisation. Due to our tendency not to want to admit when we have made bad decisions (see Sunk Cost Fallacy), people often carry on with behaviour even when there is no evidence to support it.
12 SEO services and scams to look out for:
1. Guaranteed Rankings:
It is not possible to guarantee a #1 ranking on Google as their algorithms are far too complex for any SEO services agency to play the system and definitely deliver a sustainable first place on Google. The only way SEO services can often achieve this is to get you ranking on some obscure long-tail keyword phrase that no one searches for.
2. They don’t detail how the will improve your organic traffic:
Many SEO “experts” claim they have “secret” SEO strategies and don’t detail what exactly they are going to do to improve your ranking or traffic levels. Any legitimate SEO services agency should outline in detail tasks they will undertake and agree some targets to measure their level of success.
For example in October 2016 I implemented a new content marketing strategy and by the beginning of 2017 my organic traffic had more than doubled. I knew exactly what my plan was and also had the analytics in place to measure the impact of my new strategy. Any SEO services agency who can’t tell you what they plan to do is probably thinking of using black hat SEO techniques that will get you penalised or banned by the major search engines.
Here are a few of the SEO scams that try to leave back links on my site on a daily basis. They don’t even have the intelligence to hide their intent.
3. Offer free trial SEO services:
Genuine SEO services work is time consuming and takes weeks, if not months to deliver results. No genuine SEO company is going to offer this for free and if they also ask for access to your admin area or hosting account I would be very concerned about their motives.
4. SEO services claim a special relationship with Google or an employee at Google.
This is definitely a scam as Google can’t be seen to have a “special relationship” with any SEO services agency and so this will be a simple lie.
5. Offer to submit your site to hundreds of search engines.
In the UK Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for over 95% of searches and so why waste time worrying about other niche search engines?
6. Low priced SEO:
As I have already mentioned genuine SEO services is time consuming and labour intensive and so anyone who offers to do it at a very low cost is either having you on or they won’t do a very good job for you. Concentrate on learning how to use Google Search Console and Google Analytics for free and you will save yourself a lot of money.
7. We understand Google Algorithms and are algorithm experts:
Search engine algorithms are very complex, dynamic and are frequently updated and so it is virtually impossible to understand for certain how they will rank your site for a specific search query. Research by SEO services experts like SEM Rush is your most reliable source of information on why most influences SEO rankings.
8. SEO services can submit your site to well-known directories:
Some SEO services agencies offer to manually submit your site to various directories. This is another scam as this is the internet; the vast majority of people use Google not directories to find a service or a product they are looking for. Online directories offer poor quality backlinks and may end up getting you penalised by search engines.
9. SEO services can submit new content to search engines:
Continuously submitting your site to Google is a complete waste of time as it won’t influence your ranking. If you have new content you can submit it to Google for instance using their free Search Console.
10. We are partners with Google or work with someone at Google:
Google can’t be seen to partner with any SEO services company and nor would any employee want to risk their jobs by illegally working with any such firms.
11. SEO services companies that want ownership of your content:
You should never give up ownership of your content to an SEO services agency as you should retain ownership of anything you pay for.
12. You pay for a monthly SEO package:
Monthly SEO packages can be a great money spinner for unscrupulous agencies. Before signing up ensure you have agreed a suitable number of hours per month that the agency will work on your site and get them to specify in detail the tasks they will undertake for you. Further, agree some targets for quality links and an increase in traffic to ensure you get value for money. Any SEO services agency that is not willing to comply with these requests is not worth dealing with.
OK, so genuine SEO services can be valuable for a site. However, the key here is to agree objectives that have clear benefits and set performance targets to ensure you get value for money. Avoid signing up with any SEO services agencies that use any of the above tactics as they are likely to be poor value for money and could actually damage your search engine rankings.
If you can, educate yourself about SEO practices to allow you to take greater control over organic traffic generation. Further, remember that what your visitors and Google want is great content and that should be your priority. Everything else, including SEO, should be secondary to the content. If you focus on quality content in the first place then SEO may largely take care of itself as good content will attract external links and social media mentions and shares.