It happened often. A notification would pop up on my phone: a warning email from someone who told me my website was ranking poorly and I was missing out on tons of leads. With their help, I could rank #1 on Google and recapture my market. I admit, the first time it happened I was tempted… until I started getting the same email over and over again from other bots. Wait, you’ve gotten that email too? SEO lead scams like this one can be tricky. The scammers know how to prey on small business owners’ fear and lack of SEO knowledge.
But you don’t have to fall victim to their wily ways.
For many small business marketers, SEO carries an aura of mystery and confusion. But it doesn’t need to. With a little know-how, you can avoid common SEO lead scams.
Side note: In this article, I’m going to focus on the wrong side of SEO: scams and the associated black hat SEO. For a no-nonsense, not-overly-technical explanation of good SEO and best practices for small businesses, check out our article on small business marketing with SEO.
Black Hat SEO
Before we dive into specific SEO lead scams, I want to define something called black hat SEO. Many scammers use black hat SEO techniques to promise huge lead gen wins. So what is it? According to Semrush,
“Black hat SEO are tactics that are used to rank a website that violates search engine guidelines. Black hat SEO techniques attempt to manipulate search engine algorithms to increase a site’s rankings on the SERPs.”
But Google doesn’t like it when websites violate their search engine guidelines. They’ve gotten really good (and are continually getting better) at identifying these violations and penalizing websites for using them. Black hat SEO practices can produce some short-term SEO gains, but it comes at a huge cost in the long run.
Top SEO Lead Scams
Guaranteed Page 1 Rankings
The scenario: An SEO marketer guarantees that your website will appear on the first page of Google’s SERPs. They also make this promise with an extremely low retainer rate. Once they obtain a client, they do some tweaks on your website and things do improve a little!
The catch: They’ve improved your rankings, but with low-competition keywords that have very little value for increasing your organic leads or conversion. It has the initial appearance of success, but they’ve really accomplished nothing for you.
The reality check: No SEO marketer, no matter how good they are, can guarantee anything. Especially where your page will rank for relevant search terms. SEO is a long-term game. Improving your site’s page rank takes time and consistent effort. A good marketer will tell you that, and will encourage you to follow best practices to eventually see those wins.
The scenario: You receive an unsolicited email from someone claiming to be from a website with high domain authority offering to post a link to your blog on their website, in exchange for a fee. They promise that the linking will boost your website’s SERP results by passing on some of their domain authority to you.
The catch: Google doesn’t really give a hoot about domain authority. It’s a metric that the SEO tool developer Moz created to put a number on relevance, and not an actual factor that Google considers when ranking sites. There’s also little connection between a high domain authority actually improving the metrics that matter: your leads, sales, traffic, etc. Plus (and this is the big thing), Google penalizes linking in exchange for money, favors, etc.
The reality check: Outside linking (aka backlinks) to your business’s website is a good thing – especially from businesses that relate to or partner with yours (e.g. a local bank to a bookkeeper). These backlinks impact the metrics that matter because they send customers from a trusted source to your company. When your leads trust the referral source, they’re more likely to transfer that trust to you. Google also looks at these backlinks as a way to judge how much other people trust you. The more that other trustworthy sources link to your site, the more likely that Google will see you as a trusted source of information and give you a higher ranking.
Instant Link Building Services
The scenario: Very similar to above (yes, these scammers are tricky), an agency will promise to quickly build hundreds of links to your website.
The catch: This is a black hat SEO practice that uses link farm websites, which are websites developed specifically for building links.
The reality check: Link farms have low quality content and lots of links. Google quickly and easily recognizes these structures, issuing penalties to them and associated websites. For this reason, any marketing agency that promises amazing and quick SEO backlinking is probably a scam. Again, following the backlinking rules takes time by building trust naturally. Taking the time to develop backlinks through networking and natural word-of-mouth takes time, but results in far better long-term results than buying risky backlinks from link farms.
Supporting Private Blog Networks
The scenario: Closely related to the above two scenarios, a supporting private blog network is a black hat SEO lead scam. Here’s how it works: an SEO marketer promises to boost your SEO quickly by using multiple websites with high domain authority to link to your website. They purchase multiple expired domains with high authority, post a lot of content so the sites mimic what used to be on the expired domains, and then post as many links as possible from those sites to the website they’re trying to boost.
The catch: Google has gotten really good at detecting supporting private blog networks. And while Google approves of backlinking, it will penalize websites that try to work the system.
The reality check: Any SEO agency that promises huge and quick wins is probably employing nefarious black hat SEO tricks. The penalties aren’t worth the quick gains. Take your SEO marketing budget elsewhere to a company that creates regular quality content, focuses on quality site optimization, and employs other tried-and-true SEO tactics.
The “Google Partner” Scam
The scenario: An SEO marketer claims they have an SEO partnership with Google.
The catch: There’s really not a lot to say here except that there’s no such thing as a Google Partner for SEO. Marketers can be Google Ads certified and Google Analytics certified (like we are) . There’s even a partnership program for agencies who manage thousands of dollars in Google Ads. But there’s no certification or even partnership for SEO.
The reality check: The only thing that comes close to a Google Partner is the designation Google assigns to businesses that use Google Ads. That’s it.
If someone reaches out to you claiming to be a Google SEO Partner, run away. It’s a scam.
Promising to Know “Google Secrets”
The scenario: An SEO company claims they have some “secret” knowledge about Google and SEO.
The catch: There’s no “secret-sauce” for improving your SEO.
The reality check: While there’s no Google secrets, there are tried and tested techniques for helping small businesses improve their SEO marketing. SEO marketing agencies that claim to have “Google secrets” are probably employing black hat techniques or selling you snakeoil.
Search Engine Submittal
The scenario: An agency claims they can boost your website’s SERP results by submitting your website URLs to Google and a host of other search engines. They might claim to have special software for doing this.
The catch: You can submit pages to Google’s Search Console for free, and there’s no special software for accomplishing this. And you certainly don’t need to spend a lot of money on it.
The reality check: Additionally, Google, Bing, and Yahoo control the vast majority of search engine space (95%). Paying an agency to submit your website to hundreds of other search engines is a waste of your money.
Your Website Isn’t Ranking for “XYZ” Keyword
The scenario: Often in an unsolicited sales email, an agency reaches out to you claiming that your website isn’t ranking for a particular keyword(s) that it could and should be ranking for!
The catch: The keyword is often unmentioned in the initial email, or it’s a keyword that doesn’t really matter to your company’s SEO lead gen effort. But it does a good job of causing you to doubt that your current agency is doing their job well and to fear that you’re wasting money on your current agency.
The reality check: Quality SEO work takes time (I can’t emphasize this enough), and the proof the efforts are working lies in metrics like traffic, conversion rates, etc. If you’re concerned about a particular keyword, have a conversation with the agency that you’re using. If you’re not currently working with a marketing agency to improve your SEO, think about whether ranking for “XYZ” keyword will actually improve those metrics that matter (e.g., your leads, sales, traffic, etc.).
Be careful about marketing agencies that contact you with these types of propositions. Hiring anyone that uses fear-mongering sales techniques usually leads to trouble.
The SEO Lead Scams Bottom Line
As a general rule, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If an agency promises incredible results, in a short amount of time, for relatively low cost: beware. It’s probably a scam.
That being said, if the agency seems legitimate and you’re concerned about your current agency’s performance, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing other options. But do your due diligence. Ask informed questions about the techniques they use. Ask to speak to a few of their clients – especially clients with similar budgets to yours that have been with the agency for several months (at least six or more).
Other Resources for Learning About SEO Scams
If, after reading this article, you’re afraid that you might get taken for an SEO ride, don’t worry. The best thing you can do is educate yourself. Learn about good SEO techniques like Google My Business. I promise that a basic understanding of SEO is possible!
And then take some time to learn about the above scams and other SEO lead scams. Here’s some quality resources on the topic:
- Search Engine Journal article on SEO Scams
- HubSpot article on Black Hat SEO techniques
- Semrush article on Black Hat SEO
Genuine SEO Marketing with Ingenium
At Ingenium, we take the long term approach to SEO. We believe that if you focus on producing quality content using SEO best practices while focusing on providing useful information to your customers, the SEO results will follow in time. If this sounds like an SEO approach you’re interested in for your small business, let’s set up a 15-minute, no-pressure call so we can learn a little more about each other. Marketing is a long-term game, and we’re here to do it with you.