17 / 11 / 22

5 Sneaky SEO Scams & How to Easily Avoid Them

Let me transport you back to the 90s, to the early days of SEO when 'scams' weren't really a thing.

The sky was the limit back then. The rules were lax. If you wanted to rank on page one, all you had to do was stuff your webpages with keywords – the more, the merrier!

But things are different now.

Nowadays, Google has little patience for these crafty tactics, and its Manual Actions Report makes that very clear.

Here's the thing:  

The SEO industry is evolving at lightning speed, and Google's search algorithm is forever changing. The rules are changing. But regardless of Google's attempts to tackle spammy SEO tactics, there are many unethical SEO providers who manage to slip through the cracks.

What are SEO scams?

SEO scams are deceptive tactics used by contracted SEO consultants and digital marketing firms to dupe clients into paying for SEO services that add no value.

The line between good and bad SEO is not always clear. Our Formation Media team havs gathered tips and insights that'll help you spot these SEO scammers from a mile away.

Here are 5 types of SEO scams and how you can avoid them:   

Types of SEO Scams

1. The copy-and-paste email pitch

It all starts with a shady SEO pitch, perhaps an email out of the blue or a message invading your website's comment section.

Whatever the method, the message will remain the same:

The self-proclaimed SEO "expert" will inform you that they have analysed your website and discovered that it is underperforming. 

The message will be vague, referring to unspecified "problems" or "errors" that are hampering your website's success.

They will sell you bold promises, guaranteeing your website a throne at the top of Google search results.

How to spot

Many SEOs send effective, personalised and well-crafted pitches to help build their clientele. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. A drop in the ocean.

The vast majority of SEOs mass-send spam emails to massive lists of companies, most likely acquired through shady methods.

The signs of a spammy SEO email include:

  • No mention of company name or website.
  • If they do have a website, the website has terrible search rankings.
  • A pitch sent via unprofessional email – for example, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook. If the sender worked for an established SEO firm, they would use the company's domain email.
  • Poor subject lines.
  • Bad grammar, vocabulary and spelling.
  • No demonstrable evidence of any research having been done.

2. The promised #1 ranking

Watch out for emails from SEO "experts" promising you a place at the top of search results. The truth is that unless you target low-volume, niche keywords, you will always face fierce competition for your website's keywords. So no one can guarantee results in a search engine.

Google itself is adamant about that. In one of their articles, they stated:

"No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a "special relationship" with Google, or advertise a "priority submit" to Google."

How to spot

From the early days of SEO to now, unethical SEOs have tossed around the "guaranteed rankings" catchphrase to lure gullible buyers with big promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Many SEOs tend to guarantee rankings on easy, non-competitive keywords that have a very high rate of success. Translation: keywords that are low in value.

You can spot and avoid this scam by staying informed. It pays to know the value of your targeted keywords.

For example, the keyword "bakery in london" is a lot more valuable than "cheap, vegan, gluten-free bakeries in south London."

One gets thousands of searches per month. The other gets zero.

If you can't draw the line between valuable and unvaluable keywords, you risk paying to rank for useless keywords that bring no results.

Stay informed. Do your own research on Ubersuggest or Ahrefs Keyword Generator to find all the information about a keyword before paying an SEO to help you rank for it.

3. The army of links

There's a powerful lie floating around the SEO industry that more  links translate to greater rankings. That isn't true. When it comes to link building, the most important rule to remember is quality trumps quantity.

Google now puts more emphasis on the quality, not number, of links to your website.

As tempting as a cheap directory backlink may seem, it could never hold a candle to a valuable, contextual link from a high-authority website.

Not all links are made equal.

Many unethical SEOs will completely ignore this fact, and sell spammy link building services.

How to spot this SEO scam

Watch out for SEOs that persuade you to partake in mass link-buying schemes. They might, for example, recommend strategies that involve buying links from other websites to increase your rankings.

Buying links is buying links. It makes no difference whether your competitor is doing it too or not; it's still a big no-no and you should avoid it at all costs.

The bottom line is that these practices are against Google's spam policies and can result in a manual action against your site.

Rather than engaging in these unscrupulous tactics, hire a publicist who can help you generate valuable links from high-authority publications.

Can't afford to hire a publicist? The Internet is a treasure trove of information. There are many books, courses and articles all exploring the arts of link-building and public relations. You might find their insights useful.

4. The secret gateway to search results

Be wary if you receive an email asking you to pay to submit your website to search engines.

To add to the illusion of usefulness, the company might claim it has a methodology or proprietary software that can instantly bump you to the top of search results.

The only way to submit a site to Google directly is through the URL Inspect Tool or by submitting a Sitemap. And you don't need to pay an SEO to do this; you can do it yourself.

Read Ahrefs guide to submitting your website to Google.

5. The free trial

Many SEOs love to dangle the free trial carrot. Be wary if you run into such emails - especially if they request any personal information for it.

Any SEO strategist worth their salt understands that SEO is a long-term game, and you have to be patient to see real, impactful results from it. So it goes without saying, someone offering a short-term SEO trial is suspicious.

Due diligence when searching for an SEO provider

Building a website's online presence is a monumental task, so you need to choose a reliable company to handle your SEO. To find the right SEO provider, we recommend you to:

  • Read up on the fundamentals of SEO – when you understand what it takes to responsibly increase your ranking, it's easier to determine whether your SEO provider is following proper procedures. Ahrefs provides a comprehensive, credible blog that covers a broad range of SEO topics. That's a good place to start.
  • Look into the SEO provider's processes – it pays to look into the SEO provider's staffing and processes. Find out about the team that would be responsible for your SEO. Be inquisitive and ask questions: What work will they carry out? How will they adapt the SEO strategy to your brand? What metrics will they use to define success? How long will it be until you can expect results?
  • Find out about their reviews and testimonials – as the old saying goes, the proof's in the pudding. Anyone can promise results, but delivering results is the hard part.

Ready to dodge these SEO scams?

Scammers are a cunning bunch, always looking for new ways to empty your wallet. To stop these scammers, we created a blog series to educate businesses about various online scams.

From digital marketing scams to TikTok scams, we've gathered think-pieces, insights and tips to keep you informed about infamous online scams.

When we're not warning businesses about dangerous online scams, we're usually helping them improve their digital marketing.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you transform your digital marketing strategy.

Aggee 2
Written by Aggee Digital Journalist