12 Warning Signs of a Bad SEO Company

How to Avoid Common SEO Scams Including Free Trials

Warning signs of SEO Scams letters on keyboard
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Anyone can write metadata and "optimize" a website. By that I mean, from a technical standpoint inputting metadata into the code of a web page does not require a lot of programming skills. In fact, many web programs prompt you for meta tags and you just type the words you want and the program creates and inserts the code for you.

But creating valuable metadata and optimizing a website does require certain unique writing skills and an extensive knowledge of how robots work. Think of it this way, anyone can write an advertising slogan, but not all advertising slogans will help to sell a product.

SEO (search engine optimization) is more than just naming pages and creating keyword phrases. It is a critical tool necessary to communicate with robots and helps to compel your human visitors to click through to your site.

If you are considering hiring someone to optimize your website remember what I just said: the technical skills needed to key in meta information is beginner level. There are hundreds if not thousands of people offering SEO services that do not have the real skills necessary to SEO a website. This is one reason so many marketing companies now take work and charge clients wholesale rates and then turn around and outsource the work overseas for pennies on the dollar. In other words, there are now many marketing firms that simply act as a middleman -- they take your money and then turn around and give the work to someone who works for less.

To mechanically create metadata is easy, but to do it well requires experience and if you can find a company that keeps its work in-house, you will most likely be better off.

A red flag should go up anytime an SEO company makes certain claims or promises. The following list of things to avoid will help you detect a bad SEO company and avoid getting scammed:

1. Free Trial Services

"Try our services free for 30 days. Just give us access to your site and see what we can do for you!"

Never, ever, (did I say never?) give your password and access information to anyone who offers you free trials. You might as well give them your car keys and ATM password, too.

2. Under Priced or Overpriced Services

Beware of sites like Elance where bidders come in all shapes and sizes. Someone whose price is not in line with others is generally not to be trusted.

A low quote is likely to buy you low quality work and a price that seems ridiculously high, well, it probably is. A company with a reputation strong enough to warrant higher fees does not need to get business from Elance: they are getting it based on their reputation.

3. We Promise Your Site Will be Indexed in 48 Hours!

Anyone that promises you indexing by a major search engine without first having visited your website and analyzing it is not doing two-thirds of the work of a truly good SEO professional - research.

The quality and amount of content and how your site is laid out are just two among many other important factors in getting good listings.

Great SEO begins with a great website. If yours is not done well, outstanding SEO might get you indexed, but it does not mean you will appear in search engine keyword queries.

4. We Guarantee Page Rank of X, or Top Ranking In X Time

Do not do business with anyone that promises a particular page rank, or page ranking at all in a short time frame.

Ranking is done periodically by Google, not on a daily basis, and nothing you can do will speed up the process. It can take weeks or months to get a page ranked and your ranking is also dependent upon other sites rankings.

Your site will be compared to other similar sites to determine relevancy and popularity. (By the way, page ranks are dynamic and not assigned one time and never adjusted. They do change. And, low-ranking pages can still appear high in search engine results, and high-ranking pages may not appear at all.)

We cannot state this strongly enough: SEO cannot be done quickly unless it is done poorly.

5. Massive Search Engine Submissions

"We will submit your site to 1,000 search engines!" You see it in almost every SEO claim. Big deal. This is something that is simply not worth paying for. Your site will not be relevant to the "1,000" micro-market search engines that few people use anyhow.

The truth is, a well-done site does not even need to be submitted to the major search engines. In fact, Google, Yahoo, MSN, advise that frequent or over submitting to search engines will hurt you. And, submitting your site does not speed up the process or guarantee it will be picked up. Think of site submission as sending a post-it note to Google to stick on their wall of millions of "to visit" websites.

Besides, there are so many free services online to one-click submit to multiple search engines you can do it yourself for free in a matter of seconds. (But we recommend against this!)

6. Hundreds (or Thousands) of Links to Your Site

Any links you get from such claims are more likely to hurt your site than to help it. Building links too fast for to the wrong sites is considered black hat SEO and could damage the credibility of your website in search engines. If Google catches you building links with blackhat strategies your site will be penalized by blacklisted.

Spend time building your own quality inbound links. The best way to get links is simple: offer meaningful content (and lots of it), and control who promotes your products and services.

Another tip: Do not put low-quality links on your own site and avoid reciprocal linking. Robots are smart and know when you are trying to cheat the system!

7. Avoid Companies That Ask for Copyrights to SEO and Meta Data

If at all possible, do not do business with anyone that insists on retaining copyrights to any and all metadata they create, edit, or analyze for you. If they retain or have this right assigned to them, they can legally bar you from using it, or totally strip your site.

Unfortunately, some states (including California) have bad copyright laws that make a transfer of ownership under "Work for Hire" agreements illegal unless the creator is treated as an employee. This means you may have to purchase workers' comp and other insurance to be allowed to receive the copyrights. (Call your states' department of insurance and ask if there are any copyright-based insurance laws in your own state.)

But even when there are no laws that prohibit copyrights (or fall unto Work for Hire copyright laws) it is a fairly common practice in the industry for the SEO person/company to ask for copyrights to the SEO data they create for your site.

On most websites, metadata can be seen by anyone. Don't believe me? Right-click your mouse while on this page and select "View Page Source." There it is - the "secret" metadata for this web page.

Metadata itself does not contain any "trade secrets." It is a series of words and descriptions and other things that help your website perform. Your SEO should be 100% unique to your site. Presumably, no one else should be able to apply it to their own site and get the same results. And, you cannot sell your own metadata - no one would buy it! So what is there to protect?

It is understandable that a company would ask that you not share their techniques with others and have you sign a confidentiality agreement about work they do for you. But if you sign a contract for services without rights to the product (the SEO on your website) you could find yourself in serious trouble.

8. Companies That Will Not Answer Your Questions

A bloviate talks over your head or down to you or simply to hear themselves talk. If they have to prove how smart they are by showing you how dumb you are, move on.

Ask questions and lots of them. A sales representative who only talks about what they can do for you rather than spending time asking questions about your site, your business, industry, and goals and expectations is only interested in your money. It is impossible to offer high-quality SEO services to any website or business owner if the company offering the marketing services does not even take the time to understand the business being marketed.

If you ask a question and get a shifty reply like "we have a new technique and it's a trade secret" what they are really saying is "we want you to think we know what we are doing - and we don't."

Anything you want to know about how to optimize a site can probably be found on the Internet already. What you are really paying for is not trade secrets, but experience.

A good SEO professional knows the "rules" and "trade secrets" but s/he also knows how to research keywords and put them together in the best possible way. Unless your site is only a few pages long, anyone who claims to be able to SEO your site in a matter days is not going to do a good job.

9. Flat-Rate and Low Monthly Fees to Optimize and Promote Your Website

Effective search engine optimization requires someone experienced and knowledgeable and who has the patience it takes to assess a site, optimize a site, and follow the site to make sure work is going well. It is time-consuming and high-quality SEO work is not cheap. SEO consulting alone can cost hundreds of dollars per hour, and in some cases, as much as $1,000 an hour.

Flat-rate, low-cost fees will probably get you little to nothing. It takes long hours to analyze and optimize a website properly. A good search engine marketing company will read your sites' content, study your industry and your competition before even making a price quote or other proposal.

If you cannot afford what it really costs to hire a professional SEO expert, invest on several marketing books and teach yourself how to - you will probably do a better job on your own than a cheap, fly-by-night SEO company.

10. "We Know Someone On the Inside"

A bad SEO company once promised better SEO and ranking (my site is already top-ranking in the top three major search engines on some great keywords) because the spammer told me in an email to “undisclosed recipients,” that they were different -- they were better than other companies because they “had an inside contact at Google.” They knew things the other SEOers did not.

Doubt it.

All search engine company employees sign confidentiality agreements. To blab could land them in jail.

If an SEO expert cannot stand on his own reputation but has to name drop, he’s not someone you need to know.

11. Unsolicited SEO Offers

We once got an email from a man who told me he could improve my page ranking on certain keywords on a list of web pages he kindly provided me that came from our website. Guess what? We were already in the number 1 and number two spot on Google (and number one on Yahoo, as well).

Spammers often use spiders to crawl for a list of URLs and email addresses. Anytime you get an unsolicited offer via email from someone who claims to have visited your site, been so impressed that they want to help, and has a deal to offer - put the email where it belongs: in the Spam Folder.

Flattery is not what you need -- a fair assessment is and unsolicited offers based on "we evaluated your website" are always bogus. A company may have used some automated assessment tool and generated a report for your website, but why would a company waste (at least) several hours pouring over your website and truly giving it a fair assessment from the human perspective and then send it to you in hopes you will buy their services?

If you get an offer for a free website assessment, there is probably no harm in biting -- as long as you don't have to sign anything, buy anything, or offer up a credit card. However, take that "free" report with a grain of salt and then go over to www.woorank.com and run your own independent report for free.

12. Threats and Extortion Campaigns

Yes, there are scammers out there that actually threaten to sabotage your website if you do not let them SEO it for you. These scammers may even say things in emails like, “I want to discuss this with you live, can I call you at …” and then actually list your phone number!

They want you to think you have been targeted and if you do not go with their service the underlying tone is that they will do something awful.

Ignore them. It is all hype. And, it is also illegal to threaten or attempt to extort money over the Internet. Report them to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Closing Thoughts

I run a marketing firm and have a company website to generate leads. I market my own website, obviously, and yet, I get at least five new unsolicited emails from other marketing companies every single day through my website's contact form. These mass emailers seem totally oblivious that they have even contacted another marketing firm and that is because no human looked at my website.

The fact that marketing companies get spam offers from other marketing companies tells you something -- those unsolicited offers are being sent out in mass email campaigns to any website owner. If you get such an email, do not let flattery "your site has potential" or "you have a great thing going" trick you into believing that they can do better for you.

Until a marketing company actually does look at your site AND your competitor's websites, you really should tell them you have nothing to say to them except goodbye. Better yet -- put their emails where they belong -- in the trash.