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The Biggest SEO Scam of All
by Cari Haus

While there are many ethical SEO firms in the market, there are a few SEO practices that should be a red flag to any potential client. This article provides an overview of those red flags--including what the author considers to be the biggest SEO scam of all. A few notorious practitioners also exist. One of them called me just the other day.

“We can get your site to be number one in the search engines for the top 20 search terms you choose,” promised the telemarketer. I don’t usually give telemarketers the time of day, but somehow found this fellow to be intriguing. It was a cold and snowy day in Michigan right at the moment, and somehow I felt warmer just hearing him glow about the sunshine beaming through his own office windows.

“Show me results,” I requested. So we cruised the web together, and he showed me some client sites that really did have top rankings. At first glance the sales spiel sounded rather inviting, but after taking some time to consider and evaluate his company, I determined that what this friendly young salesman offered was nothing more than a scam.

As I did my homework, several red flags jumped out at me. By researching his company on the Internet, I learned that they employed no less than 250 telemarketers soliciting SEO clients on a continual basis. With all due respect to the size of this company, I found it hard to believe that they could service the numerous SEO clients they were recruiting in a very meaningful way.

I asked the salesman about this the next time he called. He informed me that their SEO service was highly automated, built on proprietary technology that was so ahead of its time that no other firm could compete. In case you didn’t catch it, the previous sentence contained red flag #2. In the words of the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The above was only the tip of the iceberg, however. Upon further questioning of my enthusiastic sales contact, I learned that it wasn’t really my url that they wanted to promote. Their plan was much more beneficial--for themselves, that is. They would set-up urls to be doorway pages to my website. Their urls, not mine, would be optimized to get high in the search engines. They would maintain control of and ownership of the urls, so if I ever went out of business, they could sell all that traffic—and value I had paid so dearly for—to one of my competitors. Pretty nice deal for them. I pay them big bucks on an annual basis to drive traffic to a url which they—not me--own. Of course, I would benefit from whatever sales came through their url as long as I continued to ante up cash.

I had a good friend who fell prey to this scheme a few years back. An unscrupulous SEO “specialist” talked her into paying big bucks for a website with a url which the SEO firm owned and controlled. The SEO firm then billed my friend much more than they had originally contracted for. When she balked at the bill, they threatened to shut down traffic to the site.

While this firm also promised hordes of traffic and top search engine listings, the only significant traffic my friend ever got was garnered through pay-per-click. To make matters worse, the SEO firm hid links to their sites throughout the html of her website.

Another fault I found with the SEO firm mentioned first in this article was the search terms they crowed about taking first place for. To say the least, they were rather obscure. It’s a pretty impressive accomplishment to come up first on the web for the search term “furniture” or even “log furniture”. But if you design a page that brings up your company first on Google for a search of “Birmingham Tuscaloosa Avenue Dry Cleaners”, big deal. And that’s what this SEO firm was doing.

Although I never seriously considered dropping $3000 or whatever it was for their services, the final clincher came when I asked what type of traffic I could expect for digging into my pockets.

“I can get you an average of 100 hits per day,” he told me. Then he showed me stats on some of their clients sites that had, over the course of a year, built up to 100 hits per day. I don’t know about you, but I want a lot more than 100 unique hits per day on my website. I’ve achieved those kinds of numbers—and better—by myself. Why should I pay them for what I consider to be mediocre results?

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in SEO firms, and because of the success I’ve been having on some of my top search terms, may engage in that business myself someday. But after researching the issues carefully, I would warn fellow webmasters to beware of any SEO firm that:

 employs a boiler room full of telemarketers
 automates most or all of their services
 insists on gaining and retaining control of the url to be promoted
 focuses on lengthy and obscure search strings
 touts sites that are garnering a mere 100 hits per day as examples of their success.

Of all the bad practices mentioned above, the one I found most offensive was the idea that the SEO firm should own or control my url. While owning the url would seem like a good idea for the SEO firm (they could always collect their fees by threatening to shut down the site), it isn’t so nifty for the client. If I pay a firm to build my business, I want them to do just that—build my business. To pay a firm to build traffic to a url they own is really like paying them to build their business—and that, in my opinion, is the biggest SEO scam of all.

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