Unfortunately, there are plenty of SEO agencies and freelancers out there constantly trying to scam honest businesses in order to make a quick buck.
It often takes weeks and months to see any appreciable results from even the most legitimate SEO efforts, which makes things even easier for scammers. By the time you realize they’re not actually helping you out, you’ve already been paying them for months.
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On this page, we’ll dig into how you can distinguish between scams and real SEO work, so that you can choose an SEO agency that will produce real results for your business.
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What SEO is
It often helps to set a baseline of knowledge when vetting an SEO proposal for validity.
If your expectations are properly set, it’s much harder for scam artists to sneak lies, false promises, and inaccurate information past you.
SEO is a long-term, ongoing digital marketing strategy. If you structure your website in accordance with Google’s “best practice” standards, publish content that adds value for your customers, and make relationships with other websites across the Internet, your website will appear higher up in search engine results.
SEO is a pillar of most modern day online marketing efforts. Generally speaking, the stronger your SEO efforts are, the more long term success you’ll see online.
SEO is governed by well-established rules, practices, and techniques. In other words, everyone is doing essentially the same thing, with different approaches and angles here and there.
What SEO isn’t
SEO is not a “quick fix.” Proper SEO work takes weeks and even months to yield results, and there aren’t any shortcuts.
SEO is not “one and done.” It’s an ongoing strategy that requires constant work and maintenance. If you get your website up to the top of the search engine results and then sit back and relax, you can be sure it won’t stay there for long.
SEO is not a science. While it’s true there are sets of rules and practices that everyone follows, the entire concept of SEO is predicated on search engine algorithms. These algorithms change frequently, and so does the landscape of SEO.
Identifying an SEO scam
With all of that information in mind, there are a few common red flags to watch out for when considering an agency or freelancer for your SEO work.
1. They promise you fast turnaround
Again, there aren’t any quick wins with SEO. Search engines like Google want to make absolutely sure they’re providing users with relevant search results, and they don’t rank websites quickly to avoid making mistakes.
Truly effective SEO strategies involve a lot of planning upfront. Agencies need to take the time to research and understand the industry your business is in, take stock of your current website, come up with a content strategy, perform keyword research, and much more.
This all takes time to do, and even after implementation, it will take some time for search engines to take the changes into account.
If a prospective SEO service is guaranteeing you results within a short or extremely specific time frame, they’re not worth your time or your money.
2. They claim “insider knowledge”
Short and simple, absolutely no one knows exactly how Google’s search engine algorithm works. It’s so massively complex and ever-changing that Google engineers themselves don’t know how it works in its entirety.
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Successful SEO is based in testing, industry experience, and the publicly available information disseminated by Google.
No one has insider knowledge, so agencies that claim they do might be the single biggest red flag when shopping around for SEO work.
3. They guarantee impossible results
Now, legitimate, successful agencies will promise things like ranking on the first page for a certain number of keywords within a certain time frame. That’s completely fine, and isn’t necessarily a red flag.
What you want to watch out for are outlandish guarantees like ranking #1 for an extremely competitive keyword in a short time frame. Things like that simply aren’t possible to guarantee.
Something else to consider is how the guarantee is made. Different industries require different amounts of work and time for effective SEO strategies. More competitive, crowded industries will always take longer to see results in, for example.
If an agency or freelancer promises results without even asking about or mentioning your industry, you should be very skeptical.
4. They mention outdated techniques
This one can be tough to catch, especially if you’re still brushing up on your SEO knowledge.
There are a number of SEO techniques that were extremely effective years ago, when Google’s algorithm was in its infancy. Most of them don’t work at all today, and many will actively hurt your rankings rather than help.
Some common ones to look out for:
- “Keyword stuffing” – cramming as many search keywords as possible into your content and/or meta descriptions
- Buying or trading backlinks
- “Private Blog Networks” or PBNs – a network of dummy blogs used exclusively to rank other websites
- Anything referred to as a “black hat” technique.
Some of these techniques can still be effective in the short term today, but will get your website penalized or even de-indexed from search engines if you’re caught using them.
5. They’re ambiguous about pricing and can’t or won’t provide references
These two qualities are the hallmarks of an agency just in it for your money.
While there is no such thing as industry standard pricing for SEO work, any legitimate agency will easily and willingly provide you with an upfront cost estimation based on your specific needs.
If a prospective SEO partner is wishy-washy or vague about pricing, it could be a sign of exploitation and artificially inflated costs down the road.
Similarly, every single agency worth partnering with will be ready and waiting to provide you with a portfolio and/or list of references that you can contact at your leisure. This one’s pretty straightforward: No references = no business.
Grow your revenue today
It can be pretty stressful to keep all of this information in mind when looking for an agency to partner with, but it’s worth it in the end.
A proper SEO agency will be helpful, mindful of any business-specific circumstances you may have, and most importantly, will deliver results.
If you’re actively looking for an agency to head up your SEO strategy, we’d love to help. At WebFX, our expert team of Internet marketers has years of experience crafting custom, affordable, and effective SEO solutions for clients across the country.