5 Ways to Uncover Scammy SEO Agencies

by · December 27, 201249 comments

Is your SEO company scamming you?

Are they using spammy tactics that could actually harm your website?

Can they actually produce results, or are they just stealing your money?

Don’t waste any more time wondering.. here’s a checklist of 5 ways to put your SEO firm to the test…

  1. They don’t charge enough
  2. They Have Publicly Posted Complaints
  3. They Don’t Share Case Studies or References
  4. They Don’t Measure Themselves
  5. They Don’t Share the Secret Sauce

#1) They Don’t Charge Enough

Plain and simple, you get what you pay for.

Assuming you want your SEO firm to produce meaningful results, make sure they charge more than your car payment.

I’ve actually taken these cheap SEO companies for a couple test drives.  In every case, one or more of the following were true:

  • They aren’t actually doing.. ANYTHING.
  • Their strategy is non-existent or piss-poor at best.
  • Their talent is untrained and inexperience, leaving you low-quality of service.
  • They build un-natural, spammy, low-quality links that will eventually harm your website.

Long story short, don’t fall for this:

cheap seo company pricing chart

OK, now that we know they will be sufficiently funded to actually deliver quality work, move onto some routine due diligence…

#2) They Have Publicly Posted Complaints

Gain insight into how they perform at their worst.

Another quick and easy method: Google the company’s name followed by “reviews” or “complaints”.

If you see pissedconsumer.comcomplaintsboard.com, or ripoffreport.com… run for the hills.

Don’t stop at the 1st page, scour the 2nd and 3rd pages as well.

Here is a good Google search to unveil the ugly skeletons:
(review OR complaint OR scam OR spam) seo company name
Replace “seo company name” with the name of the company in question.

You can also search the BBB to dig up some dirt.

Here’s an example of a company that you do NOT want to work with:

SEO comapny reviews SERP

Now that we know the company is clean on the surface, let’s look under the hood and kick the tires a little…

#3) They Don’t Share Case Studies or References

The proof is in the pudding, taste theirs before opening your wallet.

High-quality SEO companies have references and case studies that are relevant to your company; They have produced results that align with your goals.

Ask them to share a relevant case study.

How to tell the case study is effective:

  1. Uses easy to understand metrics (numbers)
  2. Shows a baseline measurement and relevant growth of that metric (a before and after type story)
  3. Communicates the tools and methods used to prodcue this growth
  4. Includes a testimonial from the case studies client

The case study should be compelling and convince you that they can do the same for you.

Ask them for 3 references.

Here are some questions to ask when you call the references:

  • What do they do for you on a monthly basis?
  • What type of increase in inquires or sales did you see coming from your website?
    • After what period of time of working with them did you see this increase?
  • Do they respond to your requests in a timely manner?
  • If there is one thing you could change about their performance and service, what would that be?
  • Have you ever recommended them to a close colleague?

If you’ve made it this far and they’re still looking good, it’s time to dust off your microscope and really dig deep…

#4) They Don’t Measure Themselves

It’s a numbers game, baby.

Every SEO company should take baseline measurements of where you stand before working with them. Why? – So they can later prove that what they’re doing is working.

You should be provided with a list of focus keywords – These are relevant keywords for your business.

They should send you something like this: internet marketing keyword rankings

Ask them: “If you were me, what KPI’s would you track?”

Here are some examples of what GOOD companies will respond with:

  • Return on Marketing Dollars (ROMD) – ROI.
  • Cost per lead (or cost per sale) – Another measure of ROI, lower the better, obviously.
  • Number of unique keywords that send traffic – This measures how well you’re capturing the long-tail, that is, search queries that contain more than 3 words.  For instance, “mortgage rates” is a short-tail keyword, whereas “mortgage rates for townhouse in Maryland” is a long-tail keyword.
  • Non-branded, organic traffic – Measuring traffic from search engines where your brand or product name was NOT included in the search query.
  • Conversions via non-branded, organic traffic – I REALLY like this one.. A conversion is when a visitor converts into a lead or buys something from your site.  This KPI gives you a gauge on the QUALITY of the traffic that your SEO firm is building.  So what if your visitors are increasing, if they aren’t converting into leads or sales, then those visitors are essentially worthless.

Ask them if they’re willing to do a custom report

Your company is unique, your report should be too.

If you’re impressed with their responses thus far, there’s only 1 more item to check…

#5) They Don’t Share the Secret Sauce

If they keep it a secret.. they probably don’t know the formula.

NEWS FLASH: SEO is NOT “magic” or “voodoo”

When a practice is hard to understand, people label it “magic” — so that makes your CPA a wizard and your lawyer a ninja… but the truth is, SEO isn’t all that complicated.

That said, it does takes several different disciplines to be effective. It is half art, half science.

At the end of the day, SEO is making Google’s job easy.

Google is in the information business

Google (and the other search engines) are in the business of providing quality information. To do this well, Google needs a way to find and figure out which websites have the best information (this is their algorithm).

How do they do this?  Well, that’s the “code” that SEO companies are trying to crack. All we know for certain is the following 2 ingredients will always be part of the recipe:

  • Add valuable content to your website – You want to show Google that you’re open for business and staying current.  By adding timely and relevant content to your website, you’re telling Google: “I know my industry and I’m keeping up to date on the latest practices, regulations, etc..”
  • Having other websites to link to yours – Think of every link pointing to your website as a “thumbs up” that builds your credibility.  Remember, Google wants to serve relevant content, content that is popular is usually good.  What better way for Google to measure your website’s popularity than to count how many links you have.

Now, that is very over simplified.  To expand, we have to take into account the quality of these links. Think about it this way: Say I have 500 friends (links) and you have 150. Your friends are all well-to-do, they have college degrees and work at reputable companies whereas my friends are high-school drop outs who are homeless or at best they wash cars for a living.

Who do you think Google would be more likely to trust?

A more applicable example might look like this: If your website has links from quality publications (eg. cnn.com) while my website has links from some-site-that-nobody-reads.com, Google will favor your website over mine.

Ask them for their secret sauce (strategy)

This is where the men separate from the boys.. and where you learn how your SEO company is going to help you drive qualified traffic. Here are some questions to ask and their respective answers:

How are you going to help with content creation?

The scam artist: “We use off-shore resources and automated news scrappers to create blog posts.”

The real SEO: “First we’ll start by creating a publishing schedule. This is a list of keyword rich headlines which gives us a framework for the types of content we want to produce.  Ideally, the content comes from within your organization, but if you don’t have the resources, we can help procure a professional writer who has experience with your industry.

Either way, we will have our SEO experts review and optimize the content before it’s posted to your website.

Additionally, we can leverage the content you’re already producing (whitepapers, case studies, webinars, emails, sales presentations, etc..).  These assets can be transcribed, organized, and optimized to draw relevant traffic from the search engines.”

How are we going to get more websites to link to us?

The scam artist: “We have a network of websites which we use to build links to your website.  We also submit your website to over 100 directories.  Lastly, we will social bookmarking to build links to your website.”

The real SEO: “Let’s start with your existing links and optimize those.  That is, we will make sure they all point to working and relevant pages, investigate the anchor text distribution (you don’t want to have the exact same anchor text for every link), and ask webmasters that already link to you to link to you again, from a different yet still relevant page of their website.

In a similar vain, we can contact your clients, partners, and vendors, on your behalf, to make sure they’re linking to you in a preferred fashion.  If you would rather reach out, we will provide you with the specific language and code to give them.

We will find websites & blogs who write about your industry, or about the industries your product or service caters to, and reach out to them to procure “guest posting” opportunities.  This is where your content will be posted on their website, giving you exposure to their audience and a relevant link back to your website (which, as you know, Google loves to see).

Let’s not forget internal linking, that is, how the pages within your websites link to one another.  Search engines learn a lot about your specific offerings by investigating how you link to your content throughout your site.  For example, if you have a page that you want to rank for a specific keyword, but you never link to that page from anywhere within your website, then Google is going to assume that you don’t think that page is important.  Whereas if you link to that page from several pages, then Google will recognize that you consider that page important and give it more credit.”

Can you see the difference between the scammy and the REAL SEO’s?

That’s all for now…

Here is a related article which highlights some other ways you can tell if your SEO firm needs to hear from the scam police.

I leave you with the epitome of what you’re NOT looking for in your SEO vendor:

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About Arsham Mirshah

Arsham Mirshah

Arsham is a co-founder of WebMechanix, a SEO & Inbound Internet marketing agency near Baltimore, MD & Washington DC. Arsham is a technical SEO, Google Analytics junkie, & web developer who loves to ski, play tennis and demonstrate #SnowballingROI. Find Arsham on Google+ or Twitter!

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  • EdDanger

    I think you should specify that sharing the “secret sauce” means simply sharing your strategy and not necessarily “how” your going to accomplish the task… then anyone could do it and I didn’t pay for a college degree to teach them my skills for free!

    • http://www.larakulpa.com Lara Kulpa

       You don’t need to teach them your skills, but you do need to explain them. If I came to you and asked you what it is you plan to do, and you answered something to the effect of, “Everything I paid tuition for,” I’d run, and tell everyone I knew to run also.

      The best SEOs in the world never paid a dime to learn what they know. They paid in blood, sweat, time, and tears. I don’t care what you were taught in college (most of it is likely irrelevant today anyway), I want to know what you are doing to make your clients more successful.

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      Ed, that makes sense.. In fact, the best SEO’s end up teaching their clients along the way, sometimes out of necessity (to explain what they’re doing and how it makes a difference), and sometimes to achieve the win-win (teach client resources to become more efficient and produce better results).

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    The #1 sign they’re ripping you off? They will not share data. I’ve had clients and friends in the past who have worked with firms that set up Google Analytics and will not give the customer a login. It’s a giant flashing red warning sign six feet tall. (cross posting)

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      Wow, I didn’t realize a firm would go that low.. giant flashing red flag indeed!

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      I think you might want to also red flag your clients and friends who are foolish enough to accept this. 

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    Love this! Brilliant one: ask them for their secret sauce. Good lesson for any business category really… If their solution is magic, run for it. 

    I have to add my instant red flag: the SEO “expert” who solicits you via the contact form on your website. That’s lower than scammy. It’s scummy. Also, doesn’t it just scream, “We’re so shitty at SEO we need to cold call to get business.”

  • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

    YouTube keeps removing the video.. hope to have a working video here shortly.. sorry folks!

  • http://twitter.com/hunterboyle Hunter Boyle

    Best cheat sheet (or “don’t get cheated” sheet) on this topic I’ve seen in ages. Thanks for a helpful and very timely post. Going to send it along to some SEO seeking friends right now. Cheers!   

  • Philip55

    Brilliant article. Can anyone suggest a good company for me to hire? Thanks

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      The right company depends on your industry and goals… but generally speaking, Google for “internet marketing company GEOGRAPHY” or “seo company GEOGRAPHY” and pick from the first page :)

  • http://www.ezmaal.com/ hyderali

    I may not full agree with your point no.3. Such tactics are also used by competitors who post bad reviews about the company. I already dealt with such kind of companies & not only reviews, I found a whole blog post where a blogger writing bad about the company who comes out to be the competitor of the company.

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      I see what you’re saying, and you’re right, that is possible, so you can’t judge solely on reviews.

      It could be a good thing.. that is, if their competitor is posting negative reviews, it could mean they fear that company.

      OR – it could mean the company did something morally/ethically wrong, thus provoking the competitor to take such an action.

      Either way, you’re right, none of the principles in this post can stand alone.. they require more due diligence. For instance, if an “SEO company” only charges $200/month – but they clearly set your expectations that they are only delivering 2 content pieces for that price, not posting them, not holding calls to discuss strategy, not providing reports, not etc… then they are NOT a scam (especially if their content is high-quality) — and they are serving a niche.

      Of course, I wouldn’t call them a “SEO agency” at that point.. more like a “ghost writer” or “outsourced content production company” :)

  • http://paradisesocial.wordpress.com/ Mike Poynton

    Very nice post, Arsham! We educate our clients along the way through the entire process, sharing data along the way too to show them what is working and what may not be working. We approach SEO as more of an owner/consultant collaboration. They must be involved. They are the ones who know their target market better than anyone (at least, they should). Everything we do is transparent.

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      I wish there was a “love” button!  
      Very happy to hear that Mike, we are the EXACT same way .. I would put money on your continued success!

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  • http://www.pimediaservices.com/ Mark Weyland

    Wow! Thank you so much for this reference list. Off late I have seen many upcoming entrepreneurs, who want to take up SEO as a stream of service. But due to their lack of experience, are treated as scam and not given a chance to prove their intellect and show their productive and creative skills. This check list will surely help people differentiate better, and these upcoming entrepreneurs will be given a fair chance to make a mark in the industry.

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      Thanks Mark.. I’ve, unfortunately, seen the same thing & thus hope they “do their homework” before getting scammed.

  • http://twitter.com/TechnduInternet Mark Kens

    There are a lot of SEO agencies and some are spammy too. You,
    as a prospective client always have a tough task while deciding on any agency.
    I think you should choose an SEO company bbased on their previous results so
    testimonials and references are needed.  As
    you can see in this post, that cost is a major factor in deciding on any
    agency. You’ll get only what you paid for so stay away from the companies which
    are cheaper in pricing.

     

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      Yup, all about those testimonials & references!

  • http://www.thedsmgroup.com/ Jason Diller

    Nice post.  Really well done!  I love posts like this.  

  • Siddharth Mathur

    Nice post, great job done, Seo Proffessional is the best for the making any site looks good, and it is required for every site.

  • http://twitter.com/adfilmtv Vanderpoel

    Very cool!

  • https://twitter.com/sanketpatel Sanket Patel

    If you find SEO agency in online then there are certain points that you have to keep in your mind like Analytic Quality,  How long  they have been in the business and also its past and present projects. These will be easy aspect to choose a perfect SEO firm.

    • http://www.seobywebmechanix.com Arsham Mirshah

      Agree.. thanks Sanket.  The quality of the present project should be more heavily weighted, do you agree? (since SEO is constantly changing)

      • http://www.facebook.com/linda.homes.12 Linda Homes

         The quality of the majority of indian seo agencies is questionable, I would like to recommend you to take a closer look at this website and let me know if they served your needs http://www.imcredo.com/

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  • http://www.searchiton.com/ Williamsearch

    Yeah we should check the agency properly before hiring it. Check the background work of that company than decide.

  • Sarah

    There are good and bad in all industries, of course. SEO’s get a bad rep partly due to the nature of the work they perform. It’s sometimes hard to quantify to clients. Do your research, then do some more. We do SEO and we don’t tie people in, if they are not happy with our results they can leave. We are open and transparent about our work and like to form a close relationship with the client and provide regular progress reports. We never promise the earth, that’s just asking for trouble. http://www.freshfrogseo.com

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  • Spook SEO

    Hello Arsham,

    This article is really helpful especially for those who don’t have any idea on what to consider when choosing the right SEO service providers. It’s really important to investigate the SEO companies before availing for its services. It’s so sad there are many individuals and companies who became victims of these SEO Scampanies. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

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  • Jayanta Dey

    This article
    is really very helpful. It’s will help us to choose good SEO service company. I
    also agree with every point which you discuss in this post. Awesome article.
    Thanks a lot.

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  • Eugen Jones

    There are good and bad in all industries, of course. SEO’s get a bad
    rep partly due to the nature of the work they perform. It’s sometimes
    hard to quantify to clients. Do your research, then do some more. We
    do SEO and we don’t tie people in, if they are not happy with our
    results they can leave. We are open and transparent about our work and
    like to form a close relationship with the client and provide regular
    progress reports. We never promise the earth, that’s just asking for
    trouble.
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  • Kelly Hansen822

    I also agree with every point which you discuss in this post.Thanks for a helpful and very timely post.These will be easy aspect to choose a perfect seo agency..Thanks!!!

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