Buyer Beware: 5 Tips For Spotting SEO Charlatans

I have written numerous times on the many myths that abound in SEO. But it seems that no matter how many times I try to bust these myths wide open, they still persist.

Perhaps I am fighting an uphill battle here because the world of SEO unfortunately has its fair share of charlatans who want to perpetuate the myths, keeping the customer in the dark so they can continue to make quick and dirty money with dubious SEO practices.

buyer bewareCase in point: One of my readers, Kristin McGowan, reached out to me after receiving an automated voicemail that raised all sorts of red flags. The friendly voice identified himself as “Nick from” and congratulated her on her new website.

He provided her with a promo code and said that upon entering it into their site, they would register her site with over 250 search engines, and her visibility would thereupon be improved.  For a monthly fee, of course.

Let me point out here that Kristin’s “new” site is in fact not new and happens to be for a digital marketing company, so she’s no stranger to SEO. Kristin wants to expose snake oil salesmen like “Nick” for what they really are. “These people are infuriating, and I’m sorry to say I know way too many people who’ve fallen for this kind of thing,” she says.

They might as well have concluded with an offer to sell her a bridge in Brooklyn. Let’s look at some of the facts and examine what makes this company’s claims so dubious.

1. Only The Big Search Engines Are Worth The Time

The first red flag here is their promise to submit her site to over 250 search engines. It certainly sounds impressive, but there are really only a few search engines that matter. We all know what they are, and the supposed 200+ “sub-search engines” that this company promises to register her with are irrelevant. It’s simply a waste of time.

They use other impressive-sounding jargon, including telling her that her site is now “search engine ready.” This means nothing. All sites are ready to be crawled by the search engines from the moment they are launched. Whether or not they actually get crawled by the search engines is another matter altogether.

2. Registration Alone Won’t Improve Your Site’s Visibility

Registering your site with search engines is completely unnecessary and won’t do anything to improve your rankings. Verifying your site (for free!) through Google Webmaster Tools can help you identify potential issues; but, your rankings are dependent on quality links back to your site. No links = no rankings.

3. Registering Your Site Is Not Some Complicated Process

In their FAQ section, this company indicates that attempting to register your site by yourself is time-consuming and technically complicated. This is patently false. Even if you never registered your site at all, a good link or two to your site would mean that Google will discover your site all on its own and likely index it quickly.

This company also claims that they will submit your site monthly (and charge you monthly as well!). What ever for? Google and the other search engines are smart enough to crawl your site on a regular basis, if the quality links are there.

4. Beware Of Unsolicited Contact

Perhaps the biggest red flag was that the initial contact was entirely unsolicited. Google specifically warns webmasters to be wary of such unsolicited emails regarding SEO and other Internet marketing services:

Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.

Amazingly, we get these spam emails too:

“Dear, I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories…”

Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for “burn fat at night” diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.

5. There Are No Real People Here

In this case, the voicemail was not only unsolicited, but it was also automated. In fact, everything about the Search Engine Setup website, including a little animated video clip on the main page, is automated.

There are no real people here and the website provides little to no information on what they will actually do for you, beyond submitting your site to the search engines. You can’t access any of that information until you have purchased one of their packages and become a “member.” Their contact page contains no phone number to call for real help, and calling the 1-800 number from which they contact you results in another automated message, with no options for speaking to a live person.

For those of us in the digital marketing world, it is easy to spot this as a scam almost immediately. But scams like this target everyone indiscriminately, and are bound to ensnare a few unwary consumers who don’t truly understand how search engines work.

Such underhanded practices give legitimate SEO service providers a bad name, and we need to fight back. We need to spread the word, pull back the curtain, and expose the little man pretending to be the great Wizard of Oz.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is the author of Google Power Search, creator of the Science of SEO and co-author of The Art of SEO now in its second edition, both published by O'Reilly. Spencer is also the founder of Netconcepts and inventor of the SEO technology platform GravityStream. He also blogs on his own site, Stephan Spencer's Scatterings.

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  • Andy Kinsey

    Great Post,

    I’ve noticed a trend recently when i register with certain registrars (primarily 123reg) that within a few hours I get an email from a third party congratulating me on the site and asking me if I want to get it submitted to Google and Bing for £100.

    Now being a digital marketer myself I say no and think nothing of it, other than being annoyed my details are clearly being passed on annoyingly. But those who know nothing may think its from the registrar just being nice and say yes, boom £100 gone for a few minutes work.

    This and cold calling are the bain of my life, especially yell – though you can have fun tripping up cold callers and getting them to admit they are just selling ~PPC and dont have a “special relationship” with Google.

    Anyway great post, keep pushing this.

  • dianekulseth

    It’s sad that there still have to be posts about this, but I’ve seen my fair share both working with clients and for my own personal websites. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get mailings telling me that I need to pay $150+ to register my site with the search engines.

    Hopefully the word will continue to spread about these scammers so companies can rest assured that they’re working with good SEO knowledge when they hire someone.

  • Asian Wedding Horses

    My favourites are the calls I get from People asking me if I want my sites on Google. When I ask them where they get my number from and they say from Google I always have a good chuckle.

  • JustConsumer

    This is poorly written article, full of the misleading statements.
    Buyers Beware of such “professionals”.

  • Scott Avery

    Don’t you mean poor-”ly” written article?

  • JustConsumer

    Yup, tks )

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    Everyone has made good points on the impact of the Whois/Adwords ad scrape and scam companies, but I’ll lay down one more that irks me.

    These types of “services” have been out there for years influencing small business owners ideas about SEO with their pitch. Business owners have been slowly accepting these deceptive offers as some gauge of what SEO services cost. We hear a common objection when delivering a quote, “But I can get a company to do this for $250 – $500/month.

    Granted, a customer only willing to spend $250 is not our target, but we try and enlighten them all the same.

  • Gracious Store

    There aremany ill minded SEO companies out there who who make false and empty promises to website owners with hope of gaining their trust, but unfortunately many of their lies and empty promises are backfiring on them

  • Kevin Anchi

    excellent post and 100% true, i myself has conducted an survey in 6 months for 20 seo agencies and noticed the same thing

    but i was very happy doing so..
    cause (secret)

  • Rafael Marquez

    My “favorite” is when the reply email is a gmail or yahoo address. That’s how you know they are pros at what they do.

  • Romil Tripathi

    great post

    your post is very accurate

    your rankings are dependent on quality links back to your site. No links = no rankings.

  • ChamanaOficial

    We were contacted by ‘Google’ saying that they could remove some bad reputation links the company had (such as ripoffreport, etc) completely remove them from their search engine for $5,000 USD. True story, they are already approaching as Google themselves.

  • Nirjhar Lo

    I want to say something here…
    With little training and reading most of the documents on seo by google, anybody can optimize own site.
    At least that’s my experience of working with sites in a legitimate way.

    Dependence on such silly seo schemes and expecting some magic, will be total loss for small business.

  • Nirjhar Lo

    I want to say something here…
    With little training and reading most of the documents on seo by google, anybody can optimize own site.
    At least that’s my experience of working with sites in a legitimate way.

    Dependence on such silly seo schemes and expecting some magic, will be total loss for small business.


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