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Don't Believe a Word - Debunking the Lies That SEO Agencies Tell

  |  September 3, 2013   |  Comments   |  

Three must-avoid traps to search marketing hell and tips on how to protect from such scams.

There are many SEO (search engine optimization) agencies that provide high-quality services and work very hard for their clients. On the other hand, there are many blood-sucking SEO agencies that don't care about the clients' success at all. I'm not even talking about the "black hat" practitioners. This is about those borderline criminals who lie and trick clients into search engine marketing hell.

Here are three of the "must-avoid" traps that I still see happening around the world.


Trap 1: Ranking Guarantee

You pay low monthly fee (or no fee) until you rank number one for the keyword. While you are ranking number one, you pay premium price.

Why it's a trap: They send you a screen shot of search results showing your page is ranking number one, but they don't tell you that they artificially create the ranking by using the personalized search on their browser. Or, they send you a monthly ranking report showing your page is ranking number one, but you don't know how the report was generated.

While you are paying premium, you don't see any improvements in the volume of organic traffic, and therefore, no business benefit. When you tell them about terminating the contract or getting your money back, they'll say you will immediately disappear from the organic search results after you terminate the contract.

Trap 2: Long-Term Contract

They present you with a long-term contract with a low monthly fee. They verbally mention a long list of SEO services such as ranking improvement and link building, but those are not specified in the contract.

Why it's a trap: Although the monthly fee may not be much, you are wasting money since you don't see any results. When you complain, they point out to you that the contract you signed was for a five-year lease of their SEO software, which they provide for you to do the activity and not for the SEO service itself. Since your complaint has nothing to do with the performance of the software, you don't have a valid reason to terminate the contract.

Trap 3: Sell New Website Design

They push you to create a new website (sometimes even a new domain) since they cannot optimize the site you have now (without giving the specific reasons.)

Why it's a trap: It's really a rare occasion when you have to completely abandon the website you own now and start from scratch. When they encourage or sometimes demand you to create a new site it's just so that they can sell more services to you. Since they're the agency that also provides the SEO services, you would expect the website they create would be optimized when it's finished, but they usually sell SEO services separately for an additional charge.

Also, you usually don't need to change the domain unless it's tied to so many bad links, negative reputation, etc. It's another way for them to sell you the services that you really don't need.

The nightmare doesn't end that easily. Many of these evil SEO agencies will even threaten you, when you try to terminate the contract.

Here are two of the common "threats" they might use.

Threat 1: It will cost your arms and legs.

You realize that the links your agency has been building for your site are actually hurting your website and you ask them to remove those links. The agency will then charge you to remove those links at the rate of two to three times or more than what you paid them for the link building to acquire them. The good news is we can now use the disavow tool to recover from this.

Threat 2: We'll whack your website and business.

You are not happy with the agency's performance and tell them to terminate the contract. The agency reminds you that they designed the website and they own the site, all the code they wrote including the shopping cart and other e-commerce functions, as well as the database, leaving you with nothing but a domain.

The small businesses who have less knowledge of SEO and the resources in general seem to be the main target for these practices. But, the size of your business alone won't protect you from these scams. Here are some tips that would help:

  • Learn basic SEO best practices. You don't need to become an expert, but you don't want to sign the contract without understanding what they are going to do and the relative value of each of the activities.
  • Ask for the proposed SEO plan in detail. If they don't explain to you why and how the plan works (because you won't understand, or you should just leave it up to them), find another agency.
  • Clearly state the services that are included (and not included) in the contract.
  • Read the small print in the contract before you sign. If you're not happy with it, don't hesitate to ask them to make the necessary changes.
  • Ask for five (not just two or three) references, and actually use them. Better yet, ask for a few former clients.
  • Search for the agency's name to see if anyone is talking about their services. In the era of social media it is becoming harder for these parasites to hide.

There are many opportunities to educate yourself about SEO. In addition to the many search-related conferences, there are free webinars offered by SEMPO and other organizations, and the Webmaster forums provide excellent information about the business of SEO.

Home page image via Shutterstock.

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Motoko Hunt

Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been providing the online marketing services targeting Japan and Asia to companies from around the world, helping them to enter the regional market using the Internet. Her search marketing consulting services with her extensive knowledge of Asia and Japanese market have been highly valued and made big impact on some of the world's popular multi-national brands' search marketing campaigns.

A number of her articles have been published on industry websites and printed media including Multilingual Computing and International Journal of Localization. She also writes about the Japanese online market on her blog and Multilingual-Search.com. She's a frequent speaker at search marketing conferences globally, and gives seminars and trainings about search marketing targeting Japan and Asia.

Prior to entering the online marketing industry in the mid 90's, she worked as a senior marketing manager at a traditional marketing and trading firm, marketing U.S. products to Japanese government and heavy industries.

She believes in giving back to the community and volunteers her time for industry organizations. She served as a member of Board of Directors of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), and is a Chairman of SEMPO Asia-Pacific Committee. In March 2009, she received the first SEMPO President Award for her support and dedication to the search industry and SEMPO organization.

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