Digital MarketingSearch MarketingThe SEM Scam Sales Pitch

The SEM Scam Sales Pitch

A little research (and some knowledge) helps reveal an SEM scam.

I like learning about different vendors’ approaches to delivering similar SEM (define) services. Search engine algorithms are perpetually tweaked and refined to gather, sort, and report the most relevant results for users. If I’m to deliver a series of successful organic or paid SEM strategies, I must spend a portion of my time each day gathering, sorting, and reviewing different services from SEM vendors.

With a trio of non-corporate sounding email addresses and spam filters set on high, I’ve evolved into a highly efficient lurker. I quietly trawl press releases, forums, and blogs; subscribe to different newsletters; download a variety of white papers; review online demos; attend online seminars; and scour industry research to leverage new opportunities as they arise.

Over the years, I’ve developed a short list of favorite vendors to work with on different types of SEM projects, but I’m always on the lookout for new firms, if the right project fits their services. It’s not as if everybody already knows how to optimize podcasts or video feeds.

I enjoy a good sales pitch as much as the next person, but I don’t like to waste anyone’s time when I’m only gathering information. There’s no sense in stringing a sales rep along if I’m not in the market to buy. Unless, of course, the boss of your boss’s boss makes you do it.

Warning Signals

Seems a high-up in our organization, whose wife knows the chief of a new SEM group, passed the just-talk-to-them-already assignment down the corporate food chain to get a zealous fifth cousin (twice-removed) off his back. Normally, my politically adept boss would make short work of such a task, but he was away on a well-timed vacation. So the appointment made its way to my schedule.

I’d never heard of the SEM group before, so I spent about 10 minutes on its Web site before the call. It looked legitimate enough, although, oddly, it didn’t contain any client testimonials and the current client listings included a few companies I’d never head of. The services included all the usual offerings, but methodology details were sparse.

The call started well enough; a bit about the rep’s background and company, followed by a reciprocal bit about me and my company. Then, conversation shifted. The sales rep promised to drive more search engine traffic to different pages on one of our e-commerce sites.

I found this curious. That site is currently well positioned for profitable keyword search phrases and is garnering good results from qualified search traffic. That’s when he said, “Sure, the site is doing OK as it is. But is every page found for a wide variety of keywords?”

He had me there. It’s highly improbable any one page of a Web site can be highly relevant for a diverse array of search queries — unless something hinky is going on. Perhaps the rep knew something I didn’t.

That’s when he told me about their new, “time-tested” system of “domain-name funneling.” Basically, his company would build several hundred pages on as series of domains, owned and managed by them, to “drive phenomenal volumes” of search engine traffic to different pages on our site by way of redirects that were “completely invisible” to the search engines. That’s how he could “guarantee” more search engine traffic for the site.

I asked if the guarantee included a money-back option.

The SEM group was offering to create a bunch of sub-domains on its “page-rank-worthy domains,” with our trademarked brand names in part of the file structure. Unwitting search engine users would be funneled to irrelevant pages that appear to be relevant for popular search queries. Of course, the SEM group would do this in such a way the search engines wouldn’t de-index our site for spam penalties.

This is one of the more common SEM scams of late. It will eventually bury a legitimate business on the Web. Google calls it “shadow domains“; I call it “poor man’s cloaking.” No matter what you call it, building doorway pages to misdirect unqualified search engine traffic to a site is never a good idea — unless your primary business line is ad scraping.

Parting Thoughts

The moral of this story is threefold: First, be very wary of signing on with an SEM group that won’t help you speak with its clients because they want to “protect their privacy.” Second, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t fall for “guarantees” that deliver irrelevant search traffic by spamming the search engines. Finally, whenever possible, schedule your vacation in tandem with your boss so you’re not stuck with his drudge work.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies August 8-11 in San Jose, CA.

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