SEO is an important part of any digital marketing plan.

We would know, it’s our biggest source of leads making it one of the most important marketing methods for us. We do it a lot for ourselves and for clients - so, we have a lot of experience with it.

Because it’s something we offer to clients, we get a lot of people saying they’re already working with someone or they tried a few and saw no results. That makes sense with how ubiquitous SEO is in the marketing advice industry.

The problem is that it’s one of those nebulous things that people (business owners) know they need but don’t understand. Like a website, but even more mysterious. This makes it ripe for scammers, liars, and noobs.

The bad providers of SEO make the whole industry look bad.

I do not like them and that’s why I’m writing this post. If I can educate enough people then maybe it will start hitting them where it hurts - their pockets. And then they’ll move on to the next grift. Hopefully.

Signs of an SEO scam

Outdated backlinking building methods

A backlink is any link from a different website to your website. They are one of the most important ranking factors as of writing this (Google has stated they may demote it a bit).

The theory behind this, originally called PageRank at Google, is that the more websites/people that reference something means that the source material must be more authoritative and more important to display higher. Similar to citations in a college paper, the source material gains notoriety the more it is used.

And, of course, the internet found ways to game this system in the early days and into the 2010’s. Back in the day, Google only valued the amount of backlinks rather than the quality of backlink.

So, what does any good SEO person do? They build MASSIVE amounts of links without any regard to the quality. From everywhere - forums, different language websites, Q&A submission sites, every social media platform, etc.

This was super effective back then. But now, at best, it does nothing. At worst, you’ll get a manual penalty.

Below is an actual page of a backlink building proposal we got in 2021 from a client working with someone else for SEO:

image with text showing red X's next to backlink building methods like forum submissions, file sharing, blog commenting, etc

If you get a proposal that lists any of the ones with a red X…run! They’re a scammer using decades-old information.

Poor English

Really not trying to knock anyone whose first language isn’t English, my point here is that any SEO content written needs to adhere to normal English grammatical rules.

Google ranks pages based on how useful a page’s content is. If it’s incredibly hard to read because the English sucks, then it’s inherently not useful and will rank lower.

If your provider submits content that’s hard to read or has some quirks to it, it means they’re either outsourcing it to some cheap writer for $5 a page or they just don’t care. Both cases are bad and sure signs of a scammer.

Not charging enough

You get what you pay for when it comes to SEO and real SEO is expensive. Like, thousands of dollars.

It’s normal to outsource some SEO tasks to lower the price for a client but only to a certain point. If using a US-based provider, I would expect it to cost a minimum of $1000/mo. The economics of it just don’t work for anything less unless most of it is being outsourced. In which case, you’re actually getting a lesser service, which isn’t technically a scam it just sucks for you.

This means that the Fiverr freelancer you hired for $5 to build backlinks is definitely doing a bad job. That writer you hired for the cheapest per-word price is definitely just using AI to write your article. And that local freelancer charging $500/mo probably doesn’t actually know what they’re doing - if they did, they would charge 5 times that.

They’re not able to describe what they do

This is a sign you’re talking to a salesperson. While this isn’t a sign of a scam, it is a sign of a poor relationship/customer service.

You’ll want whomever you’re talking to to articulate what they will do for you and how they will prove what they’re doing for you. More on the proof part in the next section.

You want to hear things like reporting, audits, we research the best keywords, we do a technical analysis using XYZ tools and suggest fixes, we use XYZ SEO tools, etc.

They don’t provide reports

You need to know what they’re doing and how well it’s working. Otherwise, you’re just giving money to random people for no reason.

If they don’t provide the data that backs up their strategy, then why would you trust them to execute that strategy?

If they don’t provide proof of progress, like ranking tracking, then how would you know their work is having any impact?

If they don’t provide ANYTHING like this then they’re 100% a scam.

They reference made-up stats like DA

There are a few stats that SEO tools have come up with a way to simplify the SEO strength of a website into 1 number. Each platform has its own name for this - domain authority (DA), URL rank (UR), page authority (PA), and domain rank (DR).

So, you might see someone say a website has a DA of 79 (out of 100). That would theoretically be a strong SEO site.

The problem is that these numbers are completely made up using an algorithm that has had no input from Google. It, therefore, very rarely represents real life. What’s worse is that people have learned how to artificially inflate these numbers to make a site look better than it really is.

If your provider uses these numbers to make decisions, they definitely don’t know what they’re doing and you should not work with them.

It’s important to differentiate this from the concept of “authority”, which is something important to Google but that is different from these things. So, it’s ok if they mention “authority” but not when referring to their SEO tools as a decision maker.

Guarantees guarantee a scam

Literally no one can guarantee rankings. Not only is ranking not up to your SEO provider but Google also changes stuff all the time.

You could be ranking top 3 one day and then drop 5 pages the next.

Anyone who guarantees a specific rank (the most common is “guaranteed top 3” or “guaranteed 1st page”) is a scammer.

What we say is that we can probably get you to X-Y ranking based on this information and based on your competitors. We think it will take X months/days. You will potentially get this much more traffic/conversions from it based on your website’s current data.