Five tricks dodgy SEO companies use to lure customers

I was inspired to set up Pure SEO in 2009 because I saw a gap in the market for an ethical SEO agency. At the time, there were two particular agencies, which I won’t name, that were ranking well and seemed to be growing. However, when I looked closely at their methodologies, I was shocked. It was apparent that they were taking shortcuts that would one day be exposed by the brains trust governed by Matt Cutts, who leads the webspam team at Google.

That day came, and all their clients lost their rankings, victims of the Google Penguin algorithm update in all its iterations. Recovering from a Google penalty can be a lengthy (years long) and, in some cases, extremely expensive process. Unfortunately, despite all the stark warnings, cautionary tales and customer exoduses, there are still agencies in New Zealand using these underhand tactics.

To help out businesses, we have put together a list of the top things to look out for:

  1. Links pages: If the SEO agency wants to add a ‘links’ or ‘resources’ page to your website, be very afraid. This will work well in the short/medium term, but in the long run it will be detrimental. The problem is that the unwitting client gets great results at first, so thinks the SEO agency is good and recommends it to others, and the bad practice perpetuates.
  2. Guaranteed search engine rankings: Many SEO agencies offer guaranteed rankings, and often the process of guaranteed rankings encourages the agency to go for terms that are easy to rank for or to use shortcuts to get rankings. A great article around this from one of the most reputable global SEO-related companies, Moz.com, can be found here: Why Reputable SEO Firms Don’t Promise Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings.
  3. Independently rated as the top SEO agency: Lots of lists claim to use rigorous methods to analyse and rank a company’s SEO capabilities, but in fact they are usually a paid-for service. We were approached to buy the rating as the best SEO agency in New Zealand (the seller was asking $2,000 per month!). A great article about this can be found on SEO Book: TopSEOs.com – A Review of the Top SEOs Paid Rating Service.
  4. AdWords: A slightly controversial one, AdWords. Most SEO agencies (including us) use AdWords to generate enquiries and sales. In our case, 70 percent of our online leads come organically, 20 percent come through AdWords and 10 percent from other sources. If a company is good at SEO, it should be ranking for lots of phrases organically, and the real test of this is if it ranks organically for a long time, without using underhand tactics to rank in the short/medium term).
  5. Email spam: We get this on a daily basis, even as an SEO company that ranks really well. Here is one we received this morning: 

Making sure you select the right SEO company is like a minefield. To navigate your way effectively around cheap sales tactics, spurious claims and fanciful guarantees you must look beneath the surface. Start by asking how big the agency is, who it works with, how long it’s been about, what its clients say about its service and how transparent it is about the methods it uses, and you’ll be armed with information that helps you avoid the dodgy operators.

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