Search Engine Optimization Scams : Avoid Getting Burned by Unethical SEO Companies

SEO Scams and How to Spot Them

Remember "back in the day" when you received perhaps three to five emails per day? They were always welcomed notes from friends or business related and you spent a considerable amount of time crafting the perfect response. Spam was almost non-existent, viruses were rare, and most people were not even thinking about their "rankings" in search engines. There was no Google, Alta Vista was the big boy on the block, and Yahoo was a free directory that was supplemented by results from Inktomi. None the less, the passion and interest in the web was very high.

Back in those days people understood that they "needed to get a website" or risk being left in dust by their competitors.

It was in this atmosphere of strong demand for web design services and general consumer ignorance about how websites were actually built and maintained, that a new industry was born. Thousands of people, armed with a few community college HTML courses and fueled by the promise of getting rich quick, could command thousands of dollars for substandard web . For a while, many of these new designers could convince naive clients to pony up a small fortune for a modest website full of poorly optimized graphics, broken links and free animated gifs and buttons.

The idea that a website should actually meet specific business goals, as in "make some money", was just in it's infancy and overshadowed by the mantra of "I need a website"


Reality Takes It's Toll and a New Monster is Born.

Fortunately the Dot Com crash and the rising sophistication of the average businessperson put an end to most of this nonsense. The Johnny -Come- Lately's found something else to do and the industry matured.

Alas, history is repeating itself, only this time it's SEO. The mantra of "I gotta have a website" has been replaced with " I gotta be number one on Google". It's this demand that is currently fueling the explosion in SEO services available on the web. People of questionable talent and motives are flooding the field, making outlandish and completely false claims, and bullying clients into expensive monthly SEO maintenance programs of little value. They are counting on the public's ignorance about search engines to turn a quick buck.

For someone who's been optimizing websites for 10 years and had more than my share of gun shy clients who've been burned and bruised by these fly-by-night companies, it's been a bit aggravating.

It is with this in mind that I present you my list of the Top SEO Scams.


1.They state that you will continue to get top rankings as long as you continue to pay them a monthly fee.

Legitimate, proper SEO implementation is a thorough, site-wide venture involving real inbound links, great titles, and top notch page content. It cannot be taken away or held hostage for nonpayment of recurring fees. If they can take away your rankings...then it's not real SEO.

Note: Don't ever sign a contract that gives ownership of your title tags, meta tags and on page copy to anyone. It's your website and you are entitled to own all work performed on it. If an SEO company has a problem with that, then find someone else.


2. You have to become part of their "network" of sites.

This is a nice way of referring to link farms. ( what is a linkfarm )


3. Failure to fully disclose and explain everything that is being done to your site.

Run away from anyone who claims it's too complicated to understand, these are trade secrets, they can't discuss their proprietary technology, or speak in quasi-mystical jargon and non-specific terms.

Experienced SEO experts have a real passion and interest in their field and enjoy educating their clients about the details. They are not secretive with their clients nor worried that their clients will leave them once they understand the process to successful SEO.


4. Sells keywords that when typed into the address bar of your browser will take web searchers directly to your site, place you above the search engine results, or place you at the top of the browser.

These are either some crappy browser plugin that no one would ever install or they are connected to a spyware/malware outfit.

I received this piece of spam in November 2008. This is a good example of one of these outfits.


I came across your website <domain name deleted> doing a Google search on some relevant keywords, and thought you need to see a new technology that can dramatically improve your ranking above Google, Yahoo, and MSN, in as little as 24 hours.

To see a quick 1 minute example of what you can expect from us, click here: and fill in your website, a keyword you want, and the search engine you would like to be on top of, then hit VIEW ONLINE DEMO!

Unlike SEO or PPC all our keywords are:
1. Exclusive to the first company that orders them
2. Good for one full year on our network.
3. Fully operational within 24-48 business hours

If you want to be seen with visual impact, your business needs to take advantage of this service before the major key phrases sell out, they are going fast, and are on a first come first serve basis.

PLT New accounts Dept.
(888) 874-7820

For starters the site they allegedly visited is a non-profit, issue oriented site that is already at the top for all relevant keywords. But just for kicks I went to their site to"buy" some keywords. Guess what? Coca Cola, Nike, Toyota, Apple, Playstation, Microsoft and Viagra are all available! Wow, imagine my luck! If there program is so effective, why are the major corporations NOT securing their keywords? Worse yet, why would they allow me to buy exclusive rights to a trademarked phrase? Further research revealed that the company's domain is on many spam blacklists and they've changed their company name multiple times to disassociate themselves from their previous track record of ripping off honest business people who buy into their program.

Below is another company with the same business model. I get spam from them at least once a week.


I represent a company called Star Position, a company that does what's
known as advanced search engine placement. We reach a Network of over
35 million people who are predominantly US based. Our Network is entirely
opt-in, and the users on our Network allow us to present them with a
preferred choice whenever they are looking for anything on the top sixteen
search engines. (GOOGLE, YAHOO, MSN and thirteen others.)

I seek one source to send the users on our Network, from the major search
engines, for BDSM products. (emphasis mine)

Please contact me at your earliest convenience. I am in the office
daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Pacific time.

Best regards,

Liz Monteroso
Business Segment Analyst, Star Position
Phone: 800.481.2979, ext 2002

Yep, they want to sell me the keyword BDSM. To see how irrelevant that is just click here.

Every piece of spam is a scam. You don't buy viagra from spammers ( I hope) so don't buy your search marketing services from them either.


5. Claims you must submit your site regularly to the search engines to get top rankings.

This is completely false. Search engines find you just fine by following inbound links and re indexing a page over and over has never done anything to improve rankings.

Scam SEO companies tout this feature to give the illusion of credibility to their useless automated submission programs.


6. Claims to have a "special relationship" with Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc and this allows them to guarantee you top placement or rankings.

False, Total lie. Nobody has a "special relationship" with the major search engines. They are probably reselling PPC ( Pay Per Click ) sponsored results at a considerable mark up.


7. Guarantees top 10 placements in the major search engines

If not referring to PPC campaigns, these guarantees usually only cover a handful of highly unique, low competition phrases that you'd probable do well with under any circumstances ( example: "DJ's Chicago Style Roasted Chicken" ) Or they have no intention of backing their guarantee and will simply brush you off when you complain.

Bottom line: Nobody controls the search engines, therefore, no one can guarantee specific rankings. Learn About Claytowne's Honesty in SEO Policy >


8. Will submit your site to the top 300, 500, 3,000 or 20,000 search engines and directories.

Hmmmm, let's see...MSN, Google, Yahoo, Gimpsy, Alta Vista, DMOZ, Gigablast, LookSmart...uhhh Lycos...HotBot.. hmmm, AskJeeves...the list gets pretty short very fast. These statements are just nonsense. If they actually did submit to even to even a fraction of their promised 100's of search engines and directories you can bet they are mostly FFA ( Free For All ) junk sites that you'd never want to be associated with. Also, as stated before, submitting to search engines is unnecessary.


9. Sends you unsolicited email (spam) or uses cold call telemarketing techniques to tout their services.

"Pardon me ma'am, if you don't have the latest Nike Air Jordan's you may not be jumping as high as you'd like. We can help!"

This is pretty obvious. Have you ever received unsolicited junk emails or cold calls from Nike, Citibank, Toyota or any other any reputable company?

Won't happen. With spam ...think scam.

I receive at least one SEO solicitation per day. This what they look like.

We can put your site at the top of a search engines listings. If this is something you might be interested in, send me a reply with the web addresses you want to promote and the best way to contact you with some options.


Jason Adams
Director of Marketing
Keyword Placement Inc
This one is passive in nature but notice the complete lack of contact information. You'd think the Director of Marketing for such a huge firm would at least have an email address on his signature!

This next one is more threatening.

Your site isn't at the top of all the major search engines and this means you are losing web traffic that could convert to online sales. We would like to help. Email us today at and include your URL(s) and your contact info. We'll do a no-charge review of your site and explain how we can heat up your online business.

Eric Sybrant

Notice the gmail account, the lack of identifying information, and the most baffling request of all; your URL and contact information. I thought they said I was not doing well in the search engines and I was losing sales? Yet somehow after conducting such a thorough examination of my business model they still don't even know what my domain is? Incredible!

This next one's even better. Worried that spam filters are catching this junk they switch from apostrophes to underscores when writing contractions.

Dear Clay

You need more targeted web traffic in order to increase your
sales. We_ll do a no-charge review of your site site and show
you how we can help. Email us now at
and we_ll evaluate your site for free. Don_t forget to include your
contact info in your reply.

Sheridan, Gilmore
Velvet Hammer Media

Please don't ever respond to cold calls or an unsolicited email for SEO services. They are, without exceptions, ALL crooks.


10. Pushes a vaguely worded but important sounding monthly SEO service contract.

These contracts offer a plethora of important sounding services they will provide for a monthly fee. In reality, they will most likely do nothing, or at best send you some machine generated reports about their dubious techniques; submitting your site regularly to the top 1000 search engines, regularly submitting your site to hundreds of useless free for all directories, etc.

However, monthly fees are not always scams. Legitimate reasons to pay monthly fees to an SEO or SEM ( search engine marketing) company would include situations where you are regularly generating new content or new features that require the oversight of an SEO/SEM expert, managing PPC campaigns, or implementing a link building campaign. Other search engine marketing services that may require a monthly fee would be generating and distributing press releases, article placement and promotion, evaluating and tracking your inclusion in paid directories for best ROI (return on investment) and managing email campaigns. However, a legitimate monthly SEO program will always include specific rates for specific quantifiable services; a charge of "X" dollars for every successful link exchange, "X" dollars for writing a press release and submitting it to PR Web, or "X" dollars for every blog posting touting your companies services.

In conclusion, bogus monthly maintenance contracts tend to cover these areas:

1. To regularly resubmit your site to search engines (useless)

2. To tweak your code to keep up with the latest algorithm changes. Pointless. The basic foundations of honest SEO has never changed. Unique keyword rich title tags for every page, keyword rich body copy, easily spiderable keyword rich website architecture and quality inbound links will never go out of style. Also, the search engines carefully guard their algorithms and any attempt to "game them" is at best an (un)educated guess. If done correctly, good SEO is largely a "set it and forget it" or "if it aint broke, don't fix it" endeavor.

3. Preparing monthly ranking reports. Most likely just some automated report that you could easily generate or view yourself. At any rate, you should be reviewing your stats at least weekly if not daily and you can easily do this yourself by looking at your server logs (site statistics). If your hosting company doesn't provide these in any easily understandable form (awsats, wusage, etc.) then find another host. There also a wide variety of free online tools to evaluate your site. Google Analytics is one of the best and it's free. I've found that my clients really enjoy tracking their stats and will spend far more time and care in examining the nuances than some intern generating an automated report ever will.

Link Building Note: I reluctantly included link building as a legitimate activity. I receive link exchange requests regularly and every single one of them is completely useless at best and sometimes so off the mark that I know they didn't even look at my site. I've never responded to any of them. None the less, theoretically, it could be a worthwhile investment if done correctly. I've just never been approached by anyone worthwhile in eight years.



If your are in an extremely competitive and cut throat industry and are willing to risk anything ( your reputation, your domain, etc. ) to make temporary but huge gains in ranking and traffic then the above advice will seam hopelessly naive and outdated. If you view your business as nothing more than an expendable resource to quick profits there are many high risk and sophisticated means to that end. However, I work with above the board clients who have long term assets to build and protect and therefore have pitched the above advice to support their needs.

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Learn More About...

Most Common SEO Myths >

Learn How to Optimize a Website for Search Engines >

About Claytowne's SEO Services >

Claytowne's Honesty in SEO Policy >