8 SEO Scams That Won’t Die

sleazeWherever there is a knowledge gap between the the service provider and the customer, there is an opportunity to deceive. Look around any market that fits this description – you’ll find dishonesty.

You’ll also find service providers who don’t know what they don’t know, but know more than the client and talk a lot of jargon while the outcomes never quite match up with the hopes and promises.

I’m not one to claim that I’ve “seen it all” in SEO, but I’ve seen my share of scams. And it amazes me: they don’t seem to be going away. Some of the oldest and most ridiculous scams are still running.

And if they’re still selling that means that there are business owners out there who don’t know better.

In hopes to shed some light, here are 8 SEO scams that just don’t seem to go away and an explanation of why each one is simply not worth your money.

1) “X Top Ten Rankings Guaranteed!”

I had the unfortunate experience of working for a company that offered “50 page one Google rankings guaranteed” as an incentive for uncertain prospects. Not to say hard work wasn’t being done – it was. But guaranteed rankings are meaningless.

Why this is a scam

First off, nobody can guarantee a ranking. Secondly, your website already has hundreds of page one rankings. Here’s an example: search for “mike tekula unstuck.” I guarantee you UnstuckDigital.com (my website) is the first result. Shouldn’t it be?

Go through your own website and put together a list of similar obscure, specific keywords that probably only show up in that order and proximity on your page. Search for them. You’re going to find lots of page one rankings.

Rankings have never been the goal. They’re merely a means to an end. The end is leads/sales/whatever your goal is. Qualified traffic that converts. A ranking by itself means nothing if it refers no qualified traffic.

2) “We’ll submit your website to thousands of search engines!”

Really? Thanks. Thousands of search engines sure is a lot. It would probably take me weeks to do all that myself.

Why this is a scam

How many search engines have you heard of?

How many do you use on a regular basis (at least once per week)?

You’re not unique in this. Most people use Google – about 70% of people in this country as a matter of fact. Something like 20% use Yahoo!. 8% use Microsoft Live. Ask.com, Dogpile, Metacrawler, etc – the handful of remaining search engines collectively get about 2% of search traffic.

There are not thousands of search engines to worry about. There are three. And if you’re really pressed for resources, there is one – Google.

The worst part about scams like this: those “search engines” they’re submitting your website to? They’re mainly SPAM centers. So not only is your money being ill-spent on this “service,” but you’ll be inundated with SPAM emails until the cows come home.

3) “500 Directory Links for $49.95”

Link building is important – links are the most powerful way to outrank your competitors. Link building is also really, really hard.

So when someone comes along offering you 500 links for $50 you might think it’s a good idea – that’s just $.10 per link!

Why this is a scam

Ask yourself: if you were Google would you want it to be this easy for websites to achieve top rankings? Just drop $50 here or there on a few links and bamn, you’re at the top?

Of course not.

There’s a general rule of thumb here: the cheaper the link, the less powerful.

Sometimes, when you’re clever and create great stuff, links come on their own – and these can be very powerful. But the kind of links you’re going to get for nothing more than a $50 upfront investment are worthless.

4) “1st Page of Google in 48 Hours!”

This scam preys on those in a hurry – they’ve got a website, the sales are not coming in and they’re hoping to hire an “expert” to get them visible in search engines quickly.

Why this is a scam

Anybody (yes, anybody) can get to the 1st page of Google almost instantaneously, and you don’t need to hire someone to do it.

  • Step 1: Sign up for AdWords
  • Step 2: Pick a keyword, any keyword
  • Step 3: Pay

You can pay for top placements all you want – that will make Google very happy. Consistent and qualified traffic streams and a positive ROI are another story.

5) “We have an inside man at Google”

Wouldn’t it be cool if your consultant had a “man on the inside?” You’d get your SEO advice straight from the horse’s mouth!

Why this is a scam

You really think Google employees are selling state SEO secrets to John and Jane Q. Consultant? Remember the Rosenbergs?

Google’s ranking algorithm reportedly contains 200+ variables. In short: they could hand the formula to just about anybody – we wouldn’t be able to “crack the code” and start ranking well. Too many of the variables are hard, if not impossible, to game.

6) “Our methods are a trade secret – we can’t tell you what we’re doing”

Of course some things are proprietary – you can’t expect companies and consultants to give up all their goodies.

Why this is a scam

The minute you’re paying someone for a fuzzy list of deliverables you’ve entered the twilight zone of the B2B services universe – where the basic trade of money for actual work unravels.

I wouldn’t expect your SEO to tell you everything about their research methods, tools and software, but then your mechanic doesn’t turn over a work order with one line item titled, “secret car repair service” and expect you to pay, does he?

7) “We’ve studied and cracked Google’s algorithm”

Similar to #5, this one is equally absurd. It sounds very nerdy and scientific – and we all like the idea of being in on top secret info, especially when it makes us money.

Why this is a scam

Not even Google employees have “cracked” the algorithm. It’s handled by a team of engineers and is updated sometimes several times per week. In other words, a minute after someone “cracked” the algorithm their information would be outdated.

8) “We just need to install this link directory on your website”

Sounds simple enough – and they’ll usually offer to do it for a low upfront price.

Why this is a scam

Your SEO consultant/company is basically telling you that their link building strategy amounts to nothing more than a thin link exchange program. Run screaming. They might not be knowingly scamming their clients, but they don’t know SEO.

This method was already stale and fruitless when people were still listening to Creed (isn’t it nice to let the past die?).


  1. Wow I just got a notice this thread is still going strong. Spent another 45 minutes reading all the comments. For kicks I looked up http://www.seo-guru.org/ & noticed it was for sale. Guess who just bought it? LOL hey it’s my birthday I may as well get as much trash off the Internet as possible. My gift to the uneducated, people that get taken advantage of.

    • Mike Tekula says:

      Yeah this post pulls in a lot of traffic around “SEO scams” and “Outrank scam” (inadvertently – I had no intention to “out” anybody but the comments took on a life of their own).

      Well, Happy Birthday!

  2. Hey guys! I was scammed with seoscheduler.com

    Be careful! They bill you for a month or two and then just close your account saying that you did that yourself. Waste of time and money (but a the first look they are good). Be careful!

  3. AdwordBanners.com is a SCAM! I was guaranteed 1000 hits per purchased keyword within the first week of service. In one week we’ve received only 22 hits! That’s less than 2% of our incoming traffic! Also, the banners will only run on older versions of Internet Explorer – I was using IE8 (which it did not work on), and used the IE “upgrade” on their website which installed IE7; that doesn’t make any sense. I have called Richard Stevens (866-370-8724) and emailed (richard@adwordbanners.com; richard@netphrases.com; info@netphrases.com) multiple times with my complaints and have never heard back from him.
    Beware adwordbanners.com!!!

  4. Very informative article, this is information business owners need to be aware of. I am the author of The Little Book of Scams: Swindling for Fun and Profit which delves into the psychology of con games. These SEO swindlers push the mental buttons of getting something for little or nothing and being “in on the secret.” I have a few websites and constantly get spam emails from alleged experts on SEO, who on the contact forms provide a free email address, no website and a dodgy phone number like 021021 o21. Besides getting ripped off I could see how using the wrong people could actually lower your page rankings.

  5. Another scam is the one run by people who don’t even know they are running a scam: amateur “SEO experts” with little knowledge beyond meta-tags.

    Tip: If all they talk about is “meta tags” and “keyword research”, they have no idea what they are doing.

    I see a lot of these in South Africa and it is intensely rage-inducing.

  6. fluffy the vampire slayer says:

    I get between 6-10 comments a week on my blog offering me SEO services, fortunately my spam catcher nukes them, sometimes I read them, most of the time they get nuked. It’s very annoying, I’m a writer and poor so I can’t afford them anyway. I’m not selling anything nor do I wish to fill my blog with italics, SHOUTY CAPS and bolded words. I wish they’d go away.

  7. I’m amazed at how clever SEO Scammers can be.
    They will show you that picture of a dream home and boat and tell you that that will be able to make 6 figures in no time flat you if you act right now.
    If you are a dreamer you just might believe them too.
    Many use Black Hat tactics such as hidden text links, keyword stuffing, useless directories, or doorway pages, interlinking, keyword spamming, cloaking, etc… god i could go on forever. If you want to know what to do then just don’t do any of those things and instead write unique quality content that is written to convert prospective page viewers into repeat customers.

  8. Ron Gephart says:

    OK, so now what? We’ve identified the scams. What does work? Who out there is legitimate? What is the best way to advertise online?

    • Mike Tekula says:

      I’d read this, for starters: http://www.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-seo

    • You can’t build a business on free traffic. This is the BIG mistake most businesses make. You are at the mercy of Google, and SEO scammers, and you will likely wake up one day to se your website is no longer on the first page! Game over!

      Why does everyone want free traffic? ok because its free, but this is the completely wrong approach. You need more customers, NOT more traffic, right?. You need to determine how much it costs in advertising and marketing to buy one customer. In other words, you need to find out where to spend $1 and get $1.50 back.

      If you do this right on Google adwords, then you can make a healthy profit and control your business. If you get it wrong, they’ll empty your wallet with no apology.

      So the secret is to test everything. Test. Track. Analyze. Tweak… and keep testing. Test your advertising and your landing pages on your website. Test different offers, products/services prices, packages. Do some offline marketing too! It works wonders these days as no one else is doing it! You’re competitors are too busy trying to get FREE traffic.

      If anyone offers you a magic bullet (such as an SEO service) run a mile. There isn’t an easy solution to successful online marketing. Take control of your own marketing and keep testing and tweaking until you hit the sweat spot! Never give up!

  9. Everything stated there is a scam for sure. The worst I see is the guaranteed rankings where no one in the world can guarantee anything. All they can do is ask for their money back and any reputable company will give them a refund. I foresee the future of SEO being with no cost upfront, the client sees then results and then pays. Some are already doing this, but if you talk to the companies they will only do the easy long tail keywords.

  10. Very interesting. Scammers being exposed. I learned something New here…


  11. This is a nightmare to get right, as this article says don’t go with anyone saying they can 100% get you number 1.

    Best practice I think is to find a company that answers your question, ‘how do you do it?’, with simply we follow Googles guidelines and work through them to achieve best ranking and link biuld with genuine websites that want to link to you. and give you an update of every link, change to your site, everything…….

    We used a company that ended up putting links on farms….. not good.

    Good luck to all

  12. Great article this is informative, Link building is important but having high PR backlinks are most important. Like you said “paying $0.10 per link wont even matter if they don’t have PR”. When I look for a backlink I make sure its at least above PR 4 if not I don’t bother. Great Post most businesses should read this.

  13. The real S.E.O. people give you full disclosure and usually don’t have an affiliate program. I would tend to stay away from any S.E.O. or lead generation companies that have an “affiliate program” which they push heavily!

  14. As someone who takes great pride in my work helping companies achieve great rankings for their businesses and improving their bottom line I feel very sad when I see such articles. Not everyone in the business is a scam artist and many of us do follow Google’s guidelines and get excellent results. Unfortunately, all the time when I am talking about our services to potential clients they are very cynical about SEO because of what they have heard. Yes, there are many scammers, like in many business fields. But please don’t tar us with the same brush. Many of the tips you offer in researching a good SEO company above are very good pieces of advice especially the stuff about guaranteeing results in Google without any money back offer. As always: buyer beware. Ask to see results. Get full explanations and above all have clear goals for what you want to achieve, get clear how the company intends to deliver and find out what they are prepared to do for you if they don’t. But please don’t tar us all with the same brush. Good SEO practice is complex and always evolving. Getting it right takes years of experience. And with years of experience comes pride in what you do. We are not all evil!

    • David,

      Great explanation. Sometimes the scammers of the world damage the reputation of an industry so much that they tarnish good names. My company has been victimized by SEO scammers but it really is our fault. Do not go blaming these scaming SEO companies for scamming you when you yourself do not do any research and have a quick buy button. These scammers saw you from a mile away and like a fortune teller, told you what you wanted to hear; Cheap, Fast, and Phone Melting. If you had researched SEO like some of us on here have done you will notice the discrepencies aforementioned. And on another note, don’t pay for SEO if your website does not have some type of consumer capture tool. I hated that my company did not have that. I am developing that as we speak before we move to a marketing company to help us write blogs and press releases. Nothing sucks more then paying for a domain and SEO and having a website that is strictly informarion only. Oh your Branding? Tell me how throwing boring information at someone with your name on it actually creates trust and has some type of ROI.

  15. Oh, and one more tip: beware of lock in contracts.

  16. yep ive heard many of these scams, and im not embarassed at saying i’ve fell for a few in the past. not anymore