Have you received an email or comment on your blog that looks anything like that? If so, welcome to the club. Being on the receiving end of spamming “search engine optimization (SEO) experts” is a rite of passage which just about every site owner will go through one day. Even the real experts over at Google receive these kinds of spam messages. And they don’t have to only be “SEO experts” either. They may claim to be search engine marketing (SEM) experts, social media experts, or even web developers. This may come as a surprise — though I hope it doesn’t — but these aren’t real SEO companies reaching out to offer you help.
But how can you tell that these offers or companies are fake? The easiest way is to ask yourself, are they SMUGG? (I really wanted to make an acronym). If the message(s) you received include the following signs, you know you have a fake SEO company on your hands:
- Shady Practices
- Mysterious Company
- Unsolicited Contact
- General Information
- Grammatically Incorrect
If you only have limited knowledge of how SEO works, then the shady business practices these companies often suggest may not set off any red flags. At face value, being told that your site will rank #1 on Google for your industry keywords, or at least on the first page, seems great. Unfortunately, as any true search engine optimizer will attest, it’s not that simple. There’s no magic formula that will work for every site. Each website is different and requires a different SEO strategy to work in the long run.
The blanket claims about how your site is going to magically perform better on search engine results pages (SERPs) aren’t the only shady business practices to watch out for. Many of these “companies” also offer shady services. For example, they may suggest you purchase backlinks. On the surface this might sound like good advice since backlinks are indeed important. However, Google and other search engines will actually penalize websites that practice backlink purchasing. Other common services offered may not actively hurt your site rankings, but are useless instead. An example of this is offering to have your site pages indexed by Google as a service. Google and other search engines will automatically index your site, so this “service” is a scam, pure and simple.
Lastly, watch out for buzzwords such as “guarantee.” People love guarantees, and scammers use this fact to prey on the unsuspecting. Whether they’re guaranteeing that your site will rank #1 for your keywords or guaranteeing a certain amount of backlinks per month, don’t believe them. The world of SEO isn’t as simple as these “experts” would have you believe.
Something you may not notice when you first read the spam message sent to you is that the company is often nonexistent. In many cases a company name is never actually mentioned. It’s also common for there to be no phone number, website, or other identifying information. And when there is a website, it’s usually poorly made and ranks terribly — because it was built for cheap to be used in the scam. You may also notice that the email address of the sender isn’t a professional one. Likely it will be from a free service, such as Gmail, with which an unlimited number of throwaway accounts can be made.
Any real SEO company will have a real online presence. If you can’t find their company name, website, or phone number, they aren’t real. It should be a major red flag when a company claiming to be made up of SEO professionals doesn’t even have a site of their own, or a site which performs poorly. They should also have professional email addresses for all of their employees, such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are two main reasons for these mysterious companies. The first is that the entire offer is a scam meant to steal your money or your website. This is the worst case scenario. The second is that the spam message was sent to you by a freelance “lead finder” who will then sell your information to a real SEO company. However, the SEO companies who are buying leads generated through spam messages are typically low-quality.
Cold calling is a pretty common occurrence, and it’s likely that you receive a number of spam phone calls per day. But have you ever actually received a spam phone call that resulted in you making a positive purchase? — I know I haven’t. So why would “cold emailing” be any different? Any time a company or person you’ve never heard of before reaches out to you with an offer, be suspicious. It may be a real company with a real offer, but 99 times out of 100 it isn’t.
Those who fall for these spam emails and messages often point to the same thing when defending themselves, the initial message seemed personal. Perhaps the sender mentioned you or your company by name, but generally that’s where the personal touch ends. They probably know your company name because your company website is where your email was lifted from. And they probably know your name because it’s attached to your email in some way.
All other information in the correspondence is general information which could apply to almost anyone. The sender is preying on the fact that people tend to misinterpret general statements as specific ones relating to themselves. It’s basically the same as what psychics do when they claim they can talk to the dead. The scammer will likely mention broad topics like site ranking, keywords, and site speed, but will fail to go into specifics. For example, mentioning that they will make you rank higher for your keywords is a common tactic. But, they never actually mention what those keywords are.
These messages also often have some mention about how the sender looked at your site and its rankings, and then determined their service could benefit you. However, in most cases they have never seen your website before, and instead bought a spreadsheet of leads which was then pasted into an automated emailing service. Even if they mention something that seems specific, such as Facebook marketing which you have been looking into recently, it’s just a coincidence. These are cookie-cutter messages sent out as mass emails with the “personal” information being swapped out.
By far the easiest way to spot spam offers is by looking at the grammar. These spam messages are often crudely crafted by a person — or program — far away from wherever your business is located. Usually the spelling is fine, but the grammar is a mess. That’s what copious amounts of Google Translate will do. These spam offers generally come out of India, China, and other South-East Asian countries, which is why poor grammar is a sign of a scam. The original author simply doesn’t know English.
But let’s pretend that the poorly written SEO offer your received isn’t a scam. You should still think twice about hiring that company. If they can’t even use proper grammar in their initial proposal to you, then what does that say about the rest of their services? Grammar is important for SEO, SEM, and social media. Potential customers won’t take your business seriously if its marketing efforts are illegible.
At this point you may be thinking, “how do scams like this succeed and continue to be profitable?” Mass production is cheap, and that’s exactly how these scams operate. For a relatively small initial investment, a person or company specializing in overseas scams can acquire a large email list. Of that list, only a small percentage need to fall for the scams in order for spammers to make a profit.
So just remember, next time you receive an email or comment on your website’s blog offering SEO, SEM, or other web-based services, are they SMUGG? If the answer is yes, ignore the message or block the sender because it’s not worth getting scammed.
At Media Proper we may not be SMUGG, but we can be a little smug at times because we know we’re the best around. If your current SEO strategy isn’t everything you want it to be, we can help. Since 2001 we’ve been helping our clients rank higher on SERPs, though we can’t promise you that coveted #1 spot like the spammers can. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help increase traffic to your website and business.