I’m putting myself at risk by writing this article but someone needs to speak up. Someone needs to protect the innocent. You see, there’s an underworld out there, a gangland roamed by search engine marketers looking to prey on the unsuspecting small and medium businesses who hope to improve their website performance. Sometimes you can spot them a mile away, but too often they arrive with a nice tie and a big toothy grin, promising to take you to the promised land of Google Page One. They use fancy technical lingo to trick you into thinking that their explanations are over your head, and that you should simply trust them. They show you what you believe to be immediate results to get you hooked, which causes you to open your wallet further. A year later your website is left on blocks in the back alley of search engine results pages (SERPs) with no new customers or ROI to show for any of it, and no clear path back to where you began.
Today I’m uncovering the tactics used by the slickest of the SEO mafioso, the ones that often slide under the radar, the ones most SEOs won’t tell you about. I may have to watch my rear while walking down dark streets for the next few months. I may have to sit with my back facing the entrance of every Starbucks that I sit down at to write this blog. But it doesn’t matter, I have a responsibility to you, the business owner, above all other concerns. You may call me a martyr one day of you wish (savior has a nice ring to it too) but all that I ask is that you heed the advice below and watch out for the SEO mafia in your neighborhood.
4 Deceptive Tactics Used by the SEO Mafia
1. Falsifying Keyword Planner
A good SEO will recommend keyword targets based upon extensive research. There are many tools used to find these keywords, Google AdWords Keyword Planner being one of them. If it shows up in the Keyword Planner then one often assumes that optimizing a site for such terms will bring in traffic, since people are searching for them. However unethical SEOs with devious intentions will attempt to game the system by organizing their efforts well in advance around a vertical market. How do they “game” Keyword Planner?
Well, it takes a lot of forward thinking and planning. They start by identifying a market that they want to go after. Then they select keyword targets within that industry that are NOT being searched (easier to rank for) but are close enough semantically that a business owner could fall for the recommendation. For example, there are numerous searches for “Los Angeles real estate” keywords which are VERY competitive, ones that the SEO mafioso will stay away from. What they will do however is target some awkward variation or familiar nicknames associated with “Los Angeles” and craft the keyword target around that, such as “Los Angeles city real estate” or “City of Angels real estate”. Then they have their network or worker-bees, often established nationally, frequently search for those keywords on Google until six months (or so) later it actually shows up as a searched term in Keyword Planner. They get you ranking for this term almost immediately (of course, as no one is competing for it) and you’re so happy with the fast results that you pay no mind to the lack of incoming traffic, until it’s too late. Common sense will go a long way in protecting you here, if the keywords don’t seem right and are contrary to what you know to be true in your industry, they probably are.
2. Convincing You to Rank for Terms that Don’t Convert
This practice is far more common than the extremely organized and devious one above. However the harm to your ROI is the same. Bad SEOs will relentlessly recommend keywords that they know are easy to rank for even if they don’t convert visitors into customers. You know the mentality of your customers, if you don’t feel that the traffic coming from a set of targeted keyword terms is qualified enough to invest in (w/SEO) then don’t bite the recommendation. For example, a new pizzeria in NY obviously hopes to rank for terms that will bring customers to their location. However because such a thing is a big task in the pizza-heavy state an unethical SEO may try to convince that pizzeria to rank for something like “New York style deep dish pizza recipe”. Sure they may end up ranking for this longtail term, and it may seem relevant to their goals, but searchers are not looking for a pizzeria. The traffic may come, making the online pizzeria happy for a moment, but when they realize the term isn’t ringing their delivery phone or bringing customers through their doors they will want answers.
3. Claiming to Get You Ranking for Keywords Your Site Already Ranks For
This SEO mob trick is very common. Bad SEOs know that you are looking for consultation because you are not too familiar with the search engine marketing process and likely have no idea which terms are already performing well for your website. The mafia swoops in, finds out which terms you already rank well for (without you realizing it), lists these terms as keyword targets, and claim one month later that they were the ones to get you there as they hand you your first ever keyword ranking report. This tactic is easy to combat. As soon as you settle on an SEO provider, ask them to provide you with a comprehensive keyword report on day one so that you can identify the terms you already own. If they refuse, walk.
4. Building Links on Unsafe Sites
Unethical SEOs promise you X-amount (double-digits) of backlinks on industry related sites per month and they almost always deliver. The number isn’t the problem. The problem is that the sites they’ve guaranteed you placement on are likely sellers of links. These sites exist solely to sell space within their content to black-hat SEOs. While the content may be related to your product/service the sites often have a low PageRank, the content is usually deemed thin by Google, and the sites themselves are frequently considered to be a part of organized private blog networks, the latter two being something that Google will penalize. Your site may very well become a causality in the process. If you’re guaranteed a double-digit delivery of backlinks per month you need to further investigate your prospective SEO.
If any of the above sounds familiar you need to question your relationship with your current SEO and watch out for all of the ones that solicit your business from here on in. Take a look at their industry accreditations, testimonials, portfolios, and proven successes. If these are absent then you had best look for an escape route. Perform an online search for company figureheads that claim to be experts. If they don’t appear to exist anywhere online they may be ghosts, with no aspirations other than taking money from unsuspecting businesses and moving on to the next racket. Your recourse here is to find an reputable SEO/SEM provider that can put you into a website protection program, building it a new and fruitful life where traffic is qualified, converting, and earning you a return on your investment.
As for me, I hope to see you next week here on this blog. I have to go because some guy wearing dark shades and a black Armani suit in the corner of this coffee shop is giving me the stink eye.