Warning Signs of an SEO Scam

The Warning Signs of an SEO Scam

There’s a joke in the world of search engine optimization that the best place to hide a body is the second page of the Google search results.

More than 90 percent of search traffic goes to sites that rank on the first page; the top ranking alone gets around 32.5 percent of search traffic.

So when you get an email from an “SEO expert” who promises to get your website a top ranking or improve your ranking in the next 48 hours, you may be tempted to accept the offer.

A good search engine optimizer can make your floral business website a magnet for customers. But unfortunately, there are a lot of sketchy operators in the world of SEO.

In the best-case scenario, these companies will take your money and won’t deliver on their promises.

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In the worst-case scenario, they’ll not only take your money but they could also hurt your ranking in the long term. That’s because many SEOs practice “black-hat” tactics designed to manipulate search engines. But search engine algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated at recognizing these practices.

Search engines penalize websites that engage in these tactics by dinging their rankings or removing them from their indexes altogether.

How to Spot an SEO Scam

SEO is filled with misconceptions because search engine companies are secretive about their algorithms. Plus, algorithms change constantly. Google, for example, reportedly changes its algorithm 500 to 600 times per year. The confusion surrounding the industry makes it easy for scammers to pounce.

Here are some major red flags every small-business owner should look out for:

They guarantee you a top ranking.

Be wary of anyone who says they can guarantee you a spot at the top of Google’s rankings, said Eric Wu, an SEO veteran who has worked with TripAdvisor, Pinterest, and Conde Nast and is now vice president of product for BloomNation.

“No one can guarantee you a position in Google search results,” Wu said. “The people at Google can’t even promise you a position.”

Your SEO can present a strategy for making your website more search-engine friendly. But SEO specialists can’t control the search engines themselves. They also can’t control the content of other websites, which of course, affects your rankings. That’s why anyone who says they can guarantee you a specific rank isn’t being honest.

They claim they have a special relationship with Google.

Google itself warns against any SEO service that claims it has a special relationship with Google or advertises a “priority submit” service. (Google itself says “priority submit” does not exist.)

Google also stresses that paid advertising will never influence organic search results. According to its webmaster guidelines: “Google never accepts money to include or rank sites in our search results, and it costs nothing to appear in our organic search results.”

They say you’ll see results overnight.

Many SEO scammers promise results in as little as 48 or 72 hours. But the work that will improve your ranking — like making technical fixes and creating quality content — takes time. Typically, it takes between three to six months to see results, according to Wu.

They promise to get you backlinks.

A common black-hat SEO tactic is to buy hundreds of spammy links to increase your ranking. But Google’s algorithm is designed to recognize when a page has lots of low-quality or irrelevant links.

“It can increase your traffic in the short term, but Google’s going to catch on,” Wu said.

A good SEO specialist will focus on building quality links, rather than an enormous quantity, which is what will improve your ranking in the long term.

Also be wary of any agencies that say they’re providing you link-building services, but won’t show you the source of the links. They may simply not be building anything at all, Wu said.

The service is significantly cheaper than other SEO services.

An SEO agency that offers its services at a significantly lower pricepoint than the competition may simply be taking your money and not doing anything, Wu said. While prices vary widely by the specific services provided, Wu estimates a small business can expect to pay around $1,000 a month for effective service.

The service offers a money-back guarantee.

Many SEO services will offer you a money-back guarantee if your website doesn’t achieve a certain ranking. But read the fine print: These agencies will typically charge an upfront fee, plus a monthly fee. The company will often refund the monthly fee each month if you don’t see results, but the upfront fee is usually nonrefundable.

They offer outdated services, like updating your meta-keyword tags.

Google hasn’t considered meta-keyword tags in its rankings since the early 2000s, Wu said, while Yahoo and Bing penalize sites that use meta-keyword tags. Anyone who offers this service is taking your money without providing anything of value.

They want to take ownership of your website. 

Any SEO specialist who wants ownership of your website or social media should sound major alarm bells. You’re putting your web presence at risk should you end the relationship by allowing them to hold your website hostage or even sell it to a competitor.

What to Look for From an SEO Provider

The good news about SEO for florists is that the keywords they need to target aren’t that complicated, Wu said. The top searches for florists are “florist,” “flower shop” and “flower delivery services,” coupled with the name of the user’s city.

Still, finding an SEO provider can be intimidating, especially if you’re not tech-savvy. Wu suggests florists take some time to learn what SEO is about before hiring someone. Two good resources are Moz.com and SearchEngineLand.com. Strider, founded by Canadian Florist publisher Ryan Freeman, has been specializing in helping floral businesses for more than two decades.

The nuances of SEO change from month to month, and the best agencies stay on top of what’s happening. If you’re considering hiring an agency, Wu suggests asking them about the latest changes in SEO. You can then do a little research to confirm that the provider is on top of things.

Ultimately, you’re looking for someone who’s willing to get to know your business and its needs. An SEO specialist should get to know your business and consider factors like the size of your staff, your style, and whether you specialize in high-end events vs. everyday creations, for example.

“You’re looking for someone who wants to partner with the florist and understand what they want to get out of it,” Wu said.

If you’re looking at analytics, remember that Google focuses on user experience. That means you should focus on the amount of time users are staying on your website and the conversion rate.

“Even if you’re not ranking now, that will continue to improve,” Wu said.

While SEO specialists will sell florists on the potential to improve their ranking, the numbers that truly matter are how much additional revenue, traffic, and conversion the services result in.

“Really, the end result that matters is, are they making more money than they were previously in the same time over last year?” Wu said.

Robin Hartill
Robin Hartill is the senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and a freelance writer.

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