The Latest SEO Scam: If You Don’t Rank, You Don’t Have To Pay Us (anymore)

Dec 3rd, 2013

This morning I got a call from someone who has been handed our business card (usually a good thing!) and he started out by saying this:
“I just signed up with another SEO company, but I have a question about SEO.”

Alright, maybe not my preferred way to start the conversation. But at least he’s calling to verify(?) something the “other” company told him. Good for us.
But it got a lot better.

Caller Background

The caller is in a VERY competitive business, based here in Las Vegas. Almost as competitive as “insurance” or “loan”. (For more highly competitive keywords on Google, read Wordstream’s post: “The 20 Most Competitive Keywords on Google”)

The Pitch

They promise the client’s website will rank for at least 4 out of 10 keywords/key phrases (of his choice) on the first page of Google within 90 to 120 days.
If he does not get ranked, he does not have to pay them ANYMORE.

Sounds like a good deal?
Well, NOT so much.

The Scam

They told him – instead of choosing a search term containing the location – to choose the “short” version without the location.
Meaning that, instead of “Las Vegas [highly competitive term(s)]”, they told him to use just the [highly competitive term(s)] – and their reasoning behind it was “that Google prefers that”.

Matt CuttsAccording to them Google prefers “insurance” over “insurance agent in Fort Lauderdale” or “best home owner’s insurance rates in Nevada” and “lawyer” over “divorce attorney in Beverly Hills“.

Besides the fact that any kind of optimization is not about what Google wants, but what your website visitor wants – why would somebody make a ridiculous statement like that?

Then I started to realize what it was all about: The whole idea apparently is to pick ridiculously competitive terms, have the client pay for 4 months upfront, sit back and do nothing, and after 4 months simply say “Oh sorry, it didn’t work. But now you don’t have to pay us anymore, just as promised.”
There’s the built-in exit strategy (or CYA policy).

Why am I saying they sit back and do nothing for 4 months? Simple: I asked the caller if they had backend access to his website. They don’t.

Whatever they say they might be doing (something the caller was unable to answer) – I’m pretty sure has nothing to do with what it should be all about: Providing quality content and enhancing the experience for the visitor.
Unless of course you count spam link building, so-called “relevant blog posts”, “trusted social bookmarking” (what the heck is that anyways?) and “directory and search engine submissions” valid SEO strategies.

Oh, and all that for the sensational bargain price of ONLY $500/month. For 4 months, upfront (that’s $2,000). No refunds. Sorry, it didn’t work.

At this point I cannot even estimate the amount of money this poor guy (and all the others that fall for this scam) are going to have to pay to remove the bad links, to get their sites un-penalized and to clean up the mess those guys will undoubtedly be leaving behind (Read our article “Bad Links Or Link Buying Can Really Cost You” if you want more information on this).

Just In Case

Just in case someone might say: “But it IS possible to get your site to the top of Google within a very short period of time, I’ve seen it!” – here’s an interesting article: “How Black Hats Are Still Gaming Google for Competitive Keywords – Case Study“.

About the author:

Nina Khoury is a computer scientist, software engineer, data and information junkie and online marketer. She taught at various universities for more than six years and worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies including cisco, Intel and HP.

6 Responses to “The Latest SEO Scam: If You Don’t Rank, You Don’t Have To Pay Us (anymore)”

  1. Similar scams start by telling “A local spot on google maps has opened up in your area, would you be interested in the spot” so naturally any local business says yes we are interested. However we do our Marketing, SEO in-house so we ask questions and only tor realize its just a scam to get 4months upfront SEO services.

    Always ask about the company website, ask how they plan on accomplishing 1st page results. Research the company, reviews, will you have a dedicated specialist and what data will be provided daily, weekly monthly. The more info you can find out about the company the better.

    • Nina says:

      I never heard of “local spots opening up” – that’s a good one, too.
      We cannot say it often enough: Do your research, AND – most importantly – never trust anyone who promises you to rank #1 in Google.

  2. […] 7. The Latest SEO Scam: If You Don’t Rank, You Don’t Have To Pay Us (anymore) […]

  3. Nice piece. Here is an article about an SEO service ranking top fold of Google page 1 – that has almost no content… but oh so many backlinks.

    Checkc out the anakysis and let me know what you think. Are they shady?

    • Nina says:

      Hi David,
      I think “shady” is an understatement ;)
      Thanks for the link and the research!
      Looks like their links have definitely been inserted without the pages’ owners knowledge and/or permission; maybe through some infected js or other code snippet.

      One might want to point out that all the sites containing the backlinks you listed are Joomla sites, which leads me to believe that the site templates might come from not-so-clean sources and were probably pre-infected with malware. And since malware insertion works similar to ad-buying, these “boosters” might just have bought a link insertion package recently and that’s how their links end up in all these interesting places (above even “HTML” on on site) in the affected sites’ source code.

      This is definitely something you might want to send to Matt Cutts!


  4. THANK. YOU! Awesome post Nina – you hit the nail on the head.

    It’s so sad to me how there’s this huge disconnect between people and quality SEO providers.

    I find many small business owners are a bit in the dark as to exactly what they need. They feel they want SEO but they don’t know how it works. They end up getting suckered by these companies because of their hyped pitches and it just hurts them in the long run.

    I hope more people read your article. Well done :)

    • Nina says:

      Hi John,

      way too many people/site owners/business owners spend way too much of their hard earned money on these and other scams…
      And very often they have nothing left for the honest and ethical SEOs anymore :(

      If you liked it, please share it, John! As many people as possible should read it, I hear about new scams every day.

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