Shady SEO companies: modern day snake oil merchants

Shady SEO companies: modern day snake oil merchants (Image Tim & Selena Middleton via Flickr)

Earlier this week, I wrote about internet fraudsters who hack email accounts but an equally insidious form of web-based vermin is the raft of shady SEO companies that email website owners claiming their sites are under performing in Google and Social Media and they have the answers.

These emails can catch small business owners off guard, especially if they are not fully web savvy or have never seen these scams before.

That’s why I am drawing your attention to this annoying problem that comes from operating in the online and being contactable via email.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and that refers to making your website and its content configured in a way that lets Google and other search engines find, index and share your content.

I’ll copy out an example of these scam emails below, but first, here is all you need to know for now:

  • If you have a WordPress website and are using its blog function, you are a step ahead of the pack when it comes to being search engine friendly. According to Matt Cutts from Google, you have dealt with 90 per cent of the issues other webmasters face in getting ranked in Google, just by choosing WordPress.
  • Secondly, if you know who you are targetting and you write for them first, using meaningful titles, offering valuable content and illustrating each Page or Post with an image or video, you have taken great control of your SEO.
  • Thirdly, if you promote your web content in appropriate places online, ie, social networks, forums, via email, and anywhere else where it is right and proper to share links to your valuable content, you are increasing your chances of having other people discover your content and share links back to your website.

Those three steps cover a lot of the territory occupied by SEO ‘specialists’.

Of course, like any industry, there are reputable firms and shoddy crooks. Yes, even the marketing industry has players from both ends of the spectrum.

The reason it pays to TOTALLY IGNORE ANY cold calling from SEO companies is that such companies are most likely at the squalid end of the spectrum where they perform behind-the-scenes tricks likely to get your website punished when Google discovers your misdemeanours (and Google hones that ability every week, leaving hundreds of websites locked out of the major search engine).

An example of a misleading SEO advertising email

Here is a direct copy of an email a client of mine received this week.

Naturally, it made her feel anxious but luckily she asked for my advice before taking action and getting caught in a damaging and expensive web of dangerous SEO tactics.

Here is the email (with her domain name replaced by domain.com) – and I’ve added some comments in italics:

From: Diana J. Blevins [mailto:sitepromotion.seo@xxxxx.xxx]
Sent: Monday, 4 March 2013 1:28 PM
To: (name of client removed)
Subject: Organic SEO for domain.com

Domain.com Team, (a sign of an automated form letter; we can assume Diana has never looked at their website)

I thought you might like to know some of the reasons why you are not getting enough Social Media and Organic search engine traffic for domain.com (they never actually asked)

1.Your website Domain.com is not ranking top in Google organic search for many competitive keyword phrases. (it is actually number one for many but it is a great, fear-mongering generalisation for a form letter)

2. Your website profile is not available in most of the Social Media Websites. (Most? Which ones? Of course, they won’t look until they hook you)

3. Your site has 10 Google back links, this can be improved further.  (not an accurate number)

There are many additional improvements that could be made to your website, and if you would like to learn about them, and are curious to know what our working together would involve, then I would be glad to provide you with a detailed analysis in the form of a WEBSITE AUDIT REPORT for FREE. (that will be the first time they actually do look at your website)

Our clients consistently tell us that their customers find them because they are at the top of the Google search rankings. Being at the top left of Google (#1- #3 organic positions) is the best thing you can do for your company’s website traffic and online reputation.

I found your site in the Google search and after having a look over your website I think you should go for an SEO campaign to boost your marketing strategy. (how ironic, domain.com is supposedly doing badly but this SEO merchant found it on Google; imagine the chances of that?!)

Sounds interesting? Feel free to email us or alternatively you can provide me with your phone number and the best time to call you.

—————————————————————–

Best Regards,
Diana J. Blevins
SEO Consultant
(301) 859-4903

 ——————————————————————

PS1: This is onetime email and you may ask us to “REMOVE” you from our mailing list. (funny, I thought a ‘onetime’ email would not need to have ‘remove’ sent back in a reply)

PS2: I found your site from online advertising but did not click. (this is the BIGGEST LIE of all as my client is NOT running any Google advertising or any other kind)

PS3: We operate 24 x7. I will be happy to send you links to price list, refund policy , client rankings, client testimonials, “How we are different from others?”, and “Why should you choose us?” on receiving a response from you.

Click here reply to us (the reply is linked to a shady gmail address; I say ‘shady’ because a proper business should NOT be using a generic email address as their main point of contact)

Final thoughts

For the record, I left Diana’s name in the copied email because I am sure it is fake. In my due diligence research before publishing, I discovered that blogger, Ian Scott, had written about his reaction to an identical piece of snake oil promotion but this time in the name of Maria Wilson.

The lesson is don’t get sucked in by people promising to make things easy or by people scaring you with ‘facts’ about your site. Please either ignore, consult a trusted advisor, or run some of your own research yourself.

Staying safe online requires us all to build a new awareness of the tricks and traps used by operators from the foul underbelly of humankind’s dark side.

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