Sleazy SEO sales tactics (and how to avoid them)
Ian Lurie Oct 13 2010
With a few notable exceptions, SEO sales tactics tend to range from merely nauseating to vomit-inducing. I’ve kept a log (seriously) over the last three months, and here are my favorites:
The rankings guarantee
The ploy: Promise your SEO fu will get your client top-10 or #1 rankings for their keywords.
The problem: Why do people still fall for this? I can’t guarantee it’ll rain tomorrow. I can’t guarantee your puppy will love you. I can’t guarantee what your rankings will be. Because I don’t control all the factors. Google and Bing control their indexes. Users control personalized search. You control your writers and dev team. I guarantee I’ll give you really good advice, and work my buttocks off for you.
Cut the sleaze: Stop making rankings guarantees. Otherwise, 10 SEOs, chosen by industry panel, get to whack you with a shoe until you have a terminal case of pinkbelly.
The backwards ranking guarantee
The ploy: Instead of providing a guarantee, claim you have a ‘100% success rate’.
The problem: What does that mean, exactly? You extract your fee from 100% of your clients? You get a #1 ranking for 100% of clients where you get to pick the keywords? Yeah, I can do that, too. But get a top ranking for keywords the client chooses, 100% of the time? Sorry, I don’t buy it. Neither should clients.
Cut the sleaze: Explain exactly what the success rate means, and make that explanation easy to find.
The nationally recognized expert
The ploy: Spam article directories with your crappy keyword meta tag optimization tips, then tour local Rotaries in 2 states, giving a 5 minute talk. Congratulations! You’re now a nationally-recognized expert!
The problem: Anyone with a computer can become a nationally recognized expert. SEO isn’t about the title ‘expert’. It’s about expertise and effort. If you think you’re an expert, cross intellectual swords with Bruce Clay, or Rand Fishkin, or Michael Martinez. If you lose 2 limbs or less, you can qualify.
Cut the sleaze: Instead of making empty claims, show what you’ve published and where, and where you’ve spoken.
The secret sauce
The ploy: Claim you have a unique SEO technology or technique that will give your clients an ‘unfair advantage’ in the rankings.
The problem: Most companies claiming they have a secret sauce are just recycling techniques from the year 2000. Content spinning, comment spam, etc. are so old they’re more barnacle than boat. Plus, any ‘tricks’ or ‘techniques’ are as likely to get you banned as they are to get you a high ranking. They’re presented by people who don’t want to do the real work involved in SEO, or who are afraid to tell you the real work involved in SEO.
Cut the sleaze: There’s no fix for this one, really, except maybe corporate euthanasia.
The link network
The ploy: A lot of companies are out there, now, offering ‘exclusive networks’ where, for a fee, you can get link placement on big sites. Huge sites, actually: News and finance portals, sports portals, etc..
The problem: First, when you stop paying, the links go away. Second, the links usually sit in some painfully obvious position, like at the bottom of the page in 5-pt type. Search engines understand what those links are and will ignore them. Third,
when you stop paying, the links go away. Which is a big enough drawback to be worth saying twice. Which I just did.
Cut the sleaze: Agencies using this tactic should clearly call out the risks, too.
I will not point out any examples. I don’t like outing people for tactics like these. It’s up to the search engines to be smart enough to catch ‘em. Which they usually are.
The fictional ranking
This isn’t always sleazy. But it can be. Read on:
The ploy: Show a screen capture of Google results with your client’s fantastic ranking. Say Jane at ABC Agency wants to show off, so she searches Google for ‘dung beetles’. Sure enough, her client, Dung Beetles R Us, is #1!
The problem: SEO agencies will use personalized, localized search results to show high rankings for their clients. Jane may or may not realize it, but the reason DBRU is ranking #1 isn’t her superior link spamming skills. It’s personalized search, boosting her client’s site because she visits it every day.
Cut the sleaze: Use a proxy server like Proxify. Then search. If the site still ranks well, you can brag about it.
In the end, it’s our own fault
If we continue to be gullible, falling for silly claims like these, then we continue to feed the scammers and con artists.
Exercise common sense. Understand that SEO is no more magical than carpentry. Then find someone you know is a good craftsman, and let them get to work.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More