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Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by an SEO

By: Jeremy Morgan

Every month, thousands of dollars are being thrown at junk SEOs. Have you been approached by an SEO yet? How do you know whether they are good or bad? How do you know whether they are a scammer or the real deal? Here are some basic things to look for when dealing with an SEO:

Don’t fall for “guaranteed” listings.

I never guarantee listings. No reputable SEO will. I know this sounds silly, but let me explain. We don’t own google, Yahoo or MSN. So how can we possibly guarantee anything? There are thousands or more competing for your exact search term. And there are thousands of variables that affect your ranking. No SEO can guarantee anything. Sure, they can guarantee positive movement, or better exposure, but nobody can guarantee you a ranking. (This does not apply to SEM / PPC optimization of course).

Don’t do link building schemes.

When an SEO tells you they can get you valuable incoming links, they aren’t lying. Many SEO companies have a large set of sites that are built into a link network. And indeed, they can raise your ranking by linking in to you. So why is this bad? Because search engines, especially google, are getting better every day at detecting them and you could end up penalizing yourself. SE’s consider this link manipulation, and artificially inflating the rank of the site. Earlier this year, and most recently, google shifted their algorithm to reduce the rank of sites who buy or sell “PR links”.

A good SEO will certainly try to get you more inbound links. It’s a crucial part of SEO. But they need to be “natural” inbounds. When I work with clients, I encourage them to create content people actually want to link to, give them avenues for promotion, and let other webmasters do the rest. If your site is good, people will link to it. And thats exactly why google values inbound links so much, they want a democratic system of finding good sites. So ask about that.

Dont pay for resubmission.

Some say you shouldn’t pay an ongoing fee for SEO at all. I disagree with this. However, you do want to ask exactly what it is you’re paying for. When I do maintenance, I ensure that all new pages are in the sitemap, and track their indexing status, and I check ranks to spot trends, and examine traffic analytics. I make suggestions, changes, add content, and services like that, and I tell the customer exactly what they’re getting. If you are paying some schlep to “resubmit their site to search engines” then stop today. No amount of submitting is going to raise your rankings, and as google has said many times, you only need to submit once.

Dont fall for “tricks”.

This one is self explanatory. If an SEO approaches you with a set of “tricks” to get your site to the top, beware. While these “tricks” might be effective, they can get you banned as well. You have to measure risk vs. reward, something every business owner does daily. Do you want that extra 1000 hits to be the last ones the search engine sends you? Ask questions, and do research. Black Hat SEO is effective, but its not good for a long term business plan, or sites that want to be around for a while. Most Black Hats use disposable domains and discard them once banned.

Ask them what they are doing.

Anytime someone provides a service, you should know what they’re getting. And if you are going to hand over the keys to your site, you better have some idea what they’re doing in there. If an SEO tells you its “secret” and he cannot divulge what he’s doing, skip him/her altogether. Offer to sign an NDA, and if they still won’t tell you, dont buy.


Again, basic business sense. If an SEO approaches you with a sales pitch, by all means give them a shot, especially if you are interested. There are a lot of really good SEOs out there who are legitimate and helpful. But don’t buy right away. Do some research, ask around and find out what their competitors charge, what they’re doing, and make sure they aren’t some scam group that ex customers have outed on the web. An ounce of prevention…

I’ll touch more on some of these subjects later. But always be cautious, with any new industry you have people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting customers.