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Spotting Suspect SEO Firms

February 2004

The Breakdown

The internet is a large social network. There are many ways to manipulate how search engines perceive your website. If your aim is to manipulate then you need to keep learning the latest tricks over and over again. This is why a good SEO should help you determine how you can build value with your site.

First Contact

You should contact the SEO firm first, they should not contact you. A good firm likely does not have time to waste on prospecting random people. A good marketer should know better. If they spam you, they likely do terrible work.

Testimonials

Any good SEO's should have testimonials. Many search engine marketing firms will not want to state who some of their clients are. Some clients do not want their competition to know who they are using or what they are doing.

Upon request they should be able to provide at least a couple testimonials though.

When you look at the testimonials they should be from other sites with different site designs.

Ways to smell a rat

Let us examine some fake testimonials.

http://www.commercefriends.com is registered to the same person as some "clients."

commercefriends.com

Looks suspiciously similar in design to some of the sites that give it testimonials. I did a whois check on backyardcity.com and found out that they are registered to the same person as commercefriends.com

Thus this testimonial from a different person:

"Dear Trey:
I just wanted to send you a note to thank you for all of your work. I can hardly believe the extra traffic that is now coming to my website. My traffic has more than doubled and it is still increasing each month.

My PPC budget has dropped by 80% which more than paid for your services in just 3 months.

Thanks again!

Randy Sellers
www.BackyardCity.com"

has a high probability of being dishonest.

Questionable Outbound Links

If you notice a site which links to many other sites of no particular interest they are just linking to parse PageRank. If they link to many high profit margin websites then that is rather suspicious.

High Profit Margin Websites

  • prescription drugs
  • casinos
  • smoking
  • ink refills
  • porn

Also they may just link back and fourth between all of their own websites of random interests. Again CommerceFriends is a wonderful example of this. Many of their "customers" interlink to many of their other "customers," which are also linked to from the bottom of the CustomerFriends website.

Questionable Inbound Links

Some search engine marketers operate exclusively via blog spam, guestbook spam, and other types of spam. Some people also buy many of their links. I will admit that I link to my site from my own weblog, but some unscrupulous parties operate by only getting links via weblog spam.

I do have a few unrelated inbound links, but I also have links from solid resources such as The HTML writers guild and SearchEngineWatch. People who are scamming are likely to be missing links from these types of important sites.

Spamming Weblogs

With Google's recent algorithm changes it is getting harder to find these sites ranking high in the SEO industry. A few people exclusively have MovableType inbound links. This is fine if you are a blog in a blog network, but if you get found out then you will end up on the MT Blacklist and you will lose many of your links.

Buying Links (or renting links)

It is actually an effective method, but some people should be aware of how this link popularity is obtained.

If you look at the bottom of the Duke Chronicle you will see how this works. Just this month I actually purchased a few links, but the bulk of my links came free of charge.

A service which I recommend in no way which attempts to build link popularity by submitting you to a bunch of online malls they own is majon.com

Trading Links in Cahoots

While some of the companies that do this are ethical, you should realize that many "brand new" websites come from old webmasters. A good tool to find out who is doing this is Linktree.

Hard to Contact, Name Not Listed

Any successful search engine marketer knows how important his past is in determining his future revenue. If their name is not on the site and their name is not easily found on search engine forums or on search engine articles you need to wonder why.

Not everyone can afford the most expensive SEO, but if they have not built a reputation yet then they should probably be active participants in the SEO community. Writing articles and participating in forums are two of the cheapest forms of self promotion in the world.

Dishonest Information

If you see phrases like

  • monthly submissions
  • monthly resubmit
  • search engine secret
  • generated optimized page
  • doorway pages

It's probably bad information. They are trying to take advantage of your lack of knowledge. If they need to lie to get business then chances are they do not do good business.

No Valuable Information

If you go to a website and feel that they have no unique tools and no information worth learning you should wonder why they expect you to use them.

Keeping a site as big as this one is a ton of work, but it's not hard to have at least a couple good articles to sell the user. Any good marketer would want to have at least some small sample of their work on their site to promote themselves.

Unclear Statements

If they will not give you any idea what they are doing then it is a safe assumption that they do not care what your opinion is and they do not care about your success. If a doctor does not listen I would find a new doctor. If a search engine marketer can not explain what he does then you should not use them.

Some people use aggressive techniques which could get your site banned from the search engines. Makes sure you are aware of how they intend to optimize your site. It is ok to take risks, as long as you know what the potential consequences are.

SEO's With a Track Record

There are multiple ways to find out what SEO's are good to use. Generally I think finding one in a smaller forum is very smart. If someone writes a compelling article, that is good stuff too. Also there is the Marketing Sherpa's Buyers Guide to SEO Firms if you want to go with a larger firm. I am biased toward smaller firms, as I am an individual person.

Whether you decide to go big or small, you should invest the time to research the provider or you will probably be buying again.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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