I’ve been in the digital marketing industry since 2004 and have been exposed to all sorts of changes in the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) landscape, and I’ve witnessed my share of scams and theft.
Some of these criminal approaches I’ve seen in the past few years are nothing short of a fear-based tactic to pressure business owners into coughing up money on wasted efforts, but they can be hard to detect for the average Joe or Jill. This is where I step in to help protect hard-working small business owners.
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What’s the worst that can happen?
To allow a 3rd party to handle an SEO campaign for you, chances are you have to provide access to many of your sensitive accounts such as your Facebook business page, your Google Analytics account, your Youtube channel access, your Instagram.. You name it. In some cases they may even have access to your domain management console, and your website/email control via FTP or direct server access.
What happens when these accounts are no longer 100% in your control, by somebody who you cannot locate on the local map, and cannot trace or fully trust? They can change the passwords on these accounts, lock you out, and hold these assets ransom for your money – or you risk losing access to your precious digital storefront, which is often the main source of leads for many modern businesses big and small.
Do I have your attention now at how severely your business can be crippled? Then, read on
Other Harmful Scenarios That Can Hurt Your Business
Let’s imagine the worst case scenario described above does not happen – great! Several other things can still happen. I’ve seen a West Vancouver real estate team fall for a poor-quality SEO services from overseas. They had taken the following steps to help improve the ranking of this website for “West Vancouver luxury real estate” and “West Vancouver luxury condos”:
- Backlinks were purchased in mass on suspicious online chat rooms that smelled of online predators. These type of purchased links are being targeted by Google, and can result in a permanent de-listing of your URL from Google altogether (black-hat techniques). At this point you can kiss goodbye all Google search leads, and start over with a brand-new website at a huge cost (and opportunity cost).
- The links were also nested among other purchased backlinks that sold all sorts of illicit goods such as pornography, illegal drugs, male-enhancement pills.. You name it. Anybody doing a search for websites that link back to this real estate website could see these. This can seriously harm your reputation if somebody came across this and publicized the unintentional affiliation!
- You can’t find them or sue them! Filing a lawsuit against a corporation that resides abroad is cost-prohibitive – and simply impossible for small business owners to undertake. That also means they are not accountable, and will do whatever it takes to scrape a few hundred bucks here and there, only to disappear at the end leaving you with a mess.
Story of an SEO Scammer Who Tried To Steal From My Friend
Drew Whalley, who runs a carpentry/home renovation business in Nanaimo BC, met a “SEO Specialist” through an introduction from his colleague Sarah Foster (fake name used to protect her identity). Sarah runs a similar business in the Lower Mainland of BC.
At that point Sarah had observed that the traffic on her website did improve marginally, and thought Drew could use the help to get his business better known on Vancouver Island. But Drew had some red flags from day one, and decided to consult with me before making any moves.
“At first, they demanded that I should pay them a $250 USD retainer fee right away, otherwise they will offer this campaign to a competitor in my town.”
– Drew Whalley (owner of Whalley Works, Nanaimo, BC) – Day 1
How to Detect & Filter Out the Bad Apples?
Are they using a public-domain email such as @gmail.com?
No proper digital agency with a reputation to keep will use a @gmail or @hotmail address to contact you. The good ones will have a full domain, and an email that belongs to the domain (much like firstname.lastname@example.org, and www.brixwork.com having matching domains). The agent approaching Drew was using international phone numbers that were not searchable, and a @gmail.com address!
Did they ask you for the keywords you wish to rank for?
A business cannot prepare a formal proposal without asking you about your business goals, your niche market, the target areas, and current revenue status first. Anybody approaching with a pre-set “Proposal” is not approaching it with a business-oriented mindset to start with, but only aiming to scam a few hundred bucks out of you, and many others.
Are they using pressuring/alarmist verbiage to scare you?
“We found some serious issues on your website!” or “Your website is not performing well!” are the common alarmist phrases used. They cannot possibly know this unless they have access to Google Analytics. They also often threaten to give this opportunity to a local competitor of yours, and that they work exclusively for one industry type per region only.
Are they citing a report of your website with red/orange warnings?
Some of the most poorly designed, non-mobile responsive, ancient websites still rank very well based on great content, backlinks, and tenure. 3rd party scans that measure the build quality of websites for search engine ranking factors have some merit, but it’s not the whole picture. I’m not saying it’s OK to have an outdated website. Better built, mobile-responsive, SSL-installed websites do rank better, but that’s not all. Quality content and legitimate backlinks matter even more.
Then it Got Worse – Threats and Abuse!
“When I asked to see their website, and inquired why he’s using a @gmail.com address instead of his corporate account, he evaded the question saying that I should just listen to the friends who referred him to me.”
– Drew Whalley, Day 3
Reputable businesses have a website, and proper emails. These guys often do not have it, or their website is a generic website thrown together on WordPress for a fake corporate image, but upon closer inspection you’ll notice default content left behind such as “Hello World” or Uncategorized posts.
“Turned out that the friends who used him first were getting lots of traffic, but shitty traffic with no conversion. They weren’t even sure if these were local.”
– Sarah Foster, Day 5
Drew spoke with Sarah to bring up his concerns based on a consult with me (an old highschool friend who he can trust 100%). Upon further inspection, Sarah noticed that the “traffic” coming through was not even local traffic, and the spike in visits were temporary while there were no increase in quality leads.
“They kept calling every day asking for the deposit. I told them I’m not ready unless I see more website credentials or a formal proposal at least. They just kept pressuring me, threatening me, and saying that I was making a big mistake by not moving forward quickly.”
– Drew Whalley, Day 5
At this point, Sarah had also decided to pull the plug. But before informing her “SEO Specialist” of this decision, she went ahead and changed the passwords of all of her Google & Social Media accounts as a safety measure, then informed the unidentified man that she no longer needed his services in the following monthly period.
“They called me, left voicemails threatening that they would destroy my business and the website reputation. They called to tell me I made a very bad mistake, and that I had made an enemy. I just laughed and hung up.”
– Drew Whalley, Day 6
“The guy emailed and called me, saying he will sue for the future months’ fees. I never agreed to a fixed term, it was always agreed to be a month-to-month thing, and I had paid him up to that date.”
– Sarah Foster, Day 7
No professional business would ever resort to personal threats at the failure to acquire or continue a business contract, nor would they threaten to sue on non-existent grounds. At this point, it was blatantly clear that this was a scammer, not a specialist (if it wasn’t clear by day one).
So what was this guy doing, and what was happening behind the scenes?
Exploiting Cheap Labour Rates for Volume of Work
Based on my experience and knowledge, these quick cash-grab SEO teams are nothing more than a group of underpaid individuals located in places in the world where wages are unbelievably cheap compared to that of North America. They are able to get droves of unskilled people to post backlinks on unverified (and potentially dangerous for your website’s ranking) websites, or even click links manually to fake increase in traffic.
Short-term traffic growth is possible.. Until you’re caught
Low quality backlinks that focus on quantity over quality has been a major target for Google to nuke. Their recent algorithm updates punished these websites badly. Using unverified black-hat techniques such as this put your website at high risk. The only way to good rankings is great quality content, with reputable backlinks, and a well-built website that makes crawling/navigating easier – it’s hard to replace quality hard work for long-term SEO results.
What Qualifications & Credentials Do I have?
If you’ve read this far, you’re wondering if this Jeff Kee guy really knows what he’s talking about. Here’s what I’ve built & achieved so far in this field:
- Our real estate SEO campaigns at Brixwork helped NestPresales.com rank page 1 for various presales/buildings/assignments across the Lower Mainland & Vancouver Island.
- Rory Clipsham (Burnaby & Coquitlam real estate specialist) ranks within top 5 results on page 1 for “Windsor Gate Coquitlam”, “Windsor Gate Listings”
- Successfully boosted Google crawl rates and organic clicks (from <4 clicks to 20+ per day!) on Cheema Real Estate Group’s website through useful link additions for properties by type/price/region.
- Directed and launched the new street name based MLS® search with keyword-dense URLs to help real estate websites rank better for long-trail queries.
- After more than 5+ years since the work was done, the SEO campaigns on Brock Smeaton’s West Vancouver Luxury Real Estate Website still holds its ground by maintaining 1st page results for “West Vancouver Luxury Real Estate”.
Multiple page-1 rankings, long-lasting results that were not flagged when Google changed their algorithms to combat link spam, and proven statistics on quality local traffic growth – you can be the judge on who the “SEO Specialist” is.