Here are five tricks used by the more unscrupulous internet marketing firms. Swindles such as these have been going on since the dawn of the internet and while some of them are just a cheeky way of getting a few pounds out of your marketing budget, some of them could cost you thousands and potentially cause long-term harm to your website.
Each of these is a scam in use today and is one that businesses we deal with have been caught out on in the past. We are highlighting them here so that you can see the types of tricks that exist and can hopefully spot them before handing over your cash.
Scam #1 - “We’ll put you top of Google for 10 of your keywords for only £200 a month”
This is a pay per click scam that has become pretty popular over the past couple of years, with a number of businesses we know falling for it, to their later regret. On the face of it, the offer seems like a good one: A company calls you saying they will put your website in the sponsored listings on Google and guarantees that your site will appear on the first page for only £200 a month. What they don’t tell you is that the search terms are ones that are rarely used so are cheap to bid on. For example, if you were an IFA that works nationally then bidding on the keyword “pension advice” would be expensive, but bidding on “independent pension advice in South Wales” wouldn’t be. These pay per click companies will bid on keywords like the latter so that not that many clicks happen, and when they do, the cost is minimal. Out of the £200, you may only receive a few pounds worth of clicks, with the company pocketing the other £190 or so as a monthly management fee.
We have also seen one company that doesn’t stop there. They will charge you an additional £50 set-up fee which they say is mandatory as it’s charged by Google. Whilst it is true that Google does charge an Adwords set-up fee, it is actually only £5, and it gets refunded out of your first few clicks anyway.
How can you avoid this scam? If anyone cold calls you offering pay per click advertising then perhaps it’s better not to sign up over the phone. Instead, take their details, stick them into a search engine, and have a look to see if they are associated with this type of con. If it looks genuine then find out whether they let you bid on the more competitive keywords or whether they just let you choose from low level ones.
Scam #2 - “We’ll submit your site to hundreds of search engines for only £10”
One of the oldest online marketing scams and one of the most pointless. The first thing you should be aware of is that there are only three main search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) and they take up over 95% of all search queries made in the UK. Submitting a website to any others is a worthless exercise.
The next thing you need to know is that submitting a site to a search engine can potentially do more harm than good. For a long time it has been widely accepted within the online marketing world that search engines prefer to find websites via inbound links. It is believed that search engines will sooner show a website they find on their own, via another website, than one they are force fed through a submission.
If you have a new site then to get indexed, all you need is one link from a website that is popular with the search engines and your site will start showing in results pages within a matter of days or weeks.
There is a variation on this scam where companies try to get on-going money out of you by offering to re-submit your site regularly. Even if the above wasn’t true then this additional service is a complete waste of time as once the search engines know your site exists and have crawled it, they place you within their database, something they don’t need to be asked to do over and over again.
Scam #3 - “We guarantee to get you #1 on Google”
No-one can promise you the first position on Google. There are hundreds of factors that search engines use to determine the search results, many of which aren’t known to people outside of Google. If someone is making guarantees then it is highly likely that one of two things are happening. They may be offering to optimise your site for keywords that are of a very low competition level (much as the pay per click scam, above), or, more worryingly, there may be something dodgy going on.
Black hat techniques, such as cloaking and keyword stuffing, are used by some SEO companies to trick search engines into ranking a website. Whilst these often work in the short term, they can actually damage your website in the long-term. When the search engines discover that these techniques have been used they can penalise, and even ban your website from the search results. Don’t think it can’t happen to you either, as BMW once had their website disappear from Google thanks to some black hat work, and if it can happen to a company of that size, then it can happen to anyone.
Scam #4 - “We will give you 1000 links for only £9.99”
Whilst inbound link building is an important part of search engine optimisation, the links do need to come from quality, relevant websites. Buying links in bulk, through companies that have automated link submission systems will never bring in links from good websites in relevant fields.
The links will most likely come from spammy directories that no person and no search engine is ever going to bother with. Not only will the links be completely worthless but they could highlight to the search engines that something dodgy is going on and pose harm to your existing rankings.
Scam #5 - “We will build you a high ranking sales page on our site”
Whilst micro sites and separate sales pages can work for businesses there is one fairly common trick that should be avoided. The company offers to build a one-off page, branded with your logo, optimised for your keywords, and hosted on their business directory site. This sounds good as there are no hosting or web development fees for you, but what it lacks is control. The page is a part of their site, not yours, so your monthly fee is paying them to work on improving the ranking of a website that doesn’t belong to you.
If you ever decide that you no longer want the page then you are left with nothing, and they are left with a valuable asset that they can easily sell to one of your competitors. If you decide that coming up high on the search engines is a goal for your business then it is probably wiser to work on improving your site rather than someone else’s.