It is no secret that the search engine optimization industry has its fair share of phony companies that make claims of service and results of the same nature. The majority of the Internet community can identify the characteristics of these companies, their websites, and their claims and slogans, but there is still a considerate amount of people and potential SEO customers that do not know how to spot one of these companies. Below we will identify some of these characteristics and signs that will help you to avoid these companies and in turn avoid losing your money to these companies.

One of the easiest ways to spot a phony search engine optimization company is by their wild claims. Be extremely suspicious of anything that reads, "Guaranteed top 3 results, submission to 40,000 search engines, all for $50 a month." There are three identifiers in this sentence that are dead giveaways, but some people unfortunately remain to be fooled. The first thing that jumps out at many people is "guaranteed", and for obvious reasons. As many search engine optimization professionals will willingly tell you, there is no way to guarantee top placements in the search engines and directories because we do not control them. There are other guarantees that can be made like quality of service, increased traffic and rankings, etc., but the search engines have too much control and the search engine landscape shifts too frequently to guarantee top placements. The second part of this sentence that jumps out as a falsehood is "submission to 40,000 search engines". A fact that is obvious to many, there are quite simply not 40,000 search engines to submit your website to. The fact of the matter is that there are less than 20 search engines and directories that are worth your time for submission. When these companies make claims to 40,000 search engines, they are including Meta Engines or portals, which use results from one of the major search engines like Google or Fast. The third portion of this sentence that should jump out is "all for $50 a month." A low price such as the $50 example given should be the dead giveaway that this "service" is nothing more than a scam, and not a professional search engine optimization service. These companies can usually justify these low costs by using automated tools, which do more harm than good. A professional service consists of so many things, none of which cost $50 a month.

There are some signs that are not as apparent as the examples given above. One sign that it is not a professional optimization company may be their attempts to hide their optimization techniques and strategies. This does not imply that for a company to be legitimate they must plaster their techniques across their website for all of their competitors to take. Instead, if you are speaking with an optimization company, and they are hesitant, or simply refuse, to divulge their optimization process, there is a good chance that there is no optimization process.

One should always speak with someone at the SEO firm before making any final decisions. One of the most important reasons for speaking with someone at the firm is you need to make sure they have extensive knowledge of the industry, services, and production process. Inquire about different things and listen to their response. If this firm does not express knowledge of the industry and of SEO, then why would you want them to optimize your website?

There are ways to insure that you have made the right decision when selecting a search engine optimization firm. One way to gather the most information from all of the SEO companies is to produce a formal and detailed RFP that is then sent out to all the potential companies. This can be a way to get rid of the companies who make wild claims and do not offer professional services. There are two other surefire ways to stop a bogus company in their tracks: 1) ask to see sample search engine results, and 2) ask to for past and current client references. If the company cannot or will not product sample results achieved, then they should not be trusted. Also, if they do provide sample results, be sure that you are looking at actual search engine results and not Overture or PPC listings, which are normally labeled "sponsored results". Client references are always a great way to learn more about a company that you are considering, as they can give great feedback, both positive and negative.

As more and more of the business world are coming online, business owners are realizing the potential of online and search engine marketing. The low cost of the Internet and promotion makes it easy for people to setup websites and market their scams through email or the search engines. While the chances of eliminating these scams are low, we can reduce the amount of companies and people that lose their money to these scams by education. Before making any decisions or paying any money, make sure to do your research and ask questions from multiple companies.
November 18, 2002

Andrew is the Director of Search Engine Optimization Operations for a market leading company. Since the Fall of 2001, Andrew has served as the moderator of the Search Engine Promotion forum within - a leading online community of web professionals. Andrew's articles appear regularly on informative sites including Search Engine Guide, SEO Today, SitePoint and others.

Search Engine Guide > Andrew Gerhart > Spotting a Phony SEO Company