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How to Spot an SEO Scam: Tips

How can you detect and avoid scams when working with a service provider? Here are our expert tips for spotting an SEO scam.

Edona Shala

Content Writer

How to Spot an SEO Scam: Tips

SEO sounds like a scam on the surface. Google is a search engine that aims to provide users with the best, most relevant, and most authoritative results. SEO is a set of strategies designed to “game the system,” ensuring that your website ranks higher in search engine results pages.


SEO is an essential component of any successful digital marketing strategy. When done correctly, SEO can produce incredible results. There are many SEO agencies and freelancers scamming businesses to earn money.


The issue is that not everyone in the SEO industry follows high ethical standards. In fact, many SEO agencies intentionally use low-quality spam tactics for their clients, and then charge for it.


Even the most valid SEO efforts can take weeks or months to produce any actual results, making things even easier for scammers. So, how can you detect and avoid scams when working with a service provider? Here are our expert tips for spotting an SEO scam.

What SEO Is & Isn’t

SEO is an ongoing, long-term digital marketing strategy. If you structure your website according to Google’s best practice standards, publish content that adds value for your customers, and build relationships with other websites across the Internet, your website will rank higher in search engine results.


SEO is the foundation of most modern online marketing efforts. The stronger your SEO efforts, the more long-term success you’ll have online. Well-established rules, practices, and techniques govern SEO. Everyone is doing the same thing, with a few changes in approaches and points of view here and there.


When evaluating the validity of an SEO proposal, it is often helpful to start with a baseline of knowledge. It is much more difficult for scammers to sneak lies and inaccurate information past you if you know what to expect.


There is no “quick fix” for SEO. Proper SEO work takes weeks, if not months, for effective results, and there are no shortcuts. SEO is not a one-and-done technique. It is an ongoing strategy that requires ongoing work. Your website won’t remain at the top of the search engine results if you sit back and relax after getting your page there.


SEO isn’t a science. While everyone follows the same set of rules and practices, the entire concept of SEO is based on search engine algorithms. These algorithms change a lot, as does the SEO landscape.

Identifying an SEO Scam

There are a few common red flags to look out for when hiring an SEO agency or freelancer. Remember that the SEO candidate should be able to explain complex tactics to potential customers.


An experienced SEO professional understands it is their responsibility to ensure that their clients have a thorough understanding of their company’s digital marketing influence. This includes search engine optimization elements and how these tactics will improve their online visibility.

Big Promises

Google and other search engines want to be perfectly sure that they are providing users with relevant search results, so they do not rank websites quickly in order to avoid making mistakes.


Effective SEO strategies need careful preparation ahead of time. Agencies need to invest time researching and understanding the industry in which your company operates, auditing your current website, developing a content strategy, conducting keyword research, and much more.


This all takes time, and even after implementation, it will take some time for search engines to recognize the changes. If a potential SEO service promises results in a short time frame, they are not worth your time or money.

Outdated Methods

When Google’s algorithm was in its early stages, several SEO techniques were very effective. Today, most of them no longer work, and many will harm your rankings rather than help.


The idea behind this, originally known as PageRank at Google, is that the more websites that link to a piece of content, the more important the source must be in order to appear higher in search results. And, of course, in the early days and well into the 2010s, the internet discovered ways to cheat the system. Previously, Google only valued the quantity of backlinks rather than the quality of the backlinks.


As a result, people built massive amounts of links with no regard for quality. From forums, various language websites, Q&A submission sites, every social media platform, and so on. This was effective back then. But now, it does nothing. At worst, you will receive a penalty. 


Some common ones to keep an eye out for are:

  • Keyword stuffing is the practice of packing as many search keywords as possible into your content and/or meta descriptions.
  • PBNs (Private Blog Networks) are networks of dummy blogs used only to rank other websites.
  • Anything classified as a black-hat SEO technique.


Some of these techniques may still be effective in the short-term today, but they will get your website penalized or even de-indexed from search engines if you use them.

Lack of Transparency

Simply put, nobody has a complete understanding of Google’s search engine algorithm. It’s so complex and ever-changing that even Google engineers don’t know how it all works. Testing, industry experience, and publicly available information disseminated by Google all contribute to successful SEO.


Because no one has insider knowledge, agencies claiming to have it may be the single most significant red flag. When you ask a question of your potential provider, they should be able to answer you right away with a direct and honest response.

Guaranteed Rankings

Now, valid, successful agencies will make promises like ranking on the first page for a set of keywords in a certain amount of time. That’s acceptable and isn’t necessarily a red flag. What you should be wary of are guarantees, such as ranking #1 for a very competitive keyword in a short period. Things like that are simply impossible to guarantee.


Another factor to consider is how the guarantee is made. Different industries require different levels of effort and time for effective SEO strategies. Results will always take longer in more competitive, crowded industries. You should be very skeptical if an agency promises results without even mentioning your industry.

Search Engine Submittal

A company promises to improve your search engine rankings by submitting your website to a variety of search engines, including Google. Typically, the company will claim that they have exclusive software or some other technique that allows them to move your website to the front of the line.


Again, be cautious because some search engines, including Google, still allow page submissions via the Search Console. This, however, is not the same thing. In reality, Google and most of the other popular search engines index new webpages from websites by crawling links discovered while indexing other web pages. As a result, you do not need to submit your websites to Google. The search engine will find you when it is ready, and no service can move you to the front of the line.

Prices Too Good to Be True

In the world of SEO, you get what you pay for. If an agency is offering a service at a much lower price than their competitors, there’s probably some reason for it. In poorly worded email outreach, a marketing company usually provides a wide range of SEO services. Everything from writing content to technical updates to link building – at incredibly cheap rates.


While there is no industry standard pricing for SEO work, any legitimate agency will gladly provide you with an upfront cost estimate based on your specific needs. If a potential SEO partner is unsure about pricing, it could be a sign of future falsely raised prices. Similarly, any agency worth working with will be happy to provide you with a portfolio and/or a list of references that you can contact at your convenience.

The Consequences of SEO Scams

While fraud and scams are a problem in most industries, they are more common in SEO. The negative effects of working with an unethical business could harm your long-term potential.


Breaking Google’s terms of service or practicing SEO incorrectly, doesn’t just cause a lack of results. There are also negative effects as Google penalties. In the best-case scenario, you will lose rankings and visibility. In the worst-case scenario, Google may remove your page from search results entirely.


Spammy businesses will associate your brand name with low-quality content and manipulative links. One or two violations may not seem like much, but a bad SEO vendor can do serious damage to your reputation.


Of course, you risk losing money in the process. Low-quality SEO agencies are usually inexpensive, at least in comparison, but with no results to show, you could end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Due Diligence When Choosing SEO Services

Luckily, even a little due diligence is enough to detect scammers and unethical SEO practitioners. To begin, it is important to understand the fundamentals of SEO. If you understand what it takes to improve your rankings and do so responsibly, you’ll be able to figure out whether your vendor is following the proper procedure.


You’ll need to look into each prospective company’s personnel and techniques. Who is to carry out this task? What will they be doing? What will they do to get there? It’s not enough to believe a vague promise of “better SEO results.”


You should also look at reviews and testimonials, which are third-party indicators of a business’s credibility. Reviews and testimonials can be faked, but if a company employs unethical or manipulative practices, you will eventually learn about them.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to SEO scams, vigilance is essential. Understand that SEO is a long-term strategy that requires time, effort, and dedication to ethical standards. Be wary of agencies that make high promises, employ outdated techniques, lack transparency, or offer guarantees that appear too good to be true. To protect your business and reputation, conduct thorough research, check reviews and testimonials, and choose your SEO service provider wisely. Remember that good SEO work is an investment that pays off in the long run.

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