Sep 29, 2016

How To Spot A FAKE SEO

by | Search Optimization

One of the most unfortunate parts of my job is when I hear clients or prospective clients explain to me how they’ve hired three, five, or even over a dozen Search Engine Optimizer’s before and have seen no results or saw rankings, sales, and traffic go down. The most frustrating part of these stories for me is that they’re all relatively similar. Usually, the “SEO” mentions an enormous red flag during negotiations, but when you’re not familiar with the SEO niche, it’s difficult to see these red flags as well. The two most common red flags when talking to fake “SEOs” are low rates and super fast/guaranteed results.

Why do so many businesses hire the wrong SEO?

I honestly believe it comes down to the numbers. There’s no science behind this statement, but I think there’s about a 1:10 ratio of real to fake SEOs. Why are there so many fakes? It’s easy money. Most business owners don’t understand what search optimization is so it’s easy to fool someone and play to their emotions.

Imagine a small business owner is vetting candidates and 9 out of the 10 candidates say that they can rank the company’s website #1 on Google in less than a month for only $50. The other candidate says that they might be able to rank the site #1, but they can’t promise that they will, and it will also take around six months at $1,000/month. This is the situation I hear about pretty often.

If an SEO is asking for under $300/month (no matter what country they’re from), or if they promise results or suspiciously fast results this is your cue to run. Fake SEOs are scam artists that play to business owners emotions of wanting to see results as quickly as possible and spend as little as possible.

Let’s take the same situation and use a different industry. Your car needs a new transmission. You know that this is a large project and won’t be cheap. You can Google “average cost of a new transmission” ($2500 by the way) and see the price, over $2000 at least as well as the process taking at least four days. You call two auto body shops, and one store lines up exactly with what all the information on the internet says about $2,000 and four days. The second auto body shop tells you that it’ll only cost you $500 and it can be completed in about 6 hours. You probably wouldn’t go anywhere near the second option for the suspiciously low quote – they’ll be losing money on that replacement.

Does this mean everyone who charges market rate and doesn’t promise results is someone worth hiring? Unfortunately, no. There are two questions I ask when I am hiring an SEO to determine if they’re worth interviewing.

1. What was the latest note worth Google algorithm update?

This information is readily available from Moz. Keep in mind that not every update that makes news is on their list. The purpose of this question is to determine if they’re able to answer the question and if their knowledge is current. I once had someone mention an update that happened in 2007 (it was 2016 at the time) as the most recent. Additionally, answers such as “there are hundreds of updates yearly” don’t make the cut. I’m looking for a particular answer and you should too.

2. What offsite SEO tactics do you use to rank websites?

Not everyone uses the same tactics. What I’m looking for are candidates who mention old tactics such as “Social bookmarking.” Most of the fake “SEOs” work I’ve observed heavily uses social bookmarking as their go-to for linking building. You don’t need to know the in-and-outs of offsite SEO to understand good vs. bad answers. Using social bookmarking as your determining factor will suffice.

The elephant in the room

Let’s be honest. If you Google “how to hire an SEO” or “questions to ask an SEO” you’ll see that low-cost work and fast results are red flags across the board. If this information is so readily available, why do so many businesses still hire the wrong SEOs over & over again?

Fear and insecurity. I can’t say I blame any of you who may be hiring the wrong SEO due to these reasons. It’s scary to be told that you’ll be paying thousands of dollars before you see results and there’s a chance that you won’t see any results. Let’s talk about some hard numbers when it comes to SEO costs.

Search Engine Optimization is not cheap. I, along with many SEOs, use dozens of tools to complete our job and those tools aren’t cheap. Some of the most common ones are

And these are only some of the tools. The point is that if most SEOs pay around $500+/month for just their tools – not including the expenses they’ll incur just for your campaign – is it reasonable that a good SEO would charge under $300/month and still be able to eat?

What about time?

Why does it take, on average, six months to see results from an SEO campaign? Ranking a website is about more than just changing a couple of words on a website and adding a couple of links somewhere out on the web.

I just completed a search, on Google, for “Personal Injury Lawyer New Hampshire.” There are over one million results. This means that there are over one million websites are Google is currently ranking for that search query, and Google is tasked with deciding where they believe all one million+ of those web pages should rank.

Additionally, to rank a website the SEO not only has to convince Google to rank you higher, but the SEO that you hired has to be better than all of the other SEOs who are currently being paid to rank their clients for the same search terms that you want to rank for. These other SEOs may have larger budgets to work with, more experience, and a larger team. Luckily, most SEOs are mediocre.

My #1 hiring tip

Only hire someone you feel as though you can trust. Is this person you’re talking to explaining how they work, why they charge what they do, why they say results will take X amount of time, and why they want to help you? Or are they talking like they’re reading off of a script and unable to answer your questions? Yes, you can talk to their previous clients but that’s usually the very last step you would want to take when you already know who the real SEOs are.

In conclusion

Hiring the right SEO is hard, but you can spot the fake SEOs from a mile away. When you see red flags such as suspiciously low service costs, the promise of results, outdated industry knowledge, the advocacy of old techniques, or anything else that your gut tells you is odd – run for the hills.

Do you want to potentially help a business saves hundreds to thousands of dollars and months of agony? Share this post so you can aid the effort in improving the quality of SEOs that companies hire.

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I’m Jarod, the SEO, and

Engineer of Awesome

An image of me on a mountain in Mass

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog (and this bio!) I’ve been a Search Engine Optimizer for over four years and a developer for two years. I love sharing my knowledge, learning, and educating others about what I do and the industries I love. If you found this post informative please share this with your friends – or strangers – and if you didn’t find this post informative, please share it with your enemies.