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Picture this. You’re starting a new pet store, and you’ve devoted an insane amount of resources into developing a website that is just awesome. It’s responsive, the design is slick and professional, and you have a back-end e-commerce system ready to start processing the orders that you hope will start rolling in by the thousands.

You’re ready to accommodate the hordes, but you don’t know how to get the hordes to realize your site exists. It’s time to fill your site with content, and you know that it needs to be crafted in a way that’ll bring in people from the search engines, but you really have no idea where to start. Search engine optimization just feels like black magic to you. It’s all voodoo.

Then, out of the blue, like a sign from heaven, you get an email from someone proclaiming that they’re an SEO expert and they’re prepared to help you get your site listed immediately in the top 10 Google results for search terms in your industry. It seems too good to be true, but what have you got to lose? You’ve got to do something, right?

Actually, you do – but responding to that “expert” is not the thing to do. Unfortunately, because SEO is one of the most misunderstood aspects of web design, it is also a primary target for scam artists that prey upon unsuspecting website owners, willing to do anything for a piece of the search engine pie.

The Magical “Top 10” Google Listing

Being an SEO expert these days is more of a stigma than an honor. I’ve had every response you can imagine when people that I first meet or start working with learn that I’m the “SEO guy”. It ranges from outright scoffing (“That SEO crap is nonsense”) to attempts to undermine or belittle the entire process (“SEO is only for content mills”). It’s nothing new – and anyone that’s part of this industry is pretty familiar with it.

So, why is it more of a stigma these days? Well, it’s because of the scam artists that have created a very negative name for search engine optimization.

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They are nothing less than thieves. They will come in, make lots of promises, provide seemingly positive results, and then before you know what has happened, they’re gone and so is your money. Want to know the crazy thing about it? They aren’t lying. They really can get you listed in the “top 10” of Google results.  I’m going to show you how they do that, and why it’s an outright scam.

Getting Listed In the Top 10 is Easy

When most people think of “SEO”, they think of just finding keywords that tons of people are searching for, and then writing articles focused on that phrase. Simple, right? Actually, that only takes one factor of search keyword value into account – search volume.  The two other factors to consider are competition and niche (more on that later).

What these scammers do is go fishing for people that are fairly new to web design or web publishing. They look for people that hopefully don’t know anything about those three search keyword factors. Or, at the very least, are not aware of the importance of connecting search volume with search engine ranking Keep Your SEO Finger on the Pulse of the Web With PageRank Status for Chrome Keep Your SEO Finger on the Pulse of the Web With PageRank Status for Chrome When it comes to promoting a website or a blog on the Internet, there are so many things to think about that it can feel a little bit overwhelming. Setting aside the entire field of... Read More .

Let’s say that you own a pet store and you just launched your website. You respond to one of these scammers, and they promise you that you can rank within the top 10 on Google for the search terms: pet bird toys, free virtual pet, and pet food recall list.
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You’re thinking – hey, people that search for those terms are looking for pet related stuff, so it’s all good! Imagine if that person then provided you with content that landed your website on the very first page of Google results within less than a week! Imagine how exciting it would be to see your website ranked How To Determine a More Accurate SEO Ranking For Your Site How To Determine a More Accurate SEO Ranking For Your Site Search engine optimization. It's a controversial topic these days. Lots of professionals have their own opinions about what constitutes a good SEO strategy. Some people insist that a solid keyword strategy is the only thing... Read More right up there on top! Clearly that SEO “expert” did exactly what they promised. The proof is right there in black and white! Well, not quite.

Before cutting that check to the so-called SEO guru, you may want to head on over to Google Adwords Keyword Research tool, and check out those search terms. This is one of the best tools out there for identifying search volume.
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An average 70 searches a month. Not exactly the “hordes” of visitors you were expecting, was it? Once you realize this, your SEO expert will be long gone, and you still won’t have any traffic.  This seems ridiculously simple, but it’s the most common mistake people make when talking about how high they were able to rank on certain search terms. That’s great! You ranked at the top of search results! What good is that if no one is even searching for the search phrase you’ve ranked so well on?

Competing is Hard

The other side of the scam is that the keywords they choose to promise great rankings for you are those that are very low competition. This isn’t the same as the competition listings you see in the Adwords research tool – that is actually how many advertisers are trying to bid for those keywords. What you’re interested in is how many other websites out there are targeting the search phrase that you want to rank well on.  The SEO scammer will find very low search volume phrases with very few websites out there trying to rank on those phrases.

Finding competition data is probably the hardest factor to research, because you need to count the number of high-ranking sites that are listed high in search results for that term. One awesome free tool is the free MOZ Keyword Analysis tool.
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The thing is, a low competition – or “difficulty” – rating of 41 percent would be brilliant, so long as the search volume was really high. However, scammers know that it’s a whole lot easier to find obscure search terms that have no competition, and to rank in the top ten when those search terms have really low search volume. It’s one way to look like an SEO hero, without actually being one.

Striking a Balance is What Experts Do

In other words the answer is yes – SEO companies can guarantee a top 10 Google result. They can also produce such a result. The problem is that being listed in a top 10 Google search result doesn’t mean anything if no one is interested in the search term. It looks good to the uninformed, but it’s meaningless.

That covers two of the important factors – volume and competition. An expert SEO researcher will take the time to trace down searches that have both high volume and a competition level that’s within the range of your website’s ranking or authority – its ability to compete in that arena. The higher your existing authority, the further into those highly competitive areas you can get.

However, this brings us to the third factor – Niche. SEO experts of today are no longer just focused on analyzing the keyword density, structure and format, and the title layout for your pages. Today, SEO requires so much more than that – it demands creativity. It requires understanding popular search terms within the niche that you serve, popular trends on social networks in that niche, and what titles produce higher share rates. Today, SEO means creatively turning a seemingly dry search phrase into content that is interesting, compelling, and gets your readers to interact and keep coming back for more.

SEO con artists A Day In The Life Of a BlackHat SEO, Circa 2010 A Day In The Life Of a BlackHat SEO, Circa 2010 For most people, SEO consists of making sure your page content is compelling and the metadata accurately describes the page without keyword stuffing. But there's another side to SEO - the world of blackhats. The... Read More can certainly rank your web pages within the top 10 of some random Google results, but they can’t perform where it really counts – traffic, shares, and a higher site authority in Google’s eyes.

Image Credit: Security Disguised Burglar via Shutterstock

  1. Rob H
    July 27, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    If, as a website owner, you get email from someone claiming to be an SEO it is spam, treat it just as you do the spam for medications, fake watches, stuuning young ladies keen to meet you, Nigerian gentlemen keen to share their illegal millions with you and casinos. It is from a confidence trickster. If what they say seems really compelling and you think "this one sounds promising" that means you've found an effective confidence trickster and he's found a good target: You.

    Anyone who signs up with an SEO probably believes in father christmas, the tooth fairy, alien abductions, psychics, the moon landing was faked and basically is an (expletive deleted) imbecile and might as well get ripped off by an SEO as any other con-artist.

    Apart from the scam Ryan explains there are dozens of others, all equally ineffective. For example I know of an Ecommerce web site that paid an SEO GBP20k - the SEO delivered exactly what they promised, 10,000 more hits on the web site every month for a year. The effect on sales from the website was zero. The SEO had bought web site visits from teams of people in low-wage economies typical cost US$20-40 per 10,000 visits.

    If you want to get the best exposure on Google (and who doesn't) take Google's advice.
    They favour sites which offer unique content, demonstrate authority and expertise – in Google’s words from their advice to webmasters “compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here”.

    The only SEO I'd employ is one who asks no up front payment but who will take a percentage of the profit from the increased sales his efforts generate. That's the way I work (I'm not an SEO), I undertake work and invoice when successfully completed. In 20 years nobody has ever let me down.

    • Synfidie
      July 29, 2013 at 5:01 am

      "fake watches" <--totally read that as fake witches. :D

      One question I always have is when it says competition low and yet the global search volume is like 4 million for the keyword...is this a bad thing?

      • Ryan Dube
        July 29, 2013 at 5:26 am

        It depends if you're talking about Adwords or some other tool. I Adwords, competition is actually competition for advertisers, not publishers. I know it's confusing, but it's actually the opposite of when you consider competition in the context of the SEO tools out there like MOZ keyword analysis tool.

        I'd focus like something on the MOZ tool and just look for a good balance of high volume and low competition (or competition adjusted to the ability of your site to compete - you might be able to compete for medium-competition keyword topics).

      • Rob H
        July 29, 2013 at 7:49 am

        No, if the spam was offering fake witches we'd all want one, unlike the real ones they can't turn you into a frog!

        Not quite sure of the basis of the search volume figure. If you take the example from the article of "pet bird toys" google got me 11.5m results but when I put the search phrase in quotes it's down to 20,000.

        (The difference is quotes mean "exact match" whereas without quotes you ge a hit if those 3 words appear anywhere on the page, not necessarily as that exact phrase.)

  2. Junaid
    July 26, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Though article is very informative, yet it is far less progenitive than it could be. What would have been better, should you have talked about VISION of website owners and then guided them on how to select and who to select.

    Also, your article is too much inspired from most of the people who are offering these so called SEO services over freelance portals and people with lack of vision or with cost constraints are going to these portals and talking to those immature and/or SEO WORKERS whose SOLE purpose is to make some extra quid.

    It is more of responsibility of website owner to make the right choice and embrace the right cost for service.

    If they won't know the real VALUE of their own business - people labelled as SCAMMER in your post will always manage to take advantage.

    I try to educate my clients and unfortunately many are willingly and mentally ready to be tried and go through hard route.

    • Ryan Dube
      July 29, 2013 at 5:23 am

      Hi Junaid,

      Yes, the focus of this article was on SEO scammers - not so much the entire SEO picture. That would be a different article for a different day. And you are correct - the key is to understand the vision and long-term goals of a website, and those goals can be used to drive the focus of SEO efforts (and actually the overall marketing efforts for a site).

  3. Jerome Indefenzo
    July 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Wow. I never thought Google Search was this complicated o.O

  4. Glenda
    July 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    "It seems too good to be true, but what have you got to loose?"

    Do you proofread before posting?

    Loose = that belt is loose

    Lose = what have you got to lose?

    • Ryan Dube
      July 26, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks for the catch. And thanks for putting it so kindly and protecting my fragile ego. ;-)

      • Shemul
        July 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm

        learned a lot new things. I am doing the same thing as a SEO expert for my website. It is not that bad for myself, I mean if you can do it by yourself, Its a long term SEO.

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