5 Red Flags to Help You Spot a Shady SEO/SEM Company

shady seo company

Search Engine Optimization and Marketing (SEO/SEM). Everyone is talking about it. (We are!) Many business owners know the power of ranking high on the search engine results page. More and more continue to realize it everyday. Every business wants to be at the top of Google and Yahoo’s search results. The number 1 spot for a search term gets about 50% more clicks than the second result, and that could mean the difference between making and breaking your business online.

Because of this desire to rank high, it’s easy to get sold on empty promises. Unfortunately, there are a lot of shady companies out there that offer services that do nothing but waste your time and money. There are things to look for to tell whether a search optimization and marketing company is going to help your business, or just plain sell you snake oil.

This article will get into the “red flags” to look for that should make you run for the hills.

The company uses Google Adsense or other contextual advertising on their site

Contextual advertising, like Google’s Adsense, is a great way for web site owners to make money from their web site. They are blocks of ads that make them money every time someone clicks on them. If the web site’s purpose is to provide information in the form of articles, or provide a free service, then contextual advertising is great for providing income for the web site owner.

But why would a search company, or any business web site for that matter, have contextual advertising on it? If they’re really trying to grow and promote their business, why would they allow competitors to advertise on their own web site? It dilutes their message and shows that they’re more concerned about making a quick buck than staying in business for the long term.

The company promotes Web Site Submission to hundreds of search engines

This is probably the biggest “snake oil” service out there. If a search company is promoting “submission to hundreds of search engines,” they’re still stuck in the 1996. Today, there are only 4 search engines that get the huge majority of traffic: Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask. And the algorithms (technology) of today’s search engines are complex enough to find your web site without having to submit it to them.

This worked well 10 years ago when there were hundreds of search engines out there. But over time, the landscape of search has tightened up. Now, any reputable search marketing company must focus on ranking your business in the major search engines, rather than wasting resources on the 1% of leftover search traffic.

Web site submission only needs to be used for brand new web sites, and you only need to submit to the major four.

It’s Too Good to be True!

“Get ranked #1 in Google for $49.95!”
“Rank your web site in the Top 3 Positions for $99 in less than a week!”

Getting a web site ranked for anything is tough work. It’s certainly not rocket science, but it is a time consuming task that requires thoughtful planning and hard work. There is a lot competition out there, and it grows every single day. Any company that can promise top rankings on the major search engines for pennies is likely full of it.

There are only 2 ways that a search company can deliver on these false promises. 1) They got very, very lucky. 2.) They are using shady, bad practices. Spamming a web site to the top of the search results may work for a week or so, but eventually your web site will get busted and you could get de-listed from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask all together. When it’s “Too Good to be True,” it’s eventually going to catch up with you and hurt your business, and your wallet.

No Permanent E-mail Address / Web Site / Contact Information

Any reputable search company will have a web site, and if they do they will have an e-mail address with the web site address in it. If you’ve received an e-mail promoting search optimization and marketing services from an e-mail account that ends in @gmail.com, @msn.com, @yahoo.com, etc., then run away! They’re either not serious about what they do, or just spamming you to make a quick buck with a throw away e-mail address.

If they do have a web site, but you’re finding it hard to find any credible contact information, be weary. An e-mail address isn’t good enough. They should at least have a phone number, physical mailing address, or employee profiles so you know they are legitimate.

They “Add/Optimize Meta Keywords and Descriptions” for a ridiculous fee

Meta Keywords and Descriptions are hidden tags on your web pages that describe each page with keywords and a lengthy description. They were important many years ago, but were abused by spammers. Today, they should still be used but they hold very little influence on your rankings.

Adding or optimizing Meta tags should be a standard practice for a good search optimization and marketing company. If they’re writing your page titles and web page content, then adding Meta tags is a semi-automatic task. Stay away from any company that simply promotes adding or optimizing Meta tags for hundreds or thousands of dollars, especially if they’re not going to touch anything else on your web site.


As the search optimization and marketing industry grows, there will be more and more shady companies out there that will promote services that do nothing but waste your time, your money, and put your business web site at risk.

On the bright side, as the search industry standardizes, there will be more, easier ways to find reputable search engine optimization and marketing companies. You will be OK if you do your homework by comparing companies, reading testimonials, and talking to the people that work there.

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2 Responses to “5 Red Flags to Help You Spot a Shady SEO/SEM Company”

  1. Smart Startup Says:

    Damn good article! I’ve been running websites since 1996 and by now could offer a weekend seminar on SEO. Everything you said above is true and long overdue. Don’t be surprised if you get attacked by the SEO industry for daring to speak up and tell the truth.

  2. Aaron Abber Says:

    Another way some SEO companies meet their promise of “#1 on Google” is to get you to the top of Google for a meaningless phrase or a phrase that is never searched. Type in “aaron abber” and I’ll bet I am number 1. Problem is the only person who types that in is my mom–and she doesn’t buy anything.