Five Signs Your SEO is Scamming You

by Gradiva Couzin on August 4, 2014

Because we’re published SEO authors with some degree of credibility, we often hear from friends or acquaintances who are feeling uncertain about their SEO vendors.  “What are we getting for our money?” is a common question.  Sadly, the SEO industry has far too many charlatans in it. We’ve seen some painful examples of good companies getting burned by these lowlifes.

We wrote this list because we desperately want to help businesses – especially small businesses – steer clear of SEO scammers.  Small businesses shouldn’t be spending their precious marketing dollars on low-quality or non-existent SEO.

#1: Your SEO Does Things That Are Secrets From You

Sometimes an SEO will tell a client that what they do has to be kept secret. If your SEO vendor is doing things that they can’t tell you about, this can really only mean two possibilities: they’re either not doing anything at all, or they’re doing SEO that violates best practices and can eventually cause you massive headaches, loss of SEO status, and reputation damage.  Let’s hope you’re lucky and they’re just not doing anything.

#2: You Don’t Have Access to Analytics for Your Website

Sometimes an SEO will tell a client that their ranks are great and their website is getting an amazing amount of traffic.  Often that information is presented in a telephone call – probably so the lies won’t be in writing!  If you are paying a company to gain traffic for your website, you have a right to access credible measurements of that traffic. Any legit SEO agency will allow its clients to see Google Analytics (or another analytics tool) for their site.

#3: You Don’t Have Access to AdWords for Your Website

If you are getting credit card bills from Google, that means your vendor has purchased advertising on Google using your credit card.  You have a right to see reports from AdWords that tell you exactly what you’re paying for and what you’re getting for the money.  You should demand direct access to any AdWords account in which your credit card is being used.

#4: Your SEO Owns Your Domain, Website Hosting, or Business Profiles on Facebook, Yelp or Google+ and Won’t Transfer Ownership

Some small businesses don’t know how to create a website or manage an online profile, so they hire a marketing agency to do it for them – that’s OK. What’s not OK is when the agency that created the website takes ownership of the domain and hosting and then makes it difficult to transfer.  The same goes for Facebook, Google+ and Yelp profiles. Just because an agency is helping you manage these profiles does not mean that extricating your business from the agency should be a hostage negotiation.

If you don’t know who owns your domain, perform a WHOIS search by putting your domain name into the box on the Whois site.  There, you should see the name of the registered owner as well as a way to contact the company (Registrar) that manages the registration with a report of abuse, if necessary. (Look for an email address starting with abuse@)

#5: They Threaten Dire Consequences if You Fire Them

Good SEO agencies don’t threaten their customers. If a company is telling you that Google will punish your site, or some other unspeakable evil will occur if you cease your contract with them, they’re probably not on the up-and-up.  The only situation in which bad things happen is if the agency owns your domain or web profiles and refuses to transfer them to you (see #4).  Other than that, it’s very unlikely that you’ll see negative consequences if you leave the contract.

Bonus: You Have No Contract, and Are Charged Fees You Don’t Understand

Would you accept this from a mechanic or other service provider? A good SEO agency will include a contract in writing that clearly lays out what they will do and what you will be charged for. All spending should be approved in advance.

Bonus2: Ranking Guarantees

A quality SEO consultant will not guarantee a certain organic rank result, because we do not have control over the many factors that go into organic rankings. Any SEO who makes such a promise is probably one who plans to take advantage of your ignorance by showing you false or misleading rank reports.

If you suspect you’re being scammed, the first thing you need to do is get educated.  You don’t have to be an SEO expert to hire an agency to help you, but a little knowledge goes a long way.  Try our SEO book or review this great list of questions to ask SEO agencies.

If you need to extricate yourself from a scammy SEO, your top priority should be gaining control of your domain and online profiles. You may get some help from Google Support or by writing to the abuse address mentioned in #4.

We wish all small businesses the best of luck in avoiding SEO scammers!  If you’re looking for a low-budget SEO service, we have some small business offerings here.


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We’ve been helping customers improve their search engine ranks and conversion rates for over a decade. We consult on SEO and social media for major brands, one-person shops, and everything in between. Get in touch to find out how we can help you!

Q: We are a medium-sized business and we’ve been using Google Analytics for a long time and never really questioned it. Should we switch to an analytics program other than Google Analytics? 

A: The short answer is: probably not. Most businesses of your size that we’ve worked with get everything they need from Google Analytics. Even when an alternative analytics solution is put in place, we typically recommend keeping Google Analytics in place alongside the other solution.

Here are some reasons that we’ve known businesses to look into another Analytics solution: 

  • Data Processing Limitations: Google Analytics only processes a certain amount of data. Going beyond this limit will cause data sampling. If you have traffic significantly beyond these limits (e.g., more than 1 million visits a month),  the data sampling in Google Analytics will begin to yield potentially inaccurate data.
  • Complex Tracking Needs: If your business has a large number of websites or a large number of channels, campaigns and variables to track, this can be cumbersome in Google Analytics.
  • Individual User Tracking or Real-time Tracking Needs: Google Analytics is great at analyzing traffic and sources and looking at user behavior in segments. It’s not necessarily built to analyze engagement and understand what each individual user is doing on a website. Businesses that need to track individual users or who want real-time data often pursue different solutions.
  • Privacy Concerns: Despite Google’s assertions to the contrary, some businesses don’t trust Google Analytics to keep their website data private, or not to use their website data for Google’s own nefarious purposes.

Here are some common alternatives to Google Analytics: 

  • Free alternatives to Google Analytics
    Two top free alternatives are Clicky (which offers realtime tracking) and Piwik (an open-source solution that runs on your own servers, which can overcome privacy concerns). Based on usage/features, there may be some charges for these solutions.
  • Paid alternatives to Google Analytics
    Top options in paid alternatives are Google Analytics Premium, Adobe Analytics, and Coremetrics (IBM Analytics). These are generally off the table for most small or medium-sized businesses due to their cost. For example, Google Analytics Premium can cost $150,000/year. In our experience, Adobe Analytics and Coremetrics are not built with organic SEO needs in mind as compared to Google Analytics.
  • Analytics solutions for insight into individual user
    Mixpanel and KISSmetrics are analytics offerings that we would consider not as alternatives to Google Analytics but as supplemental tracking options that can help a business gain more insights about the behavior of site users.

We’re always happy to talk about matching analytics offerings to needs!  Let us know your analytics questions or suggestions in the comments.


We’ve been helping customers improve their search engine ranks and conversion rates for over a decade. We consult on SEO and social media for major brands, one-person shops, and everything in between. Get in touch to find out how we can help you!

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