Today’s “Is it a scam?” looks at SEO—Search Engine Optimization. What is that? SEO is the science of the web. How do you get found online? It’s the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic from search engines. SEO targets unpaid or “organic” traffic rather than paid visitors (what you get from pay-per-click programs or online ads).
Before we delve into the scam stuff, you should understand some basics of Search Engine Optimization.
- Search engines, like Google and Bing, attempt to be the best at delivering results to their users. Their goal is to provide the best match between request and result.
- The top three results will usually take 85 percent of the clicks. Winning at SEO can make or break your online (and brick-and-mortar) business.
- Top results are often driven by things like exact match, “inbound links” (how many others cite your content as a source and link to you) and hundreds of other factors measured by the search engine algorithms.
- Scammers look for ways to beat the system. They want fast, easy wins. The search engines, meanwhile, combat their tactics by continually improving their product.
The scam offer: “Do you want me to write you an article?“
At Lioness, there’s a steady drumbeat of emails from people offering, out of the goodness of their hearts, to write articles for us, no charge. In fact, they often offer us money to post their articles.
Some take a whole four to eight seconds to look at our magazine before they decide what kind of articles to pitch Lioness Magazine, “for the female entrepreneur” (those words are built right into our logo). Here are a few recent winners:
- Foreign Brides: Tips for finding a wife online
- How to date in your golden age and why you should
- Piercings & Sports: Is it safe to tape your earrings with piercing tape?
- These smashing honeymoon tips will surely spice up your wedding night
The scam: paying for inbound links
If you’re done rolling on the floor, let’s dig into what is going on here. While contributed articles and op-eds are well-accepted strategies for thought leadership campaigns, these “pitches” are what I prefer to call spam. They are junk emails, usually from throwaway Gmail accounts, looking for the unwary or greedy publication and blogger.
If we responded, they would provide us with carefully worded articles, spiced with links to (usually) less-than-savory websites. Our site would lose authority connecting to these sites while their site would gain authority with these inbound links.
Lesson one: Don’t fall for the free article offer. Other less obviously bad but still not good offers? Guest posts and link swaps.
Comments as scams
If your blog suddenly gets popular with the commentors, take a close look. Some of those comments might be legitimate, but these days, they’re more likely to be spammers looking to get links from your website to theirs. Beware the generic “Good job” and “I’ve bookmarked this”. These comments and others can be found on unguarded websites everywhere.
The protection racket
One of the sneakier scam categories (or scam-like strategies) I’ve seen in a while involves the creation of a new award or badge. “Congratulations! Your website has been identified as one of the safest websites offered to users this year. You can add the attached widget or badge to your website.”
You’ve been “verified”! By whom? No one really knows, but you can follow that convenient link right back to their website. (Do you notice a theme here?) Don’t do it.
More SEO scams
There are other SEO-related scam offers out there, too. If you own a website, maybe you’ve gotten the offer of cheap SEO for your site. The offering is something like, “For $49, we’ll list your website in all the important online directories.”
In general, not a great use of your $49. In the happy golden days of the web, there was no Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo, you had to remember websites. (True, there were a lot fewer of them.) Directories helped you find websites. (Yahoo was such a directory, listing the “best” websites.)
Today, directories are just link farms. They have been replaced by search engines and are, frankly, abused by scammers. They’re no longer an important part of your search engine optimization program but not everyone knows this, and some people waste a lot of time and money submitting links to directories. Because directories have been abused as an SEO tactic, Google’s algorithm now seems to assess a penalty on websites that use web directories. (Note that I said “seems” to. Anyone claiming inside knowledge of the Google algorithm, a well-guarded secret, is a scammer.)
Lesson two: There are many variations on the search engine optimization scam theme, including offers of a paid link on a “top website”; how you can “instantly” get hundreds of links; and “guaranteed #1 placement on Google”.
There is no free ride or easy option when it comes to getting listed first by the major search engines. But a lot of people will try by riding on your coattails or hijacking your website. Be hyper-vigilant and aware when someone tries to partner with you, pay you money or take yours.