My phone rang yesterday as I was working. I often ignore the phone while I’m working, unless it’s a client, friend or family member, but I decided to answer it. The scam was about to begin.
The recorded voice on the other end informed me that I needed to hold to speak to a representative about an important issue with my website. They had urgent information regarding my ranking on Google.
I smelled a swindle, but I decided to wait.
The representative joined me on the call moments later. “Bob” explained that his company helps businesses like mine appear on the first page of search engine results on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and even Yelp.
If anyone promises you such a thing don’t walk away - run!
I played along. Bob explained that his company would create a website for me, basically a landing page. They would make all of my social media profiles and link to them from said page. Then they would advertise for free for my site on social networks and across the web. In addition to this, they would create "lots of links back to my site."
“Search engines are a popularity contest. We win the contest.” - Bob.
When I asked if what they were doing is approved by Google, he stumbled around. He finally lied and said, “Yes”. He added that they guarantee my site would appear on the first page of search results.
The setup fee was $199 and monthly fee also $199. When I pushed back slightly, still playing dumb, he lowered the fees to $99 set up and $99 per month.
As we were speaking, I Googled his company. I found it pretty high in the results, but I also found terrible reviews on sites dedicated to revealing scams and rip-offs (also on the first page). When I mentioned my findings, he cursed and said that sometimes people get “pissed off”. Colorful language for a sales person, but I digress.
The BIG RED FLAG came when I asked for his full name. He refused to tell me his last name. I replied that I found it odd that he is a sales person, representing a company trying to sell me something, but refused to give me his name. He said he was not comfortable revealing his full name. He agreed, it did seem odd.
Odd because it is a scam.
Even if they could get me to the first page of Google, they would be doing so by tricking the search engines’ algorithm. Companies have been busted for doing this and have been penalized with "manual actions". Several years ago, JC Penny was famously penalized for 90 days, because of paid links to their site. Recently, Thumbtack was penalized because of unnatural links to their site.
The best way to get your site indexed higher in search results is to create content that is useful or entertaining, and use keywords and terms people are searching for. Inbound and outbound links will help within your content. Social media traffic plays an important role, as does how quickly your site loads, and how well it appears on mobile devices. Make sense, right?
SEO professionals can help you with your site too, but always check references and be sure they are following the rules stated by the search engine companies. I recommend you subscribe to sites like Moz.com and SearchEngineLand.com to learn more about search engine optimization.
It is unfortunate that so many people become victims to online scams. Always research a company before you do business with them. Ask the sales person for their full name. It is also a good idea to let those unknown calls go to voice mail to avoid the robocalls in the first place.
Want to know how not to break Google's rules? Check out the How to Avoid a Google Penalty infographic below from Quicksprout.