Shady SEO Practices to Watch Out For

shady seo practices to watch out for

You may have seen commercials for companies offering to revamp your social media pages, increase likes/visits to your page, and improve your Google ranking.

At first (or even second) glance, it sounds great: you don’t have to think about your social media strategy and you don’t have to go through all the hassle of creating a bunch of backlinks (links to your page that show up on a more popular site). You just have to fork over a few bucks and then sit back and watch your site blow up.

Think again.

You’re experienced enough by now to realize that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if you take some time to think about what these companies are actually doing, you’d run so far in the other direction. These are just some of the shady SEO practices that less-than-reputable companies may try to sell to you.


“Backlinks” That Are Actually SPAM

Think of backlinks as little virtual business cards that you leave all over the internet in the hopes that people will pick them up and call you. But—just like business cards—it’s important to leave them in places where they’ll be appreciated. And many SEO companies are littering the internet by leaving their backlinks EVERYWHERE in the form of SPAM comments.

We see SPAM comments on this website. All. The. Time.

So how come you don’t see any of them in our comments section? Because we don’t allow them to be published.

Most bloggers are the same way. They don’t want a bunch of obviously irrelevant comments clogging up their beautiful blog. They want to see comments written by people who actually read through their post and have something specific to say about it.

And yes, it’s easy to tell which comments are SPAM. In fact, some of the examples are downright hilarious. One of our clients’ blogs recently received this little gem of a comment:

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink}
or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service. Do {you have|you’ve} any?
{Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.
{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make some plans for the future and
{it is|it’s} time to be happy. {I have|I’ve} read this post and
if I could I {want to|wish to|desire to} suggest you {few|some} interesting things or {advice|suggestions|tips}.

That’s right, it’s a template. But that wasn’t the only one. It went on with at least 36 different templates that the spammer could choose from. Not only were the comments not “filled out,” they weren’t even grammatically correct. (Do you really think anybody would comment “I’ll right away clutch your rss as I can’t in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink”?)

We marked the comment as SPAM so WordPress could red-flag the IP address. So not only does the backlink never get published (meaning the client essentially paid for nothing), but the company gets to wear the scarlet “S” for “Shady SEO Practices.”


Focusing on Page Rank (PR) Score

Back in the good old days, Google used to assign “scores” to websites (“0” being the worst, “9” being the best) according to how expert or authoritative they thought a website was. How did they make this determination? By looking at how many backlinks tracked back to the site (you see where this is going, right?).

Google assumed that each backlink was like a positive vote for that site’s credibility. Sites with more links would get higher votes, and these sites would brag about their score or even offer to sell links from their “PR 7 site,” knowing that people would pay a premium for their “endorsement.”

Thankfully, Google updated its algorithm (they now look at things like quality of backlinks, amount of valuable content, social media shares, etc.) and PR scores aren’t even public knowledge anymore.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped certain SEO companies from trying to sell the unsuspecting public on backlinks from “PR 5-7” sites (we get email offers for this all the time). Seeing as how Google hasn’t updated this metric since 2013, shilling backlinks this way is like ESPN putting out 2013 NFL rankings for this upcoming fantasy football season.

Steer clear of any company that can’t keep up with the ever-changing world of SEO. Their outdated information won’t do you any good.


Updating Your Social Media Feeds (Without Knowing Your Business)

hand on keyboard

When you work with a consultant, or a small, local SEO company, you have the benefit of being able to provide regular and thorough updates on your business’s progress: what demographics you want to be focusing on this quarter, where you want to end up in five years, any changes to your business model or product line.

But big companies (including those that advertise on television) don’t have the time to stay up-to-date on your company structure. So how customized and tailored can those Facebook statuses really be? Chances are, you’ll be getting a generic update that some intern thought up on his lunch break (or, worse yet, a template ::shudder::).

Not only that, but consider how many other restaurants/electricians/moving companies/[insert your company’s industry here] that big SEO company is also representing. Can you say “conflict of interest?”

And now that we’re on the subject, is having someone post for you really saving you that much time? Unless they’re taking the time to authentically respond to each and every comment (which we doubt), you’ll still have to log into your social media feeds every day to engage with your fans. Come to think of it, isn’t it better to have the person who’s representing your business be someone who’s actually a part of your business?

Which brings us to….


More Facebook Likes!* thumbs down

*These “likes” are not from people that actually like your page. They are bought: Facebook users around the globe (typically outside the U.S.) are paid in exchange for liking your page.

That means that none of these so-called “likes” are from actual fans. They’re not from anybody who cares what you have to say. They’re not from anybody who’s going to buy what you’re selling. They just want to cash their check and go home. Not to mention the fact that this practice only decreases the number of times your posts are actually seen on anybody’s feed.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a certain number of likes, but if that’s all you’re interested in, you’ll only be wasting your money.


Improper Content Marketing

Google is the undisputed king of search engines (when have you ever used anything else?), and their recent algorithm updates have begun to focus increasingly on content quality.

Which means that any SEO company that claims to have a comprehensive “you don’t have to do anything!” approach to increasing traffic and/or sales should include some form of content marketing (even if they’re recommending that you do it yourself). Blogs, email newsletters, or even just beefing up the existing pages on your website can help (although blogs are best, due to the fact that they’re regularly updated and searchable by internet users).

If content is included in your SEO company’s approach, here are a couple of things to look out for:

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing involves packing a web page or blog post so full with a keyword that the content sounds unnatural. Not only can search engines tell that this is happening, but they will actually penalize websites for doing it.

Obviously, this does depend on the keyword. It will still sound perfectly fine if you use “photography” 20 times in a 2,000-word article (although you should probably pick a more specific keyword). But using “wedding photography Orlando” 12 times in a 500-word article will raise some red flags. If a company is writing any content for you, take the time to read it over to make sure it sounds like something a human would say. If you come across the same long tail keyword too many times in an article, then they’re keyword stuffing and don’t deserve another dime.

Weak Content

While quality is more important than quantity when it comes to content SEO, this doesn’t mean you can throw 2 good paragraphs on a page and call it a day. The “magic” word count is fairly forgivable—between 300 and 2,000 words—but any company that never goes above 250 words isn’t doing their part, no matter how affordable their services are.

Similarly, the content should be informative and well-written. Watered-down content that does nothing to educate or interest the reader won’t do anything for your page and will make you sound like a n00b (or an idiot). If you aren’t impressed by something you’ve paid good money for, don’t feel like you have to keep shelling out the coin.


Adding Your Info to “Even More!” Online Directories

Any time an SEO company tries to sell you on a more expensive package that promises to get your company info on “even more online directories,” it should set off some red flags. Online directories are a great way to get your name out there, but not all directories are created equal.

Yelp! and Angie’s List (two of the biggest review sites on the web today) are obviously ones that you want to have a presence on, but it’s not worth it to pay $100/month extra to an SEO company to get on some directory that most people have never heard of. (If no one’s heard of it, no one’s using it!)


Smoke and Mirrors


This is a catch-all term to include anything an SEO company does that isn’t made perfectly clear to you as the client.

Sometimes, they don’t tell you what they’re doing (not even a hint) to increase traffic, because “that’s proprietary information.” This can be a keyword for either “you could totally do this yourself, but I don’t want you to know that” or “I charge way more than my competitors for this service, and I don’t want you to find out.” Any SEO expert worth his salt should be capable of developing a strategy that’s simple enough to be explained, but complex enough that you can’t (or don’t want to) do it yourself.

Or maybe they tell you everything they’re doing, but don’t have the numbers to back it up. After you’ve been using an SEO company for about 3-6 months (depending on your site and chosen industry), they should be able to show you the analytics that prove your website has seen more traffic due to their hard work. If they can’t provide that, some alarms should go off.

Another shady, “smoke and mirrors” tactic you might see is the ol’ “you’re not seeing an increase in traffic because you didn’t purchase our premium package” trick. Now, obviously, good SEO practices do require funds to work (advertising isn’t free), but you should definitely feel skeptical when a company pressures you to pay “just $50/month more” when their existing plan hasn’t been working.

One of our clients received an offer like this from their old SEO company after they tried to cancel with them. We did our homework and determined that this company hadn’t made any social media posts (something the client was paying for) for the last 6 months. If the bare minimum isn’t doing anything for you, just walk away.


What Does Work

So if these are the SEO practices to avoid, what’s left?

Luckily, there’s still plenty of options available to create a comprehensive, well-rounded SEO platform that doesn’t involve anything secretive or ethically dubious.


Creating Consistent, Valuable Content

We’ve said it before, regularly adding valuable content to your site (in the form of a blog post) is one of the best things you can do to make Google take your site more seriously. Allow me to explain how:

  • Creating a great blog post causes viewers to read (and share) your post.
  • Google recognizes this as “proof” that your content is valuable (well-written, informative, etc.).
  • The more posts you have, the more Google sees you as an expert (not just a one-hit wonder).
  • Your page gets a higher authority—and therefore a higher ranking—on Google’s search results.
chart showing blog traffic

This graph shows our blog traffic slowly dipping during the few months we stopped posting, followed by a sudden increase as soon as we started up in January. The results are subtle, but they make our point.


 Quality PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Campaign

If you have the funds, a PPC campaign can be a great way to get your business name in front of the people who are looking for it. (It’s like taking out an ad in the Yellow Pages, except that people aren’t throwing the internet in their recycling bin.)

By creating a PPC campaign for, say, your Orlando-area insurance company, you’re ensuring that your ad will be seen by people who are Googling “orlando insurance” (or whatever keyword you want to focus on). You do have to pay a certain amount (usually .50-$1) for each time someone clicks on your ad, but if you have enough conversions, a PPC campaign can pay for itself. We’ve seen it happen.


Tracking Your Site’s Analytics

Anytime you try to improve your site’s SEO (which is all the time), you need to have some way of tracking the numbers so you can make sure your strategies are working. A great SEO company will be able to show you how many more visitors your site is getting and how much time they are spending on your site.

Even if your SEO tactics aren’t getting the results you want, this is vital information to have when deciding whether to stick to the same strategy or try something different.



Obviously, not every SEO company is shady, but not all of them are legit, either. When you hire any contractor, it’s important to do your research and educate yourself so you know whether you’re getting a great deal or working with a con artist.

If you received a proposal from an Orlando SEO company and you aren’t sure whether they’re recommending the best strategy for you, contact us. We can point you in the right direction.


Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. We’ll {recommend|suggest|put forth} only our {preferred|best} ideas for improving your {business|company|entrepreneurship. We promise|swear.}




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