We field calls every day from current and prospective clients who have been burned either by SEO, Internet marketing or web design companies. Countless businesses have had their websites hijacked or held for ransom . . . or the web designer has simply vanished. With the rise of Google and the promise of search engine optimization (SEO) riches, many companies have been suckered into SEO and online marketing scams. Businesses are hammered every day by telemarketers and email spam containing web development and Internet marketing offers. Partnering with an SEO expert can be the best thing you ever do for your business, or it can be your worst nightmare. Here’s what we’ve seen this year in Kansas City, and a few pointers on how to avoid getting ripped-off:
1. Free Website Hosting: Never, ever allow or accept free website hosting as part of a web design or Internet marketing package. Every month, we get calls from businesses that either cannot find their previous web designers, or are having their websites held hostage. Here’s a similar scam that is even more despicable: the web design firm creates a website and provides hosting as part of a packaged monthly service. When the client company wants to terminate services, the website design company asks for a large termination fee in order to provide the website files (that have already been paid for!). Hosting is so cheap that it’s essentially free. We are talking $5-$10 per month for a great hosting service including unlimited emails, storage and bandwidth. On occasion, you may need to give the host control panel access information to your web developer, but as long as the billing and credit card information is tied to your company (and not theirs), you will have some protection.
2. Free Domains: Similar to free web hosting (but even more critical), you should never, ever buy your domain (or accept a free domain) from your website developer. Since websites are one of the most important business assets for many companies these days, website domains really are the “keys to the kingdom.” There is an old adage, “possession is 9/10 of the law.” If this is even partly true, if your domain (i.e. your web address) is controlled by a third party, your business could be at major risk. All your web developer should ever need is one time access to modify the DNS settings (i.e. to which hosting account or server your website address should point to). Once this is set, your developer should never need access to your domain settings again. Also, there are some hosting companies and domain registrars, like GoDaddy, that allow account owners to provide limited 3rd party access to their services without the risk of losing domain ownership or control.
3. High Pressure, Cold-Calling & Telemarketing: Not really a scam per-se, but very annoying – and many times the callers are from fly-by-night firms. Never, ever take a meeting or accept a proposal from a firm that cold-called you. If a firm is so good at what they do, why do they need to call? The best web design firms in Kansas City use their own services! We have good SEO rankings, we use effective Adwords and other pay-per-click methods. How can we get you great rankings if we can’t do it for our own business? The best firms have proprietary methods and branded services (like our own Kansas City SEO). Getting great web design and Internet marketing services is easy. Google them.
4. “We are Calling on Behalf of Google” or “I am calling for Google”: At least 50% of our clients called us over the last year stating that “Google” called them and told them that they risked losing their ranking or Google Maps (aka Google Places) if they failed to act. Another variation we heard just today: A recorded message claiming it was a call from a “data compiler” for Google asking us to press 1 to verify our information “for Google.” If you press 1, the call directs to a boiler room. We asked the question: Is this Google? They answer: We are Google certified (in others words, no, they are not Google). The people making these calls want you to believe they are calling from Google. The calls are still being made to Kansas City businesses every day and many businesses fall for the scam. Look out. If you haven’t already received one of these calls, you will soon.
5. Guaranteed SEO Services: If you ever hear this pitch, run fast or hang up the phone immediately. The “guaranteed SEO” service is likely responsible for more Google penalties and web site “de-indexing” (aka being blacklisted) whereby the search engines complete remove your website address from their index. This means even if you type your company name in Google, your website or web address will not show in the results page. Your website does not exist to Google anymore. Why? The guarantee itself is a slippery slope. It encourages SEO firms to use risky tactics to get rankings quickly. The longer it takes to get ranking results, the more risks they take to show you results. So you get an SEO penalty? Who cares? Not them, they are not getting paid anyway.
6. SEO Service Contracts: What? Why would anyone EVER pay an annual service fee or agree to a long term contract for SEO! This totally defeats the purpose and puts your company’s interest out of alignment with the SEO service providers. Every SEO firm in existence should charge monthly, and the service should be able to be cancelled at any time. Monthly service agreements keep your SEO firm hungry, keeps them focused on earning the paycheck every month. Long term or advanced agreements do just the opposite.
7. Exclusivity: This is not really a scam, but the client and the SEO firm need to have a discussion about exclusivity up front. This is especially critical when you hire one of Kansas City’s elite search engine optimization companies. Think about it. If you partner with an SEO agency and they deliver results, what happens if a competitor calls and tries to outbid you? Or what if the SEO firm decides to take on a competing company? This is a huge conflict of interest. Another risk is over-ambitious employees. More than once we have seen employees who witnessed SEO drive revenue growth. They think “WOW,” I will quit, invest in a website and have my own company. This happens more than you think.
8. Poor Quality Websites: A custom website should be designed from scratch. That is, you specify the colors, layout elements and even reference websites that show the type of look and feel that your company is trying to achieve. Many companies scrape templates off the Internet, repurpose them and sell them back to businesses at a huge markup. These sites never do well on the search engines – they weren’t developed to. Templates are designed to sell for cheap and many times over. The most common frustration we see are businesses that invest large sums into a new website, only to find that they are not showing up in Google. Often, these are great designs that are hacked together without search engine friendly coding structure – thus have little or no search engine value or potential. The vast majority of the Internet is made up of great looking websites that are never found (or not easily) and rarely seen.
9. Shady or Secret SEO tactics: Much of the risk here is tied to SEO guarantees or by local companies that offer “affordable” SEO services. Search engine optimization is not measured by cost, but by return on investment. There are far too many forms of unethical SEO techniques to outline in this post, here is a pretty good break down: click here. It’s hard to price shop SEO, but very easy to “results shop” performance.
10. SEO prices that seem too be good to be true. Let’s face it, the search engines influence more purchase decisions than any other medium in the history of capitalism. Not long ago (well, maybe even still a little today) businesses were paying hundreds and thousands of dollars each month for phone directory advertising. If you are just now considering an investment in SEO or a new website, some of your competitors have likely already been working at it for a while. Search Engine Optimization is a long term plan that marries web design and development with social media and active content creation and distribution. There is no easy button or magic bullet for SEO results – it takes a seasoned expert and substantial, consistent effort over weeks and months to achieve and maintain search engine rankings.
You can avoid many of the above pitfalls and scams by hiring local. Meet your web design firm in person. The company you consider should have a history and reputation in their market – this makes them accountable for actions and less likely to take risks with your website assets. The best agencies have a strong track record over a long period of time. This shows they have been able to adapt and continue to deliver results over years of search engine algorithm updates. By hiring local, you can easily check references – something you should definitely do.
Finally, when considering web design, SEO or Internet marketing services, don’t look to be “sold” by the company. Do your own research and be “convinced” by the caliber of their client base, references and search engine visibility for their own business.