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How to Avoid Being Caught in an SEO Phishing Net

By Hector Cisneros
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Have you ever received a solicitation claiming to be able to help you fix your SEO issues?  They will use acronyms like SEO, SERP, ALT Tags, or catch phrases like “Content Marketing”, “White Hat”, analyze, keywords; or they talk about fixing your Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon or other Google algorithm issues. How do you know if this solicitation is legit?

What’s a company to do in the face of all this cyber-babble?  How can anyone distinguish legitimate solicitations from honest companies versus unscrupulous ones that are just phishing to get their hooks in you?  This article is devoted to helping anyone learn some of the telltale signs that an email or cold call is legit, or if it’s looking to take you by hook, line and sinker.  We’ll actually dissect a phishing email to provide a real world example.  First, let's start by understanding the true nature of the World Wide Web.

The Net is Real

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The Internet is actually a kind of net. It can be used to help you find lots of information by casting your net (doing a search) and then evaluating what you reel in.  It is also a net of interconnectivity, connecting you to billions of people and businesses worldwide.  Both of these aspects of the World Wide Web are positive, but both are also double-edged swords.  Not only can you cast a wide net looking for information, so can businesses ― good and bad ― cast a net looking for you.  

The Internet connects us to the greater world with all its roses and warts, and we as business people and consumers need to be aware of the duality of the net.  More importantly, we need to take responsibility to keep abreast of the ever-mounting changes that occur. We need to keep a watchful eye for unscrupulous characters who are always looking to get their dirty hands on as many easy marks as they can find.  The net’s widespread connectivity allows anyone to cast a wide phishing net.  Therefore, consumers and business need to take heed!

At least a couple of times a year, I get requests from clients who receive solicitation emails or cold calls claiming to know some new SEO secret.  These solicitations often claim that they’ll help my clients raise their organic search ranking.  However, there is usually a catch.  They ask that you talk to their SEO manager or contact the SEO manager listed in the email.  

What's Your Secret?
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My clients almost always ask if we know anything about the subject of the email or cold call.  In most cases, these clients are already listed at the top of Page One in organic search for the key phrases they want.  However, this fact is often not considered by the client.  It just goes to show the powers of such phrases as “Secret SEO Techniques” or “fixing your Google Penguin problem,” (or Panda, or Hummingbird or Pigeon).

This kind of problem is a real, ongoing issue for businesses looking to gain legitimate organic search positions.  We’ve written many articles on this subject, including: “Is Google Calling? Or is it Someone Else!” and “Who Needs Cyber Babble?” It’s also worth mentioning that our articles cover  the many algorithm changes Google has instituted since 2012, including: “Holy Algorithm Batman, the Penguin Strikes Back,” “Hummingbird is Nothing to Hum About,” and “Has Google Given Everyone the Bird with its Pigeon Update?

Having provided this background information, let’s look at a specific email I recently received from one of our clients.  It reads as follows:

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Dear Sir:

Did your website get hit by Google Penguin update on October 17th 2014? What basically is Google Penguin Update? It is actually a code name for Google algorithm which aims at decreasing your websites search engine rankings that violate Google’s guidelines by using black hat SEO techniques to rank your webpage by giving number of spammy links to the page.

We are one of those few SEO companies that can help you avoid penalties from Google Updates like Penguin and Panda. Our clients have survived all the previous and present updates with ease. They have never been hit because we use 100% white hat SEO techniques to rank Webpages.  Simple thing that we do to keep websites away from any Penguin or Panda penalties is follow Google guidelines and we give Google users the best answers to their queries.

If you are looking to increase the quality of your websites and to get more targeted traffic or save your websites from these Google penalties email us back with your interest.

We will be glad to serve you and help you grow your business.

Zakir Patel
SEO Manager
A157 Blue Street, Amritsar 1430221 Punjab

Fact Versus Fiction

As always, these phishing solicitations mix fiction with fact to keep the uninitiated unbalanced and interested. For me, the first giveaway is the date given to the Penguin update.  It is true that Google released a minor tweak to its earlier Penguin updates, but October 17th only affected less than one percent of searches.  The original Penguin update took place back in 2012, with several tweaks having been added since.   The most recent Google change that had widespread effect on local businesses was dubbed Pigeon, and it’s not mentioned in the above email at all.  The second giveaway is the poor grammar in the letter.   Notice the run-on sentences, poor syntax, tense irregularities, etc.
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Their letter starts by implying Google’s aim is to “decrease your website’s ranking”; this is not true.  Another thing missing from this letter is any evidence that the client was affected by any Google updates at all.  Nor does the letter list any specific products or programs that will directly help my client.  The key here is the specifics.  Their letter goes on to say that they are one of a few SEO companies that use white hat techniques.  This might have been true five  years ago, but today, Google's algorithm updates have forced thousands of SEO professional to don white hats.  The last give away in the letter is the address. It's from Punjab, India. Now it’s quite possible that this email solicitation is legit, and this company just has poor English communication skills, but I would bet otherwise.

Here's what Google has to Say about hiring & SEO Vendor

19 Questions You Need to Ask Before You Trust a So-called SEO Company
  1.  Ask for an explanation of the services they provide (SEO, Web page design, blogging, social networking, email blast, search directory aggregation, video production, etc.)
  2. Ask how long they have been doing online marketing
  3. Ask them to be specific for each service
  4. Ask how many clients do they currently have and what they are doing for those clients
  5. Ask for specific references
  6. Ask about their experience in your industry
  7. Ask if they offer any kind of guarantee
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  8. Also, is there any recourse if they fail
  9. Ask if they outsource any services
  10. Ask them to explain exactly what they mean by SEO and what they will be doing for the
  11. Ask to see some video testimonials from their clients
  12. Ask how often they provide reports on your progress
  13. Ask to know the minimum length of their contract
  14. Ask how long it will take before you can expect results
  15. Ask what can you do if you are dissatisfied with their services
  16. Ask if you can contact some of their current clients
  17. Ask if they have won any awards, (for what and when)
  18. Ask if they are Google Certified partners(this can be verified)
  19. Ask to see tangible evidence of their work. This should include: web pages, social sites, blogs/articles, landing pages, videos, podcast, slide shares and more. They need to be able to show a wide variety of content.

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When you entrust your online marketing to an outside SEO agency, you are putting your business at risk, especially if they use anything smelling like a black hat technique.  One wrong move on their part and your website could be sandboxed so that it just doesn’t show up in search or worse be delisted altogether.  If sandboxed, it could take months or even years to climb back up to page one. If you’re delisted, it’s time to start over.  The above 19 questions will help you separate fact from fiction. Use them and the chances of you being duped by an unscrupulous company are remote. Play it by the seat of your pants and expect to deal with the consequences.

In this article, I provided a way to determine if the solicitations from so called SEO experts are legit or just another unscrupulous company phishing to get their hooks into your bank accounts. This article provides an example email and breaks down its telltale flaws. It also provides a list of 19 questions that will help a business determine if the solicitation is from a legitimate business or just another criminal enterprise trying to catch you in the SEO net of lies.

You can find more than a dozen articles about SEO and how it has evolved on our blog site by entering “SEO” or “Google” in the search box, at the top of this blog. I also recommend reading Is Google Calling? Or is it Someone Else!”, “Who Needs Cyber Babble”, Holy Algorithm Batman, the Penguin Strikes Back”, “Hummingbird is Nothing to Hum About” and “Has Google Given Everyone the Bird with its Pigeon Update?just to name a few.  Thanks for sharing your valuable time with us.

That's my opinion, I look forward to hearing yours.

If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," please fill in the form below and we'll email it to you. Your information is always kept private and is never sold.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”

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  1. Bogus SEO letters from India; I'll have "naan" of those.

  2. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

    SEO Company

    1. At the end of this article I provide several other articles worth reading. I also recommend visiting on BlogTalkRadio and listening to the post cast of the same name.

  3. Great article Hector with some really useful evergreen advice for prospective SEO clients to consider before taking the plunge.
    Another great resource from Google themselves with this:

    The questions to ask your SEO is a great list and I would recommend to anyone to consider at least three or more providers and use a spreadsheet to compare the answers to the above questions.

  4. Thank you for sharing such valuable information and tips. This can give insights and inspirations for us; very helpful and informative! Would love to see more updates from you in the future.

    seo specialist

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