In this day and age, everyone is trying to figure out how to get their website more visibility. Of course, obtaining position #1 for all of your key words/phrases seems like the Holy Grail. Some one calls you up, asks you if you have good standings for all of your phrases, and when you answer “No”, they then launch into a pitch about how they (and only they) can give you rankings.
So how does it play out in real life?
1) SEO company calls website owner: “Hey, how would you like to be ranked #1 for any search term you want?”
2) Customer agrees to pay $5k up-front for “work” on their site, and additional $500/month maintenance
3) SEO Company gets customer to top by “spamming” and/or “cloaking”
4) Customer stays at top for 6 months (additional $3k)
5) Customer gets banned by search engines for spamming and/or cloaking
6) SEO company walks away with $8k for 6 months of traffic = expensive
7) Customer has to pay someone else to come in and remove spam/cloak code from website AND get off the banned lists with the search engines
Spamming refers to two techniques, one involves fabricating huge numbers (1,000’s) of websites with your key words all over them, and point back to your site, which is far more effective than the second, which is to fabricate huge numbers of pages on your site with high but varying degrees of density for your key words. Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search all expressly forbid this type of “gaming” of their search engines and spiders.
Cloaking is far more dubious, as the technique can have genuine applications. Cloaking is basically a piece of code that sits on every page, and detects what type of browser is asking for a given page. Based on the result (IE6, Firefox, googlebot, Yahoo! Slurp) the code decides what content will be served up. Why would this be nefarious, you ask? Well, if its googlebot, and the code feeds googlebot with a page of keywords and nothing that is human readable, versus showing the latest sales pitch to an IE6 browser, you start to see how this can go wrong.
A combination of both spamming and cloaking seems to be M.O. for many of these firms at the moment, but there will surely be other ways to “game” the search engines.
There are, of course, other ranking scams that are not as damaging, but seem to be even more pervasive, and just as costly. We call them “who searches by that?”. The sales person calls you and offers to help find key words that their company has “exclusive rights” to on Yahoo! or Google’s promotion placement (top or right side). They then look up how much that search term is, and come back with an amazingly low price. “Oh look, that’s only $85 a month. How about a couple of other search terms then? “ By the time you get off the phone, you are committed to about $500 a month, for key phrases that end up yielding few click-throughs.
How do we know this is a scam?
Most customer who buy into this have NO WAY OF MEASURING the effectiveness, and often go months with 1-10 click-throughs per month. At these prices, this is often 100X the going rate for advertising under more potent key phrases on Overture or Google’s AdWords. In other terms, you could be generating 1000 click-throughs for every 10 you get with the “top promotion placements”.
You will notice that we have not named any particular organizations in this article. There are several reasons for this, most importantly, they change their name often. This article is not meant to be alarmist, our only intent is to arm you with the knowledge to make good business investments.