People use search engines a lot. According to Google there are more than 2.3 million searches performed on their search engine every minute. Surprisingly, not all of these searches are performed by people who are trying to prove their friend wrong to win a bet. In some cases these searches are performed by consumers looking for products and services.

Consumers now rely on Google and other search engines as their main source for information. It’s vital that your company appear high on the search engine results page for search queries related to your products and services.

At our agency, we work with dozens of clients to help improve their organic search engine rankings, a practice known as search engine optimization (SEO). This has become a huge industry spawning thousands of companies and freelancers that claim to specialize in SEO services. How do I know there are thousands of companies and freelancers that claim this? Because most of them email each of my clients every day.

It might be hard to tell if these emails should be taken seriously. Sometimes they’re very elaborate and point out many specific things that need to be addressed. For example, I recently had a client forward me an email that claimed their site had 92 broken links. This would be cause for great concern if it were true. However, this appears to be the same email that they send to every recipient. They use this tactic because it works. Remember, when you see emails that contain numbers that are meant to scare you, it’s likely SPAM.

Another hint that you’re being contacted by a less than reputable source is a guarantee to rank number one on Google. I’ve seen this written verbatim. What does it even mean? Rank number one for what? You might be able to rank first for the search query “Rochester company that was ripped off by a fake SEO firm” but that wouldn’t do you much good. Real SEO professionals understand that it’s not about ranking number one, it’s about making sure that the site ranks well for a multitude of search queries that can attract potential customers.

With scare tactics and grandiose promises, it can be tempting to take a chance on these offers. Beware, there are risks that go beyond paying for services that don’t improve your site’s search rankings. There are tactics that less scrupulous SEO firms use that can result in penalties by Google that there’s no recovering from. These techniques are often referred to as “black hat SEO.”

One of the most common black hat techniques is link spamming. The quantity of inbound links from quality websites is a major factor in Google’s search algorithm. Simply put, a site that has a lot of other sites linking to it is seen by Google as an authority on its subject matter. Black hat SEO firms can often show positive results in the short-term by paying for links or developing websites that provide inbound links to their clients’ websites. Many firms have tried this, causing Google and other search engines to act. If it’s discovered that you’ve employed this strategy, Google will reduce your site’s domain authority. We’ve worked with companies trying to recover from this penalty and I can assure you it’s not fun. Google is as forgetful as an elephant and as forgiving as a red-light traffic camera.

How do you know if you’ve been contacted by a reputable SEO firm or if the email came from a spammer looking to take advantage of you? If you receive an unsolicited email offering SEO services, it’s likely from someone you should avoid doing business with. Here are some other warning signs to look out for:

  • The sender has an unprofessional email or free email service (like Gmail or Yahoo)
  • They don’t have a website or their website looks cheap and poorly designed
  • They tout their ability to provide inbound links
  • There isn’t a phone number to call
  • They offer low cost and/or packaged solutions

Solicitations for SEO services go beyond emails. Anyone who manages a blog will find dozens of comments that include links to SEO services. Another tactic that’s employed is the use of bots that appear as traffic sources in Google Analytics. If you look at reports that show your site is getting referral traffic from best-seo-software.xyz, seo-platform.com, or another similar domain you can ignore it. It’s not real traffic.

When you receive an email from an unknown source it’s best to ignore it. Whether it’s a Nigerian prince looking to share his fortune with you or an SEO expert promising the number one position on Google, don’t get your hopes up. As a wise cookie once told me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”