SEO Snake-Oil: How to Choose An SEO Company?

Table of Contents

We are all susceptible to false information. We all have bought products or services that we didn’t need or didn’t deliver on its actual promise. Marketers and businesses have been victims of SEO Snake-Oil. To identify scams, you first need to know how SEO works and then choose an SEO company.

JC Penny was a victim of SEO snake-oil a few years back. The brand was working with its SEO company for extensive link placements which was using ‘black hat’ techniques to rank higher on Google until Google took corrective action and was penalized for its actions.

Companies that perform SEO services can be divided into two camps. Some organizations follow best practices and deliver tangible results. In comparison, others make empty promises only to make your website ranking even worse.

Inside SEO Snake-Oil Scams

Every time you hear the word ‘guaranteed rankings,’ just pack your bags and run for the hills. SEO snake-oil scams are not different from the weight-loss programs that guarantee results. No SEO trick or technology product can solve the content problem for you. 

The solution to the content problem requires hard work that demands planning, designing, and developing compelling interactive experiences. Yet you see gigs on Fiverr and other marketplaces offering guaranteed rankings or a massive increase in domain authority. In order to avoid such scams, it is essential to understand how SEO works, but you also need to know what is offered to recognize such scams. These are some of the main tactics used by such organizations.

1. Private Blog Network (PBN)

Private Blog Networks (PBNs)  is a network of websites used to build links and they therefor pass links to a single website to manipulate search engine rankings. This scheme is very similar to the link wheel or link pyramid structures popular a few years ago. 

PBNs don’t provide any long term value to websites they are linking to. The key to identifying private blog networks is the cross-site footprint. Sites that are usually part of PBN usually share a common hosting, similar site design or theme, site ownership, and backlink profile.

Google’s Penguin algorithm now runs in real-time and can detect such schemes and devalue your website rankings as a result. Private blog networks are among the most used techniques to defraud brands businesses looking for quick results. It is imperative to make sure that your brand avoids using this technique when you choose an SEO company.

2. Automated Link Building – GSA Search Engine Ranker

GSA is an automated solution that helps you to create backlinks to your website. The solution helps you to develop a tiered linking structure at scale. Once set up, the tool will automatically locate new websites for you and submit your content/links without any intervention at your end.

Along with its companion tool GSA content creator, you can use the tools together for targeting outreach opportunities at scale. GSA content creator scrapes the data from the web to create unique, readable content based on the niche related keyword.

So what’s the issue with using GSA? Most SEO providers only use GSA to create links on tier 2 sites with relatively low domain authority. If you set up the tool right, you will have a high number of backlinks created in a short while, which will eventually get your site banned by Google. Also, a vast majority of links created are spam/junk links, which only creates further issues if your site has a decent domain authority.

Many folks who use GSA are using it to mass spam a website with unnatural links getting it to rank higher for a very short time. The site will eventually get penalized, but until then, the website keeps earning revenue. This blackhat technique is also called churn and burn SEO.

3. Expired Domains

Expired domains are domains that are registered by individuals or businesses but haven’t been renewed after the contract ended or, in some cases, were deliberately terminated. It is a healthy practice to acquire an expired domain with a decent link profile to create a redirect.

Building a massive number of redirects from expired domains can also get your site penalized. Some folks even use the expired domains to create a private blog network, which is not healthy. 

4. Sneaky Redirects

Redirecting is the act of sending a user to a different URL than the one they initially requested. If a page deceives search engines or displays content to human users, that is different than that made available to crawlers. This is considered to be a clear violation of Google Webmaster guidelines.

Some examples of sneaky redirects include:

  • Showing search engines one type of content while users are redirected to something significantly different.
  • Desktop users are shown a normal page, while mobile users are redirected to a completely different spam domain.

Google also recently confirmed that changing image URLs could also have an impact on SEO rankings. As they realized that some SEO providers were implementing image redirects to drive traffic to other sites.

5. User-Generated Spam

Web 2.0 is a term that is commonly used to describe sites and applications that allow anyone to create and share information. They include wikis, blogs, social networking, podcasting, and content hosting services. 

Web 2.0 link building is common practice, but many folks are also selling Web 2.0 links, which has caught Google’s attention. 

When John Muller, was asked about Web 2.0 link building, this is what he had to say “So that’s something where if you hire an agency and they go off and post links on Tumblr, on classified sites and free posting sites, and they claim this is going to help your website then I would move to some other agency.

So just to be really clear like this kind of activity has zero value for SEO.

It’s not something where you’re promoting your website in any way, but rather essentially, they’re spamming the web.”

There are several other ways you could be doing unhealthy link building. The best place to learn techniques that you should avoid is to read Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

How to Choose an SEO Company?

1. Case studies, client references, and reviews

It is essential to consider what the SEO company has done in the past. Most companies usually share case studies of previous work, highlighting the goals and the performance delivered for a specific client. You can also go a step forward and ask for a client reference.

SEO services tend to get very subjective; it is essential to look at past performance and results delivered. If you are availing SEO services from sites like Fiverr or UpWork, consider the reviews shared by previous customers. But also use your judgment to decide whether the results were worth it, considering most clients are not technically skilled in evaluating results delivered.

2.  Understand the process and approach followed

Most SEO companies have a documented approach or process that they follow. Understanding the approach or process followed will help you determine the deliverables and the timelines.

Before you meet the SEO company, outline a list of relevant questions to the outcome you are planning to achieve with the project. Also, make sure that the SEO company is not using any of the blackhat techniques that we have outlined above.

3. Meeting the team and identify the services offered

Like any other project, SEO services are very people dependent. The quality of deliverables gets impacted by the people working on the project. Make sure you meet all the key people working on your project.

Make sure when you choose an SEO company, that the company you shortlist has the core skills to execute the project. Few SEO companies usually don’t have in-house content creation or web development capabilities. Outlining the services needed in the scope of work will help you to shortlist SEO companies faster.

4. Define your SEO Budgets & timelines

No credible SEO company will guarantee rankings or increase in domain authority in the first few months. SEO takes time, and it will take an average of 3-6 months before you get the needle moving. If you choose an SEO package, refer back to your SEO goal to understand which package will be best for you.


As a marketer or a business owner, it is crucial that you educate yourself about how SEO works and the best practices to follow. We all are looking for that low hanging fruit that will help us to get results instantly when we choose an SEO company. But they are not easy to find, especially when you are trying to build sustainable growth.

There are no shortcuts, cheap tricks and hacks. Investing your time and effort in the right direction will go a long way in building a great brand.

Become a smarter marketer for $0.

Get the weekly newsletter keeping thousands of marketers in the loop.

Unsubscribe any time, no hard feelings.

“My favorite marketing newsletter I’m subscribed to.” — Amit Agarwal, Growth Manager @ First Challenger

Skip to content