Give Me All Your Monies: the 12 Sins of SEO's Black Eyes

Via SER the latest SEO scam marketing technique is to cold call and threaten well ranking sites that their site will be banned if they do not pay you. If you say no, they threaten to turn you in for spamming to get your site blacklisted quicker.

According to David Wallace the firm that is allegedly doing this is Paramount Webmasters. A funny detailed email exchange is posted here.

Important to note that this blackmail issue is not any of the arbitrary black hat seo vs white hat seo crap. Search spamming actually has the ability to teach you algorithmic criteria for ranking well in the engines. Many of the best SEOs are also search spammers. Think of them as field tested experts. But search spamming is not the problem here.

This problem is purely a business ethics issue. In any market where business owners are uninformed some sleazeballs will come along and try to bilk a few hundred or few thousand dollars out of businesses. Those people are just like the pieces of garbage that mail me domain monitoring, domain registration, and trademark monitoring scam mail.

I think the reason SEO gets more of a black eye than domain registrars, hosts, and web designers is largely determined by roughly 12 criteria (3 here and the rest later on):

  • legitimate SEO services may have a fairly high price point due to their great value

  • most people seeking SEO preclude honest service providers because they think in terms of free traffic
  • many people only hear of search engine marketing WHEN a scammer contacts them

Because you notice registrars have a practical function BEFORE scammers contact you, if you ever get ripped off by a bogus bill you don't associate that with registrars, you associate that action with scammers. You have to have a certain sense of curiosity or an analytical mind to naturally want to think about how and why search engines determine relevancy. In SEO all too many webmasters discover the topic WHILE a scammer has contacted them offering to blackmail them. Thus their mental frameset is first determined by their interaction with scammers.

Worse yet, after getting scammed once or twice a business owner might feel beat down and never have enough trust in the field to be able to spend enough to afford someone who would do honest quality work, so they keep going back to

  1. scammers OR

  2. new SEOs who do not know the value of their services, which are also likely to have many of the following downsides:
    • limited experience

    • spreading themselves too thin because they need to do too much work to get by
    • limited self confidence
    • poor communication skills
    • such a low price point that massive algorithmic updates could cause their service prices to go into negative margins
    • a lack of understanding how SEO fits into the broader marketing spectrum
    • a margin based business that undercharges off the start is doomed to fail as the medium grows more competitive (Some businesses may change their prices, but the odds of finding one that is deeply undercharging which raises their rates prior to a huge algorithm shift almost destroying their business is probably next to none. If they raise their rates after an algorithm has caused your traffic to diminish your business relationship stands a good chance of ending.)

Either way, after a business is burned once or twice they are likely to keep getting burned due to a fear of committing too many resources.

Other issues that give SEO's a bad rap are:

  • many business owners are lazy and want to outsource the blame for their own failures and lack of ability to adapt to evolving technologies

  • some updates cause bad algorithms to roll out and screw with even well establishes sites
  • while new updates are rolled in SEO's may get contacted by nearly all of their customers at the exact same time, and until things settle down sometimes it does not make much sense to make any changes
  • SEO is a game of margins. Unless you are creative or really understand social networks creating a future proof well ranking site costs much more than satisfying the current ranking criteria.
  • many people carpet bomb the web with marketing messages. some of those messages are used to manipulate search results. blogs are viral in nature and blog software makers were slow to adapt.
  • some people scraping by at low price points seeing more of their budget getting turned toward search instead of design or other services are chuck full of envy
  • SEO is largely an invisible process to the average business (ie: they don't see the link building or much of anything until they see the results weeks or months after a campaign starts), but if it works most businesses are not likely to share that information. Would you share the secret to your success? If it doesn't work people are far more likely to share a complaint. With so many people chasing the top results most of them are going to end up disappointed. Not everyone can rank #1.
  • Competition: With the algorithms advancing and the field getting so hyper saturated it is getting harder for any one SEO or SEO company to stick out in a good way and get noticed. Often one of the best ways to create new buzz is to mention controversy or when things go awry elsewhere. Thus for the sake of interest or plublicity we - as an industry - eat our young. The media also prefers to paint the controvercial angle - because it sells more news print.
  • Competition: Search is an easy concept to like. Google has a strong brand. It hurts their relevancy and revenue when people manipulate their index. As recently as a week ago Matt Cutts was quoted in the Economist saying renting links was unethical. Financially Google is primarily a link broker, making roughly 99% of their revenue from selling links. Google is worth over $100 billion and makes roughly 99% of their revenue by selling links. By their own standard Google must be exceptionally unethical, especially since they sell links promoting child prostitution!

In the same way I would like to disassociate Paramount Webmasters from the SEO field, it is also worth noting that a business can use direct mail or the phone for marketing (even Yahoo! cold called me asking me to join their ambassador program) and be an ethical business, but it is important to look for independent signs of quality and do a bit of research before buying from anyone who first contacts you. It is usually better to chose your business partners than to let them chose you.

Published: March 22, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


March 22, 2006 - 11:00am

a margin based business that undercharges off the start is doomed to fail as the medium grows more competitive...

Can't completely agree...

March 22, 2006 - 11:12am

If they don't learn to fix their prices they eventually get priced out of the market by competitors better leveraging assets for profits.

For example, it was not hard for me to quickly spam-my-way-to-the-top-of-Google for about $100 in some categories a few years ago. I think I was top 5 for "search engine marketing" within about 8-9 months of jumping on the web on under $500 spend.

If today I had the the same knowledge set and resources I had back then I could not replicate that result.

It may still be possible in many categories, but a bit more is needed on the knowledge or resource front today in some fields (especially with Google over-emphasizing old linkage data from trusted domains).

Some people can do well if they eventually adjust their pricing, but I actually had to take on a partner to sell services because if I did it by myself still I would still notoriously underprice it and spread myself too thin.

It is a big mindset change to go from charging people a few dollars an hour to charging them what is needed to create something that will stand up to evolving search algorithms in hyper-competitive marketplaces.

March 22, 2006 - 11:45am

7 years ago, I landed my first SEO job... So your second point especially regarding confidence and low price resulted in problems me.

As I noticed a move toward paid inclusion and PPC, I foolishly believed that SEO was dead.

Its amazing to see just how mature the industry has become in recent years - Great post!!!


March 22, 2006 - 3:47pm

I see prices all over the board for SEO work from tens of thousands to to $40 or $50 dollars.

I believe more money will put in to search - seo - and optimizing websites for the search engines than website design in the future.

My customers want to be found not beautiful

March 22, 2006 - 4:16pm

Very nice piece of work Aaron.

March 22, 2006 - 4:22pm

Hi Keith
The stuff at the $40 to $50 range is probably not providing much personalized attention.

$10,000's are the big projects. I guess those types of projects are in the takes money to make money category.

Thanks Todd. Your blog has been rocking for like at least the last year or so.

March 22, 2006 - 7:49pm

You´re not doing TOO big of a project for just 10k, are you?

March 31, 2006 - 4:13pm

You´re not doing TOO big of a project for just 10k, are you?

If it was 10K a month I surely would. 10K one time really depends is not hard to have a noticable impact in most markets with 10K.

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