Exposing Common Scams in SEO & Digital Marketing

A Case Study: Exposing Common Scams in SEO & Digital Marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) and effective digital marketing (DM) have never been more vital to the survival and success of online businesses. So it’s no surprise that the web industry is overflowing with SEO analysts, web designers and developers, and digital marketers. But a word of caution: Some self-proclaimed SEO and DM experts are frauds. They tend to prey on small businesses who are trying to establish an online presence by offering SEO services that seem legit but are valueless, overpriced, or downright scams. Unfortunately, one of our new clients was recently targeted by such schemes. We’ll discuss her story, how our team intervened to help, and what you can learn from her experience.

Our Client's Story

I.M. Your Virtual Assistant is Ivana Matteo’s part-time freelance business. She provides remote administrative support from her home office in New Jersey to entrepreneurs and small businesses who need assistance with their “busy work,” such as email marketing, inbox management, document creation, and expense reporting. In January, Ivana decided that she wanted to create a Google My Business listing and invest in some basic SEO services to help make her business’ website more visible online.

Soon thereafter, a web listing company from Florida contacted her out of the blue. How timely, she thought! They offered to put together her Google My Business page and maintain it long-term, but for a price: a flat fee of $300. Not being familiar with Google’s services and thinking that this was a standard practice, Ivana agreed to pay the fee. After sending them the relevant information about her business to include in her listing, the company notified Ivana that she would be receiving a postcard from Google in the mail with a 5-digit verification code, which was necessary to activate her Google My Business page. However, they emphasized the following: “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ENTER THE CODE YOURSELF. Only a Representative can enter the code. Any attempts to log in and enter the code yourself may cause additional delays to your listing’s verification process.” Wanting to activate her listing as soon as possible, Ivana gladly sent them the code.

Nearly 3 weeks later, the company finally informed her via email that her listing had been successfully published. However, they failed to explain how Ivana could access her Google My Business page in order to make needed changes. They kept dodging her requests for assistance. “It was like pulling teeth to ever hear from them again after I paid,” Ivana says. 

The web listing company then referred her to a third-party “Senior Marketing Analyst” who would ‘continue optimizing her Google My Business listing and online presence.’ “This analyst called me 30 minutes before our scheduled conversation to ask me if I'll be by my computer because he'd send me a link to have me shadow his computer. He assured me it's only me being able to see his screen, not the other way around,” Ivana explains. She was quoted an upfront flat fee of $800 for the “analyst” to improve her Google Search ranking, and then $200 per month after that for ongoing SEO services. The “analyst” later said that he had replaced her top 5 keywords with those getting the biggest hits in her industry. But days later, Ivana still had difficulty searching for her own website online.

When Ivana looked into her inbox later that day after their appointment, she could no longer find the email with the original screen share invitation. The rest of their communication had been via phone calls only, so there was no traceable ‘paper trail’ of their interactions. She also realized that the “analyst” never actually revealed the company he works for, and his call-back number is non-existent on truepeoplesearch.com. He kept calling her multiple times over the next few days, but she didn’t answer. She knew something wasn’t right.

How Alt Media Studios Intervened

Ivana reached out to our team at Alt Media Studios for our expert advice. After investigation, we exposed the web listing company and so-called “analyst” as fraudulent scam artists.

First of all, Ivana didn’t realize that any business can set up their own Google My Business page for free. You also don’t need a third-party to verify your business more quickly. Doing so can actually jeopardize the security of your listing. On their FAQ page regarding Google My Business, Google explains:

“Verification allows us to confirm that you are the rightful owner of the business, so that you have permission to manage your Google Business Profile. Your security is important to us and we don’t want anyone else but you making updates to your Business Profile.”

Not only did the web listing company charge her hundreds of dollars for a free service, they did not even grant her access to her own Google My Business page! To resolve the issue, we enabled Ivana to claim her own listing so that she can make changes herself and respond to customer reviews without the interference of a third-party.

Secondly, after inspecting Ivana’s website further, we discovered that the “analyst” never added any keywords to help with SEO! We then set up meta titles and descriptions for her site pages using 5 keywords, and we also ensured that her Google Search Console was set up properly. In order to track the progress of her site’s online visibility, we created a free Google Analytics account for Ivana and added the appropriate Analytics tracking code to her site.

“The more I talk about this, the more nervous I am that I really got myself scammed,” Ivana laments. But we reassured her that she’s not alone. Sadly, scam artists take advantage of small businesses like I.M. Your Virtual Assistant quite often. How can you distinguish SEO and digital marketing hoaxes from legitimate industry experts?

Key Takeaways & Lessons Learned

Knowledge is power! While it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the information out there on SEO and digital marketing, it’s important to educate yourself on some of the basics.

  1. Unsolicited SEO offers are immediate red flags. Scammers use spiders to crawl the web for lists of urls and email accounts, so their messages are often generic. Real SEO professionals do not rely on mass emails or cold calls to generate customers.
  2. Find out what free online resources are available to you, such as Google My Business and Google Analytics. Then, if someone tries to charge you for access to these free services, you can immediately walk away knowing they’re simply out to get your money.
  3. Real professionals cannot guarantee first-page rankings on Google Search results. Gaining and maintaining first-page rankings on Google is not a one-and-done deal. It’s a continuous process. Your site must be regularly updated and optimized as search algorithms change and your competition for keywords evolves. So if someone makes grandiose claims about improving your website’s Google Search rankings, then they’re probably not legit.
  4. Frauds will not give you full access to or ownership of your business’ website or online profiles. As is evident in Ivana’s case, scammers will try to hijack your online presence, keeping you at arm’s length from what your business rightfully owns.
  5. Scammers will use vague language about their company and services. It’s not enough for someone to claim that they will adjust your keywords or improve your Google search rankings. Real SEO experts will use specific data and case studies of previous customers to back up their claims and explain in detail how your business’ website will benefit from their services.

“Alt Media Studios took such an interest in my situation,” Ivana appreciatively relates. “They educated me, kept to their promises, and worked as a team.” We look forward to seeing how Ivana’s business will gradually begin to flourish online in the weeks and months ahead!

Read more of our case studies and testimonials for further assurance that our SEO and digital marketing experts at Alt Media Studios provide trustworthy services that yield measurable results. We are passionate about helping small businesses thrive online! Contact us today to learn how Alt Media Studios can properly optimize your website to heighten awareness of your brand.

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