This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while now, but I was hesitant to talk about it due to the potential backlash. But over time, I’ve only seen this crowd grow, not shrink, and I feel the need to speak up.
Let’s be clear: I’m not against internet entrepreneurs. In fact, I think the web has opened up a wide range of opportunities for people to create products, sell services, and run businesses that couldn’t have survived before. But just like offline businesses, making a living using the internet takes time, commitment, and hard work. Running your own business often means you work more hours, not less.
The problem is when people claim that anyone can build a website and make a living off of it. “Make 30k and work only 5 hours a week!” This scenario is not impossible – just like making it as a rock star or pro athlete isn’t impossible. It could happen… but it probably won’t. Those that do manage it are the exception, not the rule. If you’re pulling in 30k with these schemes, it’s more likely that you’ll be working 60+ hours to do it. Not nearly as appealing, right?
Unfortunately, most consumers are uninformed. After all, the internet is still in its infancy, and we’re all just learning how to navigate this brave new world. It’s likely easier for most people to spot a dubious car salesman than a scammy web opportunity.
Well, these fly-by-night, seo scam companies on the web can also be easy to spot if you know the signs to watch for. Here are 5 tips to help you spot tricksters.
Tip #1 – The Squeeze Page
The goal of a squeeze page is to get your name and email address or have you sign up for services. In many ways, it is the digital equivalent to the sales pitch a used car salesman might give you. Just like you would be wary of someone who makes grandiose claims about a vehicle (“This is the lowest deal in the history of the dealership!”), you should look for the same kind of slime here. Some squeeze pages are simply effective marketing, but others are tacky, cheesy, and designed to lure you in.
How can you tell the difference between the two? Just like with a salesman, if your gut tells you that something’s fishy, it probably is. Perhaps the best way to show the difference between a good and a bad squeeze page is to share examples.
I almost hesitate to call the positive example a squeeze page, though I think it qualifies under the definition. The page was done for SEOMoz.com by an amazing optimization company called Conversion Rate Experts and increased sales by a million dollars. (If you want to learn more about how they did it, they explain the reasoning behind every section in this great PDF.)
Bad Squeeze Page
Good Squeeze Page
A few differences to note:
- SEOmoz is upfront about the cost of their services. The scam is not.
- SEOmoz boasts recognizable clients and testimonials. The scam does not.
- The design of the bad example is fairly standard for scams – with a letter format, dotted line boxes, red and black text, a checklist, and yellow highlights. The design of the SEOmoz page is more sophisticated.
- Both sites make big claims, but SEOmoz has information to back it up.
Tip #2 – Outrageous Claims
You know the old adage: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Use common sense when considering online offers. I like to use a conservative ROI formula of 5:1; for every $1 you spend on your business or marketing, you should earn $5. I’d estimate that most web businesses make between $5 to $15 for every dollar they spend.
In the previous example, I shared that Conversion Rate Experts earned a million dollars for SEOmoz. Sounds like a pretty extraordinary claim, right? Maybe on the surface, but not if you consider that SEOmoz is an established business that already has millions of visitors every month. There’s a big difference between producing results for the local pizza shop down the street and the entire Pizza Hut chain.
I am mostly addressing people who have no business or traffic to a site. No doubt small changes can have a large impact when you already have a ton of traffic or existing customers, but if you’re just starting out, 5:1 is a more reasonable expectation.
Use the ROI formula as a benchmark to “sanity check” what people are saying when you purchase any course or product that claims to make you a huge success overnight. Odds are the only person making money is the person you are buying the product from.
Tip #3 – Lack of Free Trials, Demos, or Screenshots
If you can’t see a peak of what you’re buying – whether it’s a sample, a screenshot, or a demo – it’s likely because they don’t want you to see how crappy a product is before you buy it. It’s easy to throw a bunch of garbage together, put a pretty package on it, and then pass it off as an established product.
I have to admit I was recently suckered in by this scenario. I bought something from a company called FBConversion, and when I got to the download page, I found a bunch of positive comments… from people who were happy that the guy was giving away the product. Man, it sure feels great when you buy something only to find out that it was originally free – and of course, the final product was crap. I should have been tipped off by the fact that I wasn’t able to look behind the curtain before I purchased.
Tip #4: Resellers
You’d think that one of the biggest obstacles to throwing together a website just to sell a course, ebook, video, or articles is actually developing the content. Not so much.
Remember the bad squeeze page example? The person selling it didn’t even develop it. They simply purchased the rights to resell it. Here’s the product page where they bought it. It even came with a ready-made squeeze page! Before you purchase content online, do a quick search on Super Resell to make sure you aren’t just buying recycled garbage.
Another good way to tell if you’re buying original content is to see if the person offers free content through a blog or articles on their website. For example, ProBlogger sells an ebook called 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, but he also offers regular free, high-quality posts. It’s likely that you can expect the same high-quality content inside the ebook if you buy it.
Tip #5: The Source
Ask yourself: how did you get to this product or service? Did you land there because of a recommendation? Or did you click on a Google ad or search result?
Be more skeptical of people who have purchased your attention. Anyone can buy an ad – an seo scammer or a legitimate company. You should also pay attention to how the ad is written. Like the two examples of a squeeze page above, be wary of companies who “guarantee” unbelievable results.
This scam ad makes a pretty big claim but doesn’t tell you anything about how you’ll be making money online – bad sign. MailChimp’s offer may sound too good to be true – a free service – but it provides details about what it offers. MailChimp is also an established company with a track record. How can you tell? It’s a pretty good sign that it has almost 5,000 followers on Google+.
Arriving at a site from an organic search result often isn’t much better since search engines aren’t very discerning. Google, Bing, and Yahoo! all do their best to remove spam from their results, but they aren’t 100% successful. And of course, many of these offers aren’t technically spam, just providing subpar product with unachievable promises.
So that leaves us with the last source: a recommendation. That would seem to be the best of the three – but just because a site is “recommended” doesn’t mean you should give it a free pass. Many online recommendations are bought, too. Guest posting is becoming a more popular means of marketing online. People offer free content to a site in exchange for including a link, or a blogger may be paid to promote a particular product or service.
Your best bet is a recommendation from a trustworthy source: a friend or colleague, an established website, or a trustworthy blogger. Legitimate sites and blogs will be open about any affiliations they have, making note when contests, giveaways, or product mentions are sponsored.
Don’t Let SEO Scams Get in the Way of Your Success
Just because these get rick quick and SEO scams exist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to build a successful online business. You should try – but with the right expectations.
If you’re looking to walk away with a lot of cash in a short amount of time, you’ll become frustrated quickly and give up. The most valuable part of your experience might not be how much money you make but what you learn from your attempt.
For example, if you are a mechanic and decide you want to start a blog on fixing cars, do it because you are passionate about fixing cars – not because you want to make money on your Amazon Affiliate program selling car accessories.
Most of the big success stories online came because someone was following their passion, not because they were looking to turn a quick profit. And there are many, many legitimate resources out there to help you share that passion with the world.