How Rogue SEO Companies Systematically Destroy Online Businesses

This isn’t something I like writing about but the fact is a lot of so called SEO companies are defrauding their clients, misleading, mis selling and flat out lying most of the time.

I am not going to name the SEO company in question but you can be assured they appear in the top 5 for a lot of the broad ‘SEO’ search terms and trust me, just because a site ranks for these terms does not mean they are good at SEO.

You hear horror stories all the time, “They did no work and charged me thousands”, “I was on a monthly retainer for 6 months and saw no improvements”, these are common statements but the level of deception displayed in the latest horror was something I had never come across before.

I would love to out the company but I want to save myself the aggro and legal implications, anyway here is what happened.

The Start

It started the usual way, potential client types in ‘SEO’ gets a quote from the top 5 and makes a decision based on case studies and promises of quick results.

The company promised to provide the following:

– Keyword research
– Blogging
– on page suggestions
– link building
– consulting and strategy
– reporting

These guys rank well so they must know what they’re doing right? Well let’s break these services down.

Keyword Research

They came up with a list of keywords and advised the client these were the terms to target.

– No search volumes were provided
– No potential conversion rates were discussed
– No potential results were analysed

So they loaded up the Google keyword tool and exported the results, not great but hardly criminal so lets move on.


They updated the blog with unique but dry SEO driven content, again not ideal but nevertheless plenty of others do this.

On Page Suggestions

They didn’t say this but may as well have done “Stuff Your Title Tags!”.

This worked really well and they saw their rankings rise, thanks Google, trust developed in a less than adequete SEO partner.

Link Building

This is where things start getting really interesting.

The company placed 20 blogroll links, sitewide, in 2 weeks and sure enough rankings shot up to the first and second page of Google. The sites were reported with a PR figure next to them, they weren’t the best quality to look at but hey, they were working.

Every month the client got a report with 20 more links on, however as the client completely trusted the company now they never checked the links, all the SEO company were doing is changing the anchor text on the 20 maintained links, no new links were built but the SEO company were taking a substantial amount of money every month.

A disgrace.

Consulting & Strategy

Non existant, the most the client got was a meeting every few month with a couple of sales guys, no disrespect to sales guys but for SEO strategy surely you need to be speaking with the experts?

The strategy was simple, increase your budget and we’ll head over to digital point and secure some more links for you 🙂 They didn’t say this but it would have been the truth.

Glorified link brokers….


When I saw the monthly report for this client I couldn’t believe it, an excel doc with random lists on it.

“500 directory links” was one of the headings, however their were no URL’s to prove these were placed.

“200 article submissions” again no evidence to prove these were placed.

There were two columns, one had the word ‘link’ in every column, the other anchor text which stated the anchor text.

– Traffic report? nope
– rankings? nope
– converions? nope

An utter disgrace.

So What Happened?

OK so the SEO company were doing a bad job and getting away with it, the clients rankings were going up all were happy, whats the issue??

At this stage there are 2 issues:-

1 – The SEO company were glorified link brokers, they offered no strategy and no real technical advice

2 – The reporting was non existent and later transpired thats because no links were being built

Still nothing I haven’t seen before, however what happened when the client found out they’d been taken for a ride? This is where things start to get ugly.

How a Rogue SEO Company Can Destroy Your Business

So the client realises they are just switching the anchor text on the same links not building new ones, the clients wants a refund but instead the company offer to make it up by building hundreds of links from unique domains in one month 🙂

All you genuine SEO’s know there is only one way to do this, yup, outsource it to some dude in India for $500 dollars where links will be placed to your site on some of the spammiest sites I have ever come across.

Guess What Happened Next?

The clients rankings were all pushed up the first page of Google! Brilliant, loads of traffic, loads of conversions!

But there’s a catch, about a month after these links were built Google caught up with them, devalued them all and placed a filter on the site for a few core terms, rankings dropped lower than ever before, traffic diminished and sales were 50% down.

A business destroyed thanks to getting involved with a rogue firm.

Rightfully so the client cancelled the contract after a 5 figure investment and to add insult to injury the firm removed what “OK” links they had built.

You Pay For What You Get, But Never Pay For Spam

You can only get done what your budget dictates, however what ever your budget is it should never pay for spam and just so we can be clear on what spam is let me throw a few examples your way, these were literally taken from the above SEO companies report.

Spam Site Yes that is around 300 links in the side bar

Spam Site Notice the 4 feet of links as you scroll?

Sure if you have a small budget you can expect some lower quality blog posts, article directories and a few directory submissions but this kind of spam is unexceptable at any level of budget, if you have them in your profile expect to be penalised soon.

On a positive note at least Mr Cutts and the team at Google are actively devaluing sites like this.

Picking an SEO Company

Don’t just pick a site from the top of Google when you search ‘SEO’, ‘search engine optimisation’ or any other of the glory terms. Anyone can buy links and rank.

Don’t agree a contract until you know what the strategy is, know what links you are going to get and know how they are going to be reported on each month.

Ask people in the industry, they will normally tell you who are the better agencies out there.

If you are currently being provided with SEO services and haven’t had a link report or have been getting links like the ones above, stop now, start asking questions and think about how to repair any damage before making rash decisions.

It’s really not the sort of post I like to write but something needs to be done to educate business owners and stop them making mistakes like the one above.


Tim Grice is the CEO of Branded3, a search marketing agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

Latest posts by Tim (see all)

40 Replies to “How Rogue SEO Companies Systematically Destroy Online Businesses”

  1. Pretty shocking stuff and I can’t believe people are still getting away with it. I’d love to know who these guys are as we’re just about to enter into an agreement with one of these ‘top 5’ agencies.

    Great post, Tim.

  2. We see a lot of dodgy things going on, if you want to fire me an email I’ll let you know who it was, it’s not worth publicly outing.

  3. Hello Tim,
    It can be quite illuminating to see the variance between what a “large SEO firm” talk about and what they actually do.
    I have seen plenty of them talk about the importance of getting good quality links but then when you look at what they do for their clients you see comment spam where each comment has links to 3 different clients.I guess that must be their definition of scalable.
    Well done for “outing” the problem

  4. Hi Colin,

    There are significant margins to be made performing poor SEO, they charge a client £1k outsource it to India for $100 etc….

    Building quality links is massively time consuming and expensive, however even if your budget is on the smaller side there are still more effective and safer ways to acquire links rather then just spamming.

    The company I am referring to aren’t bothered about the quality of the service they provide, just making money. Yes you have to have scalability in any business but this is just taking the p%!!

  5. I think I will just search for this company in question and see if I can guess who it is from the results. Or maybe I already did. I find it kinda sad that I can identify who does the SEO for a certain company just from their backlink profile.

    You wouldn’t believe how many companies (you probably do) out there that take this approach to automate their SEO meaning they can employ more sales guys. Sure rankings can increase – but how do these links actually add any value to the business? And 9 times out of 10, if you leave the seo contract – these ‘permanent’ links magically disappear because as a customer – you were effectively only ever renting space in their link network.

    Whats worse though, from what I’ve found testing every white,grey,blue,black type of seo on my site is, these tactics work alot of the time. Ok google caught this one in your case study, but I don’t think thats the usual.

    The only thing I can admire I about seo companies like this is the scalibility they can get from it, but hopefully the wheels fall off quicktime.

  6. Hi Jonathan,

    Yes I’m fully aware of the networks out there, some companies sell themselves as ‘SEO’ agencies but in fact are just link brokers, obviously someone who knows nothing about SEO has no idea what the difference is and the agency really sheds any light.

    I don’t want to tar all ‘well ranked’ SEO companies because there are good ones out there, it’s just a shame about those looking to take advantage.

    As you say it is a shame this spam has an impact in the first place but from what I have seen recently Google are catching up with a lot of the links quicker than they used to. These mass link farms are being devalued quicker then they have been.

  7. Thanks for your reply man, I forgot to add the thing that annoys me most – is the fact alot of these SEO come text link brokers have the audacity to speak at big conferences and preach great content and quality over quanitity when in reality they can’t even put into practice what they preach. That’s where it becomes out of order

  8. i am just sick of the accusations suggested at what you call just search companies or just link brokers…it is so unfair. There are some good, just, seo consulting companies out there, not all of them have sticky eyes and are actually good for the customer. 😉

    just search harder for an seo team that wont just buy links from pakistan or write content from their new 16 year old staff member that walked in that morning.

    i could be just barking up the wrong tree, however

  9. Hi Justin,

    I am well aware their are decent consultants, freelancers and agencies out there. You can understand that when a business wants to rank for a term they see which companies are doing it for themselves, unfortunately that’s not always the best move.


  10. Hey Tim,

    Great post and yes your correct in what you say.
    The sad thing is i cant see this problem getting sorted anytime soon. There are 10s of thousands of business’s in the UK and small business’s are where i see the main market for these cowboy seo companies.
    These small business’s understand the power of Google ……..they just dont know how SEO works……therefore making the seo companies pitch and retention a lot easier….
    Google should penalise the seo companies ……not the sites that they build cra*py links for!!

  11. Hi James,

    I think penalising SEO companies based on poor service opens up a can of worms, however if Google were better at detecting link spam the top the SERP’s for terms like SEO, search engine marketing etc.. would look very different.

    I think the best way to solve this issue is by building up more awareness around SEO and what people should expect. Instead of a TOPSEO’s paid directory maybe we should look at creating a BADSEO’s , genuine directory of SEO companies that have delivered penalties to their clients 🙂

  12. My idea would be to create a website that simply outs old dropped domains with page rank that are being used to manipulate rankings with nothing more than a page of content and a blogroll. Then maybe something would be done about it.

  13. The problem is the scale at which this is happening, there are literally hundreds of thousands of sites out there doing it.

    Ultimately the focus needs to be protecting business owners from bad services, I think the only way to do that is by talking openly about it. There are always going to be cases of bad service or a campaign that went wrong but in my experience the same companies seem to come up all the time

  14. Hi Henry,

    I really can’t go into specific company names, however in the example above it isn’t really the buying of links that I have an issue with, it’s the low quality of those quality of those links. The fact clients can pay a decent fee and then a company go out their and outsource it for $100 worth of spam that is eventually going to get them penalised is just wrong.

  15. I recently had someone ask me to look at their site because their rankings were increasing for some keywords, but then gradually started to plummet for a lot. On looking at their backlink profile, the last agency had just entered their site into an auto blog link network, with 100’s of links from .info sites. I mean, .info sites, holy s**t, I can’t believe some of the stuff that goes on. It not only gives clients a horrible view of SEO as a whole, but also teaches clients that link building should be cheaper than it really is.

    Client’s need to take some responsibility though. Really they need to looking at all links built and questioning why they are getting 1000’s of .info links.

    The problem remains, if I wanted to make a quick $$, I could easily set myself up as a link building, buy my way into a couple of the keyword spaces that would get me clients, charge quite a bit of $$, outsource to Microworkers for pennies and make a lot of cash before the wheels come off.

    Online is still the wild west in a lot of ways.

  16. Hi Kieran,

    I agree clients need to be more vigilant but if you have no SEO expertise it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad.

    Plus when I get my car serviced I don’t pick through the car checking all the parts are there, I just trust them. The SEO industry has zero trust and unfortunately it’s justified at the minute.

    I think SEO’s need to speak out more, that way those providing the bad service will be more likely to sort out the quality.

  17. I’ve been thinking about this too, in my country several ‘SEO Expert’ keep pooping out. They call themselves as ‘Expert’ even though they have no idea what SEO is, and the worst part is businesses trust and pay them because they are ‘Expert’ in this field. I tried to quiz several of them just to make sure, and yes they didn’t know anything about the Panda Update..Feel bad for the client though.

  18. Hi Sanji,

    Yes, anyone can put expert next to their name, the only way to educate clients is by more people speaking out about the bad service they received. Someone needs to set up an SEO review site where people can leave details of their experiences with certain companies, the only problem is moderation and trying to distinguish the genuine complaints.

  19. I agree, but the only thing I would say is, getting your car serviced and marketing your business are two different things. If you are going to be successful in business, you need to pay attention to what is going on. If I paid a company to run a TV campaign, then I would sign off on their work before it goes live, if I ask a company to do cold calling for me, I would sit in on some calls before letting them loose, if asked a company to run a promotional campaign around the city centre, I would like to see the flyers before signing it off etc etc etc …

    Managing your business should be a lot more important than getting your car serviced and this is a big part of the problem. Companies don’t make any effort to understand SEO. They feel it should be low cost for big returns.

    In saying that, the SEO industry is plagued by quick buch merchants because of the low entry point. Your example says it all, the companies who exist in the top spaces for the “SEO” related keywords are mostly those who put $$ to get there, whilst a lot of the good companies (like your own branded3), probably don’t see the ROI in ranking there and get a lot of referral business. It’s kind of ironic that the top results for “seo” are probably not a good marker for best results for SEO companies.

  20. Fully take your point on board and agree business owners need to be much more vigilant, however I think many need educating about the pitfalls of working with an SEO company. You see if I wanted to research SEO I would make my way round a few blogs and probably get a decent understanding of what it involves. The problem is companies mis selling their services, they rank high and can usually deliver some sort of results through spamming. It’s very difficult for a business owner to pick up on this in time.

    As I said I think there needs to be more resources on what you should get from an SEO service and what you shouldn’t, the more people that come to understand what is not acceptable the better for the industry as a whole.

  21. Tim,

    This is so bad the way these companies work. A while back I was chatting to an ex sales guy for a company here in Ireland that work in the way as you have described in your post. You know what they also do !!! they get the customer on a monthly payment system and if they don’t pay they drop all the links…..just so bad how’s anybody going to trust guys like me when they have the resources to have sales teams calling every company under the sun and then ripping them off. Funny thing is I think it’s the same company you’re talking about.

  22. I can’t state who they are on here but I think genuine SEO’s know, the problem is the layman doesn’t.

    It does unfortunately give the industry a bad name, people just need to keep highlighting the ‘cowboys’ out there.

  23. this is exactly the sort of thing that makes it hard for internet marketing consultants such as myself, who may have experience but are just starting to provide SEO services to businesses.

    However, it is up to the client to research who they use for their SEO. If a provider can’t explain exactly what they will do, how they will do it, and what the end goals are, chances are they aren’t worth half what they charge!

  24. Nice touch! There are several others I would love to put on blast.. But I wouldn’t want to get you guys in trouble! I don’t see why Google doesn’t just put some kind of filter on link vs. word ratio on a page? This seems like it would be an easy way to filter out crappy pages with 5,000 words and 500 links?

  25. Hi Greg,

    There are filters in place as far as I am aware and I think Google does eventually kill these spammy pages, the problem is that if you build enough spammy links every month you can keep getting away with it, at least until Google slap an anchor text filter on your site, I’ve had a few of them before 🙂

    I thing that really gets me about this particular story is that the company have negatively impacted a business through dishonesty, they knew the type of links they were building would one day come back to slap this business owner but they did it anyway, just a very poor service that an other SEO company has to now pick up.

  26. This presses in on everything I have realised in the time I have been depending on SEO. The SEO needs to be carried out to a high quality both on the page and off the page. The best directories and blogs must be looked into and the meta tags and titles must be prepared to the highest and cleanest standards.

  27. Hi Tim,

    Good call.

    I agree that the best approach is to raise awareness. Here’s my (slightly less direct approach) to raising awareness.

    Creating a name and shame directory is likely to suffer from the same problems as a paid “top SEO” directory.

    The best way to deal with any kind of poor behaviour in my opinion is to rise above it and lead by example. The rest eventually get what they deserve. What goes around comes around, as they say.


  28. Hi Ewan,

    Ye I think you’re right, a directory would open the door for abuse and is a reason I haven’t done it already. Every company will have an unhappy client at some point and this post isn’t just a reaction to a bad client experience but rather and internal policy that see’s clients getting ripped off.

    Fingers crossed we’re pulling this particular client back into play but your right, some of the significant SEO players need to be more vocal and educate business owners due to the world of SEO.

  29. I guarantee the SEO company was seo consult. I have seen some of their links in action and they are just about the worst type of links you can get, pages stuffed with nonsense words, and the worst part is that all these anchor text spam pages are filled with legitmate businesses who have hired them to so their SEO. They build clients websites and stuff their own anchor text (usually SEO related anchors) in the footer of every single page on the site.

    Just came across your blog, very good read.

  30. Tim, just found this – thought id google – “worst seo companies” as it seems people are optimising for Best seo companies…

    Good read – think you are right not to out them but id love to see the name and point and laugh – but then again – google SEO – what do you expect? did you click a PPC ad or something?!?! 😉

    – its a shame amateurs profess to be SEO companies at all i agree… but then again, You know SEO Tim, you know it from the glorious side of an agency with like 20 ppl telling you this and that – some of these people have learned it through doing exactly this – scamming and canning but getting results.

    which you say they got…

    Like you say – you got rankings… so whats the big deal? – maybe you paid too much for the rankings? thats the hard part right?

    Its a shame they are out there, but they make us look good in the end…. no one stays with these kind of jokers, and then they see the light and sign for years with the likes of those who can…

    But sure i know where you are coming from, just sometimes i wonder why we try so hard for beautiful results and shiny reports, the clients you work on – heck yea – like they’d take anything less – you have to put a big of smoke and mirrors in right? but if it gets results and they are paying 80 quid a month?!? just do what you need to.

    the sales guy coming to meet each month sounds like a total waste of time! and the links is funny – swapping anchors each month! ahhahaha i love it! never even considered such a lame tacit. ROFL

    ahh just read that it dropped after – and they canned the links – i understand your bitter taste now!

    Heck next time – come see us fella! we’ll do you justice for a back hander! – all you need is links – forget the rest its all total bazaar!

    Great read Tim – thanks for posting!


  31. I guess it’s just frustrating working in an industry were people can be deceived so easily.

    Like you say, it makes genuine outfits look good in the end 😉

  32. Some of the big name SEO companies do indeed ‘take the money and run’. Sometimes if you are a small outfit it is best to deal with a small outfit SEO company. You get better treatment.

  33. Kieran,
    You could not be more wrong. If I go to the dentist, I expect her to know how to fix my teeth and to be honest about it. I would have the same expectation of electricians, plumbers and airline pilots.

    You hire someone to do a job for you. You have a right to an expectation that he/she is honest.

    I should not have to know how to re-wire my own house to hire an electrician.

    I am a casualty of a lying SEO company. I read a book by an author, Odom, and paid him a monthly fee. After a month, a guy who worked with him told me I could really boost my rankings if I bought a ton of links all at once. He also said they had a special relationship with Google and I would get points for being on their client list. This was over a year and a half ago.

    They never did the work I paid them to do. They even admitted as such. I did not get my money back.

    99% of SEO people are liars and scroungers. There is no excuse for this.

  34. Hi Deborah,

    I hate reading stories like yours where yet another innocent victim has been hoodwinked by scammers. I really sympathise with you.

    I do think however that, just like in all other walks of life, in amongst the unscrupulous there are also plenty of SEO providers genuinely intent on doing the best they can for their clients.

    If you make a statement such as you have i.e. that 99% of SEO people are liars and scroungers then I think it would be useful to quote your source for that statistic i.e. back it up.

    If, as I suspect is the case, it is a figure plucked out of the air, then you are damaging the reputation of the industry in general which includes the good guys too, including the authors of this blog. I’m all for holding people accountable but the indiscriminate apportionment of blame probably damages the good guys more than the scammers.

  35. Using an SEO company is like hiring any other business service. The problem with SEO though is a customers expectations., we all want to be on top of page one of the search results and for some especially local search terms this is achievable.
    But there is always competition rival companies that are prepared to pay more to win you can embark on a campaign only to find this out after a couple of months of investment!

  36. I hired a few seo guys and found 90% of seo companies are from India and scammers. One of them claim they are UK companies and they have UK address and website, they are actually indian companies. They posted incoming links to my site from sites which have fake page ranks. I only found out a few months later after they deleted all the websites which used to link to my site. Then, I checked the websites’ domain registration, all the sites were registered under the seo company and relatively new (one or two months old) websites when they added my backlinks. Then, I did a research on how fake page rank is done and found this interesting article:

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