One of my clients called me yesterday. He’d had a call from someone identifying himself as “Onebox Incorporated.” This caller claimed that Google had sent him a list of #1 ranking sites which would, as of 3:55 that day, have their listings deleted. Google, the caller said, had sent him this list as a courtesy.
He offered to rescue my client from this dreadful fate. Then, once my client saw how effective the caller was at sparing him from this deletion, my client could hire him for $95.00 a month to avoid any future problems of this kind.
I try not to laugh at people who are worried about stuff. This one, though, was so funny I couldn’t help it.
This isn’t black hat SEO. Black hat SEO is the use of unethical practices, or practices frowned upon by search engines (not everyone agrees that the two are identical), to improve rankings in the search engines’ results. The recent J.C. Penney scandal is an example. Black hat tactics often work until the site practicing them gets caught.
The caller from One Box, Inc. (or supposedly so — there actually is a company with that name, but this caller didn’t leave information that could confirm his connection with them) wasn’t practicing SEO at all. It was a confidence trick, pure and simple.
If my client had accepted his free service, then he might have received a call in a day or two saying that with special skills and talents, plus their close relationship with Google, the company had been able to avert the disaster awaiting him. They would suggest that, since their work had saved him, he would be wise to sign up.
How can you avoid con men of this stripe?
- My client is a medical professional, and he’s used to getting unsolicited contacts from salespeople — pharmaceutical companies do this. Reputable SEO companies generally don’t. If you get a phone call or email trying to sell you SEO services, you should check out the company pretty thoroughly before talking with them. My client asked the caller to talk with me — as he always does — and the caller refused. That’s a good sign that the offer isn’t on the up and up. I work for quite a few SEO companies (many outsource writing) and I have never known one that uses telemarketing.
- Learn something about how search engines work, or employ someone who already has that information. That’ll help you to determine whether what you’re being told is reasonable or not. Many things that these shysters say, including the idea of Google “deleting listings,” are incompatible with the technology of search engines.
- Watch for the usual signs of trustworthiness or lack thereof. Anyone you’re thinking of hiring for SEO should be able to answer questions, show you data, talk with your tech guys or web pros if you don’t have a handle on what they’re saying, and provide references.
My client is still at #1 for quite a lot of useful keywords.
UPDATE: I’ve just had a call from another medical professional in Atlanta who had a call like this, too. If you’re a medical professional with a site that ranks well on Google, you may be getting a call like this, too.
More about specific scams: