Marketing & Branding

Legit SEO: Embrace Your Inner Scammer to Make an Honest Living

It’s said that crime doesn’t pay… but apparently, it does.

Because scammer strategies work.

Whether it’s straight up fraud or technically-legal-but-still-shady black hat SEO tricks, taking short cuts has traditionally positioned short term bumps as an attractive trade-off for long term business growth.

Even J.C. Penney got away with it for a time.

But all gravy trains have a station, and even the mighty J.C. Penney was slapped down by Google. So how do you resist the allure of short term gains in favor of long term business growth and avoid the mighty smackdown of a Google search engine algorithm update?

If you want to run a legit business but have a hard time resisting the black hat, here are some strategies scammers and lazy marketers use to reel in the unsuspecting and improve a site’s standing in search results — with tips on how to “launder” them to use for good instead of evil.

I wonder what they sell.

Keyword Stuffing

Shady Strategy

Back when search engines were only a few steps above card catalogs, rankings were determined by simple formulas that placed heavy emphasis on keyword volume and incoming links. Based on these algorithms, keyword stuffing became a popular strategy: stick the keyword or phrase that would bring in the most targeted users into your content as often as possible.

Google has its big boy pants on now and has changed its algorithm many times over the years in an attempt to bring searchers relevant and trusted content. No longer does repeating the word “wedding dress” 874 times in a row give you the top spot.

Laundered Version

Keyword stuffing – as in unreadable, worthless content with a high percentage of target keyword or phrase mentions – does not boost rankings the way it used to. The new hotness is keyword rich content. That means that if you want people looking for “Superman wedding cake toppers”, you’d better include keywords and phrases related to that topic along with that key phrase itself, such as “wedding figurines” and “cake topper ideas.” Good SEO helps people find what they need instead of annoying them.

No points for spelling either.

Public Relations

Shady Strategy

Once too many poor reviews hit the complaint boards and too many formal complaints are made against a specific scam “company” (Quotation marks are included, because many of these “companies” are likely operating under one umbrella company), the referrals slow down, and the URL mysteriously disappears… only to set up shop somewhere else.

However, to buy time, the scammers respond to publicly posted complaints with the apparent attempt to work things out. If they respond at all to private contacts, it’s often to ask for pictures or direct the customer to have the mistakes taken care of locally with promise of reimbursement. Issues are rarely, if ever, resolved, and the already defrauded customer may be cheated out of even more money in “processing” fees.

Laundered Version

If you are addressed publicly by an unsatisfied customer, respond publicly (even if it’s just to direct that person to contact you privately). You show other customers that you aren’t ignoring negative feedback, and you show the complainer you’re willing to draw even more attention to it in order to affirm trust in your brand.

When a customer contacts you privately, it makes sense to ask for evidence when appropriate (e.g., photos of damage), but drawing out the returns process into an episode of Law & Order is only going to turn an annoyed customer whose brand loyalty may be salvageable into a raving, anti-your-company activist. Be thorough, but keep the process quick and easy like Victoria’s Secret and Amazon.

Hang out with me?

Buying Friends and Followers

Shady Strategy

Which brand seems more reputable – the one with 176 Facebook fans or the one with 3,485 Facebook fans? Customers love jumping on a bandwagon and feel safer trusting a company that appears to have a lot of support already. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter show nice, clear numbers of fans and followers which means that a company’s support is on display. Scammers know this, and, like on Pinterest, create fake accounts or hire others to do it for them to boost the numbers. Since profiles can be locked for privacy, all they really need is a name and a picture.

Laundered Version

Buying friends on Facebook is just about the same as buying friends in real life. You may get boosts in superficial parameters, but that doesn’t mean those friends are potential customers who will engage with or promote your content. Plus, these friend farms are often scams themselves.

Taking an entirely “organic” approach (i.e., waiting around for potential customers to stumble across your page by happy accident) isn’t the answer either. Invest time and resources in some of the strategies below to increase your fan base and, more importantly, fan engagement, on social media sites.

  • Create contests that require fans to post pictures of your products in use.
  • Include questions and fill-in-the-blank prompts as a call to action.
  • Post at the right time of day, and not too often.
  • Switch to Facebook Timeline.
  • Share industry-relevant content that your ideal customer would benefit from.

For more info on how to increase fan engagement on social media, check out the articles at PR Daily, Milestone Insights, and Social Media Examiner.

I just need your social security number and brains.

Wrap Up

Scammers are the zombies to the legit business’s colony of survivors in the early days after the apocalypse; the focus is on managing the threat and living to see the next day rather than total defeat of the undead. With these simple tips, you’ll be taking head shots left and right and clearing a path to a more fortified location.

Have you learned anything else from taking notes on the scammers’ tactics? Will there ever be a way to get rid of scamming for good? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Zombie photo by Josh Jensen from Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Blue Eyed Zombie) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons