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I Should Have Known Better
Conned by an SEO company

 7:13 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's a longish story but I'll try and keep it brief. I've been doing the SEO of my own sites for a couple of years. I've read thousands of posts on this forum. I'm fairly street-wise regarding the claims made by some of the more dubious SEO companies.

I was under pressure, lots of things waiting to be done. A telephone call from an unknown SEO company in the North of England. I let him chat away and then for some totally unknown reason I let him talk me into spending 1,000 on SEO for one of my sites. They had a money-back guarantee, no rankings, no cost which isn't worth the web page that it's written on. OK, I've been stupid and I've "done my money". I'll carry on trying to get my money back, it's my problem and I'm old enough to fight my own battles.

When checking to see what they'd done for their money I found that they'd placed exactly six hidden links to my site from other client sites. That was it...their total effort. I emailed the webmasters of the linking sites only to discover that they knew nothing about the links from their sites.

So...at last he gets to the point...your reactions please to an SEO company that puts hidden links to other client sites on their optimised pages without permission. Is it ethical to do such a thing?, is it even on the grey side of ethical?. They're also piling loads of hidden text onto their client sites but that's another matter.

I've spent the last few hours dissecting their link network and emailing webmasters, telling them that they have invisible links on their site and pointing them to Google's webmaster guidelines. I've been careful not to name the SEO company, just suggested that if perchance the links had been put there by an SEO company then I'd advise them to talk to that company and to remove the links or convert them into normal, readable ones. The SEO company are not awfully happy following a call to them from one of my email recipients and there's a few threats of legal action flying around.

Well, apart from being stupid, am I doing anything wrong?



 7:34 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

am I doing anything wrong?

You could contact your local media outlets and journalists and tell them your story. Then let the journalists be the dogs chasing the cat.

[edited by: martinibuster at 7:48 pm (utc) on July 22, 2003]


 7:44 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Local media probably wouldn't be interested since they likely don't know what seo is...however - I do not think you are doing anything wrong and wonder why you are not mentioning the name of the company that is doing this. The only reason I can think of would be to try and get your money back first. I do think it is unethical to do anything for a client that they are unaware of - especially something as risky as this. I provide links from my high ranking client sites to new client sites to give them a jump start (when I can find any remote relevancy for the link)...but they aren't hidden and all my clients know that in my 'stable' we share with each other.

jeremy goodrich

 7:45 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

That is a great idea. Given your knowledge of how it should be done the SEO company in question deserves a flogging.

And, martinibuster has it right: they'll be the "cat" getting chased by the big dogs, at that point.

Jounalists (at least here in the USA) know how to fry companies well, they're an experienced hand at the task.


 7:53 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

That is rough - there is going to be some SEO work on a site I deal with and I made sure to restrict live access, and I'll be doing a thorough code review on their test site pages, but still, it makes me think...

The advice about putting some journalists is a good idea - I don't think it would take much to parlay that into some Technology/Human Interest/Consumer Alert story - talk to a reporter and offer to fill in all relevant tech details to give him a good piece.


 8:01 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think alerting the media is a bad idea. It gives seo a bad name...we already have enough trouble with people not understanding what we do or what our value is...some think it is a buzzword and a scam. If you got the media interested (which I doubt) what is to be gained? He can mete out some justice if he wants to simply by alerting the companies being deceived and saying the name of the company doing it.


 8:04 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why settle for justice when you can have vengeance?


 8:09 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

You could contact your local media outlets and journalists and tell them your story. Then let the journalists be the dogs chasing the cat.

I could certainly do that, and most journalists would eat the company alive, but I'm not keen on damaging the overall reputation of SEO. I respect the members here that are in the SEO business and I think that they get enough bad press without me adding to the problem. Hey, even Google seem to want to give them a hard time.

wonder why you are not mentioning the name of the company that is doing this

Don't think we're allowed to do that sort of thing here. I'll sticky it if you're interested.

Webwoman, You beat me to it!


 8:11 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why settle for justice when you can have vengeance?

Oh, you're so right


 8:21 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Don't think we're allowed to do that sort of thing here. I'll sticky it if you're interested.

I didn't mean say the company name here...I meant to the companies whose websites are being used without their knowledge. I couldn't care less who it is - I make a firm policy of paying as little attention as possible to competition :)


 10:26 pm on Jul 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Webwoman, I've been sending an email something like the following to the webmasters of all of the sites that have hidden links inserted by this SEO firm

<Sorry, had to snip the e-mail per TOS #9>

[edited by: Travoli at 1:00 pm (utc) on July 23, 2003]


 2:15 am on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

A very decent public service - but I still think you should name the company :)


 8:22 am on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

In the google guidlines you've also got this:

I don't understand why/how somebody that reads the WebmasterWorld forums, and aware of this sort of scam can fall for it. And for a thousand pounds! I really hope your site has a lot of pages needing optimization otherwise even the price is fishy.

Anyhow I would put the name of the company in the email and give them as bad publicity as they deserve.



 9:15 am on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Waste these muthas Ross. :) Sorry you were taken in.

The media might be interested if the story was done from a perpective of choosing a good SEO/web company.

I dont se how you are doing anything wrong, but that is not legal advice. You could do it anonymously.


 10:23 am on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

No need to mention the company's name in your letter. Their customers will know exactly who you are refering to, or ask if they are interested.

I'm not a lawyer either, but I don't think you are doing anything illegal. You could try a search on the torts of slander and defamation to educate yourself if you want more certainty.

Another way to approach it is by a class action. Instead of asking whether they intended to grant links to the sites, you caould ask if they have noticed if they have been penalised and if their position has deteriorated since the links have been added, and if so if they would be interested in a class action...

Or you could just explain to the SEO company that this is the course of action you are considering, so could they please refund your money ;)



 10:26 am on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Try trading standards. Show them www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html and the sites containing the hidden links - show they are risking your business in a major search engine and that the money-back guarantee is false.

Take a couple of business cards from the person you speak to, and post one in a letter to the company to show that you are serious.


 2:01 pm on Jul 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Here in the states we have access to legal recourse without a lawyer, it's called small claims court. Not sure if you have anything similar.

In a previous employment I have filed around 500 of these cases, mostly as the Plaintiff, and lost about 3. And two of those were because of a biased and capricious judge.

However, one thing I learned is that the more screenshots, printouts, photos, witnessess and citations from sources of authority I brought with me, the higher the likelihood I would win.

If you have access to this kind of justice I strongly urge you to explore it. I believe it would bring us great satisfaction to hear that a judge agreed with you and you got your money back.

As for the letters, there's something borderline in that.

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