TrioSEO Logo

1 (720) 664-3598

Is SEO a Scam? The Truth (+30 Scam Tactics to Avoid)

Featured Image - Is SEO a Scam? The Truth Explained (+30 Scam Tactics to Avoid)
TrioSEO - Connor Gillivan

Want help with your SEO? We have 10+ years of experience scaling organic traffic and using blogs to generate leads. Get started and our team will conduct a free SEO audit.

Table of Contents - Click to Skip

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably wondering, “Is SEO a scam?”

There are far too many SEO firms that guarantee instant results yet are unable to show real impact on your goals.

Add to the mix the complex nature of SEO, which leaves business owners clueless about what strategies actually work and what’s just empty talk and useless numbers.

So, what’s the real score? Are there any honest SEO companies out there? And can they provide true value to business owners like you?

Read on to find out whether SEO is just a scam or a vital strategy for the success of your business.

How Does SEO Work?

SEO is the process of optimizing a web page to increase the volume of quality traffic to a website.

How does this work?

When a person types a query on search engines like Google, they are presented with a list of web pages that provide the answers they’re looking for.

This site list is called a Search Engine Results Page or SERP. It ranks sites according to the value they provide users and how well they meet search engine guidelines.

The better the quality of your web page, the higher it will rank on SERPs and the greater the organic traffic you receive from search engines.

Overhead view of a busy worktable with laptops, smartphones, and notebooks.

Is SEO a Scam or a Legit Marketing Activity?

SEO can be quite complicated, and its dynamic nature doesn’t help to make things less confusing.

So, if you have no knowledge of how SEO works, trying to figure it out on your own can be daunting. It can also make you an easy target for those who use jargon, outdated techniques, and outright blackhat tactics to make money without providing real value.

But there’s a good side to all this. While many scams have indeed proliferated, SEO is a legitimate service that can elevate your marketing strategy and propel you to achieve your business goals.

When done right, you’ll continue to reap the benefits of a robust SEO strategy months or years later.

You only have to be careful to distinguish legit SEO services from scams.

Want to partner with real SEO experts? Work with us at TrioSEO to build a strategy to help you realize your business goals.

The Truth About SEO

SEO is a long-term strategy. To see results, you need both expertise and time.

Most brands with new websites typically see results after 9-12 months. And even established websites wait 3-6 months for any progress.

Many people think SEO is a scam because they’ve been led to believe that results can happen overnight, yet they don’t see instant progress. Some also have been duped by promises of impossible results at a meager price.

The truth is you need to invest both time and money to see quality results. So, no, SEO is not a one-time thing. Nor is it a magic spell that will instantly improve your ranking.

But when done correctly, it can help drive quality leads, establish you as an authority in your field, and supercharge your brand presence.

White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO

White hat SEO is the practice of doing SEO using legitimate strategies.

It involves following the terms and conditions of search engines, providing real value to users, and generating long-term results that align with your business goals.

On the other hand, black hat SEO is essentially cheating or gaming the system.

It uses dubious gimmicks like buying backlinks, doorway pages, and keyword stuffing. These tricks can cause an instantaneous yet short-lived spike in traffic and other metrics.

Yet when you evaluate their impact, you’ll realize they contribute nothing.

Worse, they can even end up jeopardizing the credibility of your website.

Contemporary workspace with a woman typing on a laptop surrounded by open books.

Top 5 Legitimate SEO Strategies and Techniques

So, if SEO scams are real, how can you effectively and legitimately employ SEO in your marketing strategy?

Let’s take a look at the top 5 techniques you should start doing:

1. Quality Content Creation

SEO brings traffic to your website through search engine results. Platforms like Google and Yahoo cull the Internet for web pages that provide the best value to users.

And they’re getting increasingly better at picking the wheat from the chaff.

Therefore, the best way to rank is to create original, helpful, and well-written content that gives users what they’re looking for.

2. Keyword Research and Optimization

Search engines scour the Internet for websites that match certain keywords or search queries. To do this, they employ bots to find web pages, which they then organize according to the subject matter they cover.

The easier search engines can analyze your content, the faster they can crawl and index your website. In addition, the greater your relevance to specific search queries and keywords, the higher your chances of ranking on SERPs.

That’s why strategically targeting keywords in your content is so important. You’re practically helping the bots find you, boosting your chances of ranking.

3. On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing your content with two main things in mind: your reader and search engine bots.

On the one hand, you want to satisfy the search intent to provide value to the reader. Conversely, you want to make it easy for search engines to pull your content from thousands of web pages online.

On-page SEO techniques include targeting keywords, internal linking, and mobile optimization.

Drive more qualified leads to your website with TrioSEO’s on-page SEO services.

4. Mobile Optimization

Optimizing your web pages for mobile simply means making it easy for users to view and read your content on a mobile device.

This involves designing web pages to fit how people scroll on their phones, improving page speed, and optimizing meta titles and descriptions.

Why does this matter?

More people, about 7.4 billion, are using their phones rather than laptops or desktop computers to browse the Internet.

5. High-Quality Backlink Building

Backlinks are crucial to boosting the authority and credibility of your website. These usually take a long time to build, but they’re definitely worth the effort.

Because backlink building can be time-consuming, SEO scammers typically resort to link buying–a big no-no that will backfire horribly.

When it detects paid or unnatural links, Google may remove the offending website from its index, resulting in a steep drop in traffic and ranking.

Instead, you should generate original, high-quality content that will naturally draw backlinks. This includes producing data-driven content, like case studies.

Over-the-shoulder shot of a person working on a blog post using a CMS on a laptop.

30 SEO Scam Tactics to Avoid

Now that you know what SEO strategies actually work, let’s discuss 30 different scam tactics you should watch out for and avoid:

1. Excessive use of automated queries to search engines: Google detects and blocks repetitive automated queries because they affect their servers and impact user experience.

2. Not providing transparency in reporting and metrics: You’ll know it’s a scam SEO tactic when you’re not given a clear report on how the campaign is going. It’s not uncommon to have SEO technicalities thrown in for the sole purpose of confusing clients.

3. Unethical negative SEO tactics against competitors: Tactics that harm or tarnish your competition include hacking, posting fake reviews, and posting competitor content on your website.

4. Falsely claiming Google partnership or endorsement: When an SEO firm claims to be a Google partner, run! There’s no such thing as a Google partner for SEO.

5. Reporting competitors as spam to hurt rankings: Blackhat SEO may involve reporting a competitor’s website for phishing or containing malware, even when it’s perfectly legitimate.

6. Failing to adapt to changes in SEO best practices: SEO evolves quickly. An SEO strategy that doesn’t adapt to these changes wastes resources.

7. Overuse of aggressive pop-ups or intrusive ads: This tactic is ineffective because it hurts the user experience on your website and is a massive turn-off for people.

8. Not respecting user privacy and data security: This includes collecting sensitive information about users and using their data without consent.

9. Creating low-quality content for link building: Avoid churning out content to insert as many links as possible. Readers can tell when links are unnatural or spammy, and Google can, too.

10. Focusing solely on search engines, not users: Bear in mind that it’s people who will consume your content, not bots. So, while helping bots find you is vital, create content for people first and bots second.

Person browsing a website with sports content on a MacBook.

11. Misleading claims about algorithm updates: Any time you hear someone say an update will push you up the SERP ladder or increase your traffic in record time, don’t buy it. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

12. Spammy commenting on blogs and forums: This is as desperate a scam tactic as it gets. There’s no benefit in it at all. If anything, it will only make your website look spammy.

13. Lack of clear communication or reporting: SEO scammers will do anything to keep communication lines blurred because they know there isn’t anything to report. Watch out for firms that spew so much jargon and aren’t straightforward regarding results.

14. Overpromising with unrealistic goals: There’s no way an SEO firm, no matter how good it is, can produce results overnight. Remember that SEO takes time, resources, and effort. You can’t and shouldn’t expect instant progress.

15. Manipulative anchor text strategies: Using the same anchor text repeatedly is a black hat SEO technique to stuff a piece of content with exact-match keywords properly.

16. Offering cheap and quick backlinks: Legitimate backlink building takes lots of time and effort, like writing compelling data-driven content. Any time someone offers paid links, it signals a scam.

17. Using private blog networks (PBNs): A PBN is a network of websites created specifically to link back to another website. In short, it’s meant to cheat the algorithm of search engines as a shortcut to building backlinks.

18. Selling PageRank or link exchanges: Selling links that pass PageRank or linking to get a link back in return is a black hat tactic. You should only build backlinks through legitimate strategies like creating link assets.

19. Duplicate or plagiarized content: Some SEO scammers publish duplicate content to maximize targeted keywords. But this is actually counter-intuitive. Duplicate pages make it harder for search engines to index your website.

20. Hidden links or sneaky redirects: Redirects are another way to cheat search engine algorithms. They involve directing users to an unrelated or different page than what’s being shown.

Team meeting in a modern office with laptops and a monitor.

21. Inflated claims of SEO expertise: Some of the most common of these are claims to have insider knowledge of Google’s system, having proprietary technology that can game the system, or being able to produce impossible results.

22. Using outdated SEO techniques: Some examples of obsolete SEO techniques are content spinning, link buying, and focusing on keyword density. These no longer work and can actually hurt your website’s performance.

23. Ignoring mobile optimization: Your website should be user-friendly, regardless of where people view it. Failing to optimize for mobile, such as enhancing site design for smaller screens and endless scrolling, negatively impacts user experience.

24. Cloaking and invisible text: A poor way to target keywords, cloaking and using invisible text is masking words by using the same font color as the background. This tactic is often used when stuffing content with too many keywords.

25. Using irrelevant keywords: You may rank first for certain keywords, but it won’t help unless those keywords are relevant to what your website or content is about.

26. Guaranteeing #1 rankings: No SEO expert can guarantee #1 rankings. They have no control over how search engines rank websites. All SEO specialists can do is use best practices to improve web performance and ranking.

27. Promising fast results: Again, SEO takes time. Websites that have maintained their ranking have likely been employing SEO strategies for a long time and continue to update their campaigns as developments arise.

28. Fake traffic schemes: Bot-generated traffic is an entirely misleading tactic. It gives the impression that your website is gaining more attention than it actually is.

29. Keyword stuffing: This is the practice of inserting as many keywords as possible to achieve high keyword density. Search engines are now able to detect sites that do this. Plus, it’s guaranteed to make your readers lose interest in your content.

30. Doorway pages: Another violation of Google’s guidelines, doorway pages are pages intended to contain multiple keywords that lead to other pages that users want to get to.

MacBook Pro with data analysis onscreen, user's hands at work, complemented by a snack break.

5 Tips to Avoid SEO Scams

With so many SEO scams out there, how can you keep from getting tricked into one?

These 5 tips will help:

1. Educate Yourself

Most business owners get duped by SEO scammers simply because they don’t understand how SEO works.

You don’t have to be an expert–that’s what SEO specialists and firms are for! However, you do need to educate yourself on basic concepts, developments, and best practices. Doing so will help you advocate for your business better.

You’ll also be equipped to ask for what your business needs instead of relying on what a self-proclaimed expert says.

2. Beware of Unrealistic Guarantees

Who doesn’t want to see instant progress, right? That’s precisely the reason why scammers promise quick results and unrealistic guarantees.

But remember that it takes weeks and even months to reap the results of even the most robust SEO strategy. There’s also no way an SEO expert can reasonably guarantee results, like rankings, because they have no control over search engines.

3. Monitor SEO Progress

Stay on top of your SEO campaign’s performance. Don’t rely entirely on reports given to you. To do this, you need to know the metrics that matter and a reasonable timeline for results to show.

4. Look Out for Black Hat SEO Techniques

Black hat strategies may create instantaneous results but eventually damage your website’s credibility and performance.

On the other hand, the slow yet steady application of SEO best practices ensures that you continue to see results in the long run. So, be patient with legitimate SEO techniques even when you don’t see them making an impact right away.

5. Seek a Holistic Approach

Good SEO aims to target both users and search engines. Veer away from techniques that focus only on pleasing the bots and forget about the human element of SEO.

Instead, bolster your technical SEO while ensuring you satisfy the search intent. This way, search engines find and index your web pages more easily, and your audience gets real value from your content.

Focused work environment with laptop, notebooks, and lush greenery in the background.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Learn more about whether SEO is a scam with the following commonly asked questions:

Is SEO a One-time Activity or an Ongoing Process?

SEO needs to be an ongoing and long-term service to be effective. Because of its dynamic nature and the speed with which developments arise, SEO requires regular upkeep and updating for you to reap results.

How Much Should I Expect To Pay for Quality SEO Services?

SEO services usually cost $3,000 to $7,500 a month when you work with TrioSEO.

Beware of SEO firms that promise unreasonably low rates. You’re paying for a firm’s manpower, hours, and years of expertise–especially if it is hyper-relevant to your industry.

Do you have a budget in mind? Choose from TrioSEO’s packages, or we can customize one for you!

What is Google’s Penalty in SEO?

When you violate Google’s guidelines, you can suffer harsh penalties, including removal from the search engine’s index so that your search visibility suffers. You may also experience a sharp drop in traffic.


In an age when the marketplace is digital, SEO can’t be just an afterthought in your marketing strategy. It’s pivotal to a thriving business.

Sadly, many SEO frauds that promise instant results for a meager price have made many business owners believe SEO is a scam. The result? Lost opportunity and wasted resources.

But don’t despair. There are legitimate SEO firms that can help drive organic traffic to your website and grow your business. Find out how we do that for our clients.

Or, if you’re ready, hire TrioSEO experts, and let’s get started!

TrioSEO - Connor Gillivan

Want more traffic and leads? Turn your website into a traffic generation hub. Get started and we’ll conduct a free SEO audit to see if working together is a good fit. 

Recent Posts

If you enjoyed this article, consider exploring one of the few below:

Steven is the Co-founder & CEO of TrioSEO. His background is in large-scale blogging where he co-owned 40 websites and helped grow the portfolio to 7-figures within 3 years. Follow him on LinkedIn for daily SEO tips, tricks, and strategies.

Want more SEO traffic?

We'll analyze your website, share a free SEO audit, and hop on a call to chat.

Leave a Comment

Exclusive SEO guide

Want better SEO?

We've got you! Subscribe & we'll send you our SEO SOPs. A pack of actionable processes to grow your SEO.

Team photo of Nathan, Steven, Connor in black TRIOS® shirts outdoors.
We’ve been using SEO to grow our own companies to 6, 7, and 8 figures for 10+ years. Save years of time and effort with our SOPs.