SEO Mistakes: read the fine print

I still hear from people who get confused by solicitations in the mail. Here’s an example one:

This is not a bill

At first glance, this semi-official looking letter seems to require bill payment for some sort of “annual website search engine listing.” But if you read the fine print at the bottom, you’ll see:

This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer.

In other words, feel free to throw this letter in the trash. If you want to submit a url to Google, there are at least a couple ways to do it, for free:

- Google offers a free “add url” form where you can submit your domain name.
- You can make a Sitemap (a list of urls for your site) and submit it for free as well. Start here. There’s a lot of other free, useful tools from Google there too. :)

When you get a letter like this in the mail, whether it’s about your web site or your domain name, read the fine print carefully.

67 Responses to SEO Mistakes: read the fine print (Leave a comment)

  1. I usually get them when my domains are about to expire from a company that offers to renew it for me at 4 time the cost of my registrar. They have an official looking letter with a maple leaf on it to make it look official and Canadian. It’s kind of sad but I bet people fall for it all the time. I don’t know why it’s allowed. These people are such scammers.

  2. I actually received one of these in the mail as well. Search engine submission for $65? That’s just ridiculous. It’s just evil how companies take advantage of people and bank on their helpless ignorance.

  3. Dave (original)

    Great post Matt, more of the same please!

    I get spam from ineedhits.com where they charge for Google submission. However, I believe I’m in a minority because I can see that they are simply preying on the less informed.

  4. Amazing people would accept and pay for an online service through snail mail. Especially other webmasters.

  5. I just got one of those two days ago. It kind of makes you stop and look at it for a minute to figure out that it belongs in the recycle bin.

  6. I have been running websites for over 7 years and never received them until yesterday. This is the same kind of spam than emails related to medecine websites. Can’t we do anything to have their websites shut down? I have sent emails to their web host and registar in the past but they were all with no result.

  7. Yeah, I’ve gotten that same letter before, but I’m use to junk credit card offers and other business offers — so, I’m very cautious on what I write a check for.

  8. @uGuX – You still write checks? ;)

  9. These readers are savvy enough to know this – but there are millions of Website owners who have NO idea about
    ‘….how do I get my site on the Search Engines?’

    While the dubious marketing tactics of this SEO firm are an obvious ploy to get attention – there are site owners who really need help with submissions and selecting keywords and quarterly ranking reports. Many have no idea what traffic stats are are a surprise when informed that visitors can be traced.

    Also, this SEO firm is referencing more than just Google. Yahoo and MSN does bring in some decent traffic too.

    Suddenly, this blog is posting SEO tips after MONTHS of avoiding them.
    Is it because of this protest by SearchEnginesWeb….?????
    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2007/11/dozen-ways-to-discuss-webmaster-help.html#c7883926810176185042

  10. These regularly hit my organizations. The people in finance have no idea, and immediately assume it is a bill, and very important since they know I am really into this Internet thing. :) So far no one has fallen for it, but I am sure in many businesses, especially non Internet based businesses these get paid all the time. Some of the yellow pages type books used to use a similar scam.

    By the way Matt, I have gotten so good at this stuff, that if you paypal me $50, I can totally, 100%, guarantee I can get you to rank #1 for matt cutts in google. Seriously. I’m not even kidding.

    dk

  11. By the way, Search Engines Web, are you coming to Pubcon?
    dk

  12. I got a similar letter from a local company, but they asked for much more for listing into an ugly web directory. The amount on the invoice was about 300$. I wanted to sue their ass but my attorney said they are not doing anything illegal, they are not forcing anyone to do the payments (they had some similar footnote text).

    Matt, how about allowing users to send you complains for companies behind certain websites, and you could remove these websites from the index. At least, this would be way to indicate that there is something tricky with the company? Or maybe display something similar to the stuff you display when clicking on an adware site from Google search listing? I’m sure this will definitely help.

  13. I feel neglected! I have never received such a letter – the only one being my legit renewal from my domain company (which arrives electronically these days). I suppose these spammers hope the letter reaches some unfortunate sub-assistant in a large companies with hundreds of domain renewals and that person unwittingly completes the form and makes initial contact… very devious.

  14. Hey Nick – I think the original Nick here,

    I am a Canadian as well and likely get the same snail mails as you do.

    This is an ongoing argument in my house, my wife gets the mail and opens it. She starts writing a business check to the company and I say “what are you doing???”

    She says: “Your domain is about to expire and I have to renew it”

    I inform her of the dirty marketing trick that is happening…My domains are on auto-renewal with my registrar, don’t write the check…

    She says “But your domain is expiring and you need to get this check to the keep your domain”

    “No dear, it’s a dirty marketing ploy”, I say.

    “Why are you involved in dirty marketing ploys”, she says.

    I respond with “I’m not, these buggers are trying to trick folks into paying far too much for a domain, don’t send that check, my registrar will automatically renew the domain”

    The discussion usually ends with me not getting any that night and thoughts of hiding my whois as top priority come to mind :O

  15. Jan

    Maybe somebody could explain this to me?
    We’ve got a website that doesn’t get an awful lot of traffic, but some, and in the last 3-4 months, I keep getting these foreigners and spammers filling out the lead forms dozens of times a day….with the name and address of “Buy Viagra” or something just as stupid. Sometimes in the comment section they will have 15 lines of html about the viagra or similar sites…link after link.

    Why are they doing this? Its a “Frontpage” program form. It doesn’t send out a confirmation or create a page…what are they accomplishing by doing this? Am I missing something? They just repeat whatever gibberish stuff they say over and over again, and I’ll get 5 or 10 of them in a row several times a day. It worries me.

    Jan

  16. its a shame surprised that no ones tried to out law this would make a good private members bill in the uk.

    dont think that any of the MPs’ i know came any where in the ballot.

    May be Matt/jeremy Z should get the other Google/saerch engines employes to loby there senators/congress people

  17. That kind of spam is very common here in Brazil too. The worst of it is that a lot of people fall for it. Sad.

  18. I would hope that Google would immediately ban/delete/dump the firm behind the email when they come across spam like this. After they ban them, send them an email saying they did so because of the email spam.

  19. corey

    colin, your story made me laugh.

    i get more faxes and emails for these offers than regular letters. my favorite emails are from linkhelpers.net, who are big fans of triangular linking between topics.

  20. Hello,I translate this post from English into Chinese. If Matt Cutts is opposed to this post ,I’ll cancel the article.hehe…

  21. haha – trust me – the people who follow through on a solicitation like that are not reading your blog, Matt ;)

  22. Omar Yesid Mariño

    Amazingly, there are people who pays for these stupid services. The only thing they do is to waste their money by getting these stupidities.

  23. That’s funny. I just got one of those in the mail yesterday as well.

  24. Colin: your problem is you’re mixing your work life with your personal life. I would never let my significant other have anything to do with my business, just so that we can keep our relationship healthy and sane (I don’t care what anyone says, working with a significant other is a death sentence for a relationship).

    By the way, Matt, it’s not overly difficult to figure out who the Corp is in question from that bill, so I’m not sure if you want to block out some more of the details (e.g. more of the domain name). Mind you, anyone who Googles “Website Listing Service” is going to find it fairly quickly as well.

    I think Doug Cress might have made a good point as well. The suckers out there are generally pretty naive types who, in all likelihood, won’t be aware of this blog. Again, just a thought here, and no, I’m not gonna start SEWing and talk about how great I am if you ever implement it (wait…maybe I will!), but what about a Google 101 section somewhere for newcomers? Kind of an expanded version of what exists for the Guidelines. Things to do, things to avoid, and instead of the Hall of Shame idea, put a positive spin on it and put “SEO People/Sites to Learn From”.

    Again, just thoughts, nothing more. Respek.

  25. Danny Rotsaert

    Re: While the dubious marketing tactics of this SEO firm …

    I find it most saddening that there are people who call companies like that an ‘SEO firm’.
    Gives to wonder…

  26. Colin: your problem is you’re mixing your work life with your personal life. I would never let my significant other have anything to do with my business, just so that we can keep our relationship healthy and sane (I don’t care what anyone says, working with a significant other is a death sentence for a relationship).

    Whoa; are you channeling Michael Corleone…?

    Anyway, I get hundreds of these a year on behalf of my clients. And I probably have at least half a dozen clients a year that get tricked into paying for transferring their domain to a certain scummy registrar that has been using this ploy for years now. I can’t understand why these can’t be shut down somehow; they’re so obviously deceptive.

  27. spamhound

    I see junk like this all the time.

    More recently, I’m seeing alog of registrars sending out the same type of official looking notice about domains expiring. People think it’s a bill, send it in and end up transferring their domains.

  28. cormac

    To be fair to these tools – capitalised, bolded text is hardly ‘fine print’

  29. Hello Matt,

    I spend a lot of time explaining to our clients that it is a waste of time to pay to these submission services, the ones that also email these fake official looking letters as you mention in your article.

    Google could do a lot more to help stop this, and stop people from wasting their time and money. For years Google has had SubmitExpress.com at the time of Google’s results for “search engine optimization”.

    Why?

    This is just making the problem worse. Yes they say they do more then just submitting your site to hundreds of worthless search engines. However their main business is cheating people out of money for worthless search engine submissions, so please make them #300 NOT #2 for a Google search for “search engine optimization” .

    Also I do not think having Wikipedia #1 for so many searches helps anyone either. Wikipedia is often wrong and should not be given special treatment like they currently recieve. I have tested Wikipedia and written articles about them, they delete correct content and have corrupt editors.

    Why does Google not see this? I read that the founders of Google support Wikipedia and I do not understand why. Wikipedia should be treated the same or worse than any other web site, NOT treated better as they currently are.

  30. Hi Matt,

    Please use the correct url for me.

    My last post showed the incorrect url. Please use one of the two shown below.

    http://www.htpcompany.com/gototom_tom_forrest.htm

    or

    http://www.htpcompany.com

    Thank you.

  31. roflmao, that’s hilarious. I bet, unfortunately, many people must’ve fallen for it.

  32. These things have been around for years – before web renewals, I used to see them for yellow pages ads. While consulting with a number of small businesses, warning them about this kind of scam became a necessary part of the gig. I’d be helping them with their on-line marketing, then a “bill” from somewhere would come through and their knee-jerk reaction was that it was something I’d done on their behalf. In one instance the person paid the bill for a domain renewal but foretunately it didn’t get slammed as the domain was “locked” and after a little work, he was able to get a refund and file a complaint with the NY Attorney General.

  33. Yeah i seem to get this letter in the mail every month or so but from a different company. The funny thing is they are sending this to me when i do web design and seo. Get a better list.

  34. I am from Canada too and I received emails asking me to renew my domains with with a company that asks much more money than what I pay. What kind of idiot will register with them?

  35. barry

    some stupid dingaling sent me that exact email.

  36. I’ve noticed an increasing amount of this type of spamming via Fax as well (SEO fax-spam!)

    Unsuspecting businesses who know less about these sorts of things could easily be caught out by tall promises of ‘Search Engine supremacy (in less than 24 hours)’….if they pay a [insert value in the 100s] of money for it.

  37. Yeah, I have received these before, but they actually state that it is a bill. They charged me for SEO services. I thought about putting effort into it to make them regret wasting my time, but that would have wasted even more time. I wonder how many people pay these?

  38. My spam filter works pretty good, but it’s not a technical filter but just a very simple rule:

    “If you don’t recognize the sender name, don’t even open the email, just delete it.”

    If it’s really important, they’ll contact you again in some other way but for me that never happened.

  39. I usually get these as well when my domain is about to expire. The giveaway is when they address it to the domain name, instead of the actual name on file from the credit card charge. Although, in your case, mattcutts.com might slip by unlike google.com.

  40. Blue

    I’ve received several of these, what I hate about it is the fact that people fall for it. The average person, even if they have a website, doesn’t know how to “get in google”.

    By the way I also received a phone call from someone offering to “put me at the top google’s search results”, turned out to be someone wanting to manage an adwords campaign for me but the way he spoke would have been very misleading to someone who doesn’t read about search engines all day.

  41. NextInstinct

    Thank you Matt.

    I wouldn’t fall for that, but with new people coming online all the time, some would.
    I did almost fall for a similar scam regarding domain name registration.

    It had nearly identical artwork to my registrar, and they had my soon to expire name in the address window.

  42. Yeah, I have received these before, but they actually state that it is a bill. They charged me for SEO services. I thought about putting effort into it to make them regret wasting my time, but that would have wasted even more time. I wonder how many people pay these?

    There’s always the spambait/scambait as an answer, Matt Sandy. Get them going in some ridiculous dialogue that no intelligent human being would ever fall for, and then post the dialogue publicly. You’d be surprised at just how stupid spammers are (and how much fun you can have this way.)

    Check out what these guys do: http://www.419eater.com (NSFW). If you can pull that off, you’ll get quite the cult following.

  43. Dave (original)

    (I don’t care what anyone says, working with a significant other is a death sentence for a relationship).

    ANY relationship built on a strong and solid foundations can with stand anything at anytime. If not, the inevitable has only been precipitated.

  44. Tim

    I received an identical email from a “different” company today. Identical as in the only difference was the domain in the upper left hand corner.

    So….I looked up the url on http://www.whois.sc. Strangely, the registrants info was not private, however the phone number sent me straight to the fax machine.

    No problem.

    I used the name and address info and plugged it into whitepages.com and receive 1 result (with a phone number:)). It was too much to resist – I had to call.

    I called. He answered. And we spent the next 10 minutes in a Q & A about his fantastic service and how much money he was helping people make.

    Towards the end…I admitted to wasting his time and that I only wanted to speak to the idiot behind my snail mail.

    After my admission he shared a few “heartfelt” thoughts, threatened me w/harassment charges and hung up the phone.

    A complete loser…and IMO…a criminal.

  45. Tom Forest wrote:

    “Google has had SubmitExpress.com at the time of Google’s results for “search engine optimization”

    Very true Tom. That SERP for that term is quite a joke. It sends very bad signals to people “not in the know” that Google actually thinks that “SEO” is submitting to search engines when that couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact; the serp for that term has been pretty much like that for many years now. Many sites who come up don’t know what REAL SEO is and never have, but yet they sure do show up for that term.

    But ya know what? I believe that so-called SEO firm advertises at ALL the conferences, right? Of course NO one says one word about it as everyone just allows firms like that to get away with crap for years and years.

  46. Matter of fact; just checked the … search engine optimization .. term in google. I found that at least 6 sites who come up in the top 20 wouldn’t know how to actually do real seo if their lives depended on it. More than that just offer up “submission” services with no clue at all.

    Shouldn’t those type sites just come up on…. search engine submission.. ?

  47. I just got the same one from DLSCORP.NET. Same color, same format, a different logo, but they want to charge $75 instead of $65. Nice.

  48. Dave (original)

    Google Selling Links,

    Your whole rant (tall poppy syndrome) is based on Google influencing SERP positions via a link. Wouldn’t you look really stupid if you cannot prove your beliefs. Oh wait, you can’t prove it.

  49. great post :) thanks for sharing. keep up the good work!

  50. I get quite a few email like that, but whi in the right state of mind would pay for searcg engine submissions

  51. I havent seen this one before but it seems they would be about as useful as those emails i get about a “guaranteed” top 10 organic search results for all my keywords in google, for the small fee of $200!

  52. The only way to get rid of spam is to give them nothing to spam us about. This means everyone needs to become more educated about the world around them. No one will launder money thru you, jewelry is never as cheap as they claim it is, the government didn’t find thousands of dollars that it forgot to give you, and your wife will still love you even if you don’t take those special pills.

    I’m of the opinion that if you are capable of getting online and having a website, you are capable of doing some basic SEO yourself. Never pay someone to do something until you take some time to learn and understand what you are paying for.

    For those that aren’t up to par on creating sitemap.xml files, this article (http://blog.shofr.com/2007/development/seo-101-sitemaps/) is quite helpful.

  53. Matt, this is a new play on an old direct marketing scheme. I’ve seen it used for print toner and fusers and yellow page ads that weren’t for the Bell/regional carrier. There was also a company that for a time sent out domain name renewals for domains they didn’t register. The fine print is very fine in the offline schemes!

  54. I would hope that Google would immediately ban/delete/dump the firm behind the email when they come across spam like this. After they ban them, send them an email saying they did so because of the email spam.

  55. A third option is to authenticate your site in Google Webmaster Tools, which also gives you access to some good stats on your crawl rate, backlinks, etc. Yahoo has a similar service called Site Explorer.

  56. LOL – I just got that bill yesterday! Sneaky and yes the service is worthless!

  57. I don;t really get those people who would buy links to gain ranking…I mean common i get thousand of spam mail weekly on my company email regarding some link buying strategy…people doesn’t realize that the money they spend on buying links would be much worth it if they would just invest it in good and worthy content.

    My rule on link buying:

    For advertising and additional traffic = its good
    For ranking = a big NO!

    SEO is not a snap of a finger success it takes time…if you do it the right way…naturally and eventually you’ll see the results…its a long term goal not an over night success!

  58. A nice blog. Amazingly useful content

  59. I wish there were fine print on my Google AdSense bill so I could throw this away ;)

    Spend your money on developing good content that people want to link to.

  60. p.s. on sitemaps, you have to be careful that the service you are using doesn’t add spam backlinks. I had to customise the XMap sitemap plugin in Joomla to write out their spam links – be very careful about this.

    I’m surprised noone has tried to charge me for Google sitemap inclusion yet – furthermore they are targeting the wrong audience, they really need to hit users of the MSN search engine = more ignorance => more evil

  61. Printing Guru – wouldn’t better rankings bring you more traffic?

    I agree though, content is the best way to build links because it gives your website visitors more value. It’s 2 for 1

  62. It’s tough enough for business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketing professionals to cross the chasm of trust and establish credibility in their markets without the “assistance” of high-priced – low-value Internet Marketing Companies.

    This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer.

    Wow, Great pitch … I should send them a letter …

    “Thanks for damaging the integrity and credibility of the search engine marketing industry”.

  63. seo

    i see things in my inbox all the time like this i really think they must think we are stupid but i guess some people fall for these things or the wouldnt do it, well you would hope

  64. I think people sometimes forget the importance of creating a sitemap and MANUALLY submitting a website to Google. It is also important not to use automated submitters because they could lead to trouble.

  65. I also think people are lazy in doing manual submit thier site to Google, or all over the internet, or don’t even bother to take a little time reading about the subject. It’s easy to give some money to some folks who pretend to do the best for you and your website. After all they are the Best Internet Marketing Company :)
    I even think that some of the folks paying the money to Boost The Website Traffic deserves what’s happening to them, but that’s only my oppinion.
    The only thing we can do is to spread the word about the scammers and avoid them when we bump into one.

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