SEO is a little like blackjack. And if SEO is blackjack, an SEO scam is like counting cards.

And the house always wins.

Say you’ve got a weekend in Vegas and decide to try your hand at blackjack. You know a little bit about basic strategy, and you do ok – coming out slightly ahead – but you wish you’d done a lot better.

So, instead of just forgetting about blackjack and going back to your normal life, you rent a dank, darkened room with deteriorating amenities and obsessively study everything about the game.

You want to get an edge, so when someone on offers to sell you the book Counting Cards for Dummies, you have only one partially pop-inspired thought in mind: ‘hit me, baby’.

But when you go back to Vegas to try out your new edge at Casino Googale, you find your initial heater is chilled by the cold fury of the casino, which notices your abnormal play. You make a few gains over the first few days, but soon find yourself caught out and blacklisted. Busted! Now you can’t even play basic strategy.

In much the same way, SEO scams give short-term benefits but long-term disadvantages.

Like casinos, Google has pretty clear rules about what constitutes fair play for a website’s SEO strategy. Anything outside of these guidelines, attempting to subvert natural site rankings, is extremely frowned upon.

Like casinos, Google is going to try to sniff out anybody who tries to cheat. Google’s algorithm, Penguin 4.0, is designed to decrease the rankings of sites that use black hat SEO techniques. So trying to beat the system will result in your rankings being punished – like being banished to beyond page five: a digital death sentence.

And the house always wins.

If a company approaches you with a sure-fire plan for SEO, there are ways to spot if it’s a scam:

A guarantee of being top keyword/first page of results. Even Google says there is no such thing as a sure thing. Search Engine Marketing (SEM, as opposed to Optimisation, SEO) strategies, like AdWords, require you to pay for every click. In the right situations, SEM is highly effective and provides great results, but it’s not the same as SEO.

They have an inside person at Google. Yeaaaahhh, no Google employee would risk losing their segway, ‘massage credits’, free gourmet lunches, and being able to bring their dog to work just so you can perform well on the ‘Australian pump company’ keywords.

Free trials. SEO is a time-consuming task, so if they can do it for free they aren’t doing it right. Or they are likely doing something dodgy with your website (never give out passwords to anyone you aren’t paying to do a job).

Submit to hundreds of search engines. Well, 95 per cent of all searches might be Google, Bing and Yahoo, but I’m sure your great results in Blekko, WorstSearch, and DuckDuckGo will really make that difference.

It’s a trade secret, so they can’t tell you what they’ve done. SEO isn’t magic; if they can’t tell you what they’ve done, don’t trust them as they are almost certainly doing black hat SEO.

Black hat techniques might include something like paid links (not links on a relevant website, but paying irrelevant websites), duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and invisible text.

The silly thing about all this is that there’s no benefit to junk traffic. Why would you want to lure people who are never going to be customers to the site and giving them bad info when you get there?

Along with blacklisting, scams can actually have a negative effect, and they make you keep spending to try to keep one step ahead of Google.

So, we need an SEO basic strategy.

It’s really simple. Good SEO is five per cent technical, and 95 per cent content.

The technical component means having a good website (metadata, alt-tags), and quality backlinks (linked from highly ranked website).

Producing good, relevant content always has a positive effect on SEO, even if you stop doing it. Though it’s better to keep doing it.

If an SEO company doesn’t offer something within this basic strategy, then they are in the business of cheating. So to go into business with them is to inevitably tangle with Google’s security team, fresh and invigorated from their morning massage and their free, organically farmed squash, kale and pecan dumplings.

And the house always wins.

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