Founder at M16 Marketing and a Forbes Agency Council member. He’s a leading marketing technologist on a mission to create success stories.

You don’t have to plan and execute a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy by yourself. Instead, you can partner with a digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO.

These types of agencies can perform on-page and off-page SEO so that your website ascends the organic search engine results pages (SERPs). However, regardless of which partner you choose, there are certain SEO services you should avoid.

1. Link Exchanges

Some agencies offer link exchanges as an SEO service. For a price, they’ll connect your websites to other sites in the same niche. Your website will link to those sites, and they’ll return the favor by linking back to yours. Known as a link exchange, this was once an effective form of SEO. Unfortunately, link exchanges are now useless at best and harmful at worst.

A link exchange won’t improve your website’s rankings in the SERPs because the links will cancel each other out. When your website exchanges links with another site, search engines devalue them. Neither your website nor the site to which it links will benefit. Google has also been known to penalize websites that participate in link exchanges. Under the advanced SEO section of Google Search Central, it lists large-scale link exchanges as a violation and, thus, a cause for search penalties.

2. Directory Submissions

Avoid buying directory submissions. This decades-old SEO service involves a third party, such as a digital marketing agency, submitting your website to online directories. There are thousands of online directories. While some of them have different requirements, they all display structured data about submitted websites. An online directory may show a custom title and description for your website, along with a link pointing back to it.

Your website may acquire links from directory submissions, but they won’t help it rank higher. Online directories aren’t authoritative. Most of them are low-quality properties that contain a substantial number of outbound links and few or no inbound links.

3. Content Automation

Because of the role content plays in SEO, some digital marketing agencies offer content automation as an SEO service. They’ll use software to automatically produce and publish unique content on your website.

Content automation may sound like a smart investment that can save you time and money, but it can impede your SEO efforts. This service typically involves the use of text-spinning software that scrambles an existing piece of text content to make it unique. While the newly produced content is unique, it’s often poorly structured and difficult to read. Your website needs unique content to rank high in the SERPs, but content automation isn’t a viable substitution for handcrafted content.

4. Private Blog Networks

Another SEO service to avoid is private blog networks (PBNs). A PBN is a group of low-quality websites that are used to lift the rankings of one or more external sites. 

The problem with PBNs is that they don’t offer truly organic links. They are used for manipulating search rankings, so they offer artificial links. Your website may even be penalized if you use a PBN service. Google initiated a crackdown on websites engaged in PBNs in 2014. Today, Google continues to penalize websites that use PBNs. If you buy a PBN service, you may discover a message in your Search Console account indicating that your website has received a manual penalty.

5. Social Media Followers

Avoid the temptation of buying social media followers. The amount of engagement your website generates on social media can affect its rankings in the SERPs, but buying followers isn’t the answer.

Whether you buy 100 or 10,000 followers, it’s likely they won’t consist of real people. Digital marketing agencies sell social media followers by mass-producing fake accounts, which they use to follow their customers’ accounts. These fake accounts may follow your website on social media, but they won’t engage with your site by liking or sharing your posts.

Aside from being ineffective, buying social media followers could result in your company’s social media properties being shut down. Some social media networks prohibit businesses from buying followers. If they discover that your website suddenly has thousands of new followers, they may terminate your site’s profile or property.

6. Customer Reviews

Along with social media followers, you should avoid buying customer reviews. For local SEO, customer reviews are closely correlated with search rankings. The more reviews your business has, the higher your business’s website will rank in the SERPs for local searches.

Rather than buying customer reviews, you should cultivate them naturally. Buying customer reviews poses several problems. First, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires a disclosure for all paid endorsements. If you pay for a positive review, it’s considered a paid endorsement, and the person who wrote the review must legally disclose their paid affiliation with your business.

Second, it’s against the terms and conditions of most review platforms to pay for reviews. If you pay for Google reviews, for instance, Google will find them. Google may then either delete the reviews or remove your business from its Google My Business platform.

7. Guaranteed Top Rankings

Avoid buying any SEO service or package that guarantees top rankings. Digital marketing agencies have zero control over the ranking algorithms used by search engines, and they don’t know exactly how these algorithms work.

Legitimate agencies won’t try to lure in new customers by offering guaranteed top rankings. They realize that SEO is dynamic and encompasses elements beyond their control. As a result, these legitimate service providers don’t make unfounded guarantees.

Not all SEO services are worth buying. While some of them can have a positive influence on your website’s rankings, others can have a negative influence. You can still partner with a digital marketing agency, but you should stay away from these seven “SEO” services.


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