10 Online Scams That Target Small Businesses

Search Engine Optimization
SEO is of dwindling importance, but dishonest marketers can still overpromise and underperform. © Gregor Schuster/Corbis

As with any business, it can be slow going at first when you're starting an online company. Your target market might take its sweet time to find you, and it can seem like traffic will never pick up, no matter what methods you use to reach customers. If you don't have traffic, you can't improve your search-engine rankings. ... And if you don't have good search-engine placement, you'll never get more traffic. In desperation, many business owners turn to search engine optimization (SEO) companies and consultants, who are only too glad to step in and help – for a substantial fee, of course. And never mind that SEO doesn't work as well as it used to.

SEO was once pretty effective. Marketers would tinker with a site to make it attractive to the all-powerful search engines, pumping it full of keywords and adding videos and other bells and whistles (some visible, some not) — essentially, artificially inflating the numbers. (These changes also tend to make the user experience a less pleasant one, but you're supposed to turn a blind eye to that.) But Google, which was of course wise to the whole shebang, introduced an algorithm in 2012 that could detect the sites that were trying to cheat the system [source: Urani]. Disreputable SEO marketers are still out there, though, either selling outdated services or preying on struggling business owners who don't realize that the jig is up. An honest marketer will discuss the legitimate capabilities as well as the current limitations of SEO.