SEO firms are a growing industry today. With billions of websites on the Internet, many people seek expert SEO help in getting ranked on Google.  However, there are different ways to go about search engine optimization. The ethical, organic SEO firms, also called white hat SEO firms, go about search engine optimization the legal, search engine-approved way without cutting corners and taking shortcuts. Other SEO firms, known as black hat firms, go a different route; taking shortcuts, overloading and hiding keywords and creating doorway sites. The practices of black hat SEO firms, also known as spamming or spamdexing, will get your website blacklisted and sometimes you won’t even see it coming. So how can you tell when to stay away?

1. The SEO firm’s WHOIS information looks suspicious or the firm operates with multiple aliases. Any ethical SEO firm that is legit will want to prove themselves and will probably give you a free website analysis report so they can discuss how they can help your search engine rankings grow. They will under no circumstances try to hide information about their practices from you because they want to prove they can help you.

2. The SEO provider promises quick, first page rankings. It is impossible for any SEO firm to know what rank they will get your site to. All they can do optimize your site in attempt to raise your site’s page rank, which is a process that can take years. Also watch out if they claim to have a special relationship with Google or any other search engine, they don’t.

3. The firm is not listed in the Google index or has had domains removed from the Google index. This is a major red flag, why would a firm that specializes in SEO not be listed in the Google index itself?

4. The SEO company owns shadow domains. Shadow domains are small, optimized Web sites that the firm designed to drive traffic to your site. Shadow domains are highly regarded as shady practices by the search engines and may eventually blacklist the domain from the search engines either temporarily or permanently.

5. The firm uses link farms. A link farm is a site page that contains hundreds of links in one place that aren’t relevant to the information and are useless to the site visitor. The only purpose they serve is the reciprocal links will make search engines think more sites are linking to yours, therefore increasing a site’s rank. However, this practice won’t fool the search engines’ Web crawlers forever and the site will be eventually caught and penalized.

While each search engine has different regulations for detecting spam, the results are always the same. A company’s Web site will lose its rankings and may be taken out of the index completely. Recovery from being banned or blacklisted can take a long time and sometimes one can never recover. Whether you know about the unethical practices taking place or not, search engines do not care and the penalty will still remain. If a significant part of your business depends on your online marketing and presence, a ban could mean trouble. It can take months to convince the search engine that the problem has been corrected and you deserve another chance. This is why it is so important to know what to look for when dealing with SEO scams and unethical black hat practices.