Site Cloning – Beware this SEO Scam

It starts with an e-mail or phone call promising you top level results for a smidgen of money. You know better, but you do it anyway. They say they’re “partners” with Google, and you don’t look at what it takes to be a “partner”, which is very little. You like the positivity of the sales guy. There’s a contract, but you’d rather pay every month than to mess with it yourself. They’re counting on you for that. So you bite, and the fun begins…

Step 1 – Cloning Your Site

The first thing they do is clone your web site onto their own servers. So now they own an exact copy. They make the menu links point to your existing pages, but they control the new site and any added contents. It has its own domain name too, similar to yours, but not the same. They own that.

Step 2 – Thin Content

They go to work blogging. It’s not good content or particularly intrinsic to your audience. It’s just snippets – what search engines call “thin content”. The copy is “written” overseas (rewritten from pieces of other people’s articles). It’s corrected here and modified slightly for each company in your category. It’ll get penalized, but not immediately. In the short term, it’ll show numbers, but you’ll need new updates constantly to offset the devaluation of your links.

Step 3 – The Click Reports

You start to get the statistical reports that show you’re getting more pages indexed. Sort of. *They* are getting more pages indexed. Remember, they own the new site and all its content. Also, it’s always the most recent updates showing value – what you’re not seeing is the old ones getting devalued. Looks like you’re moving, but you’re standing still. You’re also getting some clicks and some social media placement. Their low paid workers overseas are busy liking, following, and commenting, even if none of them can afford your services, and none of that activity translates into reach with your audience back home.

Step 4 – The Upsale

Once you’ve got the report, the additional services are offered. You can get even more, if you pay more. At this point, your Vegas experience kicks in, and you start to fear the “just one more pull” at the slot machines, but you’re dazzled by the posh analytics they showed you, and you’re already locked in for a penny – so why not a pound? You agree, and that validates that you approve of what they’ve done for you so far. No crying foul later.

Step 5 – Search Engine Manipulation

Some of the pieces are getting penalized, but they’re pulling them when they do. This’ll run for a while, if they keep it up. You’ll get indexed plenty and be able to see some actual business now. You’re paying a pretty penny for a lead, but it’s not zero. It’s just enough to think this is working. You’re building bad blood with the search engines, but the backlash won’t hit yet.

Step 6 – Renewal Contract

At the end of your contract term, you’ll get the renewal pitch. Sure, you didn’t get as much as you’d like off of it. Unbeknownst to you, though, you’re getting penalized at just under the rate at which you’re getting rewarded in search. Now you’re thinking about it seriously, though. Is it worth it? Maybe you renew, and maybe you don’t. If you don’t, here’s what happens:

Step 7 – The Gotcha

Whatever authority they built up is on the new domain, not your original one. If you stop paying, they take down the content and, not only does any ‘link juice’ they were passing back to your main site instantly disappear, but you’re likely to get a penalty applied to your main site for that. Besides, all your content links they pushed out into search and social for you are broken now, making you look quite bad.

Step 8 – Insult to Injury

The coup de grace is when they resell the content they used for you to one of your competitors or someone else in your industry. Eventually, if you don’t change your mind, even the domain name goes up for sale to the highest bidder, and remember they’ve got stats that seem to show it has value, even if it doesn’t.

The nice word for this is “screwed”, but while you’re kicking yourself and debating whether to do business with someone under those conditions, you reflect on the inner truth you know only too well. You tried to get something for nothing. You tried to put a bounty on human outcomes using technological means. You tried to game the system, and hired a proxy to do it who had few if any scruples about gaming you as well.

OK, no one’s going to say you’re a bad person, but that feeling you had at the outset – that small voice at the base of your brain saying, “it’s not quite kosher” needs to be listened to better in the future.

If you’re in this situation, and need to dig yourself out, or just want to put your marketing efforts into a strategy without a gotcha, contact MadPipe.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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About once / month, corporate storyteller and digital ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting business stories, analytics, & examples for organizations committed to achieving their goals.


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