This is one in a series of posts reviewing and looking at how some of the SEO companies which use bulk emails/spam with ‘we can help your terrible site’ type emails really can (and actually mostly can’t!) help your site.
This email came from a Danielle who was using a very generic gmail address (which included 6 numbers!), although subsequent replies came from Sud from who was also using a gmail address (although a less generic one) but also cc-ed in two @digitalxplode.com email addresses.
Here’s the initial email from Danielle:
Hello, [email protected]
Hope you are doing well & staying safe.
I wanted to quickly check if you are planning to improvise your current site/ redesigning a new site / start digital marketing for lead generation/ brand awareness?
This could be a great time to get started and complete the project, as less back-links are being built up and hence ours can get crawled by Google sooner than regular times.
Also, if you are looking for Digital Marketing for lead generation, online awareness, let me know.
We have a great team and always deliver guaranteed results!
Please mention your phone number and suitable time to talk.
Danielle [name removed for privacy even though I don’t think it’s real!]
Manager – SEO Expert
So ‘Danielle’ was using my email address rather than my name, although it’s not exactly hard to work it out from my email address. Ahh, spammy email templates…!
Anyway, I replied asking what company she worked for and also if they could take a look at my big Christmas site – www.whychristmas.com.
During each December my Christmas site gets millions and millions of visits and is #1 on the whole of Google for a huge number of Christmas searches – so any SEO advice about the site is always ‘interesting’…
Here’s the first reply from Sud (although his name is only in the email’s footer, not in the actual text of any of the emails he’s sent me):
Greetings from Digital Xplode !
We are a Digital Marketing agency based out of India and U.S, specializing in Website Development, Search Engine Optimization, Increasing Website Traffic-Ranking, Social Media Marketing, Google Adwords & Content Development.
We analysed your website https://www.whychristmas.com & as I can see, it’s the biggest & brightest Christmas informational website online with good content & many different sub-domains linked with it.. What would you like us to help you with?
Are you looking to get more traffic, improved ranking & visibility of the website on 1st pages of Google ?
I’d love to have a call with you if required and explain everything in detail.
You can share your contact info/whatsapp no. with us with a convenient time to call you.
Or you can also book a call for us here, as per your availability :
[link removed for privacy]
Looking forward to hearing from you.
A fairly standard reply, although they do appear to have visited the site! So I asked for some specifics (as they offer a free report on their site).
Also, although it says in the email that they are ‘based out of India and U.S’, there’s only a US address on their site (no mention of India AT ALL – more on this later), but here are two addresses in India in their email’s footer (more on this later as well). The US address is on the out-skirts of Houston, Texas; so I thought I’d ask a little question about the NFL (American Football) team in Houston, as it’s recently been involved in a BIG trade that anyone who’s actually from Houston would know about (well, they would have at least heard of the team!).
Yes the site is about Christmas information. I see you offer a free SEO audit on your site; so could you do that on my site?
I’d be interested to see what it says!
Sorry I can’t do an online meeting…
ps, how do you think the Texans will do this year? What do you think of the Hopkins trade?!
And I got this reply:
Sure, I’ll ask my team to analyse & provide a SEO audit for your website.
If I may ask, how many keyword plan are you thinking to start with?
p.s I’ll be sharing the report with you by tomorrow.
OK, they’ll do a report – good. But no answer about the NFL question, so I replied about the keywords and nudged about the ps…
I’m really targeting keywords like ‘christmas traditions’ and ‘christmas around the world’.
I’m looking forward to seeing what your report says!
ps, did you see my questions about the Texans?
My site is already normally #1 on Google for both of those terms I mentioned… Here’s the reply I got to the above email.
Sure James, my team is working on the report.
p.s You seem like a big fan of the NFL & I can only provide my input based on my little knowlegde, they have some heavy hitters this year. They can hang around for another playoff berth by the end of the year, just need to survive first six or seven weeks is all.
We have an answer to the NFL price, although it’s an amazingly generic one which sounds like it might have been written by a journalist. Can you guess why? BECAUSE IT WAS! It appears that Sud just Googled ‘how will the texans do this year’ as one of the top results of that is this post: https://www.chron.com/sports/texans/slideshow/Houston-Texans-2020-schedule-predictions-record-202169.php which rather amazingly includes the lines:
“The Texans schedule is front-loaded with some heavy hitters…” and “…so if the Texans can survive the first six or seven weeks, they’ll be hanging around for another playoff berth by the end of the year.”
Hmmmm, I doubt whether Sud has ever heard of the Texans before; and as we’ll see below, I also doubt that Digital Xplode have any connection to Texas at all…
Anyway back to the emails… The next email included the report, as promised:
Please find the attached SEO audit report for whychristmas.com
Although the On-Page optimizations are already present, but there are multiple errors & issues with the website navigations, SEO friendly URLs, no google analytics, page test, data structure including the absence of backlinks & Off-Page activities which are really recommended & important in ranking & bringing traffic to the website.
Do you want to rank the website on keywords like “christmas around the world” & “different christmas traditions all around” etc.
Kindly review the report & let me know.
Thanks & Regards
We’ll look at the report in detail below. But first I needed to reply about this email, as they seem a bit vague about the ‘off-page activities’ and one of their suggested keywords/phrases is rather odd…
Thanks for the report! What sort of ‘Off-Page activities’ do you mean as I can’t see them mentioned in the report…
And yes, I said I’d like to rank for ‘christmas traditions’ and ‘christmas around the world’.
However, ‘different christmas traditions all around’ doesn’t seem to make sense! Do you mean ‘different christmas traditions all around the world’? I guess that would be nice too!
My site also ranks normally around #1 for ‘different christmas traditions all around the world’ as well. (And it’s also at the top for ‘different christmas traditions all around’ although I can’t imagine that anyone would actually ever search for that as it makes no sense, and certainly isn’t a phrase a native English speaker would use.)
I got this reply:
The Off Page activities are not mentioned in any report as they haven’t been started yet. The strategy to create backlinks for your website through Article submissions, Social bookmarkings, Blog posts, keywords maping, google analytics, forum posting, broken link building, content marketing, QnA submissions & many more.
There is a list of activities which our team practice on a monthly basis to gradually bring the rank o ftge website slowly to top pages of Google & eventually increases the traffic to the website on certain chosen keywords.
please let me the know minimum of 10 keywords or more that you want to begin with or my experts can provide a list of best popular & competitive keywords to begin the Search Engine Optimisation promotion for your website.
Right, so we know what the ‘off page’ activities would be now (more on these below). They ask some more about keywords, but I thought we’d already talked about those, so I replied with the following:
OK, thanks. Have you checked how my site is already doing for the keywords I’ve already mentioned?
and I got this reply:
Sure, please send me your list of atleast 10 keywords & I’ll check for all at once. Than I can share our keywords with you & you can choose the best as per your requirement & we can finalise & begin with them.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I couldn’t be bothered to send 10 keywords as they won’t actually do what I’ve asked three times now, but I did ask them a question:
Why do you spam people from random gmail accounts and fake names?
I also pointed out that their spam broke a UK law called PECR and also sent them a copy of an auto PDF report about their site, using the tool they used, just in case it’s of any help…
Sud didn’t seem to like my question as I got this response:
We do not spam people James.
We are a legit Digital Marketing company serving clients all around the globe since long.
If you weren’t interested, you could have said the same in your 1st mail only.
Could have saved us both whole bunch of time.
Anyways, nice talking to you. Good Luck for your future endeavors.
But they do spam. As I explained in more detail in another email.
No. You are spammers.
Please have a read of the PECR legislation: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-pecr/electronic-and-telephone-marketing/electronic-mail-marketing/
From link above about PECR:
The rules on electronic mail marketing are in regulation 22. In short, you must not send electronic mail marketing to individuals, unless:
they have specifically consented to electronic mail from you; or
they are an existing customer who bought (or negotiated to buy) a similar product or service from you in the past, and you gave them a simple way to opt out both when you first collected their details and in every message you have sent.
You must not disguise or conceal your identity, and you must provide a valid contact address so they can opt out or unsubscribe.
We have had NO prior connection.
I HAD NOT given you permission to contact me.
The email from ‘Danielle’ was ‘disguising or concealing your identity’ as it came from a random Gmail account and didn’t have your business name or any other contact details on it.
There was NO WAY of unsubscribing on the email from ‘Danielle’.
You broke ALL of those points.
Thus your initial email from ‘Danielle’ was spam.
Thus you are spammers.
But I’ve not received a reply to that email. I guess spammers don’t actually like it when you point how just how much they spam…
Their Report & Recommendations
Their PDF SEO Report was obviously automatically generated as it still had the branding of the free tool that was used to create it on the PDF (several other SEO spammers, including Spider Infoserve and iMark Infotech, have also sent me reports using this tool; but some of them had at least managed to put their own logo on it…)!
These reports, which anyone can do for any site, take about a minute to generate, so that’s not exactly a lot of work…
At the top of the report were several ‘scores’.
There’s an SEO Score (my site got 91/100 – pretty good!) and then scores for various ‘SEO Checks’ that have been run.
My site passed 43/48 of the checks, had 5 ‘failed’ checks and 1 warning. So let’s look some more at the failed checks from this automated check.
SEO Friendly URL Test – Your webpage contains URLs that are not SEO friendly!
Yes, there are some underscores in some of the URLs on my site. It’s now thought that hyphens in URLs are better. But when I created the site back in 2000, the reverse was thought to be the correct thing to do! And anyway many of the pages with underscores in them are #1 on Google for their respective results out of several million results (or in the case of ‘the christmas story’ a couple of billion) so they can’t be hurting the SEO much… So I’ll say this is ‘Not Applicable’.
Google Analytics Test – A Google Analytics script is not detected on this page. While there are several tools available to monitor your site’s visitors and traffic sources, Google Analytics is a free, commonly recommended program to help diagnose potential SEO issues.
Yes, I don’t have Google Analytics on my site. I used to, but now I use a different, server based, analytics tools. There are a couple of reasons for this. The UK Government has updated its advice about how tracking cookies can be used on sites and this affects things like Google Analytics. I don’t want visitors to my site to have an annoying pop-up and I like privacy, so I’m happy to now use a non tracking system… And not having Google Analytics installed WILL NOT directly affect SEO on a site. So basically this is WRONG to be a ‘failed’ test.
Page Objects Test – Your page uses more than 20 http requests, which can slow down page loading and negatively impact user experience.
Again that’s a true statement. But again, it’s very misleading simply to say having more than 20 HTTP requests is a ‘failure’. My site has 37 requests but it also loads VERY VERY quickly. (And if we look at their own site it has 114 requests, more on this below…) So again we’ll say this is ‘Not Applicable’.
Page Cache Test (Server Side Caching) – It does not appear that you are caching your pages. Cached pages serve up static html and avoid potentially time consuming queries to your database. It also helps lower server load by up to 80%.
The rather odd thing about this (wrong) error is that my site IS static HTML! It’s also got TWO caching levels on it – one on the server and then I’m also using a service called ‘CloudFlare’ to help the site load faster and this also does extra caching! The automated test clearly can’t see this… (The auto PDF also suggests three caching plugins for WordPress, only my site isn’t using WordPress!) So this is simply WRONG.
Structured Data Test – Your webpage doesn’t take the advantages of HTML Microdata specifications in order to markup structured data.
Structured/Micro Data can be really useful, in certain cases (like for contact details or an upcoming event, etc.). But my site simply doesn’t need any Structured Data. So we’ll say this is ‘Not Applicable’.
There’s also a ‘warning’ for URL Redirects. However, this is only due to how they entered the URL of my site in the testing tool. The redirects are set-up to work how they should, so this is also ‘Not Applicable’.
So out of the five ‘failed’ auto checks, two are ‘wrong’ and the other three are ‘not applicable’! So I’m guessing my site should really get a 100/100 SEO Score!!!
But remember that Sud said that “the On-Page optimizations are already present” and I guess they’re right! But he also said that “there are multiple errors & issues with the website navigations, SEO friendly URLs, no google analytics, page test, data structure including the absence of backlinks & Off-Page activities” which doesn’t sound good, but as we’ve seen things like the SEO friendly URLs, not having Google Analytics and ‘data structure’, aren’t actually applicable (or are simply wrong)…
As we know what their ‘off page’ activities would be, let’s see if they’d actually be of any help. It seems that their big thing is to ‘create backlinks’. This is a good thing to do, but search engines are getting much smarter about detecting spammy ways of doing it, so you need to be careful.
Sud said they would create backlinks through:
Article submissions – This involves adding articles(!) to sites where anyone can add information. It can be a good way of adding backlinks IF it’s done correctly. If you do it too much it can be detected as spammy. Sadly there are lots of ‘article directory’ sites which are simply used by SEO spammer to dump things on to try and get backlinks. Having links from ‘bad’ sites can do more harm than not having the backlinks in the first place! Also, because of this being used by dodgy spammers, many article sites not add ‘nofollow’ to any links to sites, meaning that you won’t actually get any ‘google juice’ from these links…
Social bookmarkings – This involves getting pages on your site added on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, etc. Again it can help IF done correctly. Simply getting a load of links added on rubbish/junk accounts will not help you…
Blog posts – Having blog posts about topics on your site can help (like this one on SEO spammers!). You can have your own blog (like this one) you can do ‘guest posts’ on some blogs and there are also blog/news type sites where anyone can add content (this is more like adding articles as above). But, yet again, having junk posts on junk blogs is not going to help. Getting quality posts on quality sites is not simple. You can read my post about my email exchange with a spammer offering ‘guest posting’ on sites, which wasn’t quite what they were initially offering! Like with the articles, many blog sites will add ‘nofollow’ to links to help them being involved with spammy SEO-ness!
keywords maping – (mapping was spelt incorrectly by Sud…) This is rather odd as this WILL NOT generate any backlinks! Keyword mapping is for ‘on page’ SEO. It consists of analysing your own site and target/map specific keywords to certain pages, based on keyword research, to make them more ‘findable’ in search results. e.g. on my site’s page about the history of Christmas Cards, there are keywords (content!) about the history of Christmas cards! So to list this as part of backlink building is simply WRONG.
google analytics – As we’ve seen above, Google Analytics WILL NOT directly help with SEO. It also WILL NOT help with getting any backlinks! So, just like keyword mapping, listing it as part of backlink building is just WRONG (and somewhat bizarre).
forum posting – This is a bit like adding blog posts but involves going on forums and adding content and links to your site. This was a popular ‘dodgy’ way of getting backlinks a few years ago as spammy SEO types would simply register accounts on lots of forums (of any and all subjects whether related to the subject of your site or not) and then stick links in the ‘signature’ of your account profile. But forum posts are falling out of favour with quite a few SEO people (at least legit ones) as now many forums have much better anti spam tools, like adding ‘nofollow’ tags on links and auto deleting unused accounts after a certain period of time. For this to be affective, you really need to properly engage on forums related to your topic and spend quality time there; and this might not be something that an SEO company could do for you as you’ll know much more about sites & subject than any SEO company could!
broken link building – This can be a couple of things. One is where you find broken links to your site and ask people to correct them. The other is where you find a now dead/broken link (often from a site that no longer exists) in your ‘niche’. You then either hopefully have some content that’s already about it, or your create some on your site, and then you ask the site(s) which link to the dead link to link to you instead. That might sound somewhat complex – and it often is! It can take a lot of time and effort finding the dead/broken links and then you have to contact and follow up the sites where any bad links are. And there’s no guarantee that the sites will update their links! So it can work, but it’s often not simple and often doesn’t get great results.
content marketing – This is another item which is primarily ‘on site’ and not really about creating backlinks as such! Content Marketing is a very broad term about creating content which drives people to your site. This can be just good content on your site(!) as well as things like e-books, podcasts, videos, etc. which are then often shared on social media. This can be a very good way of getting traffic to your site, but again it can be a lot of work to be done properly.
QnA submissions – This is somewhat similar to articles, blog posts and forums, but instead you add answers on sites where people ask questions. Like the other forms above, these sites often add ‘nofollow’ tags to links and this is really best done by experts and like with forums, an SEO company probably aren’t the best people to do this.
& many more – oooh more… I wonder if this could be things like comment spam, which will do more harm than good!
Some of the above can certain help with backlinks *if done properly*. But also some of the above have NOTHING to do with backlinks whatsoever!
I also wonder if they’ve checked the existing backlinks. Using a leading backlinks checker, it says my site already has about 103,000+ backlinks with 91% of them being ‘dofollow’ (meaning they ‘help’ for SEO). Using the same tool, it says their site has 742 backlinks with 24% being ‘dofollow’!
So if there’s a site that needs help with backlinks, it’s their one…
Looking at Their Site
With SEO spammers, I also like to look at their sites, to see if they practice what they preach (I mean would you trust a plumber who had leaking and rusty pipes all over their own house?!); and also to compare their site with a site they say they can help…
Their main site is: https://www.digitalxplode.com/
For HTML Validation, my site has no errors. Their site has 6 errors and 0 warnings. That’s actually rather good for the site of an SEO spammer! And the errors are really odd ones, which I think are more to do with the off the shelf theme they’re using (more on this below).
On Google Pagespeed their site gets:
Desktop: 62/100 (that’s about ok)
Mobile: 14/100 (that’s pretty terrible)
My site gets:
Mobile: 99/100 – so both considerably better using Google’s own speed testing tool!
Using the ‘WAVE’ Accessibility Testing Tool, their site has 55 errors and 46 contrast errors – that’s pretty appalling. My site has no errors of either kind!
As Digital Xplode had used an automated tool on my site, I thought it would be interesting to use the same tool on their site! They had 10 ‘failed’ checks (so double the number I had – and they want to help me with my site?!); but interestingly they failed three of the same checks as my site.
These were for ‘Page Objects Test’, ‘Page Cache Test’ (they use WordPress for this site – like this site does – but I can see that they don’t have a cache in place on WordPress) and ‘Structured Data Test’ (where it would be of use on their site as they’ve got lots of contact info).
The home page link on their site takes you to a page with the url ‘Home page version 8’, rather than the actually home page (although the logo takes you to the real home page). Their theme is an off the shelf theme (called ‘SEO Lounge’), which comes with multiple home page versions. So I guess they’re using home page version 8! It’s just a shame that they don’t know how to set-up their site properly to use it!
They say they’re located in Missouri City, Texas (which is on the outskirts of Houston). But the address they list on their site actually belongs to a UPS store in an out of town ‘strip mall’.
The whole strip mall was indexed in Google Street View in January 2019 and there were NO technology companies in it at all. Yet they’ve supposedly have been in business there since 2017!
That address is also on the site of another iffy looking SEO company called ‘Digital Qcubes’ who also list an address in Noida, India (and the Digital Qcubes site is very broken…).
And… amazingly (well not really) one of the addresses in India, on their their footer (mentioned above), is IDENTICAL to the one on the Digital Qcubes site. So this SEO spammer is clearly based in Noida, like many SEO spammers.
Their phone number has an ‘833’ area code which is a code that anyone, in any location, can get. They also have a very bad reputation for being used by scammers!
So I very much doubt that they have any connection to the USA whatsoever.
On their home page they have six ‘SEO Awards’ images. Five are graphics and the sixth is the photo of an actual awards trophy. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that reverse image searches for all of these images, shows that they ALL appear to come from the site of another Indian based SEO company! (And in the reverse image search you can see a large photo of the trophy where you can clearly read the name of the other company on it).
So shall we say that I’m less than convinced that Digital Xplode are actually ‘award winning’ themselves…
On their home page there’s a ‘our latest work’ section with six sites (four of which are related to testimonials also on the home page).
The first is for a Dominican food restaurant in New Jersey. Sadly just like their own site it’s full of HTML and accessibility issues. It uses an off the shelf HTML site theme, from the same site theme store where they got their own site’s theme! There are two testimonials on the restaurant’s site, but both of the photos that go with them are stock photos, so not the people supposedly giving the testimonials.
So it appears that Digital Xplode are happy to be less than truthful on their client’s sites as well as on their own site!!!
The second site is for a logistics company, but the site no longer exists and the link just goes to a hosting company holding page.
The third site is for some kind of consultants. I can’t tell you what kind as this site doesn’t work either. It displays a very odd security error when you try and visit it.
The fourth site is one that sells clothing for a university in Louisiana. The site is a very basic Shopify store.
The fifth site is for a trash collection company in Georgia, USA. Just like the site for the restaurant, it uses an off the shelf HTML theme and is full of basic HTML and accessibility issues and also has stock/fake photos for their ‘testimonials’.
The sixth site is for a wine company in California. This is another Shopify site and actually looks pretty good!
Having two broken sites in your ‘recent work’ isn’t exactly impressive. Neither is using fake photos on testimonials!
You might have also noticed that their email reply to me had the subject “Fwd: 3rd Lead of July – SEO (https://jpc-design.com/)” so for “Best digital marketing services in texas” as they claim to be, they don’t seem to get many leads as they spammed me on the 24th of July!!!
One other ‘interesting’ thing is that on the Gmail account that Sud has replied to me on, there’s a profile image. For a business you might expect it to be their logo or something similar. However, for this account it’s a illustration of a young man with a beard. Doing a reverse image search shows that it’s been used on a few sites. These includes a school where it’s used for all the staff(!), on the about page for a site in India which sells, erm, ‘adult’ things(…) and also as the profile picture on an account on a forum where rather dodgy SEO methods are discussed. I’m not saying that Digital Xplode are associated with any of the above, but I did find it interesting!
Digital Xplode are (yet another) spammy SEO company that sends out spams from behind fake names and random emails and that appears not to know some of the basics of SEO and accessibility; as well as seemingly being less than truthful about their location…
And the fact that they are happy to add fake photos of people for ‘testimonials’ on their clients’ sites also seems less than trustworthy.
So if you get an email from Digital Xplode, the delete button might be the best option.
But the choice, as ever, is yours.