As I was out searching for new tools to beef up my SEO tech stack with new tools, I accidentally ended up discovering the quite crazy world of SEO group buy sites… and was actually quite surprised by their popularity and sophistication… as well by the amount of fake reviews for affiliate marketing purposes. So I’ve decided to give it a try and check what’s really behind the curtains of the SEO group buy world.
What is an SEO group buy?
SEO group buying is a practice where multiple users group together to buy one SEO tool sharing the same account and, of course, its cost. This way instead of paying $179/month for a single tool you can end up paying in a range between $20 and $50 to access a suite of 10, sometimes 30 or 40 different tools.
Don’t believe me? Just watch:
Crazy, isn’t it? For $29 you can get any kind of SEO tool (and actually also non SEO tools like Hootsuite). Any of these tools alone would likely cost more than $29/month if purchased legally and not through a group buy.
Of course it’s not that simple and not limited to a couple of friends teaming up to cut expenses. As I browsed the various websites offering these services (no, I’m not gonna link any of them!) I quickly realised it’s a quite big movement with very shady websites running it as a business and likely making big profits out of it by buying one subscription and reselling it to hundreds of different users.
From my standpoint, no matter if it’s a scam or not (more on this in a moment), it’s really a despicable practice where the company developing and supporting the software is making few bucks while illegal operators are likely making thousands of dollars per month. Personally I just see it as the evolution of software piracy in a subscription based world.
Is software group buying legal?
If it’s legal or not really comes down to each of those tools’ Terms of services. I’d bet accessing those tools through a group buy is illegal in 95% of the cases. No developer would want his product abused in this way and most of the marketing tools nowadays are sold on a “per user” basis so sharing the same account among multiple users is not allowed.
As a startup founder I’ve been dealing with group buying of AdEspresso in the past and I can guarantee you we did everything possible to shut them down. The problem is they don’t care if it’s illegal. They know it is, but they’re making a profit out of it and they’re usually in countries where it’s really tough to go after them.
So for the maker of the tools it often comes down to a cat and mouse game where you need to outsmart them and put in place every check possible to detect subscribers reselling their account and shutting them down.
Given how most of the websites (as you can see in the picture above) doing seo group buy mask Ahref and Semrush name, I guess these two tools are pretty active hunting them down and suspending their accounts.
Finally if I was not clear enough, no matter if it’s legal or not, it’s just morally wrong. If most of the users were going through SEO group buy, most of the tools we love and use every day would be out of business or would not have enough resources to keep improving their products.
Just don’t do it. And don’t sell me the usual BS: “I’m just doing it to try out products before buying”. Almost all the tools in the list above have a free trial or a $1 trial. You can afford $1.
Is Group Buying just for SEO?
Not really, for what I found on Google the two big trends in group buying are SEO and online marketing courses.
I don’t really know why this focus but if I had to guess:
- SEO tools are usually among the most expensive in the marketing stack
- Top online courses are extremely expensive and they can easily cost thousands of dollars
- Online courses are quite easy to share, just rip the video and post them on torrent
- Even if you are on a tight budget, if you’re doing SEO, you’ll likely need some tools. A lot of SEO tasks cannot be performed manually
There are some websites selling any kind of software but they are even more scammy and unprofessional than the ones I tested… so I didn’t feel safe enough to try. As I told you some of them were even re-selling AdEspresso.
Ok, let’s try to Group buy some SEO tools
I’ve found a lot of websites selling these kind of deals. All of them have poor quality, poor english and a terrible user experience. I would not trust leaving my credit card on any of them, so I’ve choose one that supported Paypal and on another one I used a prepaid credit card.
For what I could see from the outside I think there are a bunch of big providers here and a huge amount of resellers and affiliate marketers. Overall the offers had very little differentiation. Everyone was offering the same set tools.I did some research on Google and Quora and finally found one of the root service providers.
I just went for the most expensive package: $29 to get access to more than 60 tools.
If you are expecting a clean subscription experience and nice onboarding forget about it! The whole process was complex and full of warning signs at each step.
Quite confusing isn’t it? They support Paypal but you have to manually talk with them to find out how to pay, otherwise you can pay either through Stripe or an indian payment processor.
Also interesting are the final notes. For Mac there’s an extra fee that you have to pay but no mention of how to pay for it at check out.
Clearly they also have an issue with refunds. Likely Paypal doesn’t know the kind of business they’re running and it’s very likely if people complain about the specific product they bought in disputes, Paypal will suspend their accounts. So they ask you to be human and ask them for a refund instead.
It’s an indicator that it’s quite common for people to ask for a refund. Let’s find out why.
After the payment… which doesn’t seem to be a subscription I access a very messy user page:
It’s a maze of links, Youtube videos and everything is messy. I contact customer support and I’m quite impressed… actually they answer through Whatsapp in few seconds in a very bad english. I have to pay the extra $5.
Of course they mess up and charge me $29+$5 … so I have to ask for a refund.
The first transaction is from an Exam preparation company. Clearly they’re not telling Stripe they real business. The second transaction is not even in USD and from another company … anyway after a while I manage to sort it out and I’m surprised.
The system is actually quite sophisticated. To avoid the tools from detecting the abuse, they’ve setup a Windows server which you have to access through a remote desktop.
There you find a custom made software to access to access the tools. These guys are making good money to justify the effort to build all this infrastructure.
However I already know I’d never use such system even if I wanted to. It’s really slow since you’re routed through another server somewhere in the world. Also you cannot directly store files or upload them. You’d likely have to use Wetransfer. And of course there’s no way I’m gonna log into my email on this computer.
Anyway, once their custom app loads I’m presented with a list of tools.
I contact customer support and learn that most of the tools are not available “right now” … probably never were. For Ahref and SemRush there’s a different procedure because they apparently have more security checks in place.
I already wasted too much time and I’m not even going to try yet another procedure. So I just try to log in the tools that are here.
Here’s another surprise of the Seo Group Buy world. Apparently only one user at a time can access the tools through last pass.
I’m not able to log on 90% of the tools because someone is already using them. Business is healthy :)
After wasting an hour trying to use something I mange to access SpyFu.
It’s super slow and I’d never use it for work. The cost of the tool is way lower than what it would cost you in terms of wasted time. Plus I immediately realise the huge privacy issue. Every user accessing the tools can get hints of what the previous one has done. Would you want someone to look into your keywords and researches?
My final test before giving up is to try FindThatLead … not a SEO tool but I’m curious. Another surprise:
It’s maxed out and over the limit so it doesn’t work. Clearly Seo group buyers did like the tool :)
Bad luck or all the Seo Group Buy sites are like this?
As a final test I decide to try another site just to check if I was unlucky with this one even tho’ I actually think it was one of the best. I google a website that offer SurferSeo. It’s a tool I’ve been looking into for a while now and I’m curious to have a look at it.
The Group buy experience on this second website is even worst and all I get after paying is an email saying I have to pay. Well done.
After a while tho’ I receive an email saying the order is completed and they’re working on the activation.
Finally I get another email saying SurferSeo is not available right now and I’ll have to wait.
I jump on Facebook Messenger… this site prefers messenger over Whatsapp apparently.
Took me a few more days to see my money back but at least I got refunded. My best guess is most seo group buy services are like this and they likely list a lot of tools they don’t really have.
So… is it worth it to use Seo group buy?
One word: NO.
I’ll let you decide whatever SEO group buy is a scam or not. You could argue that at least partially one provider delivered something … but overall the experience was really bad.
To sum it up:
- It’s morally wrong. You’re stealing money and hurting the industry.
- You won’t get what you paid for most of the time
- You’ll waste a huge amount of time and loose productivity
- You’ll expose your work and research to other people … for sure not very honest people
Given most of these tools provide a trial… just go try them out. You don’t need 20 tools. Just pick the two you need and buy them. In few days the hours you’ll have saved will be worth more than what you’ve spent and you won’t put your data at risk (including your credit card data).
PS: If you’re wondering, I’ve subscribed to Ahref. $179/mo but totally worth it. I also signed up for a SurferSeo trial … very interesting tool. My trial expired today and I think I’m gonna subscribe at least for a few months.