Your current SEO agency is going to hate getting called out, but I have to do it.
There is a deep, dark secret in the world of SEO. We all know what it is. We stay silent because we don’t want to promulgate the notion that some SEO isn’t on the up and up. But, the fact is, when reputable SEO firms stay silent, we allow the smoke and mirror nonsense to continue.
It’s got to stop. For the love of all that’s good in the SEO world, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the nefarious SEO consultants and companies who make us all look bad.
Do you suspect that you’re working with a bad SEO firm? If so, the faster you figure it out, the better.
I present to you 15 warning signs that you’re dealing with a firm that doesn’t deserve your money.
Warning Signs Your SEO Agency Is No Good
1. Their guarantees seem too good to be true.
If an SEO professional promises to get you to number one for a prized search term, it might be tempting to sign on the dotted line, but don’t do it!
There’s nobody (really, not one person) in the world that can guarantee you’ll rank in the top spot for a specific term. Google’s algorithms are tightly protected and constantly evolving, making it impossible for anyone to keep a promise like that.
Beware of agencies that attach a specific timeline to results, such as, “we’ll double your traffic in a month” (or even three months). Meaningful SEO results take time. Anyone promising overnight results is likely planning to engage in less-than-savory SEO tactics. They’ll just as quickly leave you high and dry when Google checks if you’ve been naughty or nice. Trust me, Google sees everything, so be good for goodness sake.
While I’m dabbling in tropes and old adages, this one is apropos…
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Run as fast as you can in the opposite direction of SEO consultants who promise you the moon. There’s no way they can deliver it.
2. They offer rock-bottom pricing.
Quality SEO costs money. If someone offers to “do your SEO” for $500, beware that there’s no way they can provide you with the time and attention that delivers quality results for that amount of money. I don’t have to tell you, you get what you pay for.
That being said, higher pricing doesn’t guarantee better results. See #7 below. If you pay a premium for SEO services and don’t see evidence of your SEO company’s work , then you’re not receiving the value commensurate with your costs.
3. They approach SEO as an isolated activity.
SEO is not a stand-alone marketing strategy. A comprehensive SEO campaign might impact PR activities, website design, and technical considerations. As Google continues to prioritize user experience, you can expect it to become even more important as a ranking factor. Social media, press mentions, and PPC all have a role to play in your online reputation and visibility. Proposed SEO content should integrate with your existing content marketing strategy, and your development team should be open to implementing technical recommendations your SEO agency makes.
If your SEO consultant approaches your campaign as if it exists in a vacuum, their lack of integrated marketing knowledge will limit the success of your SEO efforts.
4. They claim to have inside intel about the algorithm.
They don’t. It’s that simple. If your agency has thousands of hours of experience working on SEO for other businesses, they’ve definitely learned a thing or two. Still, you can be sure that they don’t have any insider info from Google about how search works.
5. They have no communication plan.
You could be working with the best strategists in the world, but if there’s no planned schedule for communication, how will they keep you informed, and how will you keep them accountable?
You should have a direct line of communication to a responsive human being you can trust so that anytime you have a question or notice something amiss with your rankings, you can contact them for a conversation. Your SEO agency should set you up with a regular schedule of easy-to-understand updates and follow up on any action items from those meetings.
The less an SEO agency wants to communicate with you, the less of your confidence they deserve.
If you’re talking to an agency that doesn’t offer regular communication, find someone else.
6. Their own digital house is not in order.
There’s an old saying that the cobbler’s children have no shoes. It comes from an ironic folk tale about a cobbler who’s too busy making beautiful shoes for his customers to make any shoes for his own children. Some SEO agencies might claim that they’re too busy working on their clients’ content and search visibility to improve their own online presence.
I don’t buy it and neither should you.
Watch out for these red flags indicating an SEO company that lacks the rigor to practice their craft on their own behalf.
Thin, Poor Quality Content on Their Website
When researching SEO consultants , take a few minutes to check out their website before you call them. You should find detailed explanations of complex concepts, information about their SEO practices, and some idea about their contract structure or pricing for their services. These are essential details that you need to know as a prospective client.
If an agency can’t produce quality content for themselves, they can’t help you either.
Failing to Rank for Their Own Industry Keywords
Like I said, if an agency can’t get their own business to rank, they most likely can’t get your business to rank either.
7. They have no best practices to share with you.
Your SEO agency should be able to show you the actual SEO practices they’re using on your behalf — not just plans, not just results — but the demonstrable activities that will get you from point A to point B.
These are just a few things that a good SEO agency might provide in the first several weeks of a contract:
An SEO Audit, Including:
- A technical sweep of your site
- An analysis of your site’s link profile
- A review of your content
- Actionable recommendations based on their findings.
A Strategic Overview for Your SEO Campaign
Your SEO consultant should provide a roadmap that clearly explains how they intend to support your marketing objectives with SEO. If someone says they “can’t” share their techniques with you, it’s most likely because they plan to use ill-advised (and penalty-inducing) methods to deliver fast results that won’t last.
Evidence of Their Work
Your SEO firm should be able to deliver evidence of their work, such as:
Whether creating new SEO content, enriching thin content, or optimizing your existing pages, your SEO firm should be able to deliver improvements to your site’s content.
Real articles with links to your content
You’ll want to see where your money for backlinks is going so you can confirm you’re receiving meaningful links on reputable websites. You’ll also want to check that your backlink anchor text isn’t overly optimized.
8. They don’t ask you for anything.
You’re paying them to do the SEO. Why should they be asking you for anything? Because an SEO company worth its salt will want to dig in with you to understand how they can align their activities to support your goals .
It’s a big problem if your agency doesn’t ask you for:
- Your business objectives and marketing goals
- Details about your industry and your major competitors
- Important keywords for your niche
- Information about past audits, penalties, or SEO campaigns
- View or Admin access to your Google Analytics account
Good SEO agencies want to partner with you to help your business succeed. Partnerships require conversation and collaboration. It’s an excellent sign if your SEO company has a detailed in-take process to give them insights into how to support your business.
9. They have no suggestions for improvements.
Every single SEO audit reveals some room for improvement. If your SEO agency doesn’t come to you with a list of actionable improvements to make to your site after they run an audit, let them go. You want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly, so you can make your content and site experience better. That’s how you’ll improve your search rankings.
10. Your rankings drop.
Not just a little bit. Not just for one day. But, if your rankings start to tank and continue to roll downhill for a few days, your SEO firm may have done something to get your site penalized.
11. Your traffic drops.
Same as above. If you have a steep drop in traffic and your agency can’t turn things around, it’s time to seek a second opinion.
12. You start ranking for the wrong keywords.
Ranking for the wrong keywords is a sure sign of sloppy SEO work. Your consultant’s keyword research should be highly targeted and specific to your business. If you’re ranking for the wrong keywords, the only traffic you’ll attract to your site is looking for something entirely different from what you offer.
13. You see an uptick in suspicious backlinks to your website.
One of the most common shortcuts of poor SEOs is to purchase spammy backlinks that will create a temporary spike in your website traffic. If you see direct traffic coming from websites that have nothing to do with your business, disavow them and fire your agency before they do any more damage to your site’s trustworthiness.
14. The relationship is transactional.
A true SEO partner celebrates your wins and wants to see your business thrive. If they employ a strategy that doesn’t return the results you were hoping for, they’re right there with you, evaluating the situation, taking lessons from what didn’t work, and coming up with a revised strategy.
A reputable SEO agency is transparent about how it can improve your results. If you’re working with someone who only ever talks about what’s going right, you’re only getting half the story.
Even better is when your SEO company is all-in on educating their customers about how SEO works. Empowering you to understand search optimization is an investment in your partnership.
That’s the difference between having a partner and hiring a vendor. A partner digs in and weathers the storm with you. A vendor sends a bill.
15. You get a manual penalty.
Hopefully, you’ve identified that you need to switch SEO agencies long before this happens to you because a manual penalty is one of the worst things that can happen to your site.
In all fairness, it might not be your agency’s fault. But if you get a manual penalty just a couple of months after onboarding a new SEO company, you should question the timing.
Dig into why your site was penalized and hold your agency accountable for helping you get clarity on the situation. If your SEO consultant is the least bit unhelpful with this process, cut your losses and find someone else who can help you set things right before your business suffers any more ill consequences from someone else’s actions.
4 Things to Expect From a Great SEO Agency
I hope my list of warning signs hasn’t scared you off from SEO entirely. The fact is, there are a lot of great SEO providers you can trust to do an outstanding job for your business and help you gain visibility in search results.
When you find the SEO company for you, you can expect a professional, transparent partnership that includes:
1. Clarity of Expectations
An above-board SEO agency aligns its strategy with your goals and is exceedingly clear with you about the results you can expect from your campaign. They want you to know exactly what the process entails and are entirely transparent and communicative with you about everything that happens after you sign a contract.
2. Being Treated Like a Partner
From your account manager to your customer success manager and every strategist working on your campaign — the only metrics that matter are the ones that help your business thrive. Your questions and opinions are fodder for great conversations that move everyone toward the highest outcome for your business.
3. An Understandable Process
SEO strategists can clearly explain to you what tactics they’re employing on your behalf and why they’re working or not. When you have monthly meetings to review your campaign, your agency presents results clearly, recommends next steps, and listens to your questions, concerns, and suggestions.
SEO is a data-driven activity with a clear set of metrics that point to a successful campaign. By setting clear goals at the beginning of your relationship and having monthly check-ins, you can hold your SEO firm accountable to deliver on their commitment to you.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Partnership
I understand the temptation to blindly hand the SEO reins over to somebody who’s promised you quick results. But doing so will rob you of the opportunity to gain a trusted partner who’s as committed to your success as you are. Worst case scenario, a disreputable SEO company could take your money while engaging in SEO practices that damage your business.
If you suspect your SEO company is doing you wrong, it’s time to find someone that will do right by your business. Reach out for a free SEO consultation and experience the difference that partnership makes.