Experts Share Red Flags To Watch Out For When Selecting An SEO Agency

Selecting the right SEO agency for your business can be a tough decision. With so many agencies to choose from, it can be difficult to spot the real experts from the ones who could end up having your website traveling in wrong direction.

So many agencies claim to be search engine marketing specialists, so how do you know if you’re picking the right one?

We spoke with six SEO experts to find out what you should be looking for in a good agency, and what should immediately raise a red flag

Will Craig
Managing Director
Digital Impact

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO agency?

WILL: Before you hire a SEO agency be very aware of how transparent they are with their strategies. A lack of transparency is a glaring red flag. If they try to complicate terms and throw out jargon to depict SEO and the work they do as some mystifying procedure that only experts understand - they are throwing you off the scent.

Legitimate and reliable SEO agencies will share with you a detailed strategy for how they plan to reach your goals. Whether that be boosting traffic, gaining backlinks or converting customers they should have a comprehensive plan in place that they can talk through with you including best practices and proven tracked results.

Disreputable and borderline shady agencies might use improper practices such as “Black HAT SEO techniques” including content spinning, keyword stuffing, spam emails and buying backlinks. Not only will this severely damage your business reputation but can get you penalized by Google and have your entire website shut down.

So avoid any agencies that are reluctant to share their strategies, and even more so with agencies that have no results or non-existent reporting. Look instead for candid, reputable agencies that have a wealth of knowledge to share and the reports and case studies to back this up.

Kent Lewis

PAUL: What should people look for when hiring an SEO Agency?

KENT: Education. On the most basic front, an SEM vendor should add value by educating you, the client, by sharing its knowledge of SEO strategies, tactics, technologies and trends.

Feedback. Do they provide input on future iterations of client products and services, based on experience and feedback collected from customers online?

Strategy. If you're the type of company that is always looking for that edge and is open to input from vendor partners, you should look for unsolicited advice from your SEO vendor, beyond organic search strategy.

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO agency?

KENT: Price. If the vendor in question provides a budget that feels low, especially compared to competitive bids, it probably is. Be wary of aggressive pricing that manifests in different ways: a junior team with little experience or oversight that will under-perform, offshoring to another country that isn’t vested in your business and provides questionable quality output, poor executive management or sales team decisions that lead to an unprofitable and therefore unsustainable engagement.

Rebecca Caldwell
SEO Strategist
Mash Media

PAUL: What should people look for when hiring an SEO agency? 

REBECCA: As with any new relationship, you should hire an agency that aligns with your own company's ethics, vision and ensure they are a good fit with you and your staff. Engaging an agency is like hiring a new employee and of course you would want to make sure that you can talk to them as equals, and you are both on the same page as far as your marketing strategies.

Technical knowledge and case studies attesting to their success for other clients is also important, once you know that you are comfortable with them as a marketing partner, you must then vet their expertise.

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO agency?

REBECCA: The number one red flag is a guarantee of rankings in X amount of time. I know many SEO agencies that offer guarantees, but not as far as "this keyword" to X position in 2 months. I would run for the hills. SEO is an ongoing project and the time it takes to get results is largely out of the hands of the SEO professional. 

Questions I would ask are:

1. What is the search volume of the keyword you are promising to rank me for? - Many times, yes it can be easy to rank for something no one cares about, and so what if you are number one for a keyword no one searches for? 

2. Do you outsource any of your work? Do they leave strategy decisions to someone in a non english speaking country? I have seen many times where the point of the SEO strategy was missed and the client's website has ended up being keyword stuffed and bad forum based links were built to it, reducing it's reputation.

Garrett Smith
Pitch + Pivot

PAUL: What should people look for when hiring an SEO agency? 

GARRETT: When looking to hire an SEO agency you want to see proven results and a well developed plan for you. An SEO agency should be able to prove that they have worked with other companies before and increased their search rankings. Ask them to show you their prior results. Along with previous results you will want to see a plan of action tailored for your business. Do they understand what keywords/phrases to target, do they know the competitive landscape, and do they have actions ready to go to complete this plan.

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO agency?

GARRETT: As for red flags that you should be on the look for when hiring an SEO agency, I would suggest staying away from companies with enormous promises. When an SEO agency says they are going to get you to the number search result for all your keywords/phrases within a short time period, I would be skeptical. For an agency to promise that within a highly competitive space is poor business. SEO is competitive and can't be fulfilled in that exact way. Avoid agencies that are selling you the dream and focus on the ones that are selling you a plan and a business relationship to naturally grow your search rankings. 

Trenton Miller

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO agency?

Trenton: SSL/HTTPS. Check the SEO Agency’s website. Does it redirect to https by default? Does it include a secure connection? SSL/HTTPS is basically mandatory in 2018, and if they don’t implement this on their own website, I’d suggest ignoring them completely. That is a dead giveaway that they are out-of-touch with current SEO trends.

Black-Hat/White-Hat. Take a bit of time to educate yourself on SEO and the difference between Black-Hat SEO and White-Hat SEO. Spending an hour reading through Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO will be time well spent in the long run. You don’t want to find yourself months later realizing you wasted plenty of time and money only to find yourself in a worse position than when you started because you unknowingly hired a black-hat SEO agency. For example, if they are trying to sell you backlinks, run for the hills! Instead, hire an agency that is selling you high-quality content in the form of blog posts 1,000-2,000 words each. They should also be talking about optimizing titles and descriptions, removing duplicate content, redirecting old URLs, and earning backlinks through quality content. Spending that an hour’s worth of time educating yourself will make you an informed consumer in the SEO world, and in the long run, you’l be glad you read up on the latest trends. After all, in the world of SEO, tactics that works 10, 5 or even 3 years ago may actually penalize you in 2018.

Blogging. Check the SEO Agency’s blog. Do they keep it up to date? Are they trying to establish themselves as an expert in the industry? If not, there are probably better alternatives out there. If they haven’t posted in over a year, keep shopping around. They likely don’t take their business as seriously as they should. Every good SEO knows keeping your website and your blog updated and active is a key ingredient in a well optimized website. Also check their social networks to see how well those are updated. Social media plays an important factor in SEO value, as Google looks at engagement such as Likes and Shares on social media networks.

Bill Leake
Apogee Results

PAUL: What should raise red flags when hiring an SEO Agency?

Bill: In my mind, instant “check your wallet, start backing up, and find a different agency” red flags include quite a few items, including not being able to supply references, preferably from FORMER clients (you learn a lot more about an agency during the break up process than during the dating ones, not asking you about access to Google Analytics or Google AdWords in the sales process (not asking this shows they don’t really understand how all these things can link together to create an optimal campaign), not having a clear link-building strategy laid out in their proposal (off-page is still the largest part of the Google algorithm, yet most SEO agencies still compulsively avoid this hard work), not having “easy exit” terms for you in their contract, not being able or willing to tell you specifically HOW they plan to help you (anyone deferring to “that’s our secret sauce” is a walk-way — you are the client) AND, finally, offering a rankings guarantee (counterintuitive, but classic sign of a low-end, low-skill provider)

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Paul Gallagher

Paul Gallagher is a digital marketing expert, and the CCO of Spooky Digital. Paul worked in Europe for huge brands like MoneySupermarket and Google Squared before co-founding Spooky Digital in New York. He has a keen focus on content marketing and believes in driving new business through educational and engaging content.

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