Signing up with an incompetent SEO agency can do considerable harm to your business. If you are not technical, or don’t understand the basics of how SEO works, hiring an agency may even be a frightening prospect. Bad SEO can fail to attract traffic to your web site, and even worse, it can make it go down.
Do you suspect that you’re currently working with a bad firm? If so, the faster you figure it out, the better. To help you do that, this article will review 12 warning signs that you’re dealing with a poor quality firm.
While this post is focused on how to recognize if you the agency you have is a problem, you can use many of these tips to qualify a firm before you start. Either way, don’t stay connected with a bad firm. Take action and move on!
Rating Your SEO Firm
The Most Common Problems
1. They Won’t Tell You What They Are Doing. This is a clear and immediate indication that what is happening is bad. SEO is a form of marketing. You would never let your PR firm run off and do whatever they felt like doing without telling you, and your SEO firm is no different. Demand that your SEO firm explain everything they are doing, and if they are not willing to do that, then you should fire them on the spot.
This is especially true for any agency you have involved in performing content marketing (or link building) for you. Review every single site where they propose to obtain a link for you, just as you would with your PR agency. This part of SEO is a form of PR, and each place where you publish content, or get written about, is a reflection of your brand. Make sure it’s a positive image you are creating out there!
This does place a burden on your organization to learn what the SEO firm is doing, but do not try to sidestep this responsibility. If you don’t have the resources to do this yet, you should probably hold off on pursuing SEO until you do!
2. You Can’t Understand Their Explanation. Closely related to the first warning sign, if the firm does talk to you about what they are doing, but they’re not able to help you understand it, then they are not a match for you. A key value you should look for in any SEO firm is their ability to help you understand why they are doing what they are doing.
In some cases, bad SEO firms will offer explanations to you that make it sound like SEO is some form of voodoo. For example, if someone says “Google only likes pages that have 200 to 300 words on it,” this should raise an alarm. Google wants to find the highest quality pages possible in relation to each query. For some queries, it may only make sense to have 20 or 30 words to highlight the key features of a particular product, and on other pages, you may want to have 1000 or more words.
Ever since the advent of technology, there has been a huge value to people who can explain to non-technical people how something works, and how to use it. SEO is no different, and you should be willing to pay a premium to get someone who can do this for you.
3. Their Guarantees Sound Too Good to Be True. This is one of the hardest pitches to resist, but if an SEO firm is promising you a No. 1 ranking on a competitive term, you should know that they are probably lying. SEO is part art, and part science, but no one can know what is required to rank No. 1 for a specific term. Google’s algorithms are too obscure for anyone to make that specific a guarantee.
There are other flavors of too good to be true promises, such as “we will double your traffic in three months.” This is just too much in the way of results in too short a period of time. Solid SEO requires time to be successful. Instead of incredible claims, look for these attributes instead:
They try to understand your economics, and what it will take for you to make back the money you invest in them.
They ask what your goals are, and map out a credible plan to meet those goals.
They show you examples of past work that demonstrate positive ROI for those clients, or they use clients as a reference that will represent the great results they obtained.
This approach shows that the SEO firm is focused on your economics and goals, and that they have accomplished similar things in the past.
4. The SEO Firm Treats SEO Like it Works in a Vacuum. As previously mentioned, SEO has a strong marketing component to it. As a result, it interacts with other disciplines, such as PR, web site design, and usability. These days you should really think about design and usability as SEO factors. Google’s Panda algorithm started to bring these types of factors into play in February of 2011, but there is increasing evidence that Google is analyzing content quality in other ways..
PR, traditional marketing, and your social media efforts should also play big roles in helping generate links to the site, so it’s important to consider those efforts as part of the overall SEO picture, too. Any content marketing efforts proposed by an SEO firm should be tightly integrated with all of these other teams. And, of course, on-site changes require implementation, which means that the SEO efforts should coordinate with the dev team.
5. They Have Too Many Clients. In most SEO engagements, you will be assigned a person who leads the work for you. Before you hire them, ask the SEO firm how many clients your contact is working on at once. For quality SEO work, this probably should not be more than five or six.
Consider this: if the person who is your primary contact is working on 10 clients, chances are that you are only getting a few hours per week of their time. Is that really all your site needs? This may work if your are looking for SEO for a small law firm, or a small local business, but for most other sites, it’s just not going to be sufficient.
Other Warning Signs to Look For
Hopefully, you will not encounter any of these warning signs on the list below, but if you do, you should also back away from working with these types of SEO consultants:
They propose to create tons of pages using some form of automation. At the beginning of launching a new e-commerce site, or local business directory, something like this could make sense, but other than that, automatically created pages are almost always a bad thing!
Their proposal focuses on creating tons of inbound links to your site. The only good way to do that these days is through very successful PR/content marketing, or a successful viral marketing effort, but in any other context the notion of hundreds or thousands of links coming into your site is likely a bad idea.
They send you a proposal that talks about “submissions” or “listing your site”. This is pure spam. Just delete any such proposal on the spot.
Metadata is a focal point of their pitch. Meta keywords are of no value whatsoever, and meta descriptions are not a ranking factor either. The descriptions can help click through rates you get from listing in the SERPs, so they are useful, but it is only one small part of a much larger SEO picture.
The pricing seems too good to believe. Quality SEO costs real dollars. Of course, higher pricing does not guarantee better work, but if someone is offering to do SEO for you for $500 per month, how much of your attention do you think you will get? Two to four hours per month? Is that enough?
The proposal talks about price per link. Inbound links should be about quality, not quantity. The best links result from relationships and the value of the content you offer, well executed marketing campaigns, or the web site experience you deliver. This is not “price per link” type of work.
They say they have inside info on the algo. They don’t. It’s that simple. They may have learned aspects of Google’s algorithm based on hundreds or thousands of hours of experience working on web sites for clients, but one thing you can be sure of: they did not get any special information from Google on how things work.
Unfortunately, it can be quite hard to determine if you are working with a quality SEO firm or a bad one. Before you sign with an SEO firm, get references, or case studies, or talk to people you know and see who they recommend. If you are already engaged with them, hopefully this article will help you identify if it’s time to move on.