In the nascent stages of the internet, getting the coveted top spot or ranking on the first page of search engines was as easy as repeating a keyword on your webpages. But this was long before Google took over the industry and upped the standards.
Today, it’s crucial to work with a credible SEO agency to help your business establish its online visibility and authority. In this digital era, where roughly 93% of online experiences begin with a search query, building an effective SEO strategy is mandatory. In fact, 61% of marketers say their top inbound marketing priority is to enhance their SEO and grow their organic presence online.
With the rise of businesses looking for SEO professionals, many SEO firms have emerged to “fake it till they make it.” They over promise and under deliver, which results in unmet goals, wasted resources, and lost time.
Thankfully, there are ways to see if a firm can live up to their promises. To help you find an excellent SEO agency that delivers real results, here’s a rundown of the red flags to watch out for and what you need to look for instead.
11 Common Red Flags to Look Out for in an SEO Agency
1. No (or very minimal) digital footprint
One of the key responsibilities of an SEO firm is to help businesses build their online presence by ranking on the first page of the SERPs. If the agency you’re eyeing has a questionable digital footprint or none at all, that speaks significantly about whether or not their online marketing efforts work.
Find out if they can walk their talk. If you think their tactics don’t work for their own site, how can you trust them to optimize your business site?
Look for an agency that ranks on the first page of the search results. If their site holds “position 0” or the top spot in organic ranking, then all the better—they know what they’re doing. That’s not to say the higher a company ranks, the better it is, but it’s still a good indicator of expertise.
Tip: You can conduct a bit of research about which SEO firms apply their strategies in their own company. For instance, you can look for the top agency in your area by typing the keywords “SEO agency” and your location (e.g., “SEO agency in Brooklyn”) in the search engine. The top companies that appear in the first page of the SERP are those doing a fantastic job of optimizing their own site. Hence, they can probably do the same for your business.
2. Low-quality content on their own website
Since the SEO industry is highly competitive, you’ll find SEO agencies that produce strong content on their own site, from landing pages to service pages. If you see one that has poor or thin content, then they will either rank low (or not at all) for the keywords they’re targeting. Their website content should be a part of your deciding factors, especially if you plan to entrust your website’s content marketing materials to them.
Additionally, you can quickly and easily identify if a firm is legitimate and produces quality work based on their website’s brand info, such as the “About Us” page and “Mission and Vision” page. If they rip off content from similar business sites, you shouldn’t trust them with yours.
Tip: Read a few of their blog posts and service pages. Keep an eye on grammatical errors, repetitive keywords, and writing style. Go one step further by running it on a plagiarism checker to see if they’re copying content from another site.
3. Setting unrealistic goals or promises
SEO is excellent for increasing your online visibility and ranking on the search results page, which should be your goal if you want to find your ideal clients and grow your business. But if an agency gives improbable assurances, be warned.
“We assure you’ll be on page 1 in the first month.”
“We guarantee you’ll rank no. 1 for your target keyword in the first four weeks.”
When you hear these too-good-to-be-true promises, best believe they’re just that–promises. In this field, only a few things can be guaranteed, and they’re often supplemented with data-backed tactics to drive real results. So, if your SEO agency sets unrealistic goals and over promises a lot, this should be a cause for concern. Chances are, they won’t fulfill these, or they’ll use “black hat” techniques.
Tip: Look for companies that propose actionable goals. Search engine algorithms are ever-evolving, so you want to find an agency that is fully competent and delivers data-backed results.
4. Insisting on a long-term contract
Because of its unpredictable nature (e.g., Google’s algorithm, current marketing trends, level of competition, etc.), the same strategies that work for your campaigns today may not be as effective tomorrow. So, if an agency insists you sign a long-term contract with them, perceive it as a warning.
Instead, regular discussions between the client and the company should be conducted to analyze results, adjust metrics (if necessary), and reevaluate strategies. You can’t know for sure that the SEO tactics you plan months in advance will work and reach its targets. SEO campaigns are a month-to-month effort; it should be projected as such.
Tip: Steer clear of agencies that persuade you to sign minimum contracts of 12 months. Look for agencies that are willing to do a test run first (one month), so you can think carefully before committing to an extended contract (6 to 12 months). You can renew it anyway when you see favorable results.
5. Inconsistent or non-existent communication
Good and effective SEO tactics require a lot of back-and-forth communication between clients and the SEO agency. The first few days of working together will be for devising strategies and going through adjustments or learning curves. This is important to help the firm find their groove to meet your needs. It’s a continuous progress, but generally more important at the beginning. Indeed, communication is a key part of the process.
If an agency refuses or outrightly ignores your inquiries, questions, and concerns early in the game, that’s a clear sign that they might not meet your requirements.
Tip: Do consider the company that asks for feedback, recommends ideas, and requests for consultations to ensure that they meet your needs and your business goals. Like a good leader, an excellent SEO agency knows when to reach out for questions and collaboration to make their strategies work for your business.
6. No transparency with their processes and strategies
Most companies might give you a spiel filled with SEO jargon to catch your attention and make you think they’re 100% experts in the field. However, reputable SEO agencies will walk you through their techniques, processes, and approach in implementing their methods. If they refuse to share them because they’re “too difficult” to explain, you might as well expect the worst.
SEO is indeed a complex field, but a credible agency will help you understand what they’re doing, how they do it, why they’re doing it, and how it will benefit your business and prove your ROI.
If they’re confident about their capabilities and performance, they’ll be transparent from start to end of the project.
Tip: Don’t hold back on asking questions, especially if you’re not that knowledgeable about the field. This should help you filter out the dishonest and less-than-experienced agencies.
7. Results are not backed by data
Let’s say your current SEO company claims your site got a 150% bump in organic traffic, 150 quality backlinks to your site, and a 60% boost in conversion rates since you started working with them. That all sounds incredible! But have they presented any evidence that proves these numbers are accurate? How are you supposed to believe that your money is well-spent when they’re all verbal and have no actual report to supplement their claims?
As a client, it’s your right to see actual reports of your website analytics. If they only send you Excel spreadsheets, consider that a warning signal since they can easily be manipulated to exaggerate the figures.
Tip: Since you’re allocating a sizable budget for SEO (yes, it can be quite costly), you’ll want to know whether the agency is padding the numbers or not. Look for an SEO company that follows up their online successes with hard data, much better if they pull out reports from relevant tools like Google Analytics and SEMRush. You want to work with an agency that is completely transparent with you, no matter what the circumstance.
8. Extremely low rates or price point
How much does an SEO service cost? Well, quality SEO doesn’t come cheap. You can tell how good or bad an SEO company is by how much they price their services. It’s also a reasonable indicator of their quality of work. If the rate of their services are surprisingly cheap, that might translate to poor quality with minor effects on your site’s ranking.
You don’t have to hire the top SEO firm to get powerful results, especially if you’re a small business focused on bolstering your local SEO. Find the agency that will work the hardest to help your business rank first on the SERPs. Plus points if they offer a reasonable price.
Tip: Conversely, high rates don’t automatically imply better work. Before you evaluate their fees, you must first determine how much you can afford to shell out for the services you need—some charge by the hour, per project, or per month. Once you’ve set a budget, shop around and make comparisons to find the agency that can provide quality work at a price point you’re comfortable with.
9. No reliable client feedback
Most SEO companies have positive testimonials on their website. But, be sure to take that at face value. These are likely to be the company’s biggest success stories. Albeit dependable, they’re not the reviews you should be interested in. Instead, you want to look for feedback from ordinary clients, such as small businesses and entrepreneurs. This gives you a glimpse of how the agency handles businesses like your kind and how well they perform across the board. Do a bit of research to find out what people are saying about the company on third-party review sites to find real, unbiased opinions.
Reviews like these are more honest and unfiltered compared to the ones posted on the SEO company’s site. A reputable SEO can refer you confidently to clients they worked with.
Tip: Ask the company’s clients about how long it took before they saw results, what it’s like working with the company, whether they did deliver their promises, how satisfied they are with their service, and how much it cost them. These should be enough to tell you whether the SEO agency is trustworthy and reliable or not.
10. Poor content marketing tactics
Content is a vital part of every SEO marketing strategy. It’s also a useful qualification when looking for a reputable SEO company. Normally, they will show you a few of their sample works so you can examine their quality of work and to prove that they do deliver well-optimized content. Keep watch on agencies that overlink their articles, landing pages, and other web pages. This link practice gets penalized by Google and other search engines for violating Webmaster Guidelines, resulting in a considerable drop from the search rankings or worse, blacklisting. If they do it on their own site, they might use the same tactic on yours.
Content and SEO go hand in hand and when implemented accordingly, it can help your site top the SERPs. High-quality content earns your site valuable backlinks, and when these pieces of content are optimized, it can dramatically improve your online presence and search rankings. Much like with point No. 2 above, if they’re copying or spinning content from other sites to pass as their own, that should serve as a blinking red light.
Tip: Always do a quick run on a plagiarism checker and grammar checker to see whether their content or a part of it was duplicated from another published post. If you find lots of errors or copied content, that should speak volumes about their quality of work.
11. Ambiguous plans
When discussing with an SEO agency about their strategies, SEO approach, and recommendations to boost your rankings, don’t buy into any buzzword-filled explanations. Any reputable and legitimate SEO service provider knows how important it is to talk about strategies in detail with a client.
This covers short-term and long-term goals for building a brand’s online presence, different methods of optimizing webpages for favorable rankings, technical SEO, and other crucial subjects to achieve the client’s SEO goals. They’ll ensure that they’re getting their message across clearly, so that you understand the benefits of their service.
Tip: If they can’t explain it directly and in simple words, it’s likely that they don’t know enough about what they’re doing and how they drive results. Don’t settle for agencies that woo you by throwing technical jargon around. An excellent SEO company will explain everything to the letter in layman’s terms.
Choose a Reliable SEO Agency
SEO firms that promise fantastic results may be tempting, especially if they offer low rates. But remember that your brand and your hard-earned money is at stake here. Don’t buy into empty promises.
While not all SEO companies are incompetent and dishonest, it’s always best to look out for the warning signs to help you narrow your search and hire a highly regarded SEO agency. Successful SEO campaigns come to fruition because of great planning, transparency, and open communication between a client and the SEO service provider.
If you see a couple of red flags with your current SEO agency, it might be time to re-evaluate. Let this serve as a guide to help you find the right SEO company that can help your content and brand reach the top of the SERPs and drive your revenue.
Looking for a reliable SEO partner? Contact us to learn more today!