10 SEO Agency warning signs

When you’ve been in the industry as long as we have, spotting the signs of a bad SEO agency becomes second nature. For many of you it may not be as easy, so we’ve put together this guide to help you spot common red flags.

Don’t worry this isn’t a shameless plug to make you pick holes in your current SEO firm. That’s why each of the warning signs come with a recommendation on how to address it. Choosing and moving to a new agency can take time and money, so like any other relationship why not try to fix it before giving up on it.

 

1. Guaranteeing first place results in a short period of time

Why is it a warning sign?

  • It’s virtually impossible to put a 100% guarantee on SEO performance. There are hundreds of factors Search engines look at that make it unlikely a company can precisely predict reaching a specific position.
  • It is common for such guarantees to be made to either win or retain clients.

What should you do?

  • Ask the provider for clear and specific reasons why they are so confident?
  • Ask them to provide clear proof of them doing the same for another client, a case study or better yet can you speak to the client?
  • Get the provider to give you both the search volume and the estimated cost per click for the keyword they claim they can get to position 1. If the numbers are very low then the keyword is unlikely to have much commercial value to anyone, including you. Therefore it will be easier to get to position 1, but you probably won’t get the traffic, sales or leads that you want.

 

2. Guaranteeing you nothing at all

Why is it a warning sign?

  • Whilst providing unrealistic guarantees can be a big problem, being offered no assurances at all can equally be a problem. Most experienced SEO experts should be able to give you a confident and realistic expectation of what can be achieved over a specific timescale. Unwillingness to do so may show that your provider has little experience.

What should you do?

  • Ask to see a worst and best case scenario of results, if the worst case scenario gives you a decent ROI then you can feel more confident about proceeding.
  • If they are unhappy to make any estimations it may be a good time to look elsewhere.

 

3. Over promising and under delivering

Why is it a warning sign?

  • Probably one of the biggest mistakes in the client/ agency world is to overhype the service in the sales stage. It’s an easy trap to fall into from both sides as agencies are keen to win business and clients are eager to get results ASAP.

What should you do?

  • At the start of your project outline SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals for the agency to meet. This will cut through any of the initial claims made and allow both teams to concentrate on clear objectives.

 

4. Hiding behind complicated technical jargon

Why is it a warning sign?

  • Fast talking, fancy acronyms and long words are the shifty SEO salesman’s favourite tools. Pride means that the person you are speaking to is unlikely to tell you that they don’t know the answer to a question. Instead most people simply nod, smile and pretend they know what they are talking about.
  • If they can’t explain it simply then they don’t really understand it.

What should you do?

  • If you are unconvinced by any answers you receive then keep asking questions until you feel satisfied.
  • Align your expectation of technical knowledge to the person you are speaking to, a SEO salesman naturally will not have the knowledge of a SEO manager or Head of SEO. Ask to speak to a technical person if your not getting the detail you need from the sales person.
  • Remember, even commonly used, seemingly simple jargon like “content marketing” can have different interpretations from person to person so don’t be scared to ask more questions if you need to.

 

5. The most experienced staff take you through the sales process but the least experienced delivers the work

Why is it a warning sign?

  • It is common place for agencies to use their most experienced SEO or sales staff to win a sale, before passing the account to junior backroom staff to deliver the work

What should you do?

  • Before signing up, ask to speak to the person that will be managing your campaign or at least get an understanding of who they are and their experience.
  • Specify in the sales process that you need someone with experience to manage your account
At the start of your project outline SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals for the agency to meet……

6. Taking on too many clients

Why is it a warning sign?

  • The number of clients your SEO company takes on should not impact the quality of service you receive as you should get what you pay for. However in the real world many SEO agencies like to stack clients as high as possible before they recruit more staff. Often this can impact the quality of service you receive as they reach full capacity.

What should you do?

  • Look out for these red flags that your agency may be spreading themselves too thin (some are obvious):
    • You have to chase them for updates and progress reports
      Recurring poor attention to detail such as grammar & spelling mistakes
    • Consistently late SEO deliverables
    • They tell you they are extremely busy
  • Speak to a member of the team and voice your concerns. If the problems keep occurring after this then it may be time for you to move on

 

7. You don’t receive regular reporting

Why is it a warning sign?

  • In many cases your reports may be the only tangible evidence of the service you are paying for, therefore the fact they are late or not sent at all may be a sign of underlying problems.

What should you do?

  • If you are overall happy with the service suggest that they move to partly/fully automated reports to streamline their processes (although as a client you shouldn’t need to do this)
  • Speak to a member of the team and voice your concerns, by default you should still have a handle on your business’s key organic vitals. If they are getting results then give them time to get they’re act together.

 

8. You are guaranteed the links built will stay live forever

Why is it a warning sign?

  • It is impossible to guarantee links will stay live unless you own the domain the links are from. If the person building you a number of links also owns the domains, they essentially own a link farm. A link from them could put the performance of your website at risk.
  • Authentic link building includes contacting tens, hundreds and thousands of sites in order to build relationships and links. By nature a good SEO agency cannot predict when or if a provider decides to shut down their site. If someone claims that they can source an exact number of high quality links that will never go offline they are highly likely to be a bad agency using black hat techniques.

What should you do?

  • If you dont mind where you links come from as long as you get them, then you can ignore this point, otherwise….
  • Run, get out, leave, go, find a new provider
  • Remember the age of your links is not a ranking factor, you should constantly be growing your link profile to replace the natural link drop off that will occur.

 

9. You are receiving more poor quality organic traffic

Why is it a warning sign?

  • More traffic is only good news if it’s relevant to your business. Increases in traffic to your website that has low engagement and/or conversion rates is a symptom that the keyword strategy put in place may be incorrect or that your agency may be buying traffic to hit their KPIs.

What should you do?

  • If you also have a PPC campaign, compare your paid converting keywords to your target SEO keywords. If there is a big mismatch then your SEO campaign may have the wrong focus.
  • Give the uplifted traffic volumes enough time to convert into sales and leads (depending on your industry).

 

10. They are not updating you about relevant search algorithm updates

Why is it a warning sign?

  • Being able to pivot and adapt to changes in the SEO and digital marketing landscape is one of the key advantages to outsourcing your digital marketing. Agencies typically work with a large spectrum of clients meaning that if they are doing their job well they should find out first about relevant changes in the digital marketing platform then passing that insight to you. Not finding out about these updates can impact your ability to take advantage of new opportunities and stop you from adapting to new threats.

What should you do?

  • Tell them that you would like to be made aware of updates that may benefit or impact your business. Their willingness to accommodate your request should determine whether you should continue working with them or not.

What to do if your current provider does lots of the above

This will largely depend on where you are in the client lifecycle and the gravity of the problems you are facing. 

If you are working with a new SEO partner and they are displaying many of the faults above then it may be a good idea to end the relationship quickly. 

If a trusted long term agency has started to display these traits then it may be worth simply speaking to them before doing anything rash.

If you have read the above and you feel like you need a second opinion or you are ready to change your SEO agency please call us on 0207 183 2127.

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