SEO can make or break your company profile, so how do you know who to trust? Is your SEO agency really full of SEO experts or is that just part of their sales pitch? Here are 9 warning signs we’ve picked up on to help you make sure you’re not wasting your time. 

There is no real barrier to entry when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO). Anyone can advertise themselves as an ‘SEO expert’ when really all they do is spam the Internet on your behalf with links and poor quality content.

9 warning signs of a cowboy SEO agency

There are many giveaways that your SEO agency can’t be trusted. If any of the following signs appear, be very careful about allowing them to represent your brand online:

1. They won’t explain their methodology

Instead, they present SEO as some kind of dark art, when actually it’s just another part of your marketing strategy. And, just as you wouldn’t allow your advertising agency to run campaigns without your approval, you have every right to know what activity your SEO agency is undertaking in your name.

2. They claim to have ‘insider knowledge’ of Google’s search algorithm

This is almost certainly nonsense, as even many Google employees do not know enough about the complexities of the search algorithm to outsmart it. Therefore, the chances of a fly-by-night SEO agency possessing this knowledge are very slim indeed.

3. They guarantee a first page (or ‘Top 10’) placement in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a specified number of your keywords

The only way to guarantee your presence on the first page is to run paid adverts next to the organic (unpaid) listings. This is known as Pay Per Click advertising: a perfectly legitimate marketing technique, but nothing to do with SEO.

4. They’re cheap

While SEO does not need to cost the earth, a realistic budget is needed. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ very much applies to your SEO agency: if they’re charging rock bottom prices, they’re probably engaging in lazy ‘black hat’ tactics such as link spamming and content spinning, rather than working on any sort of sustainable strategy to improve the visibility of your site in the SERPs.

5. They offer a ‘packaged’ rather than bespoke approach

One size does not fit all when it comes to SEO. Individual websites have different needs, depending on their size, scope and competitive landscape. Hire an SEO agency that recognises this and doesn’t seek to impose an identical set of services on everyone.

6. They lack technical expertise

We’ve talked about SEO as a marketing discipline, but it also has a strong technical aspect. If your web team is unhappy about any proposed on-site changes, such as JavaScript, complex code or embedded links, this could be a sign that your new SEO agency is about to do some real damage to your website.

7. They don’t respect your content

If your SEO agency treats your website and blog content as a mere conduit for keywords, they don’t understand that Google is getting better and better at penalising poor quality content. Don’t hire any agency that wants you to pay for guest blogging services, or ‘spin’ your content to engage in article spam.

8. They take a short term view

Quick wins are possible, but a genuine SEO agency understands that sustainable results take time. Many cowboy agencies will promise to multiply your traffic within a couple of months, but there are no shortcuts to effective SEO.

9. They won’t provide reports of their activity

One sure-fire way to tell whether an SEO agency has been up to no good is how transparent (or not) they are about their activity. Be especially wary of an agency that supplies only a ‘representative sample’ of the links they have built to your site, as Google blacklists websites that engage in link spam.

I hope you’ve found these warning signs helpful, and that you run like the wind if you encounter any of them!

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