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5 Red Flags to Be Aware of in SEO Companies

13/07/2016 7:43 PM IST | Updated 08/07/2017 2:42 PM IST

2016-07-07-1467913187-6578926-NickBjornSlettengren.png By Nicholas Slettengren

Hiring a search engine optimization agency isn't your everyday business decision. It's more than just a quick handshake and a signature. Hiring an SEO agency is more like the beginning of a relationship -- a long-term relationship to be specific. Everyone knows a relationship can't survive without honesty, at least not one that's in it for the long-haul. Your relationship with your SEO company is no different. Honesty and transparency are key.

As the founder of a digital marketing company, I've unfortunately seen many companies run into trouble with SEO agencies. Whether they're using black-hat SEO tactics or not spending as much time on your account as you had originally contracted for, SEO companies can get away with a lot these days, especially if you don't know what to look out for. If you're experiencing any of the following with your SEO company, it may be a sign that they aren't being completely forthright with you.

You talk to a different person every time.

When you're constantly being passed around from person to person, your account may not be receiving consistent work. How are you supposed to know if what you discussed with so-and-so was completed if you're speaking with a different person this week? You can't. If you haven't seen tangible proof of work and are talking with a different person each week, you may have a reason to be concerned.

You should also look out for key account managers or project managers being replaced on your account, as this can point to internal issues within an agency. If the agency doesn't have a strong culture to maintain stability, motivate their team and align them with the agency's vision, it can lead employees to seek other opportunities, and in turn, negatively affect your campaign. It also leads to disruptions in workflow and communication, which aren't what you paid for.

However, there are always exceptions: maternity leave, employees relocating, medical emergencies, etc. Find out why people are leaving the agency before you jump to conclusions. Glassdoor and other review sites can provide you with good information.

You don't receive regular status updates.

This could be a sign that your SEO company isn't monitoring your progress. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to assume that your agency would email you every time you attract new traffic to your site. However, you should receive status reports at least once a week, and at the very least, once a month. How else would you know if what they are doing is actually working? Even if traffic and conversions are down, a good SEO agency will update you and provide you with a game plan for how they plan to solve the problem.

Requesting weekly updates via a short phone call or a well-documented email is ideal. Also, make sure the end-of-the-month reporting is thorough and done in-person or via conference call and screen share. During the reporting, you are going to want to match up the workflow being generated to the results in Google Analytics or whatever platform you are using to measure performance.

You hear the word "guarantee" a lot.

Very few things in the SEO world can be guaranteed. If your SEO agency is making lofty promises left and right, be wary. Here are a few promises or guarantees to look out for in particular:

  • "We guarantee you will be on page 1 within the first six weeks."
  • "We can rank you No. 1 for the most popular keyword in your industry."
  • "We're good friends with Google, so we can get you on the first page for any keyword you want."

Any of those sound familiar? If so, be warned that these promises likely won't be fulfilled.

They can't explain their processes to you.

Good SEO shops love talking about SEO, from the importance of meta data to latent semantic search. When an SEO company tells you it can't explain its processes to you because they're "too complex," a red flag should pop up. Yes, SEO is a complex process with a lot of independent variables, but a good agency will help you understand what they are doing and why.

If you're given a standard boilerplate that doesn't align with your specific needs and goals, you may want to consider taking your services elsewhere.

They don't present you with hard data.

Your SEO company tells you that since you hired them, your site has received a 200 percent increase in organic traffic, a 50 percent increase in conversion rates, and has gotten 100 backlinks to your site. That all sounds great! But have they actually shown you the numbers to prove it? Without any hard data, you'll have no way of knowing whether something is being exaggerated or not. Be cautious of custom reporting platforms that aren't directly exporting data from Google Analytics. If you are just looking at Excel spreadsheets and taking those at face value, they could have been manipulated.

Not all SEO companies are dishonest. In fact, most SEO agencies are completely transparent with their clients. These are just a few of the big warning signs to look out for in order to protect you and your company.

Nicholas Slettengren is the founder and director of marketing strategy for Power Digital Marketing.

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