5 signs that your SEO agency is full of it

5 signs that your SEO agency is full of it

For my day job, I work in a digital marketing agency. On the side, I offer private SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) services.

Both of these sides of my career have the same thing in common:


No agency or practitioner is perfect. But the important part is how honest and transparent they are. That’s where it really counts.

Honesty means that you have the client’s best interest in mind. It shows you are enthusiastic and genuinely want to make a difference.

Even when things aren’t going according to plan (it happens), I will always be completely upfront with clients and tell them the bad, as well as the good.

Being transparent is key to building strong relationships with your clients. They respect it.

However, there are some less-than-savoury characters out there who are more interested in your money than your results.

Using my own personal experiences as guidance, I have listed below some ways you can identify bad SEO practitioners. Use this list to avoid the bad and only work with the good.

1. They demand full ownership of your data and login info

The reason why a bad agency will demand this is to trap you. It’s that simple.

Unfortunately, I have seen many agencies fall into this trap because they just want to hand over all responsibility to somebody else. This can be due to a lack of care or understanding, meaning it’s often smaller businesses that are the victims.

This is seriously dangerous—and you will quickly realise that if things turn sour between yourself and your SEO agency.

If you do decide to terminate the agreement, many shady agencies will hold your data and logins hostage in order to keep the contract going.

Worse yet, I have heard of one case where somebody I knew gave complete ownership of login details to a so-called marketing agency and the agent demanded a lump sum of money in exchange for those login details.

This can eventually all lead into legal disputes that’ll take up to several years. More often than not, you’ll have to create all new logins and restart the whole process of adding tracking codes to your websites.

In the early days, you need to have a feeling of trust with your SEO provider. Check their background thoroughly and get some references. If they can’t provide any, or if their information is difficult to find, look elsewhere.

2. They guarantee number 1 rankings on Google

It actually kind of shocks me that SEO professionals (using the term very loosely there) can still win business by saying they “guarantee to get you to number 1 on Google.”

The truth is that those people still exist and they are still finding work.

Here’s are two ads I found on Google after typing in “guaranteed google page 1 ranking”:

The bottom one really wants you to know they’ll get you on page 1!

The bottom one really wants you to know they’ll get you on page 1!

That’s very impressive! “Guaranteed”, you say? “Fast Page 1 Results”, you say? Tell me the secrets of your success!

What we’re failing to see here is what they will be getting you to rank number 1 for.

Any SEO expert can get something to rank on page one. The trouble is that it probably won’t bring any traffic to your website. And if it does, it’s probably very poor traffic and won’t bring you any revenue.

This is a common trick used by, let’s say, less-than-honest agencies to grab your attention. From my days working in sales (which I hated, by the way), I got these calls a lot.

Let me explain how it goes:

Step 1: You see their ads with bogus claims, similar to the one above

The ad offers you a free audit or a free report on some new Google update.

I have absolutely no idea who these guys are. This was the top ad (after Moz) that came up after I Googled “seo company free audit”

I have absolutely no idea who these guys are. This was the top ad (after Moz) that came up after I Googled “seo company free audit”

In these audits or reports, the truth is either heavily bent or it’s just plain full of lies to get you worried.

Actually, on a personal note, I once had a client send me one of the reports a so-called SEO expert had done for them. In the report, they referenced a Wordstream blog post to prove that I was doing something wrong.

In my response to the client, I actually took them through the article and managed to explain how the so-called SEO expert had taken a section of the blog out of context and that the actual overall message of that blog agreed with what I was doing.

That’s what I mean when I talk about the truth being heavily bent. Unfortunately for this expert, it bit him hard!

Step 2: A call is scheduled with one of their ‘SEO Experts’

On the call, you’re told how they saw your website drop in the rankings using their cutting-edge software, blah, blah, blah.

Step 3: You get worried and hire them on the spot

You need these issues sorted and they’ve been lovely enough to explain it all to you.

Luckily, you don’t have to understand what they’re talking about because they’re here to save the day!

Step 4: The work begins and they quickly get your website ranking first for a few keywords

You’re feeling pretty proud of yourself at this point. They’ve delivered on their promise and you’re excited for all the new business to start rolling in.

Step 5: After a few months, top-placed ranking are still coming

However, you start to notice that that is all that’s happening: New keywords you’re ranking number one for, but no new leads. No new business.

You ask the agency what’s going on and they explain that SEO is a slow burn (admittedly, it is). They go on to say that you need to be patient, but never really go into detail about what they’re actually doing.

You’re getting good news from them, but you aren’t getting a return on your investment. They delivered on their initial promise, so you choose to accept their request that you remain patient.

You have some faith, but are a little wary of them at this point.

Step 6: After six months or more, you start to do a little digging and have some realisations

The keywords you’re ranking number one for have no monthly search volume and aren’t even relevant to your business.

You start to demand to know what’s going on. You want answers, but all you get back are canned non-answers. At this stage, you’ve had enough and decide to cancel the contract.

The truth

The truth of the matter is that Google looks at over 200 ranking signals to determine where your website should rank. Nobody outside of Google knows what these 200 ranking signals are, or which ones are valued over others.

In fact, Google executives have gone on record to say that the priority of ranking signals differs from industry-to-industry.

Google is a machine-learning AI system that is updated and changed literally multiple times per day. Therefore, not a single person or machine on this planet could guarantee anything when it comes to Google rankings.

That also goes for the algorithm itself.

If you really could, you would be so rich and famous that you wouldn’t need to run ads on Google.

3. They focus on their story rather than yours

Another telltale sign comes when you receive your report and it tells their story, rather than yours.

In other words, they are always talking about the good stuff. What went right and why you should upgrade your service with them.

There is never, or rarely ever, any mention of what didn’t go so well or what lessons have been learned to improve the current campaign. Often, that information is more important than the successes.

By only knowing half the story, you aren’t able to learn from the agency’s mistakes. It is detrimental to your business and future decisions.

The thing is that agencies like this are in a frame of mind where they are afraid to tell you exactly what is going on. They don’t want to give away their secrets.

The ugly truth is that the formula for digital marketing success involves many tests and learning opportunities. These allow the campaign to grow and improve.

You need to make sure that your agency is telling you about what didn’t work, as well as what worked. Regardless of your emotions, you need to see the entire picture.

Oh, and if they’re saying that it all worked right off the bat. They’re either lazy and not getting you the best results possible, or they’re lying.

4. It’s a transaction, rather than a collaboration

When the agency is pitching their service to you, pay attention to what they’re saying in the meeting.

Those who want to help you will tell you just that. On the other hand, those who don’t will simply tell you how much the service costs. You will be told how monthly meetings will be structured.

That is the difference between hiring a collaborator and buying from a vendor.

A collaborator will be in your corner, fighting your battle with you. They will be there through the struggles and victories.

A vendor will be sending you an invoice every month.

If you have a meeting with your agency and they spend the whole time talking about how great they are, rather than how they can and want to help you… It’s probably not going to be the most fruitful relationship ever.

I get it. There is nothing wrong with the occasional bit of showing off. A great agency with a proven track record has earned the right.

But those same great agencies will do research on your brand before your on-boarding. They will also provide a bespoke, actionable plan, backed up by data, that they believe will help you to accomplish your goals.

Those agencies are the ones who care about your business. Yes, they will still send you a monthly invoice, but they do more than just send that. That makes it a much easier bill to pay.

Always look for a collaborator. Not a vendor.

5. Their case studies are out-dated

With that same pitch meeting I mentioned before. If you’re shown case studies, remember to ask what year the project is from.

The thing about SEO is that it changes every single day. No, literally, it does. As I said above, the Google algorithm is updated multiple times per day.

This means that the results that the agency got for plumberinhastings.com 15 years ago are completely irrelevant. It doesn’t help you to understand their abilities or set your expectations in 2019.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out more about how they achieved their wins and when they happened. With SEO changing as often as it does, a project from several years ago could be irrelevant.

Good luck and I hope you find a great SEO agency to collaborate with.

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