A recent study found that nearly half (45%) of businesses hire SEO service providers based on a referral or existing personal relationship. Why is this the case?
Well, SEO companies sometimes get a bad reputation. This stems from two factors:
- Some SEO companies deserve their bad reputation for engaging in shady tactics that could get your website penalized, and
- A lot of businesses are uninformed about SEO best practices and what a good SEO firm looks like.
So, many businesses rely on what they trust – their friends’ and colleagues’ opinions and experiences.
However, it is fully possible to find a great SEO firm without a direct referral. Heeding these warning signs will help you avoid a bad experience and put you on your way to finding an honest and knowledgeable SEO partner.
1. Guaranteed success
Agencies that tout guaranteed results come in many forms. Watch out for these variants:
- Specific keyword guarantees. Anyone who assures you they can rank you #1 for a specific keyword phrase isn’t approaching SEO in the right way. They should be targeting a certain increase in qualified leads to your site based on a combination of keywords, as opposed to emphasizing one specific phrase. Plus, there is no way to know whether the company already in the #1 spot has more resources than you.
- Timeframe guarantees. The company might offer a 30-day or 60-day results guarantee. It’s even worse if they say they’ll get you a certain number of #1 rankings within that timeframe. No one can predict to that level of certainty the time it will take for Google to improve your rankings. Most campaigns take six to 12 months to see results.
- Money-back guarantees. SEO takes a lot of time and resources to get going, so any agency putting in the amount of work required would majorly lose out if their client asked for a refund. A money-back guarantee could be a sign that the agency is using low-cost techniques.
2. Pre-packaged price options
Sometimes agencies will offer tiered price packages for SEO, such as gold, silver and bronze. Others might send you an instant quote within a couple hours of submitting your information.
Anyone not spending the time to thoroughly audit your website and speak deeply with you about your goals is not customizing the work to fit your specific business. SEO work is highly varied in price because some websites are in better shape than others, and some markets are more competitive than others in search.
3. Cheap prices
Another red flag to look out for with pricing is low-cost SEO.
SEO is primarily focused on two areas: creating high-quality and optimized content for your website, and building relationships with external websites and authorities to receive endorsements in the form of links back to your site.
Both of these activities take a lot of time, so agencies charging only a couple hundred dollars a month may be using shadier, faster tactics that could end up getting your site penalized.
4. High ratio of clients to staff
When speaking with agencies, figure out who will be directly responsible for your account, and ask how many other clients that person or team has.
You can also do some simple math. How many clients does the firm currently serve? How many team members does the firm have? If you find the ratio is quite high, or that every person seems to be doing both client work and sales, these are warning signs that your account may not get the attention it deserves.
5. Negative online reviews – and how they’re handled
Do your background research online by searching for “company name + reviews”. There are some shady review sites out there, and it’s hard to discern the full story from a one-sided review, so take them with a grain of salt.
Consider digging a little deeper on negative reviews by asking the agency directly what happened in those cases. See how they handled the feedback and what they learned or improved as a result of the experience.
That being said, if you find a number of glaringly negative reviews from multiple sources, that could be a red flag to take note of.
6. Opaque processes
From the get-go, a great SEO company will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable with their processes. They will share a detailed strategy for how they plan to boost your search rankings, and they will explain anything that doesn’t make sense until you have a handle on it.
Dicey SEO companies will often depict SEO as a black box or extremely technical, so as to avoid explaining their tactics. Ethical SEO companies, on the other hand, will educate clients on best practices and metrics so that you feel confident in the work.
For something as important as your web presence, don’t trust low-cost or quick-fix-touting companies. Invest the time and budget into find an honest SEO company that cares about your long-term success.
Natalie Beach is the marketing manager at Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews website that highlights leading software and professional services firms.