8 Red Flags to Look for When Hiring an SEO Company

  • by Amanda Soderlund November 25, 2015
    November 25, 2015

    With websites serving as the hub of most companies’ marketing efforts, the ability to drive more relevant traffic to the site is top-of-mind for marketers and their service providers. Because the ability to generate traffic can consume a great deal of time and effort, many turn to service providers to help them—primarily when it comes to search engine optimization, or SEO.

    But, how can you be sure to hire a reliable SEO agency that will help build your website’s reputation the right way? Here are 8 red flags that hint at less than favorable SEO tactics and should result in you quickly crossing a company off of your list.

    Over-the-top Guarantees

    Effective SEO takes time, so you should be cautious of service providers who guarantee quick results and high numbers right out of the gate. That can be a sign that the firm is engaged in black hat activities, which could damage your reputation.

    Eric Sachs with the SEO agency Sachs Marketing Group says, “It’s a common practice among less-than-reputable SEO firms to promise quick results–like Page One rankings in 90 days–results they ultimately fail to deliver. You drop them, and they don’t really care—there are many more potential clients out there who will take your place.” It’s an ugly reality but, as Sachs points out, too many SEO companies follow what has been a standard SEO business model:

    • Use a call center to acquire new clients and promise them results in 90 days
    • Outsource the SEO work to other countries where they can find labor at rock-bottom prices
    • Use black-hat techniques that can cause your company to be removed from Google site rankings altogether
    • Expect the client to cancel after 90 days
    • Rinse and repeat – as we said, there are literally thousands of businesses looking for this type of service and the bad-guy SEO firms know it

    Lack of Transparency

    Certainly, firms have proprietary practices that they may be hesitant to reveal, but it is absolutely appropriate to ask for information about how the firm intends to grow your traffic. Transparency is important because, again, your reputation and results are on the line.

    Ask for examples of past work and clients that they have had success with. Make sure an agency is not participating in disreputable practices like:

    • Content spinning: placing nonsense content on irrelevant websites, eventually damaging your site’s rankings.
    • Black Hat SEO techniques: using outdated SEO techniques that violate Google’s Quality guidelines
    • Automated Link Building: using cheap, automated link-building tactics and link farms to give you a false sense of progress

    Bad or Nonexistent Reporting

    Results matter, and you need to know what they are. You should request and receive reports on how your SEO activities are doing on a regular—generally monthly—basis. Before hiring a company, ask about their stance on reporting and how often you should expect to see reports on their progress. Once you hire a company be sure that their reporting is accurate and matches accordingly with your own site’s analytics. If a company fails to produces reports or the reports do not make sense with your own analytics, this is a sure sign of bad SEO practices.

    Negative Reviews

    Reviews and the experiences of others matter, so you’ll want to make sure that you carefully check out the references and reviews of any providers you consider doing business with. Try to avoid client testimonies posted on the firm’s own site, since those can often be fabricated and rarely reveal any negative experience.

    It’s easy enough these days to do a simple online search for “Company Name” +Reviews. But, make sure that the reviews that surface are from a reputable source. Anonymous postings on yelp that only give limited information but a 5 star rating cannot be trusted. Instead, look for a trustworthy site that provides third party verified client reviews on various SEO firms. That way, you can compare reviews and search for any negative experiences that could possibly affect you.

    Too Cheap

    It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but SEO services don’t come cheap—at least the good ones. Be wary of any provider whose bid is significantly less than what you’re seeing from other vendors. If the provider doesn’t seem to value their own services based on a lowball price, chances are you shouldn’t either.

    Be sure to question companies that say they will give you a ‘one time special deal, but only if you sign up immediately.’ Any company that tries to swindle you in with immediate cheap pricing probably does not have good intentions. A good SEO vendor should supply you with information on their services and what your relationship would entail, while also providing a relative monthly quote.

    Past Penalties from Google

    This is an important component. There are still sketchy companies out there that are thriving on old ‘black hat’ tactics as a quick way to try and build links to your website. There are companies that search for unmonitored blogs and troll the comments to sneak links to their clients’ websites. While it might seem that these companies are getting links to their clients’ sites, in reality they are providing useless links that could get the clients into trouble down the road.

    Additionally, most of these sites that have unmonitored blogs and comment sections are usually low domain authority and provide little to no link benefits. These superficial links are also usually from sites that have no significance to the industry or audience base of the client’s website, possibly providing negative effects to the website.

    To avoid hiring a company that dabbles with past Google penalties or that could bless you with a future Google penalty, make sure to ask for past link examples and for ways they plan to create links to your site.

    No Marketing or Industry Experience

    Effective SEO requires a combination of technical savvy and marketing expertise. One without the other will simply not generate the types of results you should be looking for. The vendor you select should also have experience in your industry. There’s a big difference in understanding marketing best practices in the healthcare industry than in the retail sector, for instance.

    The bottom line is this: in the SEO realm experience is a must-have. Every website is unique and good SEO depends on the website, the industry the website is a part of, among other factors relating to the audience of the site. It is important to find a firm that has experience and has proven success with past clients.

    Money-Back Guarantees

    While money-back guarantees may make sense in some industries and for some types of services, SEO isn’t one of them. Be wary of any firm that offers a money-back guarantee. At best, it’s a sign they haven’t been in the business long; at worst, it’s a sign that they’ve had disgruntled clients in the past.


    When it comes to your website and your reputation, it pays to be cautious when looking for vendors that can help you drive the results you’re looking for. There are useful tools that can help you choose an appropriate SEO vendor and there are reputable third party review sites that can help you find the firms that have proven track records, legitimate reviews and real results.

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