How to Choose an SEO company – Warning Signs for Bad SEO

So, you’ve heard about SEO and understand why you should hire an expert to begin optimising your website. Now you’re probably wondering how to choose the right company, which can feel scary and intimidating. After all, there’s time and money on the line, both of which are scarce for the small business owner.

We’re well and truly aware there’s an air of mystery around SEO. It’s not once or twice that we’ve heard from businesses that have tried SEO with multiple companies, only to feel bitterly disappointed and fooled down the line. Like any industry, there are agencies out there willing to use dodgy tactics, trying to get quick results that will only harm your site in the long run. They’re able to do this because the average website owner doesn’t understand the technical elements that make up good SEO practices.

The “Black Hat” SEO techniques used by these companies aggressively target search engines, rather than human audiences, and don’t obey Google’s Best Practice guidelines. It might shoot you to the top fast, but that success is short-lived, as it won’t be long before Google notices and penalises your website. And once you get penalised… the way back up is even harder.

So, how do you tell the difference between bad SEO and good SEO?

Even if you don’t know much about SEO, there are a few fail-safe ways to tell if a company or strategist is trying to get the better of you with false promises and Black Hat SEO. Here are our top tips for sussing out whether an SEO company is reliable or not.

1. Lack of Transparency

Look out for companies with little or no transparency. Scout for testimonials, call other companies they’ve worked with – take your time to do some research. Before you hire them, ask them what techniques they will use, how they perform the techniques and how they report on their work. Also, ask how often you should expect contact from them or how you can reach them when you have questions.

Basically, you want to know what they do, how they do it and why they do it.

Any company working in the digital space should be able to offer in-depth and regular reporting. If they tell you otherwise, look elsewhere. SEO is a long-term strategy and rankings do fluctuate, but you should expect at least monthly reports on your campaign. If you have any questions, the SEO company should be happy to answer and explain things in easy-to-understand ways.

2. Cheap Services

You may be looking for a deal but, like any service, you get what you pay for. Naturally, there will be slight discrepancies between different business’ prices, and while it’s good to shop the competition, if you’ve come across dramatically low prices you’ve most likely found an untrustworthy company. Any SEO specialist offering highly underpriced services are likely using automated, spammy tactics which will only damage your website’s ranking. Good SEO costs money, because specialists who are doing things properly need to invest a lot of time to perform quality optimisations.

3. Outlandish Guarantees

If you see promises like, “Rank On Page #1 or Pay Nothing” – run. Fantastic promises are the quickest way to identify a dishonest company. Absolutely no SEO company can “guarantee” results. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it probably is!

SEO teams must abide by Google’s algorithm, and no one really knows exactly how it works. They can only put into play Best Practice techniques to slowly improve your website ranking. If your website is suddenly implementing hundreds of backlinks per month, Google is going to pick it up and blacklist you. Real, quality links involve human interaction; it’s impossible to guarantee how many links will be garnered as the SEO team isn’t in control of the websites they’re approaching.

4. They only talk about SEO

If an SEO company is talking about SEO like it exists in a vacuum, away from other digital strategies… they’re not the ones to truly help your business grow. SEO is a digital marketing strategy, which means it relates to and is influenced by your digital presence overall. To rank and convert leads, good PR, social media activity, website design and conversion rate optimisation is also needed. If someone is claiming doing only SEO is enough for all your dreams to come true, they’re not being honest.

What’s more, the SEO specialist should always ask you about your business goals. After all, what’s the point of ranking on page 1 if you’re not getting relevant, quality leads and sales? If you ask us, ranking on page 1 is just half the battle. Once people land on your site, the design needs to be user-friendly. The user’s journey from search to click to conversion should be the focus of an SEO-friendly website.

5. They only think rankings

Coming back to those companies that guarantee you page 1 rankings… yeah, they might be able to get you to rank on page 1. Let’s be real, anyone with a bit of SEO knowledge can get you to rank on page 1 for SOMETHING. Whether that ranking will bring in any new leads and revenue is a different story.

In reality, ranking on page 1 for a keyword means nothing if there’s no search volume or relevance to your business. The more competitive a keyword, the longer it will take to rank for it. And often, the competitive ones are sought after for a reason.

6. They claim to know the algorithm

There are agencies out there trying to lure in customers by claiming they know something about the Google algorithm that others don’t. An SEO specialist or agency is telling you they have insider information on the algorithm is a huge red flag.

Here’s the deal: nobody knows exactly how the algorithm works. The Google algorithm is a secret and ever-changing math equation created by an AI that is constantly fed information on our search behaviour. What we do know is that Google wants to show its customers the best and most relevant search results. All we can say is rankings are influenced by a complex combination of keywords, user experience, quality content, links, authority and technical optimisations. As experts, the best we can do is optimise websites with users, not the algorithm in mind.

After all is said and done… SEO is still worth it!

SEO takes time and money, but it’s worth it and necessary. With the number of websites being launched every day, you need to be working on regular, quality search engine optimisations to ensure you’re picked out from the crowd.

In the worst-case scenario, a dodgy and incompetent SEO agency can do significant harm to your website. In the best-case scenario, a professional SEO agency will implement a thought-out, long-term strategy that can be the best thing you ever invested in. We have seen long-running SEO campaigns be absolute game-changers for local small businesses.

If you have questions about our SEO management service, give us a call or send us an email. Or if you want to get started on a few basic optimisations on your own, check out our 10-step SEO action plan.

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