So you're thinking of taking on an SEO company to help you increase your website rankings. Gulp! Good luck. You'll need some due diligence to ensure you don't hire someone who gets you penalised.
Unless you're lucky enough to have SEO skills under your belt, sooner or later you'll think about taking on an SEO firm to make some improvements - and hopefully gain some good rankings in the search engines.
Personally, I think there are more cowboys in the SEO industry than can be found in deepest Texas. Hire the wrong one, and you risk losing rankings, or worse - you can get penalised altogether.
Who you take on to do the job is incredibly important, and worth spending time researching. Don't get carried away with promises of rankings or special offer deals. Due diligence will pay handsomely if you get it right, sit down with the SEO, and create a transparent strategy that you both agree to.
With that in mind, here are nine signs that you may be dealing with a dodgy SEO:
They're making promises about ranking
"I'll get you ranked in the top 10 for 'Blue Widgets' in 30 days". Promises, promises. But really, it's lies, lies. Let me tell you - no one, even if they're working at Google, can promise a particular rank. A good SEO will make no specific guarantees, because it's largely out of their hands. Sure, you can make the necessary improvements to code, speed up the site, and generally do all the stuff that SEOs do, but they are NOT Google. They have no influence over the search results.
They're operating under a Gmail account
Seriously? Any reputable SEO will use a proper company name with a proper registered address with a proper email address. Not a free one provided by Gmail or Hotmail (others are available). When I see SEOs using free email addresses it makes me wonder if they're doing stuff that they shouldn't be. Avoid.
They're secretive about their methods
If you're going to hire anyone to get any job done, transparency is paramount. You wouldn't go to a dentist for root canal treatment if they're not going to tell you how it's done. Ask questions about their methods, and if they don't tell you then walk away.
They use methods that can get your site penalised
If your SEO starts talking about methods such as 'Link Wheels', Private Blog Networks, Paid Links, Doorway Pages or Blog Commenting then you're heading for trouble. Sure, some of these techniques still work(ish) in some cases, but you've REALLY got to know what you're doing to avoid trouble. If an SEO proposes any of these on the initial proposals, scarper.
They've got a bad reputation
You wouldn't buy a car from a dealership without finding out a little bit more about their reputation, would you? And you shouldn't hire an SEO without checking them out first. See if they've got testimonials from previous clients, Google their business name, and check out the multitude of online review sites to see what their previous customers have been saying about them. There's plenty of dodgy SEO 'experts' out there, so you've got to stay sharp and do your research.
They try to baffle you with jargon
As "techies", we like to show the world how clever we are by using words that sound impressive, like 'latent semantic indexing', 'keyword density', 'long tail phrases'. Sure, they're all part of what we do when we conduct our SEO, but if they're using them to try to impress you in their pitch without actually explaining what they are, then I'd give them a wide berth.
They use automated techniques
Search the web for software that can help with your SEO efforts and you'll discover a multitude of software that promise to create links, submit your site to directories, enhance your rankings, create unique content automatically, and more. If a SEO proposes using any automated tools as part of their methods, walk away. They'll get your site penalised sooner or later. The only exceptions are certain tools that can help you 'monitor' your site and suggest improvements. I'll perhaps create another post about those tools.
They claim they have inside secrets
Google's algorithm is a complex beast, and there a just a handful of engineers who truly understand how it works. No one outside of these very few people have 'inside secrets' to how rankings work. Anyone that says otherwise is pulling a fast one, and trying to impress you with lies.
They approached YOU
A good SEO doesn't need to conduct mass marketing campaigns. If you get an unsolicited SEO company that promises the earth, steer well clear of them. Do your research properly and scout out a reputable company to look after your SEO.
What about ongoing campaigns?
Let's say that you've already hired an SEO to help your business. What should you expect from them to help you decide if the campaign is starting, and what should you look out for?
They're staying in contact
If you don't get monthly reports from your SEO, then something is amiss. How do you know if you can trust that they're getting the job done if they're not providing you with any statistics? A good SEO will provide you with a summary of improvements to backlinks, rankings, etc.
They send you a record of what they've done
It's wise to get a record of every activity that your SEO has undertaken during that month. Ask them to be specific because you may need to attribute any changes in rankings to a particular activity. If they don't agree to this, then things get very complicated when you need to roll-back changes that has had a negative effect on your search engine visibility.
Keep an eye on your backlink profile
Make sure you regularly check to see which new websites are linking to yours in the Google Search Console. If you start seeing strange, unrelated websites linking to yours, then your SEO could be trying to build 'bad links', which can land you in hot water. Ask them if they were responsible for creating the link and ask them to get the link removed immediately if the link is from a low-quality, unrelated web page.
Your site attracts a manual penalty
Keep one eye on your Google Search Console and check for any manual penalties for your website. If this happens then it isn't automatically the fault of your SEO, but is highly likely. You can request a manual review, but let's just say that getting a penalty lifted isn't a particularly easy job.
Your rankings go down
You can't always put a drop in rankings down to the activities of an SEO, but just like a manual penalty, it is likely to be as a result of their activities. However, Google makes changes to their algorithm daily (major changes happen too occasionally), so don't always assume it's the fault of your SEO. Keep watching to see if the rankings rise again after a week or two.
You lose all your traffic
This one's serious. The last thing you want is for your SEO to lose customers to your website. Talk to them immediately, find out what they have done, and ask them to resolve it (or undo the activity that may have caused the drop in traffic).
They are giving you recommendations
Few trustworthy SEO companies just go about their business without making recommendations to your website. If they're avoiding you, be suspicious. A decent SEO will plague you with recommendations so that they can do their job better. This is a good thing. They might ask you to create a content marketing strategy, or to write some blog posts, or to enhance your presence on social media. These are good things to look for, and are a sign that your SEO is thinking of the bigger picture.
Above all, use some common sense. If you don't trust the SEO, or they seem to be promising the world, be afraid. Be VERY afraid.