How good is your SEO company?

How good is your SEO Company?

Here are a few things to verify they are doing a good job

Here’s a common scenario.

You hire an SEO firm to boost your search rankings. You don’t give the decision much thought because all SEO firms are the same. Right?


In fact, choosing the wrong SEO agency can do real damage to your company.

What separates a good SEO agency from a harmful one? It all depends on the methods they use to obtain higher rankings.


Beware of Black Hat Marketing

Ever since their creation, search engines like Google have been at war with sleazy marketers who try to cheat the system. We call these people “black hat” marketers and their tactics take on a number of forms:

  • Paying hundreds of spammy websites to link back to your site
  • Duplicating content found elsewhere on the web
  • Using a computer program to create hundreds of useless pages on your domain
  • Creating fake press releases and spamming for links

Your website can face serious consequences if caught using such techniques. Google can lower your rankings, give you a manual penalty, or even delist you from search results. It can take months, even years for a company to recover after getting flagged by Google. You don’t want to start working with a black hat SEO agency, so it’s important to know how to identify a scam.

Here are the “Red Flags” to look out for when starting work with a new SEO firm.

The Red Flags of Harmful SEO

1. They make promises or guarantees

This may sound like a good thing, but beware of SEO firms who promise or guarantee results.

“Overnight rankings!”

“Double you traffic!”

“X amount of backlinks!”

There is no way an SEO agency can promise success because we all play in Google’s sandbox, and they can change the rules at any time. If a guarantee sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

The best SEO firms act less like salesmen and more like experienced guides. No matter how the SEO landscape changes in the future, they will help you navigate it. More importantly, they won’t put your website in danger by taking risky routes to the top.

2. They Start with Backlinks, Not Your Own Website

Backlinks are only a fraction of a good SEO strategy. SEO starts from within, by taking a look at your website structure, your content, and your code. Without the foundation of an SEO-optimized website, backlinking efforts will fall flat.

If an SEO firm insists they don’t need access to your site or analytics, then they are either being lazy, or at worst, using black hat tactics.

3. They Refuse to Share Their Process

As a client, you have the right to know the tactics your SEO partner is using. If a firm tells you they have a “proprietary” process, or gives you any other excuse to not share the details, then run away as fast as you can.

The professional SEO community is very open and effective strategies are well-documented. Only people running a scam will refuse to share their “process”.

4. They Don’t Show Their Work

Remember back in math class when the teacher would dock you points for not showing your work? The same rule applies to your SEO agency. If they have nothing to show after the first few months, then you need to start asking hard questions.

I’m not just talking about results. SEO improvements do take time. However, there are steps your SEO agency should be take, and you should ask to see their progress.

These steps include:

  • Suggestions for improving your site structure, content, or your code
  • Optimized content for your website
  • Analysis of your current backlinks
  • A list of sites they plan to target for more backlinks

If an SEO firm can’t show their work, then either they are not doing the work, or they are using shady practices to produce results. Keep your eyes open for cheaters, just like your math teacher.

5. You See Suspicious Backlinks to Your Site

You should monitor Google Analytics and Search Console when you start work with a new SEO firm. If you see backlinks from unknown, spammy websites, then talk to the agency and ask them to explain.

The best way to check your backlink is to go to your Search Console > Search Traffic > Links to Your Site

Google rewards sites with backlinks from high-authority pages and punishes those who backlink to spam sites. A good SEO firm values high quality backlinks over quantity.

6. You’re rising in the ranks for irrelevant keywords

Rising in the ranks for unrelated keywords can be a sign that your SEO agency is not doing what they should.

There are two explanations for this: either the agency hasn’t defined the right keywords to target, or they are using a black hat technique called “cloaking” to trick search engines into showing your page in unrelated searches. Cloaking is a clear violation of Google’s terms and can result in a penalty for your website.

The goal of SEO is to drive targeted traffic to your site. This is another case where your SEO agency should optimize for quality, not quantity.

7. Your Relevant Page Rankings Drop

There are a number of reasons why your page rank might drop, and not all of them are sinister. The solution can be as simple as adding internal links or increasing site speed. However, make sure the drop isn’t caused by an algorithmic penalty or poor keyword optimization.

8. You See a Rise Keyword-Rich Anchor Text

It might seem great for all of your backlinks to use perfect, keyword-optimized anchor text. If your website is, then you’d think the best anchor text would be “value light bulbs”. But this is not the case.

Keyword-rich anchor text worked great in the past. But since the 2012 Penguin algorithm update, Google is punishing websites that use too many.

The purpose of the update is to encourage content written for humans, not for Google bots. Therefore, sites with a diversity of anchor text are being promoted in the ranks. Search Engine Watch found that companies using more than 65% keyword-rich anchors were hit the hardest by Penguin. Websites that had less than 50% were “all but guaranteed” but not be affected.

Anchor text should not exactly match your list of keyword phrases. If an SEO agency fails obtain natural-sounding backlinks, then you should start to look elsewhere for help.

What to look for in an SEO Firm

We now know the red flags of a potentially harmful SEO. But what does a good SEO agency look like?

Every firm is a little different, but here are a few key indicators:

1. Initial research, audit and analysis

Like we mentioned in Red Flag #2, good SEO strategy doesn’t begin with backlinks. It starts with research and analysis of your current situation.

A good SEO agency will do a detailed audit of your site structure, code, and content. They should provide a list of improvements before ever mentioning backlinks.

2. Site Structure Improvements

Proper site structure makes a big difference for SEO, and a good agency knows this.

Improvements include:

  • Fixing site errors
  • Adding a site map
  • Optimizing for page speed
  • Internal linking

Some of these improvements are quick and easy, like adding internal links on your site. In other cases, you might need a code overhaul or website redesign to improve site speed and increase your conversion rate.

3. Content Improvements

After structural changes, a good SEO agency will focus on your content. Improvements include:

  • Identifying keywords to target
  • Adding keywords to titles and articles in a natural way
  • Setting up title tags
  • Adding meta descriptions

They will also remove duplicate content and format images and text for higher conversions.

4. Link building

Finally, after your website is optimized, a good SEO firm will help you obtain high quality backlinks. There are a number of ways to build backlinks without using shady black hat practices.

One of the best ways to obtain backlinks is by monitoring brand mentions across the internet. Your SEO firm should set up alerts that notify them whenever someone mentions your name. Each one of these mentions is a chance for a link back.

A firm can also conduct research on your competition to identify new link-building opportunities. These can include press mentions, industry articles, and chances for you to guest post.

Once the agency finds these opportunities, they will reach out on your behalf to get the backlink.

As you can see, a good SEO agency does more than just provide backlinks. They help you improve your website, your content, and even your PR and marketing. Because of this, choosing the right SEO agency is critical.

What do you do now?

Understanding the differences between good and bad SEO is just the first step. Here are a few more tips to help you succeed:

1. Do your research before choosing an SEO agency

SEO success starts with choosing the right agency. Obviously you want to avoid agencies that use black hat practices, but that’s the bare minimum. Communication and trust are just as important to a partnership as SEO practices.

This first step is so important that we wrote an entire article on choosing the right SEO agency.

2. Be Patient

SEO is a long-term game. It can take months to see improvements in page rankings. Be patient with your new SEO agency, but as we mentioned in Red Flag #4, make sure they are taking the right steps for improvements down the line.

3. Stay in the Loop

Don’t just choose an SEO partner and let them run wild. Keep an eye on your analytics and ask them to inform you of tactical changes. The success of your company is ultimately in your hands, so stay involved in the process.



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