7 Signs You Shouldn’t Hire *That* SEO Agency

Having worked at a variety of different digital marketing consultancies (including an SEO firm) I’ve been privy to the pitches, proposals and processes of many competing agencies.

Usually they’re forwarded by client for a second opinion, I’m brought into meetings with other agencies or even friends ask me for an opinion about a consultancy they are thinking of hiring.

I’ve also been pitched myself by SEO firms, who don’t realize that, in fact, our team at LEWIS executes SEO services for clients (at the intersection of search, social and PR). When reviewing their plans I’m frequently amused by just how ignorant many are to a truly effective online marketing program.

While a select few SEO shops such as TopRank Marketing, (my previous employer) Outspoken Media, Portent Interactive and AimClear offer top-notch SEO services, an overwhelming majority of agencies in this space should be avoided at all costs.

So what are the worst things I’ve seen from an insider perspective? Here are 7 signs you definitely shouldn’t hire that SEO agency:

1. They guarantee first page / place rankings

This is just silly, no SEO firm can or should guarantee this. First of all, rankings are a KPI of traffic, by themselves they don’t really mean anything. But secondly, firms saying this are saying it because they have no real reputation, results or reputable clients to stand on. No legitimate SEO firms promise this. None. Zero exceptions. If you ever see this, run.

2. They only provide ranking reports but not actual search traffic / conversion reports

Again with rankings, here I am referring to SEO shops that don’t actually report any search traffic or conversion data. They likely don’t even have a process to get access to any client’s web analytics, because that would make them actually be accountable to results-oriented metrics. Instead they simply provide ranking reports. Which are completely meaningless on their own. As said, rankings are a KPI, not an outcome – and becoming less and less important everyday in a search landscape prioritizing personalization and social.

Judging an SEO firm on search rankings is like judging a social media firm on their ability to increase your Klout score. It might make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. It won’t actually produce outcomes.

3. Their plans purely involve building links and bookmarking a limited set of web pages

This is a dinosaur method of SEO. And by dinosaur, we mean one companies were implementing years ago when anchor text links reigned supreme, before searchers started getting smarter, (remember, 1-2 word queries are now decreasing, while 3-5+ word queries are increasing) before personalization (when everyone saw the same page 1) and before search engines started favoring robust, content rich sites based on a diverse tapestry of signals difficult to game (brand, social, etc.).

I’ve seen SEO firms who tell brands “oh, your 20 page site is fine, that’s all you need – we’ll just build a bunch of (worthless) links.” And, with this, my blood pressure immediately rises. This is not SEO. This is a waste of time and resources. Funny enough many brands love this and hire chop shop SEOs because they don’t actually have to change anything on their website or do any real work. Sad.

4. No team members represented on their website / no one in the industry has heard of them

This is an easy one to spot for any service provider. If the people behind a service don’t publicly represent themselves, you should never hire such an agency. Even if they tell you who they are in private, it is a huge red flag they don’t publicly share the leaders of the organization and at least a few team members. Further, beyond this, the SEO industry is relatively tight knit. Connect with a few well known people in the industry, they will be happy to tell you if they’ve heard of the agency. If you consult a few people and no one knows them that’s a red flag.

5. They’re not able to provide references to other clients

Any agency worth their salt is able to provide references of clients at reputable companies. If they are unable or unwilling to provide this it is a negative signal of their credibility. Again, this goes beyond SEO to any type of service provider: the legitimate ones always have references who are able to clearly articulate their experience / results.

6. The SEO / digital marketing trades have never talked about them

Conduct a quick Google search of the SEO agency’s brand name. If you find nothing on a legitimate digital marketing trade, run. Fast. The only SEOs worth hiring are the ones pushing the envelope and leading the industry. They truly care about what they are doing and are off experimenting, building connections and creating content on their own worth reacting to. You have to in a space that is so dynamic. And our trade publications, especially the top sites like Search Engine Land, AdAge, etc. do their homework to report on quality agencies.

7. They don’t blog / have an active presence on social outposts

I am sure there are good SEO agencies out there who don’t blog. But not great. Argue with me if you want, but the people who really care about SEO blog. This shows they are not only passionate about the space, but that they are savvy enough to use the web as an organic marketing tool for themselves. And those that go through the process, live it every day and constantly refine their own marketing have a distinct advantage vs. those who do not. This is the ultimate sandbox to learn in and any agency savvy in the web is embracing it.

Of course, this is just a short list. There are other items to consider such as technical chops, analysis capabilities, creative content ideas, etc. but I thought I’d throw it over to the readers: what are some other signs you’d add to the mix?

image via 50 viral images part 8