Digital marketing is a discipline that already attracts more than it's fair share of snake oil salesmen. Resellers, middlemen, and pretenders abound (about 90% of SEO companies are resellers, by some counts), which leads to tons of broken promises and unfulfilled agreements. Within digital marketing as a whole is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO (go HERE to learn more about what SEO is and why it's valuable). Simply put, SEO is all about attracting people to your site by having 1) quality website construction and 2) quality, relevant content. If your site is up to par and has what a person is looking for, search engines like Google will be more likely to refer people to you.
SEO companies are often amateur, 1-man shows that are "side projects" at best, where the so-called "expert" claims to know the secret sauce needed for a #1 ranking, when in reality they have no idea how SEO works. What we want to accomplish in this post is to empower you with 11 things you can look for to know if your current or prospective SEO agency is full of it - a relationship doomed to fail.
1 - THEY PROMISE INSTANT RESULTS
The most common irresponsible claim of "SEO companies" is that they can get you to the top overnight. These companies are spamming the heck out of businesses trying to prey on owners that don't have an understanding about SEO. There are plenty of people out there who believe the hype and want to fast-track themselves to the top of the organic search rankings. Sure, there's bound to be some keywords that you could rank for relatively quickly, and your company name should rank #1 with a few things done right, but true SEO results take time. It's not uncommon for results to take months, if not years, to happen. It's a very naïve to think that you can have instant results, especially considering all of the variables that impact SEO. Don't fall prey to the false promise of a SEO agency promising you the world.
2 - THEY HAVE SPAMMY LINKS DIRECTED AT THEMSELVES
Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, and other backlink analysis tools will help you evaluate an SEO company's site. Maybe 10% of SEO companies will have solid ratings that indicate they're good at what they do. The rest? Busch league. If an SEO company has no links or poor quality links, how could they help you?
3 - THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE SUCKS, OR IS NON-EXISTENT
Today, you have to be on social media in some way, and SEO agencies certainly need to have a strong presence there. It is a display of their ability to create quality content and engage with an audience. Your SEO agency needs to be able to do just that for you, so why work with them if they cannot do it for themself? An under-the-radar agency that avoids social media isn't looking for legitimacy or long-term impact, it's looking to make quick money and sell out fast before doing it all over again.
4 - THEY GUARANTEE A #1 RANKING FOR SPECIFIC KEYWORDS
Understand that there will always be demand for specific keywords. Strong brand keywords like "iPhone" or "weight loss" will always be nearly impossible to own. There is simply too much demand and authority already in place that your SEO agency won't slay that dragon. Guarantees are impossible to make in the first place, so guaranteeing a ranking for a specific keyword is insanity. What is possible is incremental progress and local authority. Don't sign up with an agency that promises the world.
5 - THEIR BLOG IS PATHETHIC
If creating quality, relevant content is an essential component of SEO success, and a SEO agency has a blog that's full of bad content, or worse yet, they don't have a blog, look elsewhere for SEO help. Imagine what drivel they would create for you if they can't even do something good for themself!
6 - THEY WON'T OR CAN'T EXPLAIN WHAT THEY'RE DOING
There is NO secret sauce, voodoo, magic, trick, or back door to SEO success. Shady, fly-by-night companies use this talk all the time in order to avoid explain what they are, or more often aren't, doing with your SEO. We already know how to achieve SEO success: quality website construction, quality content, and good relationships with other sites that result in quality links. If your current or prospective SEO agency isn't transparent, you should walk away.
7 - THEY DON'T DISCUSS GOALS BEFORE STARTING
How will they take you where you want to go if they don't know where you want to go?! Is your objective to generate leads? Push traffic to your web store? Gather e-mail addresses? This is the very first thing that needs to be known. Your goals will dictate keywords, content strategy, campaign execution, etc. To accomplish anything worthwhile, your goals must be clearly defined, and if they don't ask about your goals, you should say goodbye.
8 - THEY'RE CHEAP
For possibly some select businesses, a website could maybe be ranked for a few hundred bucks a month. Let's think about the numbers for a moment - content will be a few hundred bucks; links are easily each hundreds of dollars; and we still haven't mentioned labor and overhead expenses. True, legit SEO agencies are often in the range of $3k - $10k per month. If it's too good to be true, it's not true.
9 - THEY CLAIM TO KNOW A GUY ON THE INSIDE
This bursts the bubble of a bunch of SEO agencies, but there isn't ONE SEO company that knows the secret algorithm or that knows a guy that works in Google that skews results in their favor. For Google, SEARCH IS SACRED, so they will never allow anyone or anything to interfere with the integrity of the search results.
10 - THEY'RE UNREACHABLE
it's unfortunate, but many SEO companies are actually side gigs of the operators. These people want some income on the side, but aren't willing to invest the necessary time to master their craft, and therefore, more often than not, leave dissatisfied and disillusioned ex-clients in their wake. To see if you're dealing with a company that's more of a full-time SEO agency, test them with e-mails and calls. If they don't answer or are delayed in responses, that's your red flag.
11 - THEY TALK AUTOMATION
Back in the early 2000's, content scrapers, link building software, and other automation tools were commonplace. These days, those tools will get your website penalized faster than you can say something that doesn't take very long to say. Many SEO agencies will claim their automation is key to their low prices. Curating quality content is not an automated task. And ask for a sample report - you can check the links they've built to see if they look like they were made by some automated software. Mention of automation should ALWAYS immediately remove an agency from contention.
There will always be bad apples out there, but this list should help you avoid being taken for a ride with SEO agencies. NO agency ANYWHERE can guarantee results, because there are simply too many variables out of anyone's control. Your website should be one of your best salesmen, if not THE best, so don't leave it or your SEO up to amateurs. Make sure beforehand that you're dealing with a company that will do honest work, not try to game the system, and is willing to help you understand what SEO strategy they're employing. Of course, we here at Level 11 do SEO for many of our clients, so we're more than happy to answer any questions you may have, and show you what we've done for our clients.
About us: Level 11 Online Marketing is a fast growing digital advertising agency that is becoming known for disrupting the status quo. We specialize in digital advertising, video production, SEO, SEM, advanced analytics, custom web solutions via website design & implementation, social media strategies and conversion optimization. Headquartered in Utah, you will find Level 11 team members in Utah, Washington, California, Idaho, and Colorado. We have the best creative minds in the industry backed up by the most talented software developers and video production teams which leads to powerful, efficient advertising campaigns.
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