Choosing an SEO company – 20 warning signs

#1 If the entire conversation is about keywords, run! 
It’s less about keywords, or keyword optimization, yes, keywords are somewhat important, but it’s quality content that is more important. Good content will lead to better rankings without having to try to game the system. It will also lead to more conversions. If you can fit a few keywords in great, but don’t try to force them in.

#2 If they mention #1 or in top 10, run!
Run even faster if they mention a timeline (within a month). It’s impossible to promise results, and what might get you to number 1 one day, might ruin your sites reputation the next. Also you’ll notice they almost never mention what you’ll be ranked for. As was mentioned earlier, it’s easy to rank high for a low volume keyword. Being ranked #1 for something no-one searches for doesn’t really help you.

#3 If they don’t take the time to understand you or your business, run!
How can they know who to be targeting, or what to be promoting if they don’t take the time to understand your business and your customers.

#4 If they don’t take the time to look at expected traffic volumes, run!
I’ve told clients that it’s not worth doing SEO – Why? because the overall search volume for their business types in their service areas was next to nothing. Again, ranking high for something no-one is searching for doesn’t help. They would be better off spending the money on other forms of advertising where they can best reach their target audience.

#5 If they don’t mention conversion rate – run!
Having a ton of traffic, but no conversions doesn’t help anyone. While content and conversions might not be their responsibility, they would be negligent if they didn’t check your conversion rate first. Your first priority should be working on making sure that your site is as effective as possible before paying to drive traffic to it. We have a few clients that are now getting less traffic but are getting more business (in one case they went from 7000 visits a month to 5000, but they are getting 200 more leads per month, and those leads are higher quality as well.)

#6 If they don’t provide reports, or offer only a long list of keywords, run!
They should be providing you with actual readable understandable reports that give you the critical information you need, along with actionable suggestions where needed. They should also take the time to go over the reports with you (or be available if you need more information). Make sure you ask for a sample of their reports before signing on. Keyword ranking depends on a number of factors, such as your preferences, past search history, location, etc. These ranking reports are often flawed because they don’t take into account these factors

#7 If they don’t function in a professional way – run!
do they have an email address like “SEOSUPERSTAR at Gmail”?
do they have a contract that needs to be signed?

#8 If they email or phone you to offer their services – run!
If they have to chase business by doing outbound, it means that they aren’t succeeding doing Inbound (SEO being part of that).

#9 If they mention Press Release – run!
This is an old technique that used to be used to generate backlinks. Press releases are still good, if you have something to say, but as an SEO technique, it might actually get your site penalized.

#10 If they mention Directory Listings – run!
This used to be a good technique, and still has some merit in niche directories and quality local directories like Yelp, Yellowpages, etc. The trick is not to over do it, or to “mass submit to a 100 different directories” which is what many poor/scam SEO’s do.

#11 If they mention submissions – run!
Google Base submission, press release submission (see above), blog submission, video submission, article submission, review submission, local submission, submission to “100’s of directories, search engine submission, “Submission and SEO partner backlinks”, etc. I’m not going to go through all of these, but be careful what is submitted and where. These companies can quickly get you into trouble. Just look at all the companies that are now offering backlink cleanups to clean the mess that all these submissions can cause. Also search engine submission is usually only needed for new sites.

#12 If they mention meta keywords – run!
The meta keywords tag has very little SEO value, the keywords tag isn’t used by the major search engines. While smaller search engines might still use them, for the amount of traffic that will bring in, it is rarely worth paying for.

#13 If the content they write doesn’t seem to be in english – run!
If their SomeLocalArea SEO SERVICES text seems like they are trying to jam a bunch of BEST SEO KEYWORDS stuffed into the text, and really doesn’t seem like SEO LOCATION it belongs, avoid!

#14 If they mention “partner backlinks” or “link network” – run!
These techniques used to help increase ranking by artificially increasing the number of backlinks. There is a team at google that actively looks for these kinds of networks, and penalizes all involved.

#15 If they promise large quantities of “PR X” backlinks – run!
Most search engines focus on quality over quantity, and by quality we mean relevant sites. If you are a florist, and have a bunch of links on plumber sites, shoe store sites, flooring manufacturers, etc. Those links don’t help as they have nothing to do with your industry. Good links are the ones that make sense, and that you would want even if they aren’t helping your SEO.

#16 If they mention forums or comments – run!
Forums and comments used to be a good way to get backlinks. Search engines give these mediums much credibility, and the techniques used do nothing but annoy the owners of the sites the forums or post comments are on. Also, If there is an unusually high amount of backlinks from these sources, your site could actually be penalized by search engines.

#17 If they mention sitemaps – run!
A sitemap isn’t a bad thing, as it can help search engines find pages that aren’t linked to. But if the pages aren’t being linked to, you have a bigger problem. Search engines “crawl” and will follow links (unless told otherwise). Because of this, sitemaps aren’t really needed. If they are there, great, but they shouldn’t be the core of an “SEO” plan.

#18 If they mention review submission – run!
Reviews are great, and can help increase conversion rate. “submitted” reviews, those that aren’t posted by your actual customers, can have a massive negative effect, both from search engines, and more importantly, your customers. Many companies have gotten into hot water with this. I’ve actually seen one company where almost every product had the same review, and in some cases it made no sense for that product. The only good review, is a real one.

#19 They mention “valid code” or “w3c validator” – run!
No modern site will be w3c valid, it’s not a problem with the site, it’s a problem with the validator. If you where to run through the validator, you would get 23 errors, 465 errors. 230 errors.

#20 They offer blanket pricing for services – run!
$500 a month for Title Tag Optimization, Robots.txt Optimization, Header Tag Optimization, HTML Source Edits, W3c Validation, Local Search, Edits for Local Search, Local Submission, Search Engine Site Maps, Google Base Submission, Article Writing, RSS Feeds (most CMS’ offer this by default), DMOZ submission, Press Release Submission, Social bookmarks, Web 2.0, PDF, WIki, Blog Submission, Photo Sharing, Video Submission, Article Submission, Authority High PR Links, X keywords in #1, etc. This seems like a lot! When you think that most SEO services cost between $75 to $200 per hour, there is no way that this can be profitable for them. The trick is, most of these services (if they aren’t outright bad for your site) are unnecessary, meaning that they don’t actually have to do it, automated, or outsourced. And while automation and outsourcing can save time, there generally isn’t any quality control. Another thing to consider, is scope of the project. Are there 5 content pages? are there 500? How many need to be “optimized”. Any good SEO provider will take a look at the scope of the project, and what needs to be done before committing to a price. Generally (and we really stress generally) there is a lot of initial work that needs to be done, and not a whole lot of monthly stuff. Where these blanket prices work, is if you are being offered the same level/amount of work regardless of business size or type, for example: X blog articles written (not submitted, per month), reporting, different levels of social media interaction (x hours of social media community management), monthly/quarterly newsletters, etc.

The list goes on, but the key is to make sure that they take the time to look at your business, and your business needs before rattling off all the services that offer. Any package/price they put together should be based on a thorough analysis of your existing site, and everything they recommend/offer should conform to the google webmasters guidelines. Their basic principles are

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.