Hiring an SEO Agency: Red Flags to Avoid

Searching for an SEO agency should be easy, right? Just type “SEO agency” and your location into Google and hire whoever pops up first.

Not quite.

Unfortunately, at the top of the list you’re more likely to find agencies that prefer keyword stuffing and other questionable SEO tactics to healthy, customer-centric SEO strategies. These “black hat” SEO agencies rank well and will promise to do the same for you, but their tactics expose your business to significant risks.

rocket crash landing on a red planet to represent hiring an seo agency with red flags

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO agencies seek to increase website visibility in search engines through means that violate Google’s policies, such as through linking and guest posting purchasing schemes that Google discourages. Using Black Hat SEO agencies can negatively impact your site’s ability to perform in organic search in a number of ways, including incurring penalties from Google. 

Red Flags to Look for When Hiring an SEO Agency

How do you weed out the black hats and find a reputable SEO agency? There are a few things to look for, and a few things to look out for, too.

You can’t find lots of good reviews

Good reviews should be easy to find for great companies, in one way or another. Ask business colleagues or your social network on LinkedIn for recommendations. If you’re interested in a particular agency, ask them if they share customer testimonials or case studies. Happy customers are excellent referral sources. You can also look to SEO company lists from trusted industry experts, like this one from Moz.

But if you can’t find a lot of good reviews, and if an agency isn’t forthcoming about who their clients are, what kind of work they do, and is ready to show you case studies and results, then that’s not a great sign.

Also be wary of “Top SEO” directory sites. Many of these are pay-to-play and will have the exact spamdexing offenders you’re trying to avoid.

They don’t talk a lot about your objectives

Before they deploy a single SEO tactic, a good agency will want to know your objectives for search. Are you trying to drive awareness or sales, or both? Who are your customers? An SEO strategy, like any effective marketing strategy, balances business objectives with customer expectations.

If the agency says they have a “secret sauce” or “one size fits all” approach to SEO, keep looking.

They’re promising magical results

You want an SEO partner, not a magic solution. Search engine optimization strategy touches content, customer experience, owned, paid and earned media and even web design. It requires audits, customer research, discovery sessions and regular reporting. Give bonus points to agencies that promise conversation and partnership, not first-page results.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably black hat SEO. Search engine optimization is a process, not a product. If an agency boasts they can put you at the top of Google overnight, it’s a good bet they’re either scamming you or the search engines.

All their recommendations are technical

If you need an SEO agency to help you grow your digital brand, but the agency auditing you is only making technical suggestions, that won’t help you achieve your results. Lots of SEO agencies offer great technical guidance but may not help you get the growth you’re expecting (and need).

A strong SEO agency will cover both technical topics and what you can do to strengthen your website content strategy. They will look at both the content and technical aspects of SEO, but they’ll also consider them in the context of your broader marketing goals.

Work with an agency that understands SEO and growth marketing

SEO is a complex and competitive tactic in modern digital marketing, and that trend will continue as search engines algorithms become more savvy and refined. If you’re looking to boost your rankings, improve your content and create a better customer experience, be sure to search for above-board agencies that know as much about ethics and customer trust as they do about PageRank.

Check out some of our SEO case studies to learn more about Big Sea’s process and impact!