Every business can benefit from a fresh approach to modern SEO. When you’re ready to hire a search engine optimization agency it isn’t an everyday business decision. It goes well beyond a quick handshake and a signature.
Everyone knows a relationship can’t survive without open communication, at least not one that’s in it for the long-haul. Your relationship with your SEO company is no different. Honesty and transparency are key.
But not all digital marketing agencies that offer search engine optimization are created equal. Don’t get me wrong. Not all SEO companies are dishonest. In fact, most of them are transparent.
However, as the founder of a digital marketing company, unfortunately I’ve seen many small businesses run into trouble with SEO agencies. Whether they use black-hat SEO tactics or don’t spend adequate time on an account, SEO companies get away with a lot these days (especially if you don’t know which red flags to avoid).
If you’re experiencing any of the following scenarios with your SEO company, it may be a sign that they aren’t being completely forthright with you.
1. You talk to a different person every time
When you’re constantly being passed around, your account may not be receiving consistent work. How are you supposed to know if what you discussed with so-and-so was completed if you have to speak with a different person this week? You can’t. If you haven’t seen tangible proof of work and talk to a different person each week, there’s reason for concern.
Look out for key account managers or project managers replaced on your account. This can point to internal issues within an agency. If the agency doesn’t have a strong culture they’ll find it hard to maintain stability and motivate their team, which lead employees to seek other opportunities, and in turn, this can negatively affect your campaign. It also leads to disruptions in workflow and communication, which is not what you paid for.
However, there are always exceptions: maternity leave, employees relocating, medical emergencies, etc. Find out why people leave an agency before you jump to conclusions. Glassdoor and other company review sites can provide you with good information.
2. You don’t receive regular status updates
This could be a sign that your SEO company isn’t monitoring progress. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to expect an email every time new traffic spikes on your site. However, you should receive status reports at least once a week, and at the very least, once a month.
How else will you know if your SEO strategy is working? Even if traffic and conversions are down, a good SEO agency will share updates and a game plan to solve the problem.
Request weekly updates via a short phone call or a well-documented email. Also, ensure end-of-the-month reporting is thorough via a conference call and screen share. The goal is to match up workflow to results in Google Analytics or whatever website analytics platform you use to measure performance.
3. You hear the word ‘guarantee’ a lot
Very few things in the SEO world can be guaranteed. If your SEO agency makes lofty promises left and right, be wary. Here are a few promises or guarantees to look out for in particular:
“We guarantee you will be on page 1 within the first six weeks.”
“We can rank you No. 1 for the most popular keyword in your industry.”
“We’re good friends with Google, so we can get you on the first page for any keyword you want.”
Any of those sound familiar? If so, it’s likely these promises won’t be fulfilled.
4. They can’t explain their processes
Good SEO shops love to talk about SEO; from the importance of meta data to latent semantic search. When an SEO company tells you they can’t explain processes because they’re “too complex,” this is a red flag. If you’re given a standard boilerplate that doesn’t align with your specific goals, consider taking your business elsewhere.
Yes, SEO is a complex process with a lot of independent variables, but a good agency will help you understand what they are doing and why.
5. They don’t present hard data
Your SEO company may say something like this: “Since you hired us, your site has received a 200 percent increase in organic traffic, a 50 percent increase in conversion rates, and has gotten 100 backlinks to your site.”
That all sounds great! But did they actually show you the numbers to prove it? Without hard data, you’ll have no way to know the accuracy of this statement. Be cautious of custom reporting platforms that don’t directly export data from Google Analytics. If you just look at Excel spreadsheets and take them at face value, they could have been manipulated.
Not all SEO companies are dishonest. In fact, most SEO agencies are completely transparent with clients. These are just a few big SEO red flags to look out for in order to protect you and your small business.
This article has been edited.
Nick-Bjorn Slettengren is the founder of Power Digital. Connect with @nick_bjorn on Twitter.
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