Digital Marketing

Bad SEO Agencies: 5 Warning Signs They’re Just Like Your Ex

11 August 2017 by Gaetano DiNardi

Let’s face it, we’ve all had our share of bad relationships. As the old saying goes, you’ve got to kiss a few toads before you find your Prince Charming. When it comes to making critical business decisions though, that absolutely should not be the case. With the future of your company’s digital marketing efforts at stake, one simply can’t afford to go through a bad breakup. A bad SEO agency can cost you THOUSANDS of dollars – and even worse, waste MONTHS of your valuable time.

The Unfortunate Reality Of Bad SEO Agencies

The unfortunate reality is there are still plenty of shady SEO practitioners inflicting damage to unsuspecting victims. Due to its technical nature, the world of SEO can be a confusing and complicated one. This creates the perfect storm for self-proclaimed “SEO experts” to deliver sub-optimal results to those clients who don’t fully understand what it actually takes to move the needle from an organic search perspective.

Here’s 5 things bad SEO agencies have in common with your ex.

1. Poor Communication

Communication is the life blood of every healthy client relationship. There’s nothing worse than being in a relationship where you’re always wondering what’s going on. You should never feel like you’re being ignored. Poor communication creates a number of problems such as lack of trust, lack of confidence, and ultimately leads to conflict.

A good SEO agency (or consultant) should always be proactively informing their client on what is happening with regard to algorithm updates, sharp drops or spikes in organic traffic, large losses of inbound links, etc.

Implementing & prioritizing SEO fixes also requires effective two way communication between the agency and the client.

Don’t let your SEO agency tell you about that massive drop in traffic a month after it happens.

Beware of the ol’ bait & switch!

“One sign of a bad SEO agency is when you deal with one person during the sales and negotiating – but then they pass you to an (often less qualified) junior to handle your account. Ask the agency up front whom you will be working directly with, who will actually be doing the work and if this is likely to ever change. Definitely be wary of an agency that can’t give you a straight answer and even let you meet your account manager and lead consultant first!”

– Dan Shure, SEO Expert & Entrepreneur, Evolving SEO

Were you provided with a high quality SEO audit?

An SEO audit for your website is a great way to test if if you have found a good or bad SEO agency. Before you get started and sign any long term contracts you should ask for an SEO audit.

Here’s why:

First, to see how their communication is and how attentive they are as an agency. This is the first step in the client/agency relationship and this first interaction will set the tone for how they will perform for you during the SEO campaign.

Secondly, this is their best chance to demonstrate comprehensive SEO knowledge and capabilities; so the audit should be in depth, clear and concise.

Ask yourself these questions.. are they explaining what needs to be done and why?

Are they answering your questions up to your satisfaction?

Was the audit organized, clear and did they explain the details to you?

If the answers aren’t yes, you could be dealing with a bad SEO agency.

– Tyler Stavola, Digital Visibility Director, OWDT

2. They Put You On The Back-Burner

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who made you feel like you were always the last priority? It’s not the greatest feeling in the world when someone can’t make time for you. As a matter of fact, it’s really frustrating.

Now imagine if you were paying an SEO agency a monthly retainer of $5,000 and couldn’t get them to spend more than a few hours a week on the phone with you. That’s likely a result of poor internal workload management. It means that in an effort to maximize profits, they are overbooked with way too many clients and are struggling to keep up. More often than not, it’s the quality of work that suffers in these cases.

3. They Always Blame Someone Else

We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions in relationships, and in life period. When things start to go sour with your significant other, there’s usually good reason for it. From my experience, the phrase “blame it on the alcohol” is in indication of game over.

Your SEO relationship is no different. A bad SEO agency will try to place blame on external forces for their lack of progress. God Forbid you ever hear something like,

“Google keeps changing their algorithm, it’s not our fault you got hit by Panda!”

Or…

“It’s all those spammy backlinks that caused you to get hit by a Penguin update, not us!”

A proactive SEO agency will anticipate Panda updates, and perform a content audit to identify thin content that’s putting your site at risk. From there, an effective content strategy can serve as the road-map to improving the quality of content across the site, therefore significantly lowering the risk of a Panda hit.

4. They Make Promises They Can’t Keep

This is always an immediate red flag. No one in a healthy relationship should ever make ridiculous promises. Ladies especially, be cautious of a man who promises you the world with little to back it up. As they say, the loudest voice in the room usually comes along with the least action.

In terms of SEO, this is an especially dangerous scenario. You should run for the hills if an SEO agency promises you things like “Ranking #1” for very competitive keywords in a short amount of time, or offers to build you hundreds of links per month. The reality is that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes in SEO, and no honest agency would ever make such unrealistic promises. In fact, Rand Fishkin at Moz wrote a very smart article on why reputable SEO agencies never promise guaranteed search ranking results.

5. The Relationship Starts Great, But Ends Miserably

Ah, the honeymoon phase. We’ve all been through it. Meet someone new and hit it off instantly. This person understands you, knows all the right things to say, and has seemingly swept you off your feet. Sparks are flying, chemistry is off the charts. Little by little though you start to notice things go downhill. Red flag here, red flag there, and suddenly you ask yourself, “Whoa what did I get myself into?”

Let’s hope this hasn’t happened to you in a business relationship. Sadly though, bad SEO agencies are really good at starting off strong in the beginning, but tanking in the 4th quarter. Sounds kind of like the New York Knicks!

On a more serious note though, if you’ve had to suffer through an engagement with a bad SEO agency, you’re likely to be scarred and skeptical of working with other agencies in the future.

Best Practices For Hiring An SEO

If you’ve read this far, please let this article serve as a reminder to do your due diligence before hiring any digital agency.

  • Ask for referrals
  • Look for examples of previous work
  • Talk to past clients
  • Check for negative publicity
  • Read their articles and blog
  • Watch their videos
  • Do a background check
  • Be wary of unrealistic claims and empty promises

Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.


Gaetano is a digital marketing leader with a proven track record of success working with startups, e-commerce, enterprise and Fortune 500 brands. His background as a musician combined with a sharp business acumen creates a unique hybrid of creative and analytical skills – this is the secret sauce that makes Gaetano a force to be reckoned with in the digital marketing arena. To get in touch, follow him on Twitter: @gaetano_nyc