If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Do you know what to watch out for in an SEO company?
There are scammers, con artists, and just plain subpar companies in every industry. And SEO is no different.
The problem is that—for most other businesses—there are online guides and experts telling you which red flags to look out for. (So it’s second nature to be on your guard when someone asks for your credit card number over the phone.)
But for SEO companies, spotting the rotten apple that spoils the (reputation of) the whole barrel is a little more difficult.
But only when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
In this guide, we’ll tell you what to watch out for in an SEO company so you can properly evaluate the quality of what you’re getting.
Beware Black Hat SEO!
One of the concepts us digital marketers like to talk about in our free time is the difference between white hat and black hat SEO. No, I don’t know why they picked “hat” and not “sweater” or “overalls” or “pajama pants.”
In short, white hat SEO tactics are the things that Google wants you to do. (And if Google wants you to do it, that’s probably because those are things your readers will appreciate, too.)
Black hat SEO, on the other hand, are all those shady tactics that all bark and no bite. They may even use all the right buzzwords, such as “backlinks” and “social engagement.” But in the end, they don’t actually do anything for your business.
They’re the web equivalent of buying the Brooklyn Bridge.
What To Watch Out For In an SEO Company
Unfortunately, black hat SEO is everywhere—precisely because it’s so foreign to 97% of the population. So how can you possibly know what to watch out for in an SEO company if you’re not among the 3% of people who work in the industry?
Sit back and grab a drink. We’ll fill you in.
1. Spammy Backlinks
Think of backlinks as little virtual business cards that you leave all over the internet in the hopes that people will pick them up and contact you.
But—just like business cards—it’s important to leave backlinks in places where they’ll be appreciated.
Instead, some SEO companies just make it rain backlinks, not caring where they end up, who clicks on them, or whether or not they’ll be blacklisted by Google. (Because in the end, it isn’t them who’ll be blacklisted, but their paying clients.)
When you’re interviewing a potential digital marketer, make sure you ask about how they find backlink opportunities.
2. Page Rank (PR) Score
Back in the good old days, Google used to assign scores to websites (“0” being the worst, “9” being the best) according to how expert or authoritative they thought a website was.
How did they make this determination? By looking at how many backlinks tracked back to the site. (You see where this is going, right?)
Google assumed that each backlink was like a big thumbs up for that site’s credibility. Sites with more links would get higher votes, and these sites would brag about their score or even offer to sell links from their “PR 7 site,” knowing that people would pay a premium for their “endorsement.”
Thankfully, Google updated its algorithm (they now look at things like quality of backlinks, amount of valuable content, social media shares, etc.) and PR scores aren’t even public knowledge anymore.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped certain SEO companies from trying to sell the unsuspecting public on backlinks from “PR 5-7” sites.
Seeing as how Google hasn’t updated this metric since 2013, shilling backlinks this way is like ESPN putting out 2013 NFL rankings for this upcoming fantasy football season.
Steer clear of any company that can’t keep up with the ever-changing world of SEO. Their outdated information won’t do you any good.
3. Flying Blind When It Comes To Social Media
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a digital marketer to handle your social media accounts.
But there is something wrong with hiring someone who a) doesn’t know anything about your business and b) doesn’t care enough to learn.
You can notify them of any changes to your product line, they can notify you about your click-through rate.
Big companies don’t have the time to stay up-to-date on your company structure, but even a one-person operation will fail if they don’t know who you are, what your tone is, or who you want to target.
4. More Facebook Likes!
First of all, Facebook is on life support right now, so anyone who’s putting all their eggs into the Meta basket should be side-eyed hard.
But this advice is the same regardless of what social media platform you use. It could be YouTube likes, or TikTok followers, or Instafans.
This gets shady when the social engagement doesn’t actually come from people that like your channel. They’re purchased. (Remember that scene from Silicon Valley?)
Even if this was effective at increasing your traffic (which it’s not), do you really want followers who don’t care about what you’re offering? Likes and retweets don’t make you money!
You’re online because you want to sell a product or a service to people who are fans of what you do. Those paid likes? They’re not gonna spend a cent at your storefront. They’re gonna cash their check and go home.
5. Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing involves packing a web page or blog post so full with a particular keyword that the content sounds unnatural.
It’s the oldest trick in the book, not to mention the worst. Not only can Google tell that this is happening, they’ll actually penalize websites for doing it.
Obviously, this does depend on the keyword. It will still sound perfectly fine if you use “photography” 20 times in a 2,000-word article (although you should probably pick a more specific keyword). But using “wedding photography Orlando” 12 times in a 500-word article will raise some red flags.
If a company is writing any content for you, take the time to read it over to make sure it sounds like something a human would say. If you come across the same long tail keyword too many times in an article, then they’re keyword stuffing and don’t deserve another dime.
6. Weak Content
Clarity has two branches, neither of which is more important than the other—SEO and content.
We don’t offer content development because we happen to have some really good writers and we’re looking for ways to keep them busy. We have really good writers on staff because content is crucial to making your business known.
Quality content is the single best thing you can do to increase your organic traffic. Whether it’s on a search engine or even a social media platform.
And while quality is more important than quantity when it comes to content SEO, this doesn’t mean you can throw two good paragraphs on a page and call it a day.
The “magic” word count depends on what type of content you’re creating, but no one ever got penalized for writing too many words. For blog posts, we aim for 800-1,000 words of informative, well-written content that educates and interests the reader.
7. Adding Your Info to “Even More!” Online Directories
Any time an SEO company tries to sell you on a more expensive package that promises to get your company info on “even more online directories,” it should set off some red flags.
Online directories are a great way to get your name out there, but not all directories are created equal.
Yelp! and Angie’s List (two of the biggest review sites on the web today) are obviously ones that you want to have a presence on, but it’s not worth it to pay $100/month extra to an SEO company to get on some directory that most people have never heard of. (If no one’s heard of it, no one’s using it!)
8. Smoke and Mirrors
If we could leave you with only one tip of what to watch out for in an SEO company, it would be this one.
Be wary of any company that doesn’t explain the what, why, or how of anything they’re doing.
Trust us when we say that there’s no “secret sauce.” No proprietary information that you couldn’t find yourself with enough time on the internet.
Any SEO expert worth their salt should be capable of developing a strategy that’s simple enough to be explained, but complex enough that you can’t (or don’t want to) do it yourself.
On the other hand, maybe they tell you everything they’re doing, but don’t have the numbers to back it up.
After you’ve been using an SEO company for about 3-6 months (depending on your site and chosen industry), they should be able to show you the analytics that prove your website has seen more traffic due to their hard work. If they can’t provide that, some alarms should go off.
Another shady tactic you might see is the ol’ “you’re not seeing an increase in traffic because you didn’t purchase our premium package” trick.
Now, obviously, good SEO practices do require funds to work (advertising isn’t free), but you should definitely feel skeptical when a company pressures you to pay “just $50/month more” when their existing plan hasn’t been working.
One of our clients received an offer like this from their old SEO company after they tried to cancel with them. We did our homework and determined that this company hadn’t made any social media posts (something the client was paying for) for the last 6 months.
If the bare minimum isn’t doing anything for you, just walk away.
White Hat SEO
Lest you start to think that every SEO company is sus, let’s go over the good stuff.
Here are things your SEO strategy should include that aren’t secretive (or ethically dubious).
1. Consistent, Valuable Content
Google is the undisputed king of search engines (go home, Bing!) and every algorithm update for the last 15 years has focused increasingly on content quality.
Which means that any SEO company that claims to have a comprehensive approach should include some form of content marketing (even if they’re recommending that you do it yourself).
Blogs, email newsletters, or even just beefing up the existing pages on your website can help (although blogs are best, due to the fact that they’re regularly updated and searchable by internet users).
Heck, even videos count as content.
Regularly adding valuable content is one of the best things you can do to make Google take your site more seriously.
2. Quality PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Campaign
If you have the funds, a PPC campaign can be a great way to get your business name in front of the people who are looking for it. (It’s like taking out an ad in the Yellow Pages, except that people aren’t throwing the internet in their recycling bin.)
By creating a PPC campaign for, say, your Orlando-area chiropractic office, you’re ensuring that your ad will be seen by people who are Googling “orlando chiropractor” (or whatever keyword you want to focus on).
You do have to pay a certain amount (usually .50-$1) for each time someone clicks on your ad, but if you have enough conversions, a PPC campaign can pay for itself. We’ve seen it happen.
3. Tracking Your Site’s Analytics
Anytime you try to improve your site’s SEO (which is all the time), you need to have some way of tracking the numbers so you can make sure your strategies are working.
A great SEO company will be able to show you how many visitors your site is getting, how long they’re staying, and whether they converted into a customer.
Even if we find out our SEO tactics aren’t getting the results our clients want, we can use this information to pivot and try something that will.
Obviously, not every SEO company is shady, but not all of them are legit, either.
When you hire anyone, it’s important to do your research and educate yourself so you know whether you’re getting a great deal or working with a con artist.
If you received a proposal from an Orlando SEO company and you aren’t sure whether they’re recommending the best strategy for you, contact us. We can point you in the right direction.
Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. Seriously though, what is Meta? Is it some kind of cult?