SEO Scams 101: Recognising a Bad Agency

Have you ever received a strange email from an SEO ‘agency’ completely out of the blue, guaranteeing you top positions in Google within a short amount of time? Chances are this SEO agency will be doing more harm than good to your website (some effects of which can be disastrous) if you decide to hire them.

Here’s an article helping you identify the tell-tail signs of a dodgy SEO agency and avoid the dark paths towards Google penalties, ranking losses and the copious amounts of hard work that follows.

Fraudulent Emails and Dishonest Companies

IIf you’re reading this you’re probably thinking “sure, you would say that about other SEOs”, but actually I wouldn’t be the first one to admit that all SEOs do things a little differently, which is fine. There are, however, definite no no’s that all good SEO agencies abide by, and bad ones just outright ignore.

I’ve received a dodgy SEO email – is it a scam?

Some SEO emails might be completely legitimate (and I want to stress that). Unfortunately some freelancers and agencies try to exploit the complexity behind SEO, which gives us all a bad name. Alarm bells should ring if you notice any of the following in an email:

  1. You can’t find their company information on the email: Any business that wants to make a good first impression will at least try to include some business details on their marketing emails – otherwise what is the point? If you can’t find any business details on the email chances are this is just an individual trying to get some money out of you for some poor quality work.
  2. No domain email: If you aren’t seeing “” then I’d start feeling suspicious. Similar to the first point, any ‘professional’ business would have a website with a domain email, don’t you think?
  3. Unrealistic expectations: Let us clear one thing up here – rankings and volumes of traffic do not happen overnight.  It can take 6 months or more before you start noticing any real changes.
  4. “But my agency have said I’ll reach the top position by next month” – I wanted to include this above but felt like it needed it’s own explanation. If you’re that client, I would start looking for another agency, now. Ranking is entirely dependent on a range of factors, and it’s usually earned over time, not given. Ranking in the top position quickly is perfectly achievable in some cases, but often because your SEO agency is keyword stuffing and building a very bad link profile. These will work a treat for a month or so, but wait until Google finds out – one unhappy search engine coming up!  Ask your agency how they plan on achieving this.

If you currently have an SEO agency:

Red flags for SEO companies you might currently be working with should be raised if they do any of the following (here’s 4 big ones):

  1. They won’t reveal what they are doing: Sure, sometimes clients don’t want to know all the information, but if you ask the agency should be able to give you an answer (if they are confident their techniques are above board). If they refuse to give you an answer then chances are their practice isn’t wholly legitimate, and could be what we call “black-hat” – techniques that may have worked once, but now Google hates them enough to punish any site that continues to use them.
  2.  Their explanation is too confusing: OK, in some cases SEO can be quite technical and for those of you who don’t read too much into those areas the explanation can be confusing.  However, if you truly don’t understand a word your agency is saying, and even after asking them they continue to reel off the same complex information, alarm bells should start ringing.
  3. Your SEO company just wants to work in a silo: SEO back when it first started might have worked like this to some degree, but now it overlaps with almost every marketing discipline.  Unless your agency carries out all your other marketing too, they should be collaborating with other marketing and PR departments and agencies (including website agencies).
  4. Automated reports with no explanation: Some tools are great for highlighting areas that are doing well, and areas that are not doing well.  They’re also great for giving some really granular insight into statistics. However, if you’re just being sent these kind of reports with no explanation as to what the stats are telling you then I’d start questioning why – does your agency even know? Anyone can download statistics from Google Analytics or another tool, the real skill comes in the analysis and understanding of how to improve these stats.

 What do you think?

To quote Hagrid in the first Harry Potter, “not all wizards are good” (apologies if you’ve not seen or read the Philosopher’s Stone) –  unfortunately some SEOs out there give the rest of us agencies a bad name. This article is not saying “don’t trust your SEO agency”, it is simply a guide to help you steer clear of the rotten apples in what otherwise is a great bunch.  Hopefully this has given you some pointers and you can avoid the traumatic experience of lost rankings, low traffic and fewer leads.

Have you experienced a bad SEO agency before?  Let us know your experience.

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