5 Warning Signs Of A Dodgy SEO Company

Ways to spot a bad SEO agency

How To Spot A Bad SEO Company

In today´s post I will share with you some warning signs that you are dealing with a low quality SEO agency.

I don’t know about you but I keep getting emailed by SEO companies promising to get me top ranking in Google for our website.

I’ve often wondered what happens to unsuspecting business owners who actually reply to them.

Maybe you’ve been tempted yourself. I mean let’s face it – who wouldn’t want a top ranking?

But who can you trust? Surely someone has to have the top ranking and someone had to help them get there – these things rarely happen by accident.

So whether you’re looking to hire an SEO firm or are already working with one, the following are tell-tale signs that you need to walk away.


Telltale Sign #1 – Poor Communication

It happens too often. You hire an SEO company and they start doing a bunch of stuff without running it by you.

I can understand that you want to leave the ‘experts’ to it. You just want results at the end of the day. Shouldn’t you let them do whatever it takes to deliver those results?


SEO is just part of the bigger picture – the overall marketing strategy.

Think how it’d make you feel if a PR company ran off and did everything without letting you know and the first thing you knew was when your business was plastered all over the places you’d rather it wasn’t.

It’s the same for SEO. The firm should be willing to explain the strategy they are going to implement for you.

Poor communication is also when the SEO “expert” doesn’t explain technical details in a way that you can understand. In other words, they are trying to blind you with science. You should look for someone who’ll explain everything to you clearly and in a language you can understand.

Also, are your questions getting answered? By the way, you should ask enough questions. If the provider goes on and on about how effective their services are without even first making an effort to keenly look at your industry, your website and your related goals, just move along.

The most skilled SEO practitioner won’t deliver if they don’t take the time to understand your business or your industry.

Telltale Sign #2 – They’ve Cracked Google

No one understands everything about Google’s algorithms.

And for this reason, no one really knows the requirements for #1 ranking on any particular term. I understand it can be really hard to resist but anyone who comes to you promising the #1 spot in ranking for a competitive term is living in cloud cuckoo land.

SEO is a long term play. Three months is a really short time to double your website traffic. These kind of claims for fast results should sound the alarm.

Some companies will even promise hundreds of links to your website in a short space of time. Sure, you might actually get those links but can you be sure that they aren’t using some kind of underhand technique that may result in a Google penalty?

Instead of making these claims they should be focusing on attributes such as trying to understand your budget and how to help you get an ROI. They need to know about your goals and help you map a plan a well as providing conclusive proof of successful work they’ve done for other people.

Telltale Sign #3 – Too Much On Their Plate

Most SEO firms will assign you a lead-person to work with you directly. It’s understandable for that person to have other clients they’re working with. However, the more clients they have, the less time they’ll have for you.

Before hiring the firm, ask to know the number of clients the assigned person is dealing with at the time. To guarantee a level of quality, the person should have a maximum of six clients.

Your site needs enough attention. You don’t want to work with someone dealing with ten other clients and getting four hours a week for your money.

Telltale Sign # 4 – They Don’t Show How SEO Fits In

Ultimately SEO is part of a bigger picture.

For this reason, success hinges heavily on how well SEO interacts with other aspects such as website design, usability, PR, social media, traditional marketing, etc.

In recent years, Google’s algorithm update mean factors such as usability, mobile friendliness and design are increasingly important ranking factors. This has continued to matter, even more, in Penguin.

So check to see that the firm you look to hire doesn’t think of SEO in total isolation. Any efforts the team proposes should be tightly tied with other disciplines.

Make sure that they take content, blogging, social media, etc. into account and don’t consider these to be ‘out of our remit’. Sure, they aren’t going to deliver these for you, but they need to understand how they all fit together.

Telltale Sign #5 – Using Out Of Date Techniques

Ever heard of Article Marketing, Bulk Directory Listings, Social Bookmarking, Link Wheels, Web 2.0 links, Private Blog Networks (PBN), Paid Links, Blog Commenting?

If you see any of these mentioned – and I mean any – just run a mile.

These kind of services worked back in the day, but if used on your website now they’re going to do more harm than good.

Even worse – you’ll be paying for the pleasure.

These strategies are toxic SEO and anyone using them either a) hasn’t got a clue b) is just plain unscrupulous or c) they haven’t got a clue and they’re unscrupulous.

So What Should You Look For In An SEO Company?

You need to be looking for a company that listens to you and takes the effort to understand your business and your industry.

They need to understand your goals and create a plan to achieve them.

They need to look at your website and compare it to the competition. They need to identify what’s working and what’s not working in your industry and create a plan around the facts.

They need to place content marketing at the centre of your plan as well as identifying where you are weak in terms of on page optimization and identify how any errors can be fixed.

They need to be able to introduce you to existing, non-competing clients who you can talk to so that you can form an independent opinion of their approach.

They need to be able to produce the data that shows clearly what’s working for you and how their efforts are helping you work towards your goals.

They can demonstrate a long term plan which involves you as much as possible in identifying, creating and distributing content that reflects your values as a business.

Wrap Up

With the internet, anyone – including you – can “optimise” and write website metadata. You don’t need a degree in programming skills for that.

But these days SEO has moved on. The technical side of things needs a professional eye on it, but increasingly creating and promoting content is the centrepiece of any SEO campaign and that also involves outreach and developing relationships.

Have you noticed any of the red flags in a past SEO provider? How did you deal with it? Any other signs a website owner should look out for? 

I hope you found this list of warning signs that you are dealing with a dodgy SEO company useful.

Thanks for reading and leave your questions below to keep the conversation going.


  1. 1

    I get a huge amount of these. I’m amazed that they all say “I work for a leading web design company in India, we can do this and that for you!” Yet the emails are all sent from an outlook accounts, yahoo etc. Surely they should be from a recognised company name if they are a leading company! I guess they are individuals just phishing for leads before selling you to a bonafide company for the highest bid.

  2. 3

    Very good article and it confirms what I suspected already.
    Actually, for me, SEO cannot be done via outsourcers because you only know your market (if you don’t, you better do something else).
    The time you spend explaining an outsourcer what to do, is time you better invest in content creation. I never bothered about SEO but concentrated on good content and it works for me. Sure, I could use some help with social marketing because that is alas required nowadays, but I prefer to work with someone next to me then an unknown person in cyberspace. It’s quicker and more efficient.
    Therefore, any e-mail with the word SEO goes into the trashcan with me.

    • 4

      Hi John,

      You are bang on the money. Good content is increasingly important & as you say it has to have your genuine voice.

      Also, if you’re creating good content for your blog then your social media/marketing becomes easier because you’ve got somewhere to direct people & your blog should be the focus for your social media plan, i.e. get followers from social media to your blog & then to your email list.

      Great to see that you’re focused on creating content – well done!

  3. 5

    Spot on, getting loads of these emails too, nightmare! Good article though. But let’s not forget though if links are not considered as the #1 ranking factor, Google is screwed.

    • 6

      Definitely agree about Backlinks.

      That’s one of the things we found when we did some research recently on over 540 UK B2B websites. We found that the 4 main factors that separated Best in Class (i.e. Top 3 ranking) from low ranking websites were:

      Industry & Location Specific Page Title, e.g. Accountant Bognor Regis (61% of Best in Class have this vs 21% for low ranking sites)
      Number of pages (Best in Class average 104 pages vs 48 for low ranking sites)
      Number of referring domains (Best in Class average 44 vs 17 for low ranking sites)
      Google Reviews (average 1 for Best in Class vs <0.5 for low ranking sites - don't forget we're talking averages :-))

      The full report is here - https://www.pickaweb.co.uk/blog/anatomy-of-a-winning-website/ & a management summary report at https://www.pickaweb.co.uk/local-b2b-executive-summary-report-june-2016.pdf

      Hope you find it useful & would welcome your feedback.

  4. 7

    Hey Tony,
    Great article, thanks for the tips. Just curious, where did you find or create the 6 client limit per person? I guess it depends on project size/scope, I’m just curious as to why 6.

    • 8

      Hi Jeremy,

      That’s an approximation. The main point is to make sure that your SEO team aren’t completely overworked. Having plenty of clients is a good thing – it shows you can deliver. But there is a danger of overloading people & that’s the main point we’re trying to get across.

  5. 9

    I had two of these emails yesterday, both from Gmail accounts. Both were offering the same services as I offer my clients(!) and both names returned very little on Google.

    I am also of the opinion that these are merely agents looking for ‘hot’ leads to sell for commission. Sadly, there must be a level of success or they wouldn’t bother – imagine the poor experiences those people will have!

    • 10

      Hi Kris,
      Yes, they’re a pain aren’t they. You can tell they’re fakes otherwise they’d be using the business email & showing their website with some testimonials & case studies.

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    Thanks for this article! Bookmarking now! It’s sad to hear the number of businesses that have dealt with “bad” seo work. Do you usually just work on that site or do you recommend starting over and building a new site when the client’s site has really bad seo?

  8. 15

    Great article Tony! I l really like when you said “You need to be looking for a company that listens to you and takes the effort to understand your business and your industry.” Imagine if a surgeon didn’t take the time to understand the type of surgery you need or want?! Shouldn’t be any different for an SEO company.

  9. 16

    Interesting read, I didn’t know PBNs, blog commenting, and social bookmarking had a negative effect on your site. I do agree that nobody can crack or figure out Google however its forever changing.

    • 17

      For instance, If you make a comment on a reputable site because you want to be part of the conversation that is perfectly fine.
      If all you want from a comment is to get a link back to your site with the keywords you are trying to target then that is spammy and not ok.
      It all depends.

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  11. 19

    Unfortunately, it seems like 90% of all seo companies out there spoil it for the rest of us. I’ve lost count of how many crooks I’ve seen so far in my life that are involved in “SEO”.

    • 20

      Hi Carl,
      Yes, that’s a real problem. It’s like an arms race with Google. Spammy SEOers finds the weaknesses, Google plugs them & so on & so on.

      But I get the feeling that with Rankbrain looking more & more for authority content it’ll be harder to game the system.

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