You’re reading this, so you probably have concerns on whether or not your SEO agency is helping or hurting your business.

Unfortunately, I too often hear from company presidents, CEO’s and owners who spend thousands of dollars each month, often for years, on SEO firms – with no resulting benefit.

It bothers me and sadly, when I get involved directly with the agency or consultant they have nothing to show for monies spent.

Is there magic to SEO and should you blindly trust your consultant or firm?  Absolutely not.

And it pains me to see good people get cheated, so to avoid this from happening to you, I’ll outline the basics of what to look for within your agency – to better determine if your SEO firm is helping or hurting your business.

Choose your SEO as you would your doctor. Both professionals should explain why there is a problem and the various solutions available to resolve the problem.

Your doctor and your SEO don’t practice magic, but do, or at least should, follow the best ethical practices and be 100% transparent with what they are doing to help you.

I love the Doctor and SEO analogy, and “bedside manner” is important.

Your expert should be communicative about what they are doing, especially in the beginning. The sooner you understand what they are up to, the better chances you have of figuring out whether or not your SEO firm is helping, or harming your site.

Listed below are several telltale signs that your SEO agency might be a scam.

1. Your SEO agency doesn’t have anything to show you.

Your SEO agency should be able to show you what SEO methods they practice. The first few months of your contract may be too early to determine “significant” results but this doesn’t mean there aren’t things for you to see.

What products are they using? How are they monitoring your progress?

Don’t stress if you are not getting the top results in the beginning. However, it’s safer for you if you look for deliverables.

Deliverables can include:

  • A comprehensive SEO audit of your website – an analysis based on organic search results
  • An analysis of your link profile – the makeup of links directed to your site
  • Changes or suggestions for optimizing your website content
  • Articles with links to your website that have been published or are pending publication on other websites.

Protect your investments and make sure you have tangible proof for work performed.

2. They aren’t asking questions.

Your SEO agency might not be the best if they aren’t asking any questions. As the site owner, they may need to access a few of the following things:

  • Access to your Content Management Systems
  • Access to Google Analytics
  • Access to Google Webmaster Tools
  • Access to social accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.
  • Target “keywords” list
  • Audits/penalties/work from the past

If your SEO agency isn’t asking you for this information, they may be adding random backlinks to fishy websites. This does way more harm than it does any good.

Which brings us to telltale number three…improvements.

3. Your SEO firm isn’t suggesting remedies for improvement.

If your SEO firm isn’t requesting action or suggesting any improvements, they’re up to no good.

Unethical SEO firms have been guilty of mass producing backlinks for their client’s websites, emitting low effort and expecting high results.

These firms aren’t interacting with you, their client, instead they want to trick you into believing you’re benefiting from their “efforts”. The reality is, you’re not, but they are hurting your business.

The best Digital Marketing firms should view your relationship as a partnership. In order for your brand to prove successful, you’ll want to work with them. This means they will have recommendations, so don’t be scared to trust them.

Which brings us to our fourth guideline, sharing their techniques.

4. They refuse to share what it is they’re doing.

You should be curious about what your SEO firm is doing. And they should be more than willing to share. If your SEO firm is secretive and responds with a few of these vague responses – something suspicious is happening:

  • “Our efforts must remain confidential.”
  • “We are not allowed to disclose what our practices are, due to the nature of the industry.”
  • “We do a variety of things, that involves optimizing your site for search engines.”
  • “We do tons of things, but it would take way too long for me to explain.”
  • “I don’t know, but we’ll get back to you.”

Ethical and accepted SEO practicing firms should be able to explain what their practices consist of, you’ve definitely run into a scam if they can’t.

5. Manual penalties – the absolute worst thing that could happen to your site.

It won’t be hard to figure out if this has happened to you or not. You’ll typically receive an email or a GWT notification if it has.

If you’ve received this within the first couple of months of working with your Digital Marketing firm, wave the red flag.

It might not be the best decision to fire them hastily because there’s a slim chance that it might not be their fault. However, it might be best for you, to invest in some tough interrogation.

Get to the bottom of why this might have occurred. And then do something about it!

6. Your website rankings are declining.   

It’s very important for you to keep an eye on your rankings, while not being overly obsessive about it. If you discover that your rankings have dropped significantly since your new partnership, you have a problem on your hands.

Rankings decline for a variety of reasons.  However, if your rankings are declining steadily – the SEO agency might be practicing methods that are getting your website penalized, algorithmically.

Figure out what the agency is doing and put a stop to it IMMEDIATELY.

7. Your website traffic is declining

Similar to the ranking drops, if your website is steadily declining or suddenly drops, you have a major problem on your hands.   Like we discussed earlier, there’s a slim chance it’s not your agency’s fault. However, it’s always best to be suspicious and question their methods accordingly.

Try to determine if there have been any algorithm changes that would’ve contributed to its decline.

It’s also best to determine if any changes were made to your site during the days of its decline, and lastly, try to get a picture of any off-site actions completed through the SEO firm.

Bringing us to number eight of our harmful telltale signs.

8. The wrong keywords are being ranked.

The most important goal in growing traffic is to earn “targeted” traffic. If your organic keywords are changing significantly, keep an eye on it.

Gaining traffic from the wrong keywords doesn’t happen by accident.  Another problematic sign is when previously high ranking keywords are completely removed from search results.

If this traffic starts to come in from suspicious regions, it could be a result of the very careless work your SEO agency is doing.

9. You see a rise in suspicious backlinks

This one is self-explanatory. If you find that your profile links are being attached to a lot of spammy websites, your website will be at risk.

Backlinks are a great technique for getting your website some attention, however, if your links are being posted on questionable pages, it will devalue your website.

Don’t be afraid to go over a list of suspicious sites with your SEO agency and question them on how they got there. And don’t expect to receive an honest answer. Either way, if this issue persists, it might be time to cut them loose.

10. Overly optimized anchor text from backlinks start showing up.

Overly optimized anchors are anchor text that use your keywords excessively.  Overly optimized anchor texts are no longer acceptable in SEO today. Thousands of websites who demonstrated signs of anchor text over optimization were penalized in 2012, after Google’s Penguin update.

If your research concludes that your link profile is receiving a large number of overly optimized links, it could be the faulty work of your SEO firm.

In turn, if this rule of thumb applies to you, you’re definitely asking for a penalty. And you know who’s the cause of this misfortune.

Now that we’ve discussed all of the negative ways your SEO firms could be hurting you, we’ll talk about how they could be helping you next.

Telltale Signs That Your SEO Firm is Helping:

1. Your SEO agency has deliverables.

All quality SEO firms will show you their craft. The ones who love to go the extra mile may even show you some of their previous work, to gain your confidence, and put your worries at ease.

Here are a few things they may offer up, in the name of good faith:

  • Legitimate websites with real (dofollow) backlinks to your site –  links that allow all search engines to follow you and reach your website.
  • Audits of link profiles, websites, and homepages, with action points included.
  • Changes to your published content or new content for your page(s)
  • A consistent report ( monthly or weekly),  showing you the work they’ve accomplished and how your site is being ranked

As we mentioned earlier, results take time. SEO agencies won’t improve your rankings with magic. However, if they’re working as they should be, you’ll know.

2. They are making suggestions for improvement.

If your firm is recommending that you do certain things, this tells you the agency wants to work with you, and is looking forward to building your relationship.

Don’t be afraid to move forward with their suggestions or requests, you’ll likely get the results you’re searching for.

Here are a few things quality SEO firms may recommend:

  • Engage with social platforms— Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.
  • Integrate your social platforms with your home page
  • Introduce a content marketing plan
  • Create a blog
  • Add content to your homepage
  • Optimize website content
  • Insert tags for your images
  • Allow crawling on other portions of your site by changing your robots.txt
  • Create site map
  • Integrate internal linking into your existing content
  • Improve your website’s speed
  • Add WordPress plugins like Yoast to enhance SEO
  • Conduct a link profile audit
  • Remove spammy links

These recommendations are not suspicious.

These services are here to benefit you. Although extra charges might occur, this shouldn’t be to any detriment of you or your business.  Consider it a smart investment.

3. Your ranking starts improving.

If your SEO agency is increasing your rankings, you’re definitely in the green.

Trustworthy signs with rank improvements:

  • Your target keywords are boosting your website ranking
  • Your website can be found on the first page of Google
  • A variety of long tail keywords are improving the ranking of your website
  • Your ranking is consistent.

4. Your revenue increases while your traffic is decreasing.

After working with your SEO Agency, you may find out that your website traffic has dropped. But if you’re revenue has increased, it’s definitely not a problem.

Your Responsibility

When trying to discern whether or not your agency is a scam, or the real deal, there a few tips to follow, for your sanity, and maybe even theirs.

Following these six rules will make this process smoother for you, and your SEO agency.

1. Patience

If you haven’t been with your agency for a long period of time and find yourself stressing for results, relax. Seeing results will some take time.

2. Research

Make sure you’re doing your own research. Make it your job to learn as much as you can about SEO and try to stay up to date with any industry changes that may occur.

Don’t make any assumptions about the knowledge your SEO agency may possess. Some may be using outdated technology and techniques. So make sure you’re doing the work.

3. Teamwork

SEO is definitely a team effort, and it’s always best to view the agency that works for you, as a partner. Your agency may ask you to do something, and if you trust them, don’t be afraid to listen.

You’ll share the burden, SEO is multifaceted. Meaning, both parties will need to contribute to the cause in some shape or form.

4. No guarantees

SEOs can’t guarantee positive results, 100% customer satisfaction, and in many cases, refunds are not optional.  This is because SEO is always fluctuating.

Your SEO agency is fueled by the power of Google, which in hindsight, is out of their control. Things are constantly changing, so what was working a few months ago, may not be as solid as the presence.

5. Clear Expectations

Be clear about what it is you’re expecting from your SEO team. Don’t punish them for something they weren’t clear on doing. What are you expecting of them?

Is your SEO Agency responsible for.

  • Content creation
  • Creating authoritative links or backlinks
  • Content auditing
  • Optimization for local SEO’s
  • Profile link monitoring
  • Creating social networks
  • Conversion element optimization

Your SEO agency may be responsible for all of the above or none of the above, either way, communicate clearly what it is, you are expecting.

6. Monitor your SEO firm

When dealing with any outsourced process, look out for yourself and keep tabs. Know what they’re doing, and if you don’t, make it your business to find out what that is.

Get to know how they’re doing it. Don’t be afraid to check in and ask them for reports, and make sure you get a chance to look them over. It is so important to Ask Questions!

And most importantly,

Recognize the Potential Value of SEO

Your online success or failure is greatly dependent on your SEO. It’s too valuable for you trust this process over to anybody.   If you are serious about managing the success of your online business then you will prioritize SEO as being a critical aspect of your focus and efforts.

How has your SEO agency helped or hurt you recently?