It’s quite common knowledge among the industry that the digital marketing space is full of sharks and snake oil salesmen.
SEO is no different.
In fact, I’d argue that it’s even worse.
See, with Google Ads and Facebook advertising, you can tell immediately whether your campaigns are generating an ROI.
You put a dollar in with the goal of receiving at least a dollar back.
Run the campaign for a few days and scale it if it succeeds, or cut it if its a dud.
But SEO runs on a different model of digital advertising.
It’s a long-term strategy that is based on trust within the eyes of Google and other search engines.
And the thing with trust is that it takes time.
The typical SEO campaign runs for about a 12-month period, with the 3-to-6-month timeframe signifying the general point in time where most advertisers will agree you should start seeing tangible SEO results.
The problem with this is, though, is the fact that a lot of companies DON’T start seeing results.
The decision to cut the “dud” campaign comes only after 6 months of payments, rather than a few days of paid advertising.
And A LOT of SEO companies take advantage of this.
They sell business owners the idea that in 6 months they’ll see tangible campaign progress, knowing full-well that their inner operations can in no way keep this promise.
Because this selling point is so unique and advantageous to the marketing company, the company itself evolves more into a full-blown sales force rather than a marketing company aimed at getting their clients results.
This effectively burns most business owners, and is a driving factor behind why 35% of business owners believe that marketing agencies “[do not] put my needs and wants above its own business goals”.
In order to protect your business from these marketing risks, we have compiled a list of 10 things that you MUST look for BEFORE hiring an SEO company to work with your business.
1) Do They Provide A Customized SEO Strategy Or A Cookie-Cutter Solution?
For efficiency, it is much easier for a business to provide a cookie-cutter solution with a standardized workflow where they can plop each new client into.
It is easier to train staff because each action for each client is identical to the last.
The problem with this, though, is that every client is being provided the exact same service, regardless of their SEO goals.
A dentist with one location receives the same strategy as a chiropractor with multiple locations, which receives the same strategy as the plumber, the roofer, the surgeon, the home builder, etc. – you get the idea.
For the optimal SEO approach and to get the most bang for your buck, it is best to work with a company that provides a 12-month strategy based on YOUR specific website, YOUR specific industry, and YOUR specific competition BEFORE a contract is ever signed.
2) Are They Pitching You Fast, Guaranteed Results?
The unique selling point of a 3-to-6-month timeline to start seeing results is sometimes reversed to implicate differentiation.
Instead of this timeline, some companies will come at you claiming “30-day results guaranteed!”
The problem with this, however, is that coming from this angle is inherently unnatural for search engines.
As stated above, search results are based on trust.
In this field, there are certain ways in which you can circumvent the trust factor and send signals to search engines that are meant to “trick” them into thinking your site is trustworthy.
By doing this, you’re able to rank your site quickly within search results and see results in an amount of time that is atypical.
This is beneficial for the business owner and thus beneficial for the SEO company.
Or is it?
Might I remind you that Google is one of the most technologically-advanced companies in the world, and their search algorithm is being updated everyday.
Every. Single. Day.
If you try to game the system, it will only be a matter of time before Google becomes smart enough to realize this, and effectively penalizes your site for years to come.
It has happened every single year where sites have lost their search rankings literally overnight – their main source of new leads – and have had their businesses destroyed because of it.
So, even IF they were to get you your guaranteed results, more often than not, this will only harm your business in the long run.
3) Do They Use 100% Whitehat SEO Strategies?
The signals used to trick search engines into ranking your site quickly are known as “blackhat” or “greyhat” SEO tactics.
They’re tactics that do not align with Google’s Policies and Guidelines.
Examples of such tactics are keyword stuffing, cloaking, PBN linking, spun content, etc.
Some agencies swear by some of these tactics and how none of their sites have
But is it worth the risk?
In the opinion of our NJ SEO company, it’s not.
It’s better to shoot for a long term, organic approach rather than having the worry of one day losing it all.
Because of this, it is best to partner with an SEO agency that only engages in 100% whitehat SEO strategies.
4) What Is The Communication Flow/Structure Of The Company?
In other words, who is your main point of contact and how do they fit into your SEO campaign?
Are they actually doing the grunt work themselves, or do they delegate?
If they delegate, who do they delegate to?
The concern here is that a digital marketing agency structure will likely have a lot of levels to it.
A lot of levels where there is room for miscommunication, playing broken-telephone, and for important tasks to fall through the cracks.
Your main point of contact is most likely the sales representative who you speak to for any updates or questions about the campaign.
But then he needs to take your requests and give them to the account director.
Then the account manager.
Then the SEO manager.
Then the SEO analyst.
And then all the way back up through the funnel back to yourself.
Marketing agencies are notorious for having terrible communication and being “all over the place”.
Usually, the sales reps have had zero actual technical experience in SEO and are trained to answer generic, high-level questions.
So even SEO questions – like questions about domain authority, schema, meta tags, etc. – that are the very basics of SEO will elicit a response from the rep that will sound something along the lines of “I’ll get back to you on that.”
This has proven to be a nightmare for business owners, where they have to wait anywhere from a few days to week to get simple answers or quick progress report on their campaign.
With this in mind, it is best to look for a company with clear lines of communication.
In fact, the best SEO company to partner with would be one where your main point of contact is the person who is actually performing the work on your campaign.
This way, any question you have will be answered on the spot by the expert who knows every single nitty gritty detail that is happening with your account.
5) How Many Client Accounts Is Your Assigned “SEO Analyst” Working On At Any Point In Time?
If the business owner could see what actually happens behind the scenes at some of these large agencies, they would be disgusted at what they’re actually getting for what they’re paying.
It is no secret that at many agencies, there are “SEO analysts” that work in excess of over 70+ accounts in any given month.
It is 100% absolutely and completely unmanageable.
There is NO WAY that one analyst working on all these accounts will be able to put in the required work and time necessary for the business owner to receive the results that they were promised.
Think about it:
If the typical work month is 160 hours per month…
And the analyst is working on 70 clients per month…
That comes out to 2.3 hours (rounded UP) per month per client!
If you’re paying $1,000 per month (on the low end) for your SEO services, but were told that your account was only being worked on for less than 3 hours per month… would you be happy with this?
Sadly, this is not uncommon in this industry.
And goes right back to the reason why SEO companies provide cookie-cutter solutions:
So that they can perform the exact same tasks on every single client so that they can load up each analyst with as many clients as possible.
This is the reality of the industry.
Make sure you know exactly how many accounts your designated analyst is working on each and every month.
6) Are They A General Marketing Company Or A Specialized SEO Agency?
SEO is a beautiful up-sell.
Get the clients customers quickly through Google Ads or Facebook marketing, then up-sell them right away on SEO services after you’ve gotten them their first few leads.
The trust is established in the first phase of paid ads, and the money is made on the SEO.
See, these companies are NOT SEO experts.
They simply leverage what their good at to funnel their current customers into their new, fancy SEO service.
This is where you need to ask yourself:
Do you want a large agency that is spread thin throughout all of its services, or do you want a boutique agency that
Who do you think will provide better results?
In our opinion, it is best to go to the experts, not the generalists.
This applies to most everything in life, and the digital marketing world is no exception.
7) Are They Based In North America?
With SEO, you get what you pay for.
Most business owners have experienced their email inboxes becoming clogged from spammy emails from India, the Phillippines, and
This price is usually, much, much less than a reputable, results-driven SEO campaign should cost.
But a lot of business owners are tempted to take the bait:
“Why pay thousands of dollars per month for SEO when I could pay a few hundred dollars instead?”
The reason is
This is obvious.
But SEO is very technical and can be confusing for the average business owner.
Cheap companies can spin their services to seem as if they’re providing real quality for a low price by promising hundreds of backlinks, social signals, tag optimizations, and other bells and whistles that are actually just spam in disguise.
This should make you rethink whether you want someone having access to your site who has a better chance of doing more harm than good to it.
It’s not a good idea to partner with a cheap company based in a different continent.
The results will reflect this.
8) Do They Outsource?
Just because they’re based in North America, doesn’t mean they don’t outsource.
This can be just as much as a headache as having your direct point of contact being a sales rep who really doesn’t know anything about SEO besides the little training he or she received to sell it.
This is because SEO is a heavily outsourced business.
SEO owners understand that businesses don’t want to work with spammy outsourcers, so they have t
Essentially, they’re the middleman.
They’re the ones that speak to the client and ensures all of their questions or answered.
Meanwhile, he simply gives the work to an outsourcer overseas and pockets the difference.
This will end up just the same as if you hired a non-North American based company yourself, except this situation includes an added markup for the middleman.
This is why you MUST understand WHO is actually doing the work on your account, and not fall for smooth talking salesman on the other end of the line.
9) Do They Provide Transparent Reporting?
Ask the company what the measurable KPIs of the campaign are and how their reporting works.
What do you see in each report?
The most important thing here is to ensure the company measures results in each and every report.
For SEO, a great report will include a visualization of each keyword ranking over the period of time since the campaign started.
This will show you daily movements of each of your tracked keywords and help you understand how effective the SEO campaign has been thus far.
And if it is improving or getting worse.
An example of such a visualization:
Showing the work that has been done in the account is not enough.
You need to know that you will be getting ranking progress reports each and every month to measure the success of the SEO services you are paying for.
10) What Is Their Cancellation Policy?
And, of course, the cancellation policy.
Remember how at the very beginning we said that a lot of marketing agencies have turned into sales companies rather than marketing companies?
Well, let’s dissect the cancellation policy present in most of their SEO contracts.
As discussed, SEO is usually a 12-month contract, where the 6-month mark is the benchmark for when results should start ramping up.
Well, a lot of companies implement a cancellation fee for clients wanting to end their contract early.
These fees can range anywhere from 10% to a grossly 75% fee on the remainder of the total amount of the contract.
Let’s say this fee is 50%.
This means that if a client wants to cancel after the first month, they have to pay 50% of the remaining balance just to cancel the contract.
Which means that if it’s a 12-month contract, the marketing company will automatically make AT LEAST 6-months worth of payments JUST for getting the client to sign the dotted line.
Let’s say the contract is for $1,000 per month, for a 12-month contract.
If the client wants to cancel the contract in the first month, this is how the fee is broken down:
Contract Total = $12,000
Cancellation Fee = 50%
To Be Paid Upon Cancellation = $6,000 ($12,000 x 50%)
No matter what, the marketing company automatically makes this money because of the cancellation fee fine print in the contract.
And clients usually don’t start asking tough questions until month 3 or 4, as it was made clear that it would take 6 months to start seeing results.
Essentially, this means a company can sign on a client with no intention of doing any solid work while still receiving the first few months of payments plus 50% of the leftover balance upon cancellation
Now, we’re not saying that most marketing companies are outright scamming their customers like this.
But what we ARE saying is that the nature of the SEO business allows for bad actors with weak moral compasses to come in and take advantage of unknowing business owners.
You know, bad actors who may not have attended any entry-level, mandatory Businesses 101 classes: Ethics in Business.
You can really go down the rabbit hole here and see why some marketing companies invest so heavily in their salespeople.
If you’re continually making dozens of sales a month where each sale takes a few months to cancel, you can become extremely profitable.
As long as you can make sales faster than you’re losing customers, in today’s day and age, unfortunately, you have a business.
This type of churn-and-burn model is ever present in the digital marketing industry – especially SEO.
Although everything may seem fine at face value, this is exactly why you MUST keep an eye on the fine print in any SEO contract that you sign.
To protect your business, you need to be EXTREMELY careful when hiring an SEO company.
SEO is full of people who take advantage of the ever-changing, technical, and confusing nature of this industry.
These are questions you can ask yourself to vet each company and ensure they’re not just selling you all smoke and mirrors.
If you’re actively looking for a search engine optimization company to hire, please see our About Us page to learn more about who we are and the types of businesses that we work with.
And, by all means, please feel free to ask us any of the above 10 questions.
Also, if you’re looking for an in-depth SEO audit and a fully, 100% customized 12-month action plan to achieve your desired SEO goals, please fill out our discovery form to request this info.
And if you are from the States, we also offer Virginia SEO services and SEO services in Florida.
We look forward to hearing from you!