How to Tell if Your SEO Company is Helping or Hurting You

Robert Hoang

November 23, 2020

Let me just keep it 100% straight with you:

There’s a lot of bad eggs in the SEO industry. But if you know what to look for, and learn the warning signs of a bad company, you’ll be fine.

Today I want to cover how to tell if your SEO company is helping you or hurting you.

First, I’ll show you the warning signs of a scam company, then I’ll show you what a reputable agency does instead, so you’ll know who is worth the money, and who’s just there to churn and burn you out of business.

But first, I have a story that might sound all too familiar to you.

From Boom to Bust: Losing 100% of Your Traffic Overnight

A recent client of ours came to us with a horror story.

His Perth plumbing company’s site was wiped off the face of the Earth (Google, actually), and he hadn’t heard back from his “SEO” company in more than a week.

“I’m not on Google Maps anymore, and I’ve lost nearly 100% of my traffic!”

This is basically the Exorcist of SEO horror stories. Head turning around and everything.

It goes something like this…

A small business invests thousands of dollars in SEO, and after a few months they finally starts seeing results. They begin getting a few dozen calls per month or maybe more for a mid-ticket service.

Then one day, it all just vanishes. Everything they’ve invested gets flushed down the toilet (pun NOT intended). The company runs off with their money and they’re left with 0 hope of ranking on Google again in the near future.

This client’s story was roughly the same.

He decided to do local SEO for his plumbing business to start bringing in calls from Perth and surrounding suburbs.

GREAT IDEA.

He found an SEO company that had ranked another company for a similar key term in another city, and hired them immediately without doing any due diligence. They charmed his socks off with some big promises

It worked.

He agreed to $2,000/mo for “SEO”.

And it actually was working a bit. He started getting calls directly from Perthians (that’s a word right?) searching on Google for “emergency plumber” or “burst pipes” in Perth.

Until one day it stopped…

He couldn’t find any of his articles on Google anymore.

His business wasn’t on the map anymore, either.

So we asked a few questions.

“Did you ask for monthly reporting?”

“No”, he said.

“Did you ask for a detailed proposal of what you’d be getting each month?”

Nope…

“Did they ever share their tactics or give you advice for improving your business?”

Nothing…

Sadly, this is all too common in the SEO world. Good small business owners scammed by snake oil salesmen trying to make a quick dollar and run off when their cover is blown.

They use “get rich quick schemes” to quickly boost your rankings until Google catches on. As soon as they do, you get slapped with a big penalty and your site is banished. The scammers make off with the money.

The story has a happy – but expensive and exhausting – ending. We worked for months removing the manual penalties. We literally deleted his Google My Business with all its good reviews and started again.

We had to go in and re-optimise over a hundred articles that were done incorrectly (stuffed to the brim with keywords). That alone took months.

So how can you avoid getting scammed by low-quality SEOs?

The good news is that avoiding SEO scams is actually pretty easy IF you know what to look for.

So here’s how to know if your SEO company is HURTING you.

5 Signs Your SEO Company is Hurting You

#1) They Jump Straight Into Your SEO Campaign

Did your SEO agency promise to skyrocket your rankings right away and jump straight into generating content and building links?

Be alert – often times “skyrocketing” looks like this in the SEO world:

 

Fire them before they do more damage.

Jumping straight in to a campaign is a sure fire sign that they’re not interested in doing any “real” marketing and instead just have some cookie cutter package lined up.

Real SEO requires an in-depth understanding of your company, products/services, target market, competition, and goals – and that’s just the start of it.

Imagine you go to the heart doctor and tell her you’ve got some chest pains.

Next thing you know she whips out a knife and goes “sounds like a heart problem. Let’s get you a new one”.

Wouldn’t you say “hey wait, doctor. Don’t you want to know my health history or maybe take an X-ray or even just listen to my heartbeat first?”.

SEO is the same minus the organ swapping.

Never trust any digital marketing company that promises they can rank your business long-term if they don’t put in the time to understand your company, goals, and customers.

What a Good SEO Company Does Instead

A good SEO company digs deep into your competition, target market, and current SEO status before even thinking about building links or publishing a single article.

They’ll do things like building a buyer persona, conducting a SWOT analysis on the competition, or at the very least doing a thorough site audit including auditing your backlink profile (the websites that currently link to your site). The best ones will even identify potentially risky ones and get rid of them.

Then they’ll go over everything they’ve found and lay out a clear plan for bringing in more traffic, leads, customers, etc.

They won’t always do all of these things. Sometimes it’s so obvious it’s not needed. But they’ll always put in a lot of effort up front to understanding your current SEO status and goals.

Some of our clients claim we ask TOO MANY QUESTIONS. We just want to do a good job, we swear!

Speaking of site audits…

#2) They Don’t Actually do Anything to Your Site

I know it sounds painfully obvious, but your SEO experts should actually, you know, do stuff.

I know that sounds really flippant, but I’m serious.

I can’t tell you how many friends or clients have come to us saying they weren’t aware that their marketing company was supposed to do ANYTHING to their site. Some companies didn’t even ask for access to the site or to Google Analytics!

What did they plan on doing?

They thought SEO was just creating content or getting links from other websites.

SEO is so much more than that!

Without good technical or on-site SEO, no marketing campaign will ever work. It’d be like building branches for a tree without a trunk in place.

For example, SEO foundations that MUST be in place BEFORE any campaign begins include:

  • A Fast Site
  • Optimized content
  • Great web design
  • A sitemap
  • Keyword cannibalization
  • Optimized metadata

This is just the tip of the iceberg or whichever cliche you prefer to use.

If your SEOs didn’t take the time to even CHECK if this was in place, let alone fix it all up, they’re hurting you.

What a Good SEO Company Does Instead

As I said before, an SEO company that’s actually helping you will run a thorough audit of your site to ensure it’s in good SEO health before beginning a campaign.

They’ll correct all the major issues BEFORE proceeding. This includes:

  • Improving site speed: Upgrading hosting, compressing images, leveraging browser caching, using a content distribution network_anything it takes to load faster.
  • Optimizing content: Preventing pages from cannibalizing each other, optimizing titles for the right keywords, making sure articles aren’t over optimized.
  • Improving metadata: Adding tags to images, optimizing SEO titles and meta descriptions, adding scheme if necessary.
  • Optimizing site structure: This is a bit too complex to get into here, but there’s a certain site structure that Google’s algorithm loves. A good SEO company will take the time to restructure your site to make sure it’s easy to rank.

#3) They Won’t Tell You What They’re Doing

This is my biggest pet peeve in the industry.

Have you ever heard this from an “SEO expert”?:

“Due to the sensitive nature of our expertise, we can’t share with you our tactics. This is for the safety and integrity of your business and SEO campaign”

This is complete and utter Bull****!

SEO is complicated, but it’s not theoretical quantum mechanics.

There are 100% white hat tactics that have proven to get results time and time again:

  1. Good on page SEO
  2. High-quality content based around the right keywords and optimized for Google
  3. Links from powerful, relevant sites in the right quantity over acceptable periods of time

Of course, it’s more complicated than this, but this is the gist of it.

Good SEOs set real goals and agree on metrics to prove they’re doing their job. Bad ones just come up with excuses and try to keep secrets.

If they aren’t being honest with you, fire them.

What a Good SEO Company Does Instead

Not only do good SEOs set goals and agree on metrics, they actually plan out how they’re going to rank your dang website and share that plan with you.

Then, they actually put in the grunt work day in and day out to make sure you grow.

Any good Aussie SEO company worth their salt will share a detailed SEO report. Not just one with tons of fluffy, pointless data meant to distract you.

Nope, a REAL SEO report complete with:

  • Data that actually matters: How much did your domain authority increase? What are your rankings like? Where did your money go? How much new traffic are you bringing in?
  • Insights: “Hey this fluctuation happened for this reason”, “hey this is why this is working or not working”, “we’re experimenting on this to see if your audience likes it. If they do, that could be a huge revenue stream for you this year!”.
  • Recommendations: Good SEOs always offer advice to their clients. It could be improving your support, interacting more on social media, or maybe even offering new services or investing in forms of advertising.

#4) They Use Spammy Backlinks or PBNs

This one isn’t quite as obvious if you don’t have some SEO knowledge.

Google loves when other sites link to yours. That’s a sign that you’re doing good things and that your information is both helpful and relevant to the query.

That’s why building high-quality links is so important for SEO.

So here’s the issue…

A lot of SEO companies use private blog networks (PBNs) to build tonnes of low-quality links fast so your site quickly shoots up the rankings.

A PBN is basically just a group of sites controlled by the SEO company (or service provider) that they use to link to your site.

It works like this – I own a PBN of 20 sites on random topics, and when you become my client, I publish random content on those sites with links to you.

It’s NOT GOOD. This is a penalty waiting to happen. Google wants highly relevant links from REAL websites with HIGH TRUST. If they discover you’re using “fake” sites for links, you’ll be banished.

I’ll show you how to easily check for spammy links.

But first…

What a Good SEO Company Does Instead

A good SEO company painstakingly identifies high-quality, highly relevant, and high-authority sites, then they craft a UNIQUE outreach plan that connects with your target media outlets.

Then, they grow the links NATURALLY. Google is smart (kind of). It knows that no small website is going to get 50 links in 3 days! That’s not how life works.

You need to grow real links from related sites in the right time frame or you risk a penalty.

That’s what a smart SEO company does.

Oh, and then they actually SHOW YOU what they’ve done. Not hide the websites from you.

How to check your links

First, if your SEO company is not showing you the links it’s building, fire them.

OK, moving on.

If they’re showing you the links but you didn’t really understand what you were looking at, now’s the time to check.

Either ask for a link report, or, if you want to do it in secret use the free link checker at Ahrefs.

Ahrefs' Banklink Checker

Enter your website, and it’ll return a thorough report of all the sites linking to yours. Here’s one of a website we’ve been working with done the right way:

See the two arrows? First check the type of sites linking to yours (the arrow on the left). Are they relevant? Are they spammy like adult entertainment or gambling? Are they related in any way to yours or are they random topics?

Next, move to the arrow on the right and check the “domain rating (DR)”. This is a measure of how highly rated a website is. Are the ratings all very low? Like 30 or less? If so, your company is building bad backlinks.

This is a little bit of a trick though. Sometimes a low DR backlink is fine if it’s relevant. We can’t all start off at the top. We just mean to do your due diligence.

If they’re spamming your site, demand a reason. Once you get it, fire them anyway.

#5) You Rank for the Wrong Keywords

You should already know which keywords you’re going for and why you’re going for them BEFORE you begin an SEO campaign.

The goal with SEO is to bring in targeted traffic. Especially for low volume, high value keywords.
Go into you Google Analytics dash (or just do a search on Google itself) and check to see which keywords you’re ranking for.

Once in GA, go to: Acquisition → Keywords → Organic. Check what comes up.

If you’re ranking for high-volume searches that are loosely related or totally unrelated to your site, it’s a big problem. This is a sign of:

  • Poorly optimized content
  • Poor site structure
  • Incompetence on the part of your SEO provider

Or some mix of the 3.

Either way, get rid of these people immediately. The more untargeted traffic you bring in the more time and money you waste, and the more Google starts disliking your site (why are people leaving? Must be a bad site!).

What a Good SEO Company Does Instead

Allow me to be blunt. You’re probably tired of hearing my voice.

A good SEO company ranks you for the right keywords and tells you which keywords they’re going for BEFORE they begin your campaign in earnest.

You’ll rank for keywords either with conversion intent OR supporting keywords that eventually lead to a conversion.

Simple as that, really.

Closing Thoughts

My rule of thumb is – if you suspect your company is hurting you, they probably are.

After all, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you were raking in the money hand over fist, am I right?

The good news is, it’s relatively easy to spot when an SEO company is hurting your business. If you do, get rid of them.

If you have any questions, we’d love to jump on a call and talk. Just click the Get a Proposal button or give us a call.

Thanks!

Did You Know?

We can estimate a competitor’s ad spend & SEO investment using a range of fancy (and expensive) tools, so you can get a good idea of your probability of success BEFORE investing money! Find out what’s possible for your business by clicking that free proposal button in the header now.
About Robert Hoang

Robert is a member of the SEO team at Local Digital. He spends his days implementing the SEO strategies we've put together for our clients, from ensuring onsite optimisation is on point to preparing technical audits to link building strategy... if it's an SEO must-have chances are Rob is on the case!