7 Red Flags Your SEO Firm Is Going to Rip You Off

Paying attention to the way companies pitch search engine optimization can prevent lots of marketing headaches.

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By Andrew Raso


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're in any kind of business, you've no doubt received plenty of unsolicited emails from companies trying to sell you search engine optimization (SEO) services or get you more customers by ranking your website higher. Unfortunately, this industry is bombarded with cowboys and churn-and-burn models, with 80 percent of SEO firms performing scam tactics of some kind.

If you're a respectable business owner, I'm sure it's not a churn, burn and die solution you're looking for. But if you're not careful and assertive with your choice of SEO firm, you may soon see your website traveling in the opposite direction than you expected.

Related: 5 Must-Use Google Analytics Strategies to Measure SEO Success

Here are some red flags to consider that will prevent you from getting poor results, being penalized by the search engines or being ripped off entirely.

1. The firm guarantees you top rankings in Google.

Recommending first-page, first-place rankings in Google is a common sales tactic. But it's just that -- a sales tactic. You won't find reputable SEO firms offering guaranteed rankings in Google, because they know there are too many fluctuations in these results -- things beyond the firm's control. A reputable firm knows it's unethical to make these kinds of promises.

The truth is, you simply can't manipulate search engines -- they are more intelligent than any of us understand. But what a good firm can do is follow Google's SEO guidelines. Google is the top search engine, so it makes sense that using recommended strategies -- rather than tactics and promises -- is what will guarantee your business the best possible results.

2. The company promises to get your website thousands of backlinks.

Link spamming and paying for links are two practices that have been commonplace for many years. And while they might have worked back in the '90s, they certainly aren't good practice now. Without a doubt, having a strategy for getting backlinks is important. But where they come from is even more important.

You need to have high-quality links from authority sites pointing to your site -- not thousands of links from low-authority sites that will inevitably bring yours down. When it comes to SEO, short-term wins will never outdo the work of building strong lasting solutions. Make sure the firm you hire understands this.

3. They can't offer proof.

Your lack of understanding of SEO leaves you open to being bamboozled and impressed with a whole range of jargon that means absolutely nothing. But can the firm put their money where their mouth is by offering you some real proof?

There's nothing like a case study, a white paper or another example to show that a firm has the goods they plan to offer. If they can't put something forward, I'd hesitate to trust anything they may be promising.

Related: 17 Ways To Immediately Improve Your Website Traffic

4. They offer cheap content automation.

As the old saying goes, "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys." Yet, the content you produce for SEO purposes is no monkey business. Quality content is one of the key components of a good SEO strategy, most of which should come in the form of web copy and articles for your blog that are then syndicated across a variety of networks.

This content is highly visible to the public -- that's it's purpose. It's there to represent your brand, demonstrate your expertise and show search engines originality and proof of worthiness for ranking. For this reason -- it should go without saying -- if you have automated crappy content, you'll have overall crappy results.

5. They offer one-size-fits-all standardized packages.

I'm sure your business isn't standard. It's unique, with its own unique service and package offerings. So how could it ever be possible to offer a standard package to everyone? A reputable SEO firm will ask you to call them and engage in a conversation about your business goals and objectives. From there, they'll design a unique package suited specifically for you.

It's really the only way to go.

6. They don't offer reports.

If you want to understand how your SEO is performing, you need reports that show your progress. I'd recommend you ask your firm to provide examples of the types of reports they intend to produce before you start working with them.

You can also ask about the reporting frequency, because, as a client, you want to be kept in the loop every step of the way. If they can't produce anything tangible, you'll know it's best to search for another firm.

7. They can't offer a clear and proven system.

Though some methods differ from business to business, depending on your goals and objectives, there are clear and proven SEO systems that work -- white hat, effective and efficient strategies that are going to build a long term foundation for success. Ask your firm what their system and approach is going to be. If it stands up to all the other points I've just mentioned, then you'll know you've made the right choice that will drive good results for your business.

Have another red flag to add to this list? Share any lessons you've learned -- hopefully, not the hard way -- by leaving a comment below.

Related: How to Attract Visitors to Your Site

Andrew Raso

Co-founder and Director of the Online Marketing Gurus

Andrew Raso is the co-founder and director of the Online Marketing Gurus, a fast-growing, award-winning search company working with some of the world's leading brands, including Coca Cola, Salesforce and Freshbooks. Follow him on Twitter @marketinggurus3. 

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