Seo agency

Are you hiring an SEO agency for your business? 4 red flags to watch out for

By Ryan Wilson

In May 2011, you would have found

at the top of the

search results for almost any search related to its products, from luggage to bedding, clothing and more. A month later, you wouldn’t have seen JCPenney anywhere in the top 50 results for most of those same searches. The company allegedly gamed the system, tricking Google’s search algorithm to boost its rankings, and Google punished it by removing JCPenney from its index. JCPenney claimed he was unaware that his SEO company had engaged in black-hat SEO tactics, but the damage was done. A few months later, after an overhaul of its SEO, JCPenney was allowed to return to search results.

JC Penny’s crime was lack of understanding. So-called black hat tactics trick search engine algorithms into ranking low-quality pages over high-quality ones, which worsens users’ overall search experience. Few companies would choose to hire black-hat SEO firms if they knew the difference, but over the years my agency has done SEO, we’ve taken on many new clients with websites that show telltale signs. of engaging in black-hat tactics. We’ve always been able to fix the site to get it back in good standing with Google, but it’s best to avoid these tactics altogether so you don’t have to fix them later.

Since it’s unreasonable to expect most business owners to study SEO and keep abreast of ever-changing trends, a common question I hear is, how does a decision maker Having little SEO knowledge can safely buy for an above-board SEO agency? Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  1. They guarantee first page rankings.

Any referencing that guarantees the first page ranking is, at best, a little dishonest. Most websites can and should rank on the first page for their brand name, as long as that brand name is not something common or popular. For example, my company, FiveFifty Digital Marketing, ranks on the first page for a search for “FiveFifty”, but we might not rank well for “Avengers” if we were “Avengers Digital Marketing”, because comics and the film of that name would dominate the front page.

SEOs who promise fast, national, and first-page rankings for competitive terms like “digital marketing,” “baseball caps,” or “dentist,” are likely engaging in black-hat SEO because the only way to guarantee effectively first page rankings in the short term is to develop a system that incentivizes search engines to provide them. Natural, organic, search engine-approved white hat tactics are usually a long-term strategy, and it can be very difficult to rank well for competitive keywords. It’s not impossible, of course, and with persistence and diligence it can be achieved, but no completely honest SEO company would guarantee it in a short period of time.

  1. They are too good to be true.

You’ve probably received unsolicited emails offering a free website assessment or SEO audit, followed by monthly SEO for just $99. This offer should send a red flag. This type of business strategy is usually only profitable for the agency if it has a black-hat link farm system on which it can connect new websites quickly and easily. In general, be skeptical and shop around for agencies knowing that white-hat SEO requires significant effort and reasonable time to be effective.

  1. Their methodology is a secret.

Effective SEO best practices aren’t secrets. If you have time, you can learn everything you need to know by reading online resources. Therefore, any agency that can’t or won’t tell you how they plan to improve your rankings is probably hiding something, and it’s probably because they know their methods are black hat. Transparency can and should be a promise that any white hat agency would make.

  1. Their methods seem deceptive.

It is entirely possible to find a black-hat SEO agency that is upfront about their SEO tactics. They may rely on their clients to be unable to tell when a strategy is black hat, or they may not even be fully aware that what they are doing is considered black hat. In these cases, study their proposed tactics and think to yourself, “Does this seem misleading to you? »

Here’s a classic and happily discouraged black-hat tactic: an agency offers to add keywords in a white font to the white footer of your website. Visitors won’t be able to see the keywords, but search engines will. This will communicate the page’s purpose to search engines and make it appear to be a better resource on the subject, without affecting what human visitors actually see. Remember that search engines only want your page to rank if it really is the best page. for human visitors. Hiding keywords on your website just to improve rankings is an attempt to trick search engines and is therefore black hat.

On the other hand, an SEO might offer to add keywords to your title tag, which is what appears in a visitor’s browser tab to describe the page. In this case, it makes sense to put a keyword in the title tag that explains what the page is about. As long as the proposed keywords align with the content of the page, it’s white hat. It’s good for site visitors, and at the same time, it communicates to search engines what the page is about.

How can you be sure?

Even if an SEO agency appears white throughout their proposal, that doesn’t mean they won’t turn to black tactics after you hire them. As the owner of the website, it’s essential to stay involved in the process, even if you don’t always understand it.

Go through the reports you receive from your SEO and look for any mention of tactics that seem shady. Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools to receive notifications from Google if they notice anything strange on your website. You can even ask another SEO to crawl your site every 3-6 months to make sure the SEO you’re working with stays on top.

Without learning all the ins and outs of SEO, you may never be 100% sure that your SEO is truly doing the best things for your website. But if you trust your instincts, ask critical questions, and follow these tips, you should be sure that your website will survive Google’s upcoming algorithm updates.

Ryan Wilson is the founder of FiveFifty, a digital marketing business office focused on programmatic media buying.