These days, the fact that SEO is important is a given. Quality SEO is vital for attracting qualified leads to your website, and relies on a mix of on-site optimization, third-party backlinks and more. When done right, your SEO can even work hand in hand with PPC campaigns to maximize the revenue you earn through your keywords.
Unfortunately, not all SEO agencies are created equal. There are plenty of agencies that promise to get their clients to page one of Google, but then fail to deliver. Or even worse, they rank their clients for keywords that have no search volume and deliver no real results for the client.
Unfortunately, this happens way more often than people realize. When brands can’t recognize the warning signs of poor SEO agencies, they’ll waste their money on work that could actually hurt their rankings.
So what can be done? I recently had the opportunity to interview Ryan Chaffin, founder of KAHA. As an SEO expert himself, Chaffin offered several valuable insights into what indicates you’re dealing with a low-quality SEO agency.
1) Relying On a Single Tactic to Boost Rankings
“One of the biggest issues we see is that an SEO agency will rely almost exclusively on a single tactic to boost their clients’ rankings,” Chaffin says. “For example, they’ll focus entirely on generating backlinks through content marketing, or on enhancing a website’s UI to improve site speed and other metrics. There’s nothing wrong with these tactics on their own, but when that’s the ONLY thing you’re doing, your rankings will crash as soon as Google makes an update that affects those metrics.”
While Google’s major algorithm updates always get major coverage (such as its May 2020 Core Update), the search giant is constantly tweaking and adjusting how it ranks websites. In 2018 alone, Google self-reported over 3,000 “improvements” to its algorithm.
Though some updates are minor and won’t have a major impact on site rankings, others can have a much farther reach. Updates such as the emphasis on mobile optimization left many site owners scrambling to make changes at the last minute.
A quality agency should use a diverse range of SEO tactics to improve your site rankings. This way, if an algorithm causes one strategy to become less effective, the overall campaign won’t flop.
2) Taking a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Approach to Campaigns
As an offshoot of typically focusing on a single SEO tactic, Chaffin has observed that many SEO agencies pigeonhole their clients into a “one size fits all” approach. After selecting somewhat relevant keywords, the agencies dive into the same strategy they’ve used for every other client campaign.
“Every brand and industry is different. In addition, each company is starting at a different point in terms of their website’s current SEO ‘health’,” Chaffin explains. “A cookie cutter approach is a recipe for mediocrity. A quality agency will take the time to thoroughly review your website and your market’s competitive landscape. Knowing how you stand relative to the competition gives benchmarks to aim for and helps determine which strategies will capitalize on their weaknesses.”
The one size fits all approach has been found ineffective in medicine, financial stability and more — so why would you expect it to work for your SEO needs?
3) Turning Work Over to Untrained Interns
When hiring an SEO agency, most brands assume that their website is going to be watched over by experts with years of industry experience. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case.
“The most cringeworthy thing I’ve observed in SEO is where agencies essentially turn over all the work to a group of interns,” Chaffin notes. “From website optimization to producing content marketing, work is being churned out by interns working for a stipend — or for free. The executives who pitch to you are just focused on making another sale. It’s no surprise that the resulting work doesn’t live up to client expectations or deliver lasting SEO results.”
No client should pay top dollar for work that is ultimately performed by underpaid (and undertrained) interns. Prospective clients should pay close attention to an agency’s work structure before onboarding. Beyond Google reviews, sites like Glassdoor can help provide insights into what the agency’s work culture is actually like.
4) Total Complete Control Over Data and Logins
In many ways, achieving a high SEO ranking is a collaborative process. While brands are hiring SEO agencies to manage the work, they still want to be kept in the loop on how things are going. This is especially true when a brand has its own internal initiatives or website updates planned that could impact SEO.
Because of this, it is vital that SEO agencies provide total transparency to their clients — though this often isn’t the case. “There are shady SEO agencies out there that want total control over data and logins. They say this is to make things more convenient for you or give you any number of reasons, but really, it’s so they can maintain an unhealthy amount of power,” Chaffin warns.
“When you don’t have access to logins, you can’t see if their campaigns are generating real results. Some agencies might even try to hold this data hostage to keep you locked into a contract with them. It’s an ugly side of the industry I wish didn’t exist. Unfortunately, there are many agencies simply trying to maximize profits instead of focusing on maximizing results for clients and building meaningful relationships. Regardless, you should be able to have 24/7 access to the information you need.”
While there are a lot of low-quality or shady SEO agencies out there, Chaffin notes that there are plenty of genuine experts as well. “As long as you understand what to look for, you can recognize when an agency is just talking big. You should never rush into your decision to work with an SEO agency. Do your research, watch for these warning signs, and you’ll find a good fit that delivers real results.”
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