February 19th, 2020
How to identify Poor SEO service from your agency
4 Feb 2015 Dominic
I’ve previously written on the issues some small businesses face in actually understanding what their SEO agency is doing and if this is actually benefiting their company. This can be a minefield – especially in an area which is constantly changing with new updates from Google happening on a regular basis.
Is your SEO agency helping your business or are they, as I have had experience of in the past, actually harming your companies online presence? What you may think is a great short term guarantee being offered by your SEO agency could come back to harm you in a few years or after the next Google update.
I thought I would provide a list of all the things that I think could help you identify if your SEO agency is helping or hindering your online presence.
You have hired and SEO agency based on someones recommendations and you simply assume they know what they will be doing with this mysterious thing called SEO – correct?
No – you should never do this – always sit them down and find out EXACTLY what they are going to do to – and this should be based on your company objectives if possible. They need to have a deep understanding of your business in order that they can deliver what they day they can.
These are the signs for me that your SEO agency could be harming your site
They have nothing to show
What are they actually doing? Can your SOE agency show you anything which illustrates what they are doing? This should not take the form of simply a rise in rankings. They should be able to run through what SEO practices they are undertaking for you.
You need to agree the deliverable s and timescales with them – it may take a few months to see a positive result based on what they agreed. These deliverables need to be agreed before you start working with them to avoid any confusion. What might they be? Well at basic they could be undertaking:
- An SEO audit of your site
- An analysis of your site’s link profile
- Optimized content on your site
- Articles with links to your site that are being or have been published on other sites
Make sure you have these agreed in the deliverable s document and ask for copies of other deliverable they have undertaken for other companies as well as results.
They don’t ask you for anything
SEO should be an ongoing relationship with you – not a one off consultation and then 6 months of you being invoiced 3k pm. If your agency are any good they will be on your case and asking you questions on a regular basis. They should be asking for:
- Editor or admin access to your CMS
- View or admin access to Google Analytics
- Access to Google Webmaster Tools
- Access to social accounts
- A list of target keywords
- Past audits/penalties/work
If your agency do not ask for anything or the conversation is one way with you asking all the time then they will probably be simply adding back links from their network of spammy sites – of which I have direct experience
They have no suggestions for improvements
Are your agency coming back to you with recommendations on things to change on site or where they think you need to improve? No feedback or no suggestions means a poor service and nothing to contribute. Very often dodgy SEO agencies will come in and promise increased link s etc but not much more because “Google loves that!”
Wrong – Google likes quality. If you are getting a multitude of bad back links to your site which are not relevant then they will not convert – so they are harmful to your business. This is lazy SEO ( and not even SEO!)
Good SEO agencies will value your relationship and come to you with ongoing improvements to your site – some of which may be easy to change and some difficult BUT they should be suggesting changes nevertheless.
They can’t share their techniques.
What exactly are you guys doing? If the reaction to this question is a blank stare or muttering something about back links then – your being scammed!! These would typical responses you should be wary of:
- “As an SEO firm, our efforts on your behalf must remain confidential.”
- “Due to the nature of the industry, we’re not permitted to disclose our practices.”
- “Well, we do a variety of things, but it involves basically optimizing your site for search engines.”
- “Oh, tons of things. It would take me too long to explain.”
- “I’m not sure exactly, but I’ll get back with you.”
Its your money and they need to be accountable for the spend and be able to explain simply and effectively what they are spending your money on. If they can’t then get rid of them
You get a manual penalty.
A penalty from Google is one of the worst things that could happen to your business as it takes a long laborious process to get rid of it.
What you may see in Webmaster Tools is a warning that you have been hit with a bad link warning. This will result in Google adjusting your organic rankings negatively – affecting your online presence and ultimately sales.
This happened to a company I know and it took around 2 months to recover from it – ironically by employing the same company who had caused the notice through bad / spammy link building! One thing I would recommend to any small company is build this into your contract – should you receive a bad penalty notice then a discount applied to the work
Your rankings drop
Rankings go up and down all the time so you do need to keep and eye on them however if they drop significantly then you need your SEO agency to get involved and advise you asap – especially if these are key terms for your business.
It may be something your agency are doing or it may be something happening with your companies reputation in the marketplace – or indeed Google may have released an algorithm update
Your traffic drops
Related to a drop in rankings could be a drop in traffic – again this may not be the fault of your agency however they should be on the first foot when it comes to anything serious like this.
The first thing they should be advising of is if they are aware of any algorithmic changes and advise you. I have experienced this first hand and, with a big company trading weekly in the millions, this could lead to a disastrous drop in sales.
Have a think about what changes were made to the site and when – did they co-inside with the drop in the traffic?
You start ranking for the wrong keywords.
Any business should know it’s keywords and what they should be ranking for. If you don’t then you can easily find these in Google Analytics. Your SEO agency should also have an idea re how your long tail
keywords are driving traffic and ranking in the SERPS. You should already know what your target keywords are. In addition, you should have an idea based on Google Analytics, how your long tail keywords are driving traffic and/or ranking in the SERPs. To determine analytics on this, navigate to Acquisition → Keywords → Organic.
You need to understand what those keywords are and keep an eye if they start changing. Any significant changes to keywords you rank highly for could have a significant impact on your rankings. Again your SEO agency should be advising you of this.
What you should be looking for is an increase in TARGETTED traffic – ie traffic which is related to your product or core offer. If you see an increase in traffic but decrease in conversions then this may be a result of some dubious activity by your SEO agency
You see an uplift in suspicious link backs on your link profile
Your link profile is extremely valuable. This tells Google that you are here and this is how valuable our audience find us. Your link profile is like a sign that you wave to Google telling them, “Here’s how to rank me!”
Should this profile change significantly then this could have very serious issues for your site. A link profile can get messed up very easily by perhaps receiving poor quality link backs – ie from spammy or suspicious sites
Here’s a random example:
This back link has no relevance to the retailers site – again I have experienced this first hand and it took some time to question and review / remove all these links
The back link comes from a site that is entirely outside of the niche and language of the recipient site. If this happens it means your SEO agency are sending links to your site from other websites of low value and no relevance. The chance of a customer for example making a sale on a pet supplies website based on a link from a blog on football is highly unlikely. Instead of adding link juice and site authority, these link backs are devaluing your site
Show your SEO agency the list of suspicious sites, and ask them if they know where they came from. (You may or may not receive an honest answer.) Whatever the case, you now have some cleanup to do, and your agency might have caused the problem
You see optimized anchor text from link backs
As an example of the ever changing world of SEO, what was perfectly acceptable a few years ago is now no longer. Google is continually trying refine its search experience to provide the customer with the best experience and “Optimized anchors” are a major no-no in SEO today.
Google’s Penguin update in April of 2012 penalized 3.1% of all sites that showed signs of anchor optimization. Optimized anchors are links on website pages made up of your keywords.
Your SEO agency should be keeping on top of your link profile and advising if you have too many optimized anchor text links. Before working with any SEO agency you should understand your own link profile and if you have very many of this type of anchor text.
After working with your agency for a few weeks, check your link profile If you find, based on research into your link profile, that you’re gaining a substantial amount of such optimized links, then it could be the devious work of your SEO agency
Here’s a telltale sign:
- Scenario: Your link profile has few or no optimized anchors.
- You contract with an SEO agency, and give your SEO a list of target keywords.
- A few weeks later, your link profile has a lot of optimized anchors, and these anchors match the keyword list that you gave your SEO agency.
The above are just some of the basic issues I have experienced with some SEO agencies. Of all the recruitment channel spend, this channel is the most misunderstood and therefore it is essential you understand exactly what you are getting for your investment and that what you are getting is actually benefiting your business.
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