Protect your business against dishonest SEO providers

May 12, 2021

Protect your business against dishonest SEO providers

SEO, like all unregulated industries, has its share of dishonest players. The frustrating part for those who do a good job is that getting burnt by dishonest SEO companies leaves businesses reluctant to invest again.

There are plenty of SEO service providers that will increase your qualified traffic, leads and e-commerce sales. The hard part is finding the right partner. If you’re in the market for SEO services, here are some red flags (in no significant order):

High rankings and more traffic is the goal

While SEO is by definition a traffic generating service, it has to be tailored to your broader marketing strategy. The key is generating qualified traffic, meaning traffic that fits your sales demographic. If you improve traffic by 500% but none of that traffic is in the market for you – what’s the point? If you increase it by 30% and they’re qualified, you’re far more likely to generate valuable sales leads.

Proposals with no research

SEO is not the same for every business and some industries have varying needs. Ethical providers will research and review the state of your current SEO health before even thinking about a proposal. The priority of each service, the time it takes and what’s needed is the basis of a proposal. Without that information they are just packaging the same services for every client (See the next red flag) regardless of whether your business needs it.


Pre-packaged SEO… This preys on an organization’s desire for a quick and inexpensive solution. But SEO strategies are by nature complex and unique to every business. There is simply no one-size-fits-all formula.

While many services recur, how much time or priority for each service will be dependent on your business and your current website.


Crappy monthly reports or no reports at all is definitely a top 3 red flag! Never work with a provider that won’t provide accountability for their work, this should include their activities for the time period as well as statistics. As always, if the stats look complicated – you can always get an audit done.

Always ask at the beginning what sort of reporting you will receive, you can even ask them for a sample report so you know what to expect. They should be relevant to your business goals and match the campaign strategy. If the priority was increased sales leads, there should be reports on those very leads.

While nobody can guarantee what rank you will ultimately achieve, the reporting should at least match what they’ve done to try and achieve what you have agreed upon.  If they don’t keep you in the loop – massive red flag.

Validating sales leads

Not every enquiry is a sales lead. That means you should be partnering with your provider to validate sales leads. It will look great in the report to say you got 50 leads this month, but if some were misdialed calls and a few spam enquiries made it through the web form… that’s not accruate reporting. Building a process for validating leads requires you and your provider to work together.

Phone call tracking

Phone calls are a big chunk of lead generation for many industries. If that’s not being tracked then it’s going to be extremely difficult to determine your campaigns success. If your provider isn’t sure how or have the budget to incorporate this, they clearly aren’t experienced in SEO.

Team depth

As a lead in from call tracking, team depth is important. If goals are to be accomplished you’ll want to know that all areas of the campaign are accounted for. A proper campaign needs web designers, developers, SEO analysts, content marketing specialists and copywriters.

This might be their entire time, a mix of your team (often businesses like to keep their own web designer/developer) or completely outsourced. Make sure you know who’s in charge of what, especially if the service is outsourced.

Outsourced teams

This one is tricky, but important. Outsourcing can be valuable in bringing in experts that are dedicated to their own role. It can also be a way to keep agency costs down to make more money…

Sales agencies are common. These are ‘marketing’ agencies that only have ‘account managers’ and a sales team in their office. Every other component is outsourced at a cheap rate with no accountability. Generally these agencies won’t disclose that information. It’s the most common scenario we see where businesses are getting burnt by high fees on low success.

Make sure you have a transparent conversation about the team involved, not outsourcing is the same quality.

Client testimonials

Get references. Always get references! Any provider worth their weight will be able to provide you with several client references. If they aren’t willing to let you communicate with any of their clients.. red flag.

Guarantee Page 1 Rankings

This is most common in email scams. Nobody can guarantee you any ranking. Check out Google’s beginner docs for their own take on it.

This goes for secret strategies and blueprints that guarantee success. If it was really that simple there wouldn’t be nearly as many SEO provider and it wouldn’t be anywhere near the price that it is.

SEO success take time and experience.

Adwords are not SEO

Pay per click advertising is not SEO! Adwords is another service area and doesn’t affect your SEO rankings. Generally you do both Adwords and SEO as part of a broader strategy. Just like you might also be email marketing, doing organic social media and social media advertising.

Make sure you have confirmed that the reporting you receive for SEO is separate from any paid advertising, especially your traffic and lead generation.

Unsolicited Emails or Contact Forms

Generally speaking 99% of the SEO emails you get are scams and spam. You might get the occasional truthful proposal but most of the time it’s junk. We get them all the time, even Google gets them…

Submit your site for rankings

We hate this one. It’s really common for hosting companies, especially the really big ones, to send this misleading email about your domain expiring on Google. Which is not true. It looks a lot like a renewal for your domain and says a lot about potential ranking loss – also untrue.

Most will have a fine print at the bottom explaining it’s optional.

These services are scams.

They know someone at Google

Nobody knows anybody at Google that will have an impact on your rankings. There are account managers at Google and they’re for Adwords. They don’t have any special tools to give you extra benefits, they just run through Ad campaigns to help agencies sell more ads under the guise of ad optimisation. We never had much luck finding an account manager from Google Ads that was worth the time.

Bad contracts

If there is a contract, which there should be, read it carefully. Even better if you can get legal advice on it before committing. We have seen contracts that include ownership of hosting, Google Analytics and social profiles to the provider. That means while you’re working together it’s all good, but if you move you don’t get those accounts.

Not having data means you have to start from scratch. Having to move your website comes at a cost and obviously your social profiles should always be your own!

Lack of communication 

This is a no brainer. Bad communication will result in a failed campaign. This goes both ways though, it’s as much your responsibility to keep your marketing team up to date with what’s happening in your business. They can’t make adjustments or plans on things they don’t know.

On the flip side, they should be eager to know how things are going and be regularly communicating what they’re up to. 

Little curiosity on how your business works 

To run a successful marketing campaign of any sort requires a lot of data. You also need to make plans that take the customer and the business operations into consideration. If the service provider isn’t looking to know the ins and outs of your business, they can’t possibly tailor a campaign to you.

If you receive a strategy that feels generic – ask more questions about how it fits with your business.


Obviously use the red flags in this post as a guideline and don’t let it make you despondent about finding the right digital agency for your business. There are some amazing agencies around and if you do your due diligence you’re far more likely to find the right fit.

Treat it like hiring an employee, don’t hire the best of a bad bunch and don’t hire the first person that gives you a pitch.

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