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How to Spot a Bad SEO Company

Alec Sharratt

by Alec Sharratt on 6th July 2011

If you own a website then in all likelihood you will suffer from the never-ending torrent of emails from SEO consultants and companies looking to snare you as a client. Emails can vary from sincere sounding to completely spammy, but there are a few hallmarks and tests which you can do to establish whether the person contacting you is genuine.

I actually view this as a kind of sport or hobby and personally enjoy the ones that make huge claims or tick the “beware, potential scam” boxes. In much the same way that I enjoy arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Creationists when they have the misfortune of knocking my door! The below is a screenshot of the comments left through the contact form of a client site:

Email

The Hallmarks of Unprofessionalism

First off, the origin of this email is an anonymous Gmail account, if I enjoy ridiculing these people I would probably not read any further because of this. The second and slightly less obvious point is that the email address and name do not even match!

Not having an email from a @domainname.co.uk will usually mean that they do not have a website, or do not want you to see it. Any SEO consultant worth their salt will have a website, even if they have no web design skills, anyone can create a WordPress site. The cost of creating a website nowadays is so low that anyone can afford it. Having a website doesn’t add credibility, in the same way that oxygen doesn’t improve quality of life… It is essential; I have adapted “Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs” below to “Alec’s Hierarchy of SEO Professionalism”:

The lower levels of SEO Professionalism require that all basic needs are fulfilled, in Maslow’s version we have requirements for food, water, oxygen, etc. In my version the basic level is requires the most basic levels of requirement for a SEO agency / consultant, such as:

  • Physical location
  • Website
  • Contactable by land-line phone, email and office

These are just essential, every internet business should have all of the above, the first and last are requirements to be registered with “Companies House”, so without them they are not even a company. Generally I wouldn’t bother replying to an email like this, it just isn’t worth the time and effort required to do so.

However the below is a screenshot of another SEO company offering guarantees!

Now at these guys have a domain name and what looks like an actual company, despite the name which indicates that you can be guaranteed of getting a top ten result; which is of course impossible. Now these guys are fair game, the email was about 1000 words long and indicated that the website was not ranking for any of its keywords. A little digging is required.

The Acid Test

Right so they are a long standing SEO firm, 10 years old, they have a domain name, they sound professional, make big claims and also flat out lie. But if you are inexperienced in SEO the lies may not be obvious. Things to look out for first of all are:

  • Big claims (like well established company, your website is underperforming, etc)
  • Guarantees (no-one can guarantee a position within Google or any search engine, so avoid being wooed by these claims)
  • Scare mongering (companies telling you kindly that your website is rubbish, has no back-links, no indexed pages, etc)

This particular company hit all of the above, but let’s assume they hadn’t, do some quick research on them. A few basic tests you can do to establish the veracity of their company are:

Search Google for their domain name. As you can see from the image below, in this case no website just a bunch of articles about how this person is a scam artist. We can at this point safely assume they will not have climbed to the second level of my hierarchy of SEO professionalism!

Top10

The second level is all important before we can move onto less fundamental elements; level two is “Trust / Security”, the company must be trustworthy. This means that you can securely make payments to them, they will likely be accredited to a number of different regulating bodies, whether that is ISO, ITIL or industry bodies. Trust can also be built by speaking to their current clients or reading testimonials, reviews, finding out what people say about them online.

I actually wrote a 1000 word reply to these people, highlighting with evidence exactly why everything they said was either a lie or (though unintentional) lack of skill, either way I pity them.

Unfortunately No-one who has ever elicited business through a contact form has ever achieved level two of my Hierarchy of SEO Professionalism. But should be lucky enough to be approached by someone that does, the remaining three levels are as follows:

  • Level 3

Confidence that the company will provide you with the quality of service that you require. Proven results and a good track record are important so that you know your money is being well spent.

  • Level 4

Transparency, clear accurate and readable reporting is very important otherwise you will not be able to track the success or lack thereof of a SEO campaign.

  • Level 5

A friendly company, good customer services, not too pushy, people you feel you could work with.

Follow the hierarchy to establish a competent and trustworthy agency or consultant, and should you glean any entertainment value from it; drive them into the ground with their own lies should they not meet the standard!

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt will be writing about his passion; the technical aspects of search. Well experienced within the IT industry, Alec has bags of knowledge on everything technical from simple spreadsheets that will save you hours right up to news and tips to make search that little bit easier.

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