You’ve realized that in order to grow your business you need to rank higher when your customers go online to search for the products and services you offer. That’s where the action is and your business needs to be visible when it counts. 

However, you’re not an SEO expert and you’ve heard all the horror stories from other business owners who have been burned by bad actors. They wasted valuable time and money with very little to show for it – or worse – spammy SEO providers got their sites penalized and damaged their brand. How does a savvy business owner avoid such a disaster? Here’s five things to look for that will help you figure out if you’re dealing with a professional, an amateur, or something worse.

1. They Guarantee Top Rankings

Why should you work with a service provider that can’t guarantee their work? That’s a fair criticism but it’s not quite that simple. At Brighter Digital we have such a high ratio of success that offering guarantees might not bite us very often but it would be misleading.

Any knowledgeable SEO without an ego problem realizes it’s Google’s world and they’re just living in it. I simply won’t take a client if I don’t feel there’s a high probability of achieving a good return on investment, but I can’t guarantee anything in an environment I don’t fully control. Google is constantly tweaking their algorithms, and every single SEO professional is doing their best to get results without knowing 100% how it works. 

Capable SEOs have the benefit of experience, relentless research, and years of their own trial and error to help guide you towards success. A capable SEO will never guarantee you anything without being very specific about the context.

The SEO agency that says they can get you number 1 rankings in 3 months is *usually* not being honest – plain and simple. It might not be enough to disqualify them if they can rationally back up their claim, but if it’s paired with other items on this list then you should keep looking.

2. They’re Too Cheap

There might be some niche cases but generally speaking, if you’re in a city and you have an average to high amount of competition, the $499/mth SEO package just isn’t going to hack it let alone the $199. 

A holistic search strategy has a lot of moving parts and they aren’t things you want to do on the cheap. Website options and costs have come down for small business owners if you’re the DIY type but skillful link building, unique compelling content, and technical expertise are just a few things you can’t get on a tiny budget. It’s not such a bargain when your low cost marketing package fetches you zero results.

A reputable SEO agency will be upfront about your competitive landscape and what you need to achieve your goals.

3. They Have A Secret Formula

Let me be clear. Nobody has a magic formula for SEO unless you count hard work, intelligence, and creativity. If your agency won’t tell you what they’re doing because it’s “secret” or “proprietary” you should run away – don’t walk.

4. They’re Doing Blackhat SEO

It’s one thing if you know about it and you’re comfortable with the risk, but otherwise this is an unacceptable practice. Link schemes and other spammy SEO practices can get your website into trouble and have substantial negative consequences for your business. 

Unfortunately, the average business owner doesn’t have the ability to look under the hood and see what an SEO is really doing. You can ask your SEO point blank if they use any black hat techniques and it’s always a good idea to talk to some of their clients about their experience.

5. They Don’t Communicate Well 

A bad SEO will use a lot of jargon to make everything sound really complicated, but insist that you should trust them. A good SEO will minimize the confusion to outline a plan you can understand, set clear benchmarks, and make sure you understand what your responsibilities are. Here’s a few items you should expect them to cover

  • What’s their strategy to improve your results? 
  • How much experience do they have?
  • What tasks are you – the client – responsible for?
  • Do they have experience working with clients in your industry?
  • How will you know that the strategy is working? What goals are they measuring?

You can also read my article on how to set goals for your SEO campaign. Search engine optimization is a long term strategy with potentially huge payoff when executed well. It’s worth the time and effort to do your due diligence and make sure you’ve found the right agency for your business. Ultimately, you’ll need to be willing to eat your vegetables instead of going straight for the junk food.

Patrick Leonard | Owner, Brighter Digital

Author: Patrick Leonard

Patrick is the owner of Brighter Digital, he's helped over a hundred local businesses grow with search marketing.