How to Spot a Bad (or ineffective) SEO Company

by Posted @ Mar 13 2011


In any industry, there are high-quality and low-quality providers.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is no different, but it can be very hard to spot the ‘good guys’ from the ‘not-so-good guys’ in SEO (and any other serviced based business) because there is no physical product that you can put your hands on and inspect for quality or lack thereof.  Aside from the standard references and proof of past experience, I’d like to share a few SEO techniques that are definite red flags.  If your SEO company is touting any of the following techniques, run (don’t walk) to a more reputable SEO firm – like Go Fish Digital  🙂

It can be hard to keep all of the SEO Jargon straight:

Wordcloud of bad seo techniques for search engines

“We’ll Submit Your Site to the Search Engines”

This sales offering is very misleading, and even big companies such as Verizon can’t resist touting it.  Submitting your website to Google is SEO taboo – you should never use their submission tool.  If you read this article, you’ll see that people have tested submitting sites to Google to see if that is an effective way for the Big G to add you to the index, and the short answer is that ‘it isn’t’.  Our conjecture on this is that, if Google thinks you should be in their index, they will find you.  Google finds you by following links on other people’s websites.  Google reasons (we believe), that if you are worthy of being linked to, then you are probably worthy of being indexed.  Google probably thinks that, if you have to resort to submitting your site to Google, then its probably because nobody else on the internet thinks you are worth suggesting/promoting/linking to.

And…anyway…. who uses any other search site besides Google, Yahoo, or Bing?  What are those other 100+ search engines that they put you on?  Sounds like a waste of time and a false sales pitch.

If you really want to get indexed by Google quickly, the best thing you can do is get someone to link to your new website.  You can do this by calling on a favor from a friend, writing an article for an article directory such as eZine Articles, or creating a profile on a content-based social media site such as Squidoo or HubPages.

“We’ll Optimize Your Meta Keywords”

Meta keywords just don’t matter anymore.  Google changed the game a decade ago when they went away from keyword density and meta keywords to determine rankings.  A number of tests have shown that Google & Bing are not even aware of your meta keywords – they simply ignore them (Yahoo did use them in a few rare instances, but Bing now powers Yahoo Search, so Meta Keywords are dead!).  So, with Meta Keywords, at best the SEO company is just wasting your/their time adding these to your site, and at worst they are exposing your keyword playbook to all of your competitors.  I can’t think of a good reason to use Meta Keywords. Ever.

Exceptions: Don’t confuse or group together Meta Keywords and Meta Descriptions.  Meta Keywords are definitely useless, but meta descriptions are still used by Google.  The descriptions aren’t used for ranking, but they are often times the text that Google Displays along with your page title and URL.

“We’ll Comment on Lots of Blogs for You”

Blog commenting, when used to contribute meaningful insight and information into a relevant community, can be a fairly useful practice to gain exposure and traffic for your website.  However, when an SEO firm is talking about blog commenting, most of the time they are talking about comment spam.  Unscrupulous SEO firms have automated bots that blast meaningless, annoying comment spam across the internet with hopes that a few of the sites will publish them with backlinks.  This may have worked 6 or so years ago, but it does not anymore.  First off, most blogs are set to nofollow comment links, which means even if the comment is approved, the published link is not passing value.  Second, it could really give your website/company a bad name to hundreds or thousands of bloggers, causing an online reputation management nightmare.  And third, its really frowned upon by Google, and if you are caught, you can expect a penalty.

“We’ll Submit Your Site to Hundreds/Thousands of Directories”

Directory Submissions can be a good piece of a strategy when done right – but when an SEO is touting it, they are probably not doing it the right way.  For most clients and internal projects, we almost always recommend a Yahoo! Directory submission, and then we evaluate perhaps also submitting to Best of the Web,, JoeAnt, and a few of the other large, well-respected online directories.  The directories I just listed run around $200+ each because they are human edited and do not include junk and spam.  This is the good type of directory submissions.

The bad type of directory submissions are the ones that generally read something like, “We will submit your site to 500 (or insert some other large number here) different web directories!”.  This is bad.  Its unnatural, and Google can spot it in a second.  Focus on quality with SEO.  If its easy to get 500 links, they aren’t going to be quality, and 1 link from a reputable site will be more valuable in Google’s eyes than 5,000 directory submissions.  Again, if Google picks up on these SEO gaming techniques, you could be subject to a penalty.

Other Signs of a Bad SEO Company

100% Focused on Onsite Optimization

We see this a lot.  Its not an obvious sales tactic, but one that you’ll need to inquire with the SEO company about.  The key question is, “What offsite SEO techniques will you be doing?”.  If the answer isn’t “Building a large number of high-quality backlinks”, then they probably aren’t a company you want to work with.  There are two critical pieces to SEO:

  • Onsite SEO:  Changes made to the website itself to improve its search engine rankings.  The changes can include text changes, site architecture changes, layout changes, conversion optimization, and many others.
  • Offsite SEO:  Although its most often referred to as ‘linkbuilding’, this refers to an SEO obtaining links from other websites that point back to the client’s site.  These links are viewed  as ‘votes of confidence’ in Google’s eyes, and help a site rise in the search engine.

Both onsite work and offsite work are key to a successful SEO campaign, however, onsite changes alone cannot help your site reach any sort of top ranking.  Ensure that any SEO company you work with is building your high-quality links.  If they are solely focused on onsite changes, you will never be able to obtain good rankings for any types of keywords that would drive large amounts of traffic.

Guaranteed Results

Its impossible to guarantee results, and a good SEO knows this.  Guaranteeing results can drive SEO’s to undertaken strategies that Google advises against – which can lead to penalties.  Work with a firm that is confident in what they do, has the experience and references that show they have been successful, but carefully manages expectations and the expected outcomes.  Guaranteeing results is not a good practice.

Final Thoughts

It can be hard to tell good SEO firms from bad ones.  If you need help, we’d be glad to provide further advice and information to ensure that you end up in good hands.  And, if you are looking for a new provider, we’d love to know your goals and be considered for your next project.

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  1. E2 Solutions

    May 05th, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Really nice post, I think you nailed it as most of the companies think they are the best and start offering guaranteed results on search engines. Also, when you ask for what you guys going to do they have same activities you just mentioned above especially blog commenting.


  2. CrescentSkies

    March 31st, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Though I’m against spending any money on SEO to begin with seeing as most people can do it themselves this list is pretty good. Other things to watch out for are companies that will include your link on places like porn sites or traffic systems and end up taking your money without giving you an ounce of benefit.


  3. Pingback: 4 Reasons Why Content Marketing Should Be Part of Your SEO Strategy – Findajob360

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