Unfortunately, the SEO industry is full of snake oil. With a good sales pitch and a handful of made-up metrics, nearly anyone can sell SEO to unwitting customers who know they need SEO but have little idea what it actually means. Some SEO agencies make a living collecting checks for a few months before the customer realizes their traffic hasn’t improved. It’s too late for the customers at that point – the unscrupulous agency has long since cashed those checks and moved on to their next victim.
Even as an SEO professional I find it difficult to tell a good SEO agency from bad at face value. A shady, aggressive, salesperson I wouldn’t buy a toaster from might be an SEO genius or represent an excellent firm. You might not be able to judge an agency by the behavior of their salespeople, but you can watch for certain clues in their pitch. Generally, scammy agencies get and (temporarily) keep customers by overpromising. Here’s 5 lies to watch for:
“I can get you on page 1 for that”
Often, agencies will do their ‘keyword research’ and come up with the highest-traffic keywords in your industry. Yes, it’s good to see a list of all keywords people are searching in your category of products and/or services, but it doesn’t mean they are all within your reach. For example, maybe you got your real estate license last week and now you want to be on Google’s page 1 for “Manhattan Real Estate”. Heck, why not right? You just hired an SEO agency and this is what they do! Wrong. In most industries where there is opportunity to make money from organic search traffic, getting onto page 1 is very competitive. There’s no waltzing right onto page 1 without months or sometimes years of effort. You can check this yourself; take whatever keyword the agency promised and do a Google search – if page 1 is stacked with long-established national brands, you’re probably not going to unseat any of them. An unscrupulous agency is happy to promise to land you “Manhattan Real Estate” next week if it gets you to sign the contract, knowing full well this is not possible. They are aware you probably need to start with less-competitive keywords and build your SEO presence over time – but customers don’t like to hear this.
“Your sales will double”
Getting traffic to your site is no guarantee sales will increase. Some websites simply have a poor user experience that cause users not to buy. Or the website is properly optimized to convert traffic to sales, but it’s getting the wrong traffic. For example, if your running shoe website is getting traffic from dress shoe keywords, this traffic is not likely to convert to sales. Almost any SEO agency can get at least some keywords to rank better, but they won’t necessarily be the right keywords. It is possible to estimate a sales increase based on search volume and conversion rates, but only when armed with the right data. If your SEO salesperson makes a sales increase claim without asking a lot of web metrics and business questions first (and probably access to your Google Analytics account), they are only making a guess. It’s fine if you are told your sales will increase, but just make sure it’s based on facts.
“We specialize in your niche”
Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a powerful selling point to tell a prospect they specialize in your niche. Unfortunately it’s just vapor much of the time. Ask for examples, if they truly do specialize in your niche they should have no problem listing 10+ websites on which they’ve worked. Then take the critical step of contacting several of them! You’ll quickly learn if they actually worked with these clients, or we’re pulled randomly from a Google search. Finding an agency that specializes in your niche is very powerful, just make sure it’s for real.
“All our work is done in-house”
This is almost definitely a lie, and you don’t want it to be true. There are far too many elements to a successful SEO strategy than any one agency can be staffed for. You want specialists for each, even if it means some of the SEO you are paying for is being outsourced to other agencies or overseas. If you are in the United States it is ok to want to select an agency based in the United States and where the core strategy and management teams are located, but it shouldn’t be a problem for you if their ace schema markup developer is in Bangladesh. But don’t worry, even if they say most of their work is done in-house, it’s not. I would guess that, on average, over 75% of all SEO work is done overseas. Most of it is excellent quality.
“Your current SEO agency is ripping you off”
One of the easiest ways to make a sale is to steal someone else’s customer. Unfortunately, disparaging other SEO professionals is a common way to do it. No matter how great the current SEO agency is, the attacking agency will convince the customer it’s too little results for too high a price. They come armed with a list of keywords the customer’s website doesn’t rank for, site errors, and everything else they can dig up. Once they plant a seed in the customer’s head, it can be very difficult to dislodge. The attacking agency knows they can’t do any better, but that’s not the point – the point is to steal the business and get a few months’ payments before the customer realizes they made a terrible mistake.
Ultimately, the responsibility is on you to select the right SEO agency. The good ones can be difficult to find because they don’t need to blast the market with cold calls to get customers, they earn new business through word of mouth. It’s unlikely a scam SEO agency would earn a referral so start by asking around to see if anyone you know can make a recommendation or check with your local business chamber. Read their online reviews. Give them a call. Ask unrealistic questions like “will my sales double” and see how they respond. You don’t have to be an expert in SEO to get a feel for who’s being honest with you.