When James W. Marshall found gold on January 24th, 1848 in at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, CA he had no idea that 300,000 more gold-seekers, called "forty-niners" would come to Califonia to make quick money. Some lucky ones made a fortune, most barely survived.
You could say the same about the SEO industry today.
Even though the first search engine was developed in 1990, it took several years before the first gold-seekers struck a gold mine. Early SEO's made a quick fortune by gaming the rudimentary search engines by reverse engineering the algorithm, stuffing keywords and using link farms.
You might think, these times are over now that Google and other search engines are punishing any attempt to cheat, but people still think it's a gold rush. For example, when I was test driving a car, my 23 year old car salesman (I think they have about the same reputation as SEO's) was saying that he wants to get into SEO because he was told it is a way to make a quick buck.
If he tries to break into pure SEO in 2015, he is like a prospector from the East Coast, mortgaging his home, leaving his wife and kids behind, and setting off for California in 1960, after the Gold Rush was over, and the market was saturated.
So to make sure you don't become a victim of a prospector looking to make a quick buck, we compiled for you a list of 10 signs that the SEO company you are about to hire or already working with is only taking your money:
1) They guarantee you the #1 spot on Google
How often do you see this #1 guarantee?
The reason why SEO companies still offer this promise is because, well, people still ask for it. Usually, it's the first question that comes out of people's mouths when I talk to them. And they think that I can get them to #1 on Google in a few weeks either by paying Google or doing some stuff in the "backend".
The reality is, unless you are in a brand new industry or a super niche one, you will not get to #1 in a few weeks. There is now paying Google, and there is only so much you can do in the back end.
And, truth to be told, you will probably never rank very high for your most competitive keywords. That doesn't mean you can't improve your overall rankings or get more customers from your website, but to guarantee #1 just doesn't fly anymore.
2) We will rank you for 100 keywords of your choice.
Maybe you know some of your best keywords. Maybe you think you know a hundred or more of them. Or maybe you don't. That is the point of hiring an agency to do keyword research. They are not in your industry, they are an outsider. They should be analyzing your current data, keyword trends, search volume, competition on keywords etc. That is what you are paying for.
If you give them a list of what you think your keywords are, and there are ones in there that no one is searching for, sure getting on the first page of Google will be easy. But since you are the only one searching for it, it won't result in any new business.
3) They offer a quick fix
Even if your website is only 5 pages long, has 1 image per page, and not a lot of else going on, it still will not be a "quick fix". First off, SEO is not one time or quick. That being said if you have hundreds or thousands of images, dozens or hundreds of pages, that process of optimizing will be one time.
But even after fixing all possible SEO issues on a website, even if it is done in just a few weeks, the effects of it will take time. Depending on how bad the SEO was before there might be some immediate improvement, but overall it will take months.
If you do SEO just one time, don't expect any rankings increase to stick around. A stagnant website will collect dust, and be pushed down in favor of other more current websites offering the same or better content.
4) They seem to only mention backlinks
Yes, backlinks are important, that is what set Google apart from the other search engines back in the mid 90's. Yes, even after Google said it was quality, not quantity, a lot of crappy backlinks would still rank your site. Today, however, Google's algorithm is a lot better at catching crappy links and an unnatural accumulation of links. 20,000 links from a link farm in Russia or China won't do much to help you, in fact, it will probably hurt you.
There is even an extortion email going around where unless you pay $1,500.00, they will give your website 20,000 bad links which will get you taken out of the Google Index. Google has even changed their stance that there is "almost nothing" someone can do harm your rankings, to "Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your rankings..."
Bottomline, backlinks are earned, not paid for, and like SEO, take time and effort.
5) They want to create "micro sites" or other websites
This is related to focusing on backlinks only, creating "micro sites" or other fake sites whose sole purpose is to create a backlink to your site. Again, backlinks, while important, should not be the main and only focus.
Instead of creating other sites with thin or fake content, they should be focusing on creating content on your site so that other sites will want to link to yours naturally.
6) Overly focused with on-page optimization
The metadata on your website is important, the title tag, meta description, alt image tag etc. It should definitely be optimized, otherwise you are in the gutter with your SEO. But once you get yourself out of the gutter, don't over optimize the page.
Instead, create new content that is optimized from the start and don't stop creating. Bottomline, you can only squeeze so much from one page, so create new content to keep your site fresh.
7) They have full control of your accounts and you have none
OK, so this one has some gray area here because your SEO company does need admin level permissions in pretty much every account. However, you should have admin access as well.
Still, even with the client having the credentials, the SEO company can lock them out in most cases pretty easily, so you do need to tread carefully.
8) Speaking of accounts, create the most important ones yourself
If you are selling pre-filled red water balloons, and an SEO company says they have the domain name prefilledredwaterballons.com, obviously that would be the perfect URL for you. However, you do not own that domain, they do. Don't go with this company unless they are willing to transfer ownership of it to you if you go forward with them.
Because if after a year or two, for whatever reasons you want to part ways with this company, most likely your website is staying with them, unless you cough up a hefty price. All that SEO credit you built up, all your content, and history with Google (website age is a ranking factor, older is better) is gone in an instant. Worse yet, the SEO company has all that credit and will use it to help themselves.
Bottomline, at the very least you should be the full owner of your domain.
9) They don't ask for/set up any accounts from you.
Still on the topic of accounts, when I engage with a new client, if they already have a website I need a lot of login data from them like Google & Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, backend of the website management, social media accounts, etc.
I am using these accounts to look at the history of the site, the health of the site, and opportunities to improve it, this is always the first step.
If your SEO consultant doesn't want any of these accounts, what are they doing to improve your site? Most likely something shady or black hat, so that should tip you off.
10) No mention of return on investment
For better or for worse, Inbound Marketing focuses on measurable return on investment. If your SEO company is being measured on how many "first page results" they get, be wary. Even if they do get you on the first page of Google, it could be for a keyword that no one is searching for. Or a keyword that is not really relevant to your industry.
Or worse yet they focused so much on getting you on the first page, that when those millions of people who are now clicking through to your site they have no way to convert. Your site has no call to actions, a poor user experience, frustrating shopping cart, unorganized menu etc.
Even if you are the first result on Google, if you frustrate the people searching, they will click on the 2nd or 3rd result.