7 SEO red flags to avoid when hiring an SEO agency or SEO consultant

Episode #58 of the SEO Podcast by #SEOSLY is about top three red flags to watch out for when hiring an SEO agency. Having worked a lot at various SEO agencies, I know very well what top red flags are.

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Top SEO Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring an SEO Agency

Finding the right SEO agency is critical, but challenging. The wrong fit could damage your site and drain your marketing budget. After many years reviewing client situations, I’ve identified the most common warning signs to watch for:

SEO Red Flag 1: Unclear Who Is Working on Your Account

  • A major issue is lack of clarity on who specifically is managing your campaign day-to-day.
  • Many agencies outsource work to inexpensive freelancers and subcontractors overseas.
  • High turnover is common without client notice. You need complete transparency.

Insist on knowing full names, backgrounds, locations, and past work examples for each person involved with your SEO. Have your main contact do video calls so you can meet them.

Make sure you are assigned the experts promised originally – not junior staff added later without approval. If an agency is vague about who is handling optimization, that’s a major red flag.

SEO Red Flag 2: Guaranteed Rankings

  • Some agencies promise guaranteed top 3 rankings for your target keywords.
  • This indicates they likely use risky “black hat” tactics to manipulate search results.

No legitimate consultant can guarantee rankings, especially for competitive keywords. SEO has too many unpredictable variables.

If an agency guarantees #1 rankings no matter what, run away fast. Focus on an ethical agency that is honest about unpredictable results.

A better guarantee is a set amount of expert work per month, acknowledging external factors.

SEO Red Flag 3: Lack of Communication

  • A common frustration is being unable to get timely responses from an agency when urgently needed.

Before signing a contract, discuss communication methods and response times.

  • I recommend setting up a direct messaging channel for urgent issues nights/weekends.

Lack of communication means they won’t have your back if SEO problems arise. You’ll wait for answers while your site suffers. Insist on defining a clear protocol upfront.

SEO red flags

SEO Red Flag 4: Vague Reporting

  • Each month your agency should provide a detailed report of all work done.
  • I’ve seen some agencies send vague reports obscuring how little work was actually completed.

Insist on a bulleted list of every single task finished, hours spent per task, and the impact on your overall SEO strategy.

  • Having your agency track work in a shared Google Sheet or Trello board provides ideal transparency.

This allows you to immediately understand volumes and focus areas without deciphering verbose summaries.

SEO Red Flag 5: Obsession with Vanity Metrics

  • Many agencies get distracted chasing vanity metrics like keyword ranks and traffic numbers.

What truly matters is quality leads, conversions, and real ROI – not bigger numbers to put on reports.

Before hiring an agency, make sure they understand your core business goals. Reporting should focus on your target KPIs, not keyword ranks.

If something doesn’t positively impact your bottom line, it should not be a priority activity. Refocus them if needed.

SEO Red Flag 6: Usage of Black Hat Tactics

  • Some agencies rely on spammy, manipulative “black hat” tactics to rank sites. This is extremely risky.

Insist on any potential agency detailing exactly which strategies they will use on your site. Thoroughly research any approaches that seem suspicious.

I recommend asking pointed questions about ethical linking and on-page optimization to gauge their true expertise.

SEO Red Flag 7: Lack of Customization

  • Beware blanket SEO services that follow a one-size-fits-all formula without custom research.

Ask specifically how they plan to optimize for your niche. If an agency says they use the same process for all clients, proceed very cautiously. SEO needs to be highly customized.

There are more red flags to watch out for, but this covers the most common issues I’ve seen. Carefully vet any potential SEO partner before signing a contract. Feel free to reach out if you ever want my help evaluating a specific company’s pitch and approach. With the right fit, SEO can accelerate your success.

Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring an SEO Agency (Video)

Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring an SEO Agency (Audio)

You can listen to episode #58 of the SEO Podcast by #SEOSLY below.

Want to become a guest or provide ideas for the show?

If you want to become a guest on the show or you want to share ideas, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to hear from you. Contact me at [email protected].

Check other episodes of the SEO Podcast by #SEOSLY

Olga Zarr is an SEO consultant with 10+ years of experience. She has been doing SEO for both the biggest brands in the world and small businesses. She has done 200+ SEO audits so far. Olga has completed SEO courses and degrees at universities, such as UC Davis, University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University. She also completed Moz Academy! And, of course, has Google certifications. She keeps learning SEO and loves it. Olga is also a Google Product Expert specializing in areas, such as Google Search and Google Webmasters.