Send your pirate SEO agency to Davy Jones’ Locker!

Pirate SEOBy Sam Allen
October 29, 2012

SEO can be a cut throat industry which is full of so-called experts and gurus who will guarantee you 1st place rankings in Google. Arrrrrr!!

Picking a bad agency can have dire effects which can even result in your whole site getting banned from Google. But don’t let this put you off- there are good agencies afloat and business to plunder in the great Google ocean!

Over the years I have seen the good and bad when it comes to SEO but hopefully I can pass some of what I have learned on to you to help you recognise the tell-tale signs of a good (or bad) agency!

  • In-house monitoring
    Firstly you need someone in-house that is willing to monitor the SEO campaign your agency is conducting. This person should have a dedicated amount of time each month to keep track of results and the campaign progress. The in-house person should organise regular communication with the SEO agency so nothing is lost in the abyss.
  • Learn the SEO basics
    It helps if the in-house team member managing the campaign understands the SEO basics. They won’t just be able to learn this in a day but having a simple take on how Google works can make the whole process a lot smoother. You can find some easy to understand guides and resources at the Search Engine Journal. It would also be valuable to keep in the loop of SEO developments and the ever-changing Google algorithm. Search Engine Roundtable is a great site for this.
  • Understand analytics
    It is a must that the in-house person monitoring the campaign understands basic analytics which will show all the important traffic and sales information for your site. The most common analytics software is Google Analytics which is a free web based service. There are online training sessions but if you would prefer there are lots of companies offering paid training courses.
  • Don’t trust agencies that guarantee 1st place rankings
    No one can do this (except probably Google). If this is one of their main selling points, alarm bells should start ringing. There are standard processes to go through when getting a site to rank in Google but there is also a lot of educated guesswork and each site is different.
  • Ignore pricing packages
    You can tell alot about an agency by the way they set out their pricing structure. I would stay away from agencies that use pricing packages or mention any of the following “bronze, silver or gold package”; “ you will get 100 comment links, 50 social bookmarks, 20 directory links a month” or “10 pages costs xx, 20 pages cost xx”. Pricing a SEO campaign should depend on how competitive your industry is or your sites’ current condition. For example, promoting t-shirts or sex toys will be a lot more competitive than a local hotel or restaurant.
  • Ask for examples
    Ask to see previous work. This is not a foolproof way to see how good an agency is but if they can’t show you any previous results you can rule them out.
  • Do they make you feel confident?
    How well does the agency respond to your questions or explain campaign results? If they don’t sound confident in their own response it could because they are unsure themselves. But you can’t expect them to know everything so give them a chance to investigate and respond.
  • Try a test campaign
    Don’t sign up for a full 12 month contract –  try a test campaign. SEO can’t be achieved in the short term but you can sign up for a 4-6 month campaign and review before signing your life away.
  • Don’t be impressed by keyphrases with no value
    Have you ever heard something similar to “Hey we have just achieved some amazing results you now rank number one for [blue with white stripe t-shirt in los angeles] how good are we!” This phrase has no value because no one will use it when searching Google. You can use the Google Keyword Tool to review phrases but it’s not 100% accurate and you need to understand the different settings such as exact match. It’s also important you don’t focus on volume and instead focus on quality and relevance.
  • Quality not quantity
    Getting “500 visits a day” or “ranking for these 30 phrases in Google” sounds good but is it doing anything for you? Don’t focus on number of visits or number of ranking phrases, focus on the number of conversions whether it be making an enquiry, viewing the contact page, downloading a brochure, signing up for a newsletter etc. These are the most important things, so that’s what you want to increase!  But you must take into account that a bad website can affect conversions which an SEO agency can’t help.
  •  Look out for SEO techniques that could put you at risk
    Cloaking, Link networks, paid links, deceiving search engines, link exchanges and hiding text are all things you should be looking out for. They can seriously hurt your website and get you banned from Google. If it sounds sneaky or dodgy then it’s probably bad news.
  • Complete Transparency
    Your agency should be sharing all the information on your campaign with you. If they are deliberately hiding things it could trouble. There is no reason why an SEO agency should be hiding anything from a client.
  • Full Campaign Reporting
    SEO agencies should supply easy to understand monthly reports. Which includes traffic and goal conversion stats as well as explanation of activity. If you only get supplied with a sheet of rankings, this is not good enough!

I hope this guide helps you in your hunt for success in Google. It’s important to remember there are lots of good agencies out there if you know what to look for. Never forget to go with your gut instinct – if they seem too good to be true it’s often the case!

Guest author Sam Allen is the search manager at Zeta, a company which specialises in SEO services. If you have any questions you can ask Sam through Twitter.

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  1. Agreed Sam. It’s just a shame that we should still need to create posts such as this. One would hope that the search marketing industry would have matured somewhat, but we still speak to prospects every day who tell us they are spending “x” a month for little more than a report.

    I’m sure you do to.

    Question for you – where do you sit on the industry regulation argument?

  2. Hi Nichola,

    We are often in disbelief with the state of some campaigns that we review.

    I feel the SEO industry needs to be regulated but I am unsure at how successful it would be, because people are very good at slipping through the net in our industry.

    It might have to be limited in what it could regulated because the industry is changing so quickly.

    It would be an interesting study to see how people in the industry think how it should be regulated.

  3. What a fantastic post! I used to work in web development and it wasn’t until I started my career at an on-line marketing agency that I realised what a scam a lot of companies are doing with their SEO “departments” ( usually two people at a desk for several hundred customers or no such department at all as they outsourced/white labelled their SEO services elsewhere) A lot of people don’t realise just how much work goes into SEO so this article is great in arming themselves against the sharks in the industry who can get 1st page results for £50….riiiight the day someone can do that I will hire them myself.

    Regarding regulation, I would LOVE their to be regulation in the industry as my old company really, REALLY let people down and I know alot of other companies do naughty tactics too but as you have said, how they could do it and how successful they would be at it would be impossible to forecast, I don’t even think it is possible…

  4. Agreed. As a SEO Consultant, Nobody can’t promise #1 ranking. When you hire agency and before sign OP said ask about SEO work proof and references.

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