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Hiring an SEO? Look Out For These 7 Red Flags (And Run Away If You Find Them)

Comparing SEOs is sometimes as difficult as comparing beef enchiladas made with a red sauce to chicken enchiladas with a cream sauce. I mean, they are both from the enchilada family and probably pretty tasty, but there can only be one winner! (Jen’s beef enchiladas rock! Just sayin’.)

Where was I going with this? Oh right, comparing SEOs. In essence, all SEOs are there to do the same thing, but they come in a lot of different flavors. Depending on what meat and sauce each uses, you could end up with something that completely disagrees with you. (It wasn’t my chicken enchiladas, I swear!)

Thankfully, there are a few tell-tale signals that your SEO may give your site a bit of indigestion. Here are a few things you might want to look for. If you spot them, run away, run away!

7 red flags that indicate bad SEO7 SEO Red Flags

The SEO’s website advertises MSN, Ask.com or AltaVista as search engines they will get you ranked on.

Any SEO that notes these search engines as ones they’ll target are selling you something, and it doesn’t smell like SEO. The fact is, there is no “MSN” search engine (Microsoft’s old MSN changed to “Bing” years ago), Ask.com, the 4th most used search engine, captures around 3% of the total search market, and AltaVista hasn’t really been a viable search engine for over a decade!

In reality, there are two search engines that matter: Google and Bing. You can throw Yahoo in there for good measure since they get around 15% of the search volume, but they are just pulling from Bing and putting their own spin on the results. Together, Yahoo and Bing cover about 30% of the marketshare to Google’s 70%.

The SEO advertizes their search engine and/or directory submission services.

Any kind of mass submission to search engines or directories are signs of SEO circa 1998. In web years, that’s like 150-year-old SEO! Aside from Pay-Per-Click (which doesn’t require submission) and Google’s new pay-to-be-included merchant results, if your site is designed to be found, it will be. Period. Submitting to search engines is a wasted exercise. There is a reason Google doesn’t even have an option for submitting to them.

As for directories, most directories have very little, if any, searcher value. That means your submissions are like passing gas in the wind. You might get a whiff of it for a second but it’s gone just as fast!

Their main SEO service is “optimizing meta tags.”

Your page title tags withstanding, there is very little “tag” optimization that can be done that can be considered effective SEO. While optimizing your page title tags is one of the most important aspects of SEO, it cannot be done outside of having performed your keyword research. Without keyword research, any optimization performed on your title tag is for naught.

Your meta description tag is useful for what’s displayed in the search results (not actual rankings). The keyword meta tag is all but completely useless to the search engines and likely isn’t worth the time it’s taking me to type this right now.

The SEO guarantees #1 rankings

Have you ever made a “guarantee” to a friend that you could predict how someone else would react to a certain situation? It’s kinda fun to be able to make predictions like that. But do it enough and sooner or later, the person you are talking about will act in an unpredictable way. Is that your fault? No, but you might look like a bit of an ass for being wrong. This is similar to how SEO guarantees their work.

An SEO agency doesn’t have any direct control over what sites the search engines put into their top results, so making such a guarantee is really just guess work. While it might be educated guess work, based on SEO principles that we know work, ultimately, we can’t control the end result. Most SEOs that offer guarantees combat this with the guarantee small print. They word the guarantee just right to ensure that it’s never their fault for getting the rankings, making the guarantee void. They may be right, but unfortunately, it means you need a guarantee on their guarantee!

The SEO says what they do is “proprietary” and therefore they can’t share their “secrets.”

This is a sure sign that the SEO is doing something naughty that will, very likely, get you tossed out or filtered out of the search results. Scary stuff, either way. Nothing about SEO is proprietary, and rarely can you find any hidden “secret” that will magically vault you to the top of the search results. SEO requires good old-fashioned elbow grease.

There is no software, tool or formula that will get you rankings outside of an analysis of a real, live person. What this SEO is selling you is more likely a bunch of snake oil, which I hear is pretty good for rheumatoid arthritis, but doesn’t do much for the pain of losing all your SEO rankings because you’re an idiot spammer.

The SEO claims to have a “special relationship” with Google.

The only special relationship SEOs have with Google is they might have hung out at a bar with Matt Cutts or asked a random Google engineer a question at a conference. And really, you don’t even have to be all that special, just a knack for getting noticed over everyone else clamoring for a chance for the same.

Google does not offer any kind of special programs, services or insights to one SEO that they don’t offer to the rest of the world. That means that any SEO touting a special ability to get you ranked because they have a partnership with Google is, well, lying to you.

The SEO offers SEO, PPC, link building, analytics, social media and content services but has a staff of one.

SEOs are routinely jacks of many trades, having knowledge in multiple disciplines. However, there is only a limited amount of time any SEO can spend educating themselves deeply in the various web marketing disciplines. The tools and technology required for staying current on SEO is vast.

Between keeping up on industry changes, tips, strategies, news and the typical algorithm changes can keep an SEO pretty busy. Multiply that into several areas and you have an SEO that either has no clients (and his hoping to score you) or an SEO that subcontracts most of their work out to someone else of questionable quality.

Before hiring an SEO, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Hire the wrong SEO and you might be stuck in a long-term contract that nets you little value at best and destroys your site (costing you a lot of money in the process) at worst. Keep an eye out for these red flags and save yourself a whole lot of trouble by avoiding them like you would avoid a really bad chicken enchilada!

Image credit: zyphyrus / 123RF Stock Photo

Tagged As: SEO

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