A couple of months back I wrote a popular little piece on how to spot new SEO clients that may suck. At the same time I happened to be interviewing a bunch of different candidates for a new SEO role within our agency. As it turned out we got a number of applicants from a local SEO agency. And after speaking to each of their employees one thing became abundantly clear - this agency sucked! Time after time we heard the same complaints about the work conditions. The thing was, a number of the applicants were relatively junior, with little practical experience outside the agency. In other words, they didn't know their employer sucked. So for their benefit, and anyone else considering entering the industry, I put this piece together outlining the characteristics of agencies that suck. And as it turns out, it's a handy list for clients looking for an SEO supplier too.
1. Guaranteed Rankings
First and foremost, this is where suckiness lives. Any agency guaranteeing rankings is trading in lies and deception. There are simply too many variables to guarantee anything in SEO (existing site strength, competitive landscape, algorithm adjustments, constantly evolving SERPs etc). Furthermore, rankings are simply the wrong metric to be basing performance on. I can rank for a bunch of useless keywords without creating any positive business outcomes. Instead, improvements in organic search volume and qualified traffic should be the primary goal.
2. Absence of Process
A sales process based upon the premise of guaranteed rankings will inevitably breed a culture where anything goes. Each of the candidates we met with spoke of their client portfolio and the need to manage 'at risk' clients, or those that were in danger of not meeting the agency's guarantees. Work was prioritised based on the degree of risk to the agency, rather than following a refined SEO methodology. PR6 links were purchased from Ebay. Grey and black hat techniques emerged. Short-term success reigned supreme. Little of which is ever likely to benefit their clientele in the long-term. Good SEO agencies have a structured SEO framework for their employees to follow. Taylor Pratt recently concluded a nice series on his agency SEO process. If your agency doesn't have something similar, they probably suck.
3. Employee Workload
Of the applicants we interviewed from the agency in question, each managed a client portfolio ranging from 50-80 clients. Most claimed it was closer to the 80 mark. If you consider that there are roughly 160 working hours in each month, that gave their employees on average 2 hours to serve each client. Yes... two hours! Once again, this leaves very little scope for quality work to be achieved. Quick wins took priority over authentic, yet more laborious techniques such as content development & marketing. And of course, with the emphasis on 'at risk' clients, you can imagine how many simply got no attention at all...
4. Recruitment Policies
During the interview phase, one of the candidates made reference to an evolving recruitment policy. Instead or seeking the brightest SEO minds in the business, they had switched focus towards hiring those with a flair for sales. Their rational was that anyone could be taught SEO, but not everyone was a competent salesperson. And they wanted their SEOs to be able to upsell existing clients and win new business. You know, rather than being able to do their real job. When an agency isn't hiring people with even the basic skills for the job (let alone the best people), you can be pretty sure that they suck.
5. Outsourcing Link Building
When you've only got two hours a month to serve clients, there's simply no time for the hit and miss affair that is link building. So this agency outsourced their link building to India. Anyone who has ever received a link request from an Indian link builder will understand the quality of work you're likely to receive under such an arrangement. Ironically, the work must have indeed been truly shady, as even this agency decided to cut ties with their outsourced link builder. I can only imagine the types of activities they must have undertaken to have been deemed too dodgy by this agency!
So there you have it folks. They are my telltale signs of SEO suckiness in a nutshell! If you've got any to add to the list, feel free to drop them into the comments below.
I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.