Five signs your SEO agency sucks

by James Duthie January 20th, 2011 



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.

James Duthie

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.

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6 Responses to “Five signs your SEO agency sucks”

  1. Thos003 says:

    "Outsourcing Linkbuilding"… Indirectly this got the last SEO firm we used fired. Not that I am opposed to outsourcing links per se, but I am opposed to crappy linking building. Sadly, it got good results. But I am not about to risk my site being black listed due to poor links.
    .-= Thos003 recently posted: Social Media Monitoring and Scoring – SocialMedia =-.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Great post, right to the point.

    I reckon that a bunch of SEO agencies out there are making a change for the better as they learn the in's and out's of G's algo.

    For instance, (and we're quite highly reputable) I've just implemented a revised work flow method that allows our clients oodles of time despite our 60+ portfolio. It's really shown great results, not only because we have more time to carefully craft authentic link requests but our guys and girls on the floor now have time to chat about their strategy and learn from one another while working on a client's time; key in coming up with revolutionary ideas.

    In addition to that I find that daily we (as SEO agencies) move away from the standard of 'link building' and dive deeper into the realm of link baiting, ORM and organic link catalysts, and eventually, real-world marketing. Will we eventually become marketing agencies and have the SEO prefix fall off entirely? Your thoughts?

  3. James Duthie says:

    @Thos003: Agreed. The fear/risk of being black listed is enough for me to want to control all elements of SEO, rather than outsourcing.

    @Jonathon: SEO is becoming more and more marketing oriented Success is becoming increasingly dependent upon marketing capabilities (content development, content promotion, social media marketing etc). At the minimum it means SEO agencies need to introduce those skills if they don't already exist. Not sure it'll mean SEO agencies will become fully fledged marketing agencies though. I think it's more likely that they'll become targets for acquisition by traditional marketing agencies.
    .-= James Duthie recently posted: Social media at its very best! =-.

  4. Stacy Weber says:

    As a marketer, I am surprised by how many companies are not actively looking at strategies to increase their online marketing activities.

    I am also surprised, by the number of SEO companies who contact me promising to get the company I work for in one of the top 3 positions within 6-months (if they had have done their research these so called SEO specialists would see that we already have a high ranking for a number of our keywords). Furthermore, I see so many reputable companies signed up to not-so-reputable sites – yet they fair very well in the organic searches – so I guess this leads to many believing that these antics work.

    I am in the process of building my website now – and I will initially be looking after the SEO process. I have a number of press releases, blogs and articles ready to submit once my site goes live. I also have a number of reputable directories that I intend to sign up to (mostly relevant to either the marketing / graphic design industry or geographically). And I am reading quite a few blogs and have joined a couple of forums – again related to the industry. Can you give me any further advice?

  5. […] my link some editorial relevance. Yes, we ultimately want links. But how we get them determines how “dodgy” our link profiles look. And a profile made up of side bar links from multiple link farm style websites with the same […]

  6. Well said James. Two thumbs up! I couldn't have said it better. The other suckiness factors we hear from clients is lack of communication to the client as well as a simple lack of ability to prove value. An SEO Agency should be able to prove the ROI of their efforts – plain and simple. Some folks still think of SEO as a black hole and a waste of time and that's because we have sucky SEO Agencies out there with no consideration for ethics and proving value. SEO is the #1 conversion tactic outranking email marketing and paid search. SEO deserves attention in every marketers budget and day because once you get your SEO under control, you can win big time online.