Posted in SEO by admin | 9 comments

There are some truly excellent Search Engine Optimisation agencies out there, delivering strong and sustainable growth in search engine traffic and sales for their clients. But unfortunately there are also some very bad SEO agencies – and they can be extremely dangerous. If you’re a marketing head and think you could spot a bad agency, you may be in for a nasty shock. Bad SEO agencies know how to make the most visible results of their inferior work – temporary rankings for a small number of mostly low-value keywords – appear not just legitimate but excellent to people without in-depth knowledge of SEO.

There are 14 ways to identify a bad search engine optimisation agency – an agency that could do serious and lasting damage to your website’s presence in search engine results. Any one of the 14 warning signs should be grounds for scepticism and caution. More than one sign means you’re almost certainly talking to a bad agency.

When choosing a search engine optimisation agency, use this infographic to help you avoid bad agencies.

14 Ways to Spot a Bad or Good SEO Agency

14 Ways to Spot a Bad or Good SEO Agency

The cheap-and-dirty tactics of bad SEO agencies usually deliver only temporarily results – after which they can do lasting damage to your business. Bad agencies exploit clients’ lack of knowledge, making claims that sound impressive but are in fact nonsensical and dangerous. Specialist link-building agencies can be even worse. Building links in isolation from on-site optimisation and broader marketing strategy means failing to harness your business’ strengths in search campaigns. More importantly, it means missing many important weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Bad agencies typically blast one or two easy-to-rank keywords with a huge volume of web spam – gaining temporary high rankings for a client (or sometimes for themselves). Those rankings are then used in the sales pitch to win the next client – and to the uninitiated they look very impressive.

Most clients don’t realise that the majority of SEO value is usually in a much larger number of achievable, profitable keywords. It looks good to rank number 1 for two or three keywords – but it’s much more powerful and cost-effective to target more keywords – with less competition and higher conversion rates. Bad SEO agencies don’t usually bother to work out which keywords could drive the most traffic – let alone which could generate the most sales. They target easy rankings that look good but have no business case behind them.

We see an increasing number of bad agencies. Often we have to warn clients, which can take a lot of time and effort: a bad agency can just show off one or two easy rankings they’ve achieved with large but cheap throw-away campaigns. By contrast, we have to explain in painstaking detail why the bad agency’s claims are misleading. Sometimes we are too late and can only try to pick up the pieces when things go badly wrong. In the worst cases, websites may be removed from Google’s index – buried under a mountain of web spam and link schemes – with no realistic prospect of ever recovering.

Before hiring an agency ask for several examples of links they’ve built for their clients. Better still, use the Open Site Explorer provided by SEOmoz to look at more of their clients’ links yourself. Hiring an agency is an important strategic decision. Don’t take it lightly.


In particular, look for these disturbing signs of bad SEO campaigns:

  • Links from irrelevant websites – about completely different topics to the site they’re linking to
  • Links from pages written in poor English
  • Multiple duplicate linking pages – on different websites but with exactly the same copy
  • A significant number of links from comments on blogs
  • Links on pages with a large number of obviously promotional links to other websites
  • Links on pages that also link to sites about gambling, medicines, or porn
  • A significant number of links from .gov or .edu websites – or foreign domains
  • Link building being outsourced – especially if it’s sourced abroad


Ask your SEO agency what proportion of link building is done in-house – and what proportion is outsourced. Exactly what proportion of links will be built by people in your country – and what proportion will be built offshore by a third party? Look your sales rep in the eye very carefully when you ask these questions. Many SEO agencies now outsource the entire management of your account – very cheaply – to places like India. When that happens your account is really being serviced by people who have no relationship with you – people who don’t care about your business and have no idea how to manage a professional campaign for a reputable brand. They are amateurs who use dangerous, quick-and-dirty tactics. They produce bulk link spam schemes to build huge quantities of poor quality links. That’s all they do. That’s not SEO – it’s just spam.

If your website accumulates link spam then it’s out there on the web for all the world to see. You wouldn’t want your clients or investors to it – you’d feel very uncomfortable if you had to explain it to them or defend it. Customers and influential people in your industry may to come across embarrassing web spam posted in your name and ostensibly by your organisation – because spammers target vulnerable blogs forums that are relevant to your industry.

You certainly wouldn’t want Google’s Web Spam team to notice manipulative link schemes being mass-produced in your name – in contravention of Google’s terms of service. Your website could be penalised, or even banned by Google – which would be catastrophic for your business.

So don’t hire a bad SEO agency and accumulate bad links. They will damage your campaigns and your reputation in the long-term. Reputable agencies service clients themselves. They don’t secretly outsource to offshore link spammers who can’t write copy in proper English.

Are your agency’s link-building campaigns ethical and safe? Does your agency integrate search with other marketing channels – so they work together and complement each other? Most agencies don’t bother with integration. They just build links. Some agencies wouldn’t even know where to begin an integrated campaign. Talk to your agency today. Ask them about their link building campaigns and how they integrate with on-site factors and other digital and offline marketing channels.


Good SEO Agencies

A good SEO agency regards SEO holistically – and specifically, as it relates to your business. This is a complex matter and good agencies look at your strategy as a whole, undertaking extensive research before discussing the unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within your business and its environment.

There are 7 ways to spot a good SEO agency – one that you can trust to manage your campaigns professionally, ethically and in line with the long-term interests of your business.

A good SEO agency regards SEO holistically – and specifically, as it relates to your business. This is a complex matter and good agencies look at your strategy as a whole, undertaking extensive research before discussing the unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within your business and its environment.

There are 7 ways to spot a good SEO agency (See the infographic) A good agency is one that you can trust to manage your campaigns professionally, ethically and in line with the long-term interests of your business.

If you’re seeking a good SEO agency in London or the UK then you might consider Digivate. We manage integrated SEO campaigns in-house. We use legitimate methods like PR and outreach to build links that deliver sustainable value. We understand the technical on-site issues that help maximise the value of your campaigns. We integrate SEO with your other marketing activities – as any good agency should.

Proper SEO is broad and highly technical. It’s integrated. It’s hard work compared with offshore link spam – but it’s safe for your business. And in the long term it’s far more effective than spam.

In the light of these tips, you might carefully consider the things an SEO agency says (or fails to say) either in their marketing materials or in their discussions with you.

If you care about ethical and sustainable marketing then please share this post.

Comments (9)

  1. Jordan Godbey -

    I had a new client meeting yesterday — I’m glad I can see that I hit on all of the 7 points of a “good” seo agency! Unfortunately they had some “ideas” of what SEO was.. and a lot were from the top of the infographic :-

  2. Thomas Frost -

    Fun read, and there is actually quite much truth to it. Here in Denmark I would say 9/10 SEO agencies are nothing but spammy linkbuilders with very poor understanding of the bigger picture, and most onsite optimization, they know nothing about.

    • Ben Acheson -

      Thanks Thomas,
      That’s why I wrote this post. I grow increasingly weary of spammers.

  3. Tennistas -

    Very nice infographic, thanks for that! Proper SEO is like art, and the bad seo agencies make me shame myself for the business. Grtz

  4. Ted Ives -

    I agree with most of this Ben, but “even mentioning PageRank” is a bad sign?

    I think it’s helpful to explain to people that Google values links in two ways – numerically in the way that they’re famous for – many people who have the most cursory understanding of what SEO is have often heard of this – and then of course, relevancy.

    It’s pretty hard to explain that to people without mentioning PageRank, and most are going to ask about it anyway!

    Great points on most of the others; I take issue a bit with SEOMoz domain authority which is not a ranking factor but an SEOMoz attempt at coming up with an analog for domain “strength”, i.e. an amalgam of multiple ranking factors squeezed into one convenient metric – it’s useful, but don’t fool yourself or a client into thinking anything such as “authority” actually exists as a real concept or thing. As they said in the 60’s, Question Authority!

    • Ben Acheson -

      Hi Ted,

      Thanks for your comment. I take your points on board and they are appreciated.

      I’ve modified the original post slightly, to clarify my comment about PageRank: there are some cases in which it may be useful. But an SEO agency focussing on PageRank as a goal or a quality metric may be cause for concern. I didn’t want to get into the detail of when to use PageRank since the infographic is designed primarily for people who do not have extensive SEO knowledge.

      I don’t think the post would be read as suggesting that SEOmoz Domain Authority is a ranking factor. Rather, as indicated in the infographic, it is a “valid metric” for SEOs – and a more granular and (for most purposes) more useful metric than PageRank.


  5. William Seabrook -

    This is a thought provoking blogpost, thanks.

    Many white hat agencies still outsource link building to other providers; and even after panda, these lower quality high volume techniques still work…

    There is also the argument that good content and PR is looking to influence the reader and Google – so where to draw the line?

  6. Bradley Flood -

    Great post thank you – I had been wondering if link building services from India were any good or not – I am glad that google is starting to penalize them as I have used them before and seen the spammy blog posts that they write, filling the internet with garbage.

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