Everyone is an SEO specialist these days. There is a new SEO agency popping up daily, and they all claim to have the magic formula to rank any keyword at the top spot. Sadly, most SEO companies are 1-man shows that are run out of a basement and they have no knowledge of how SEO really works, nor have they ever ranked anything.

Re-sellers and amateurs account for 90% of the SEO companies out there. There are very few honest SEO agencies that know what they are doing. How do you identify the legitimate ones from the jokers? It’s not as easy as it might sound, but there are some things that will quickly tell you whether or not an SEO company is full of shit.

I’ve put together this list below, which contains fifteen signs that an SEO company should be avoided. Use this as a guide and as always, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about SEO or hiring a company. I have come a long way in this industry, and take pride in providing the highest quality service to my clients.

Avoid getting screwed over by looking out for these tell-all signs that you are dealing with a bad company.


1. They promise rankings virtually overnight.

The companies making the crazy overnight claims are typically the ones that send out mass spam email messages, hoping to prey on an unsuspecting (and uneducated) business owner. They scrape emails and buy lists and run email campaigns over hundreds of VPS set ups. The sad part of this is that they are making money.. a LOT of money. There is always going to be someone that believes the hype and pays them the money they are asking for, assuming that they will be ranked quickly.

Are there some keywords you can rank for in a matter of days? Sure, but they will have no search volume and are essentially worthless. For example, you should be ranking #1 for your company name with just decent on-site optimization. Difficult keywords can take several months to experience upward movement.


2. They guarantee #1 rankings for any keyword.

Sorry, but “fast weight loss” isn’t something you are going to be ranking on top for anytime soon. Also, strong brand keywords, like “Apple iPhone 6” is going to always be owned by Apple’s own website. They have far too much authority to ever be passed. There are always going to be bullshit scam artists that tell you they can rank any keyword because they want to take your money.

I talk to a lot of business owners that don’t have a clue as to how SEO even works. Sometimes I will email them some guides and helpful articles that explain what SEO is. They don’t have time to do it themselves; that is why they want to hire me. But, if you help them understand SEO, they will quickly dismiss all the pitches they received from other SEO companies with outrageous claims.


seo agency lies


3. They offer cookie-cutter pre-made packages.

You see them all the time: with names like gold, silver, platinum, etc. There are some “packages” that can be used for link diversification (or a rank and bank/churn and burn strategy) but for the most part, you want to avoid packages, especially for your main SEO.

Keyword difficulty, domain age, competition, geographical location, etc. all comes into play. What works to rank one keyword won’t necessarily work to rank another term. If an SEO company is delivering a pre-made package, they surely aren’t doing any kind of analysis on your website beforehand. This is very dangerous, and 90% of all penalties I look at are a result of pre-packaged SEO being used.


4. They have spammy links pointed at their own website.

Want to quickly see how good an SEO company is? Run their own domain through Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer and any other backlink tool. See what they have pointing at their website. 10% of SEO companies will have solid authority links and you can tell they know what they are doing. 40% will have zero links, because they simply throw up a new site every time their previous “company” shits the bed. Then, 50% will have pure shit for links. I’m talking nothing but Fiverr gigs blasted.

If an SEO company has no links or poor quality links, what makes you think they can help you? If they can’t do it for their own company, why trust them with your website? I sure wouldn’t!


5. They don’t have a strong social media presence.

If an SEO company is legit, they will be active on social media. If they are taking the time to build up social profiles and engage with their followers, it’s a good indication of them being around in the near future.

If a company avoids setting up social media accounts it usually means they are trying to stay under the radar, and collect as much money as possible before flipping the name/website again. It’s a dirty business, and a lot of these companies collect money and disappear. In today’s market, you have to be on social media. If not, I assume it’s because the company is hiding something. It’s a big red flag.


6. They don’t address your conversion goals before starting the work.

Are you trying to generate leads? Build an email list? Or push traffic to make a purchase as soon as they land on your website? This is stuff that your SEO company needs to know.

Your goals will dictate a lot: what keywords you are going to want to target, what your content strategy should look like, and how the SEO campaign needs to be executed.

If they aren’t asking you what your conversion goals are, how can they possibly help you?


7. Their own blog suffers because of poor content.

This is simple. Take a look at their blog and read the last few articles they posted. If they don’t have a blog then find someone else. If it reads like it was written by someone that doesn’t speak English, find someone else as well. If they are using poor quality content on their own blog, imagine the crap they will use for your SEO?

SEO companies need to lead by example. Imagine if I was posting 500 word articles that were barely readable? Would you want to hire my agency to handle your SEO? No way!




8. They keep you in the dark and don’t tell you what they are doing.

“Secret sauce.”

This might be my all time favorite SEO term, used by shady companies to describe what is included in their service. SEO isn’t some big secret. The winning formula is pretty simple: create high quality content assets that other websites want to link to, build relationships to secure quality links, make your website user friendly, and continue to measure, analyze and adapt.

If your SEO company won’t disclose what they are doing, then they have something to hide. I would suggest only working with a transparent company that will show you exactly what it is that they do every month.


9. They don’t answer your phone calls or return emails immediately.

Sadly, a lot of “SEO companies” are run by people that treat it as a side business. They know they can pull some extra money in every month, but it’s not their full time job. They aren’t around to answer phone calls or return emails. Or, some are so shady that you won’t hear from them once you make a payment. They will call you and answer your calls up until the point of payment: from that point on they have no use for you. They are on to the next victim.

Before hiring a company, test them. Send emails and make phone calls. See how responsive they are. You want to make sure you work with a company that is going to be there to answer your questions, because they will arise often.


10. They are offering to do SEO for a few hundred dollars.

Can you rank your website safely and experience long term results for $199 or even $499? Maybe it’s possible for a select few businesses, but for the majority, that type of pricing is going to get you very little value.

Use common sense for a minute. Content alone can cost several hundred dollars. High quality links are hundreds of dollars each; some run north of $1K EACH. Then, add in the labor, the business operational expenses, rent, staff, etc.

SEO agencies are $3K – 10K a month for some clients, and that’s because there is a hard cost associated with everything that goes into an SEO campaign. The services that are a few hundred dollars are reselling Fiverr gigs or using automated software combined with the infamous “native” (LOL) content.. it’s as simple as that folks.


11. They try to confuse you with industry slang and fancy words.

Don’t be fooled by fancy words or even fancy reports. There are plenty of software tools that will spit out PDF’s that look impressive, and some companies will try to bury clients in reports to keep them occupied, so they don’t dig into the actual work being done.

I’ve seen some companies simply create ranking reports from Serpbook and combine them with Moz’s reports. With a little editing involved to make them branded. They look nice, but they are just there to confuse you.

I would take time to interview and qualify any potential SEO company before you sign a contract or enter an agreement. Make sure they talk to you in a way that is clear and explains what they are doing. They should want you to understand the entire process to avoid miscommunication down the road.


seo bullshit


12. They claim to have inside connections at Google and other search engines.

Listen, no matter how convincing they might be, their uncle’s neighbor doesn’t know Matt Cutts and have inside information. They can’t manipulate the rankings and they don’t know what makes up the algorithm. I have seen some crazy talk in the past, and even trolled one company that claimed to know Matt Cutts and for $1,000 he would put them at #1. I’m not even joking; these types of SEO scum bags exist.

There isn’t a single SEO company that knows the algorithm or has an inside connection. There are some that do a good job at guessing, and that’s what this game is. You need to make intelligent decisions based on trends and past experience.


13. They talk about using automation tools for content creation and link building.

Automation tools like content scrapers and spinners or link building software is 2005 SEO. Today, that’s just asking for a Google slap. Many SEO companies will say they have automated processes to help them with SEO and that is why they are able to offer their services at such a low price.

Some people fall for it because they don’t understand the dangers of automation. In their mind, a process to do something faster is going to naturally cut down on cost. Not every SEO company will give you a sample report, but ask anyway. If they do, check out the links they built. If any of them look like they were made with automated directory submitting tools or blog comment spamming, cross them off your list immediately.


14. They only build links to your homepage.

I just wrapped up a link audit for a company that was spending $3,000 a month on SEO and after a year of paying this company their traffic was not improving. I noticed something: every single link that was in the profile was pointed at the home page. This company had a very nice blog that was updated daily and its content was targeting a wide range of keywords.

If they had built links to the blog posts as well, their traffic would be through the roof right now. They were building nice links, but pointing them all to the homepage wasn’t doing them any good. Sometimes, just a few authority links will get long tail keywords ranking on top and pulling traffic very quickly. It’s important that your SEO company understands this and also understands the power of interlinking.



Just like in every business, there are going to be good companies and bad companies. It’s something that you can’t avoid, but what you can do is use the tips above to really make sure any SEO company you are considering hiring will be a good fit.

No legitimate SEO company can guarantee results. There are far too many variables that can come into play that are out of their hands as well as your hands. Hopefully the warning signs above will help you avoid bad companies, or help you identify a shady company you are currently working with. Your website isn’t something you want to put into the hands of amateurs. Take time to make sure you are working with a company that will do honest work and keep you out of penalty danger.

As always, any questions or comments drop them below.. I’ll do my best to answer them. Until next time!

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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