Clients often come to us asking for SEO help, or saying they signed a contract with a search engine “expert”.

Here is quick advice so you don’t waste any money chasing Google results.

Some points are from an article by Greg Gifford. I’ll link to it at the end of this post.

For the rest of the tips, I interviewed our Support Staff. They deal with thousands of websites every year, and have seen many search optimization services come and go.

The number one red flag mentioned by all sources is:

The promise of #1 ranking on Google

If someone gives you that guarantee, tell them to back it up.

They don’t get paid until you get top spot for whatever keyword you are targeting. Then they get paid in portions, for every week you stay on the top spot.

Even then, it’s likely the results will be from “black hat” techniques. That means methods that are frowned on or even outright banned by Google.

Could work, short term. Most likely you’ll alienate your audience.

Next one…

Jargon-filled criticisms

Ryan Desmarais, our head of Customer Service, says clients are asking him to make sense of vague messages like:

“I was analyzing your site and it seems that some of your website rankings have dropped. It is due to non optimized techniques, and Google guidelines not being followed properly.”

Looks like someone is trying to sound impressive!

SEO is not black magic. Your provider should be able to clearly explain what could be changed on your site, and what effect it should have on rankings, or traffic, or conversions.

Then you can check on their change and see if it produces those measurable results.

That brings us right into the next point, by Tech Support expert Eric Templeton.

Generic (non-specific) goals

The shady provider will talk about “better search results”.

What they won’t do (and a solid provider will) is identify a phrase to target, and what realistic results to expect.

This phrase is called a “long-tail keyword”, which means a specific combination of words your customers may be searching.

BAD: “oh yeah, you make pizza? We’ll get you on the top of Google!”

GOOD: “we should target 24 hour pizza delivery in Toronto. There are only two other companies doing that right now”.

Template-based content

Trustworthy providers will explain how new content will entice visitors to your website, and come up with a plan for quality-control.

A poor provider will rely solely on blog posts for traffic.

A really bad provider will use templates for their blog posts (or hire them out to non-english speakers).

Say thanks but no thanks to 20 versions of “____ Flavor Of Pizza Is So Tasty” posts.

It takes unique blog content to rank high on Google. Crafted writing, immense experience, or both, are a must.

Outdated tactics

Now let’s say you get a decent proposal for SEO work. Or you are already having work done.

You want to get the latest, greatest advice… right?

Look out for the following ineffective (or outright harmful) methods:

Using meta keyword tags

The “title tag” and “meta description” matter. Meta keywords do not. The title is what you see on Google, in big blue letters. Then there is the link to the website (in green), and finally the description in black.

Keyword stuffing

Nothing says shady like endless repetition: “pizza, pizza delivery, pizza toppings, tasty pizza, 24 hour pizza delivery, the best pizza delivery”. Your SEO provider should create an effective reading experience for humans, not bots.

Extra long title tags

Likewise with titles, your provider should have a focus for each page. Proposed title tags should not be too long (aim for around 60 characters or less).

Judge a book by its cover

Look to the intangibles. Does the provider seem professional?

Again, Ryan & Eric chimed in with some good questions.

Do they have a clean looking website that is mobile-friendly?

Do they have their own email address, or do they use Gmail / Yahoo?

Also, do they have a serious company, or is it just “Jim Smith, SEO expert”?

While these last two considerations are not deal-breakers, we’ve found that they usually display patterns of sloppy work and wasted time for our clients.

Hopefully that helps you spot the SEO providers to avoid.

You can read the main article I used in my research here: 10 tips for avoiding shady SEO providers