11 Ways to Recognize a Bad SEO Firm

There are lots of different people out there calling themselves SEOs. Some of them are actually really good. But, for today, let’s take a look at 11 sure fire signs that your dealing with a bad one:

  1. Focuses a lot of energy on meta keywords. Yes, they are still out there – SEOs that think that meta keywords are the best thing going.
  2. Offers to do a lot of search engine submissions for you. These will do absolutely nothing for you. Nada. Zip. Let the search engines discover you through links.
  3. Recommends 302 redirects. I saw this just this past week. A major SEO firm that was helping a client with a move from domain to another, and they recommended 302 redirects. No faster way to destroy all the historical trust built up in a domain.
  4. Focuses on link swapping. This is OK, up to a point, but it is not the fundamental building block of a long term link building strategy.
  5. Uses the same link building methods on all clients. If it sounds like the link building strategy is the same for all their clients, you need someone else to oversee your overall link building strategy. Note that working with specialists is an OK thing to do (e.g. someone that focuses on social media), just don’t let that be the only thing you do.
  6. Recommends micro sites as a way to rank for more terms. Unless you have been penalized, you are almost always better off putting new content on the existing domain. Every time you create a new site, you have created a new thing that you have to go market to get links for. Much easier to keep it all in one place.
  7. Recommends that you run your content across multiple domains. I saw this recently. A company was doing a site move, and their SEO firm recommended that they keep the old domain running, then create the new domain, and leave them both running for 6 months. Not going to work.
  8. Talks about hidden text (or other tricks such as cloaking) as a strategy. If it feels like a trick, then it’s probably a bad idea.
  9. Says they know the Google algorithm. Hell, Matt Cutts doesn’t know the (entire) Google algorithm. Sure, he knows more about it than anyone outside of Google does, but the Google algorithm is really a large morass of different algorithms, and no one person knows all of them in intimate detail. In any event, even if a single individual inside Google knew the entire set of algorithms, they won’t be sharing that information with an outside SEO firm.
  10. Promises #1 rankings. An old favorite. No one can guarantee #1 rankings, unless you are talking about “left handed oil based bottle washer”. Face it. Your space is probably competitive, and there are lots of people who want to rank #1 for the most important terms, and they are all trying to do it. Good SEO firms will bring you good results, and help you grow your business. Basically, it’s the wrong metric. How big is your web based business today, and how much can the SEO firm help you grow it? That should be the focus.
  11. Don’t want to let you know what they are doing. If you get one of these, it means one of two things are happening: (1) they are doing nothing, or: (2) they are doing something bad.

So as I said before, there are good SEOs out there, in fact, there are lots of them. They can really help you. Unfortunately, a bad SEO firm can really, really hurt your web site and it’s traffic from search engines. Learn what to avoid. In addition, learn what to look for on the positive side. A good start on that task is to find SEO firms that will start be educating you on the challenges you face, and then focuses on the nuts and bolts about how you meet those challenges.


  1. says

    This is great. I was curious to see the title in my reader, as there are a ton of these lists across the web, and most severely need updating. Refreshing.

    …And wouldn’t it be grand if these lists were always accompanied by something like “10 ways to be a good SEO client?” It would certainly help to avoid those #11s :)

    ps – Adam Lasnik interview was stellar.

  2. says

    That suggestion above of an article for “10 ways to be a good SEO client” is great. Not too sure who’d put it on their site though as it’s probably going to be like dictating to their clients on how they should behave.

    Working inhouse for the past couple of years, I’ve also been dragged off to see numerous local marketing firms who sell SEO as an add-on to their offline services. Sitting there as “the IT guy” it’s scary what they’ll offer you as SEO services and most or some of the above will come up on a regular basis.

    Although the biggest one for me was a young guy we had in, who obviously knew his stuff but because of whatever (company sales targets probably) was forced to employ some of these tactics and worse, which was a real shame.

  3. says

    I hate following a bad seo company into a client pitch. I spend most of my time debunking those myths and more. I just tell them I know Eric Enge, that’s all it takes. 😉

  4. says

    Let me explain in my poor english – I am spanish. What you saied is 100 % true. And for sure, some of us could have some other examples to tell. I will give you just one more. I worked for a company who where doing things pretty good (not very, just so – so) in their own country. They tried to export their job to their neighbourhood country (with same language) but they are doing it really bad there. Afterwards they tried to enter Spain and it was .. almost a joke. If you see your spanish site, is almost impossible to a spanish speaker to understand their pages. They are written in such a horrible spanish that is not – in fact – spanish. Is a mixture of dutch, english, german and french with a lot of words in spanish and bad written verbs. So, what are they doing with customer pages? You can imagine.

  5. says

    Great SEO suggestions!
    I Like WebProNews and always read them when they comes in my Inbox.
    Thanks from Croatia.

  6. says

    HI Eric,

    First of all webpronews is really gr8 and i love each topic of it.

    Regarding the points suggested by ERIC is absolutely correct and i agree that 90% of SEO’s are still doing SPAM in front of my eyes.

    Many SEO experts too follow all the rules mentioned above by eric which is against SEO Rules. The point is SEO is damn tough :)
    But if done correctly it can have long term results. Combined SEO+SEM (social media) can really work wonders which still many business firms don’t agree.

    Inspite of Google mentioning clearly in its Webmaster guidelines, still many SEO’s don’t’ care which is really a bad sign in the long run.

    SEO/SEM awareness must be broadened as it has a great future as GOOGLE supports Ethical SEO | SEM.

    Great inputs by ERIC – keep the good work

  7. says

    Hi Malte – I don’t think using meta descriptions makes you a bad SEO either! But, what I indicated above is people who focus a lot of attention on meta KEYWORDS are just wasting their time (and their client’s time).

  8. says

    SEO on my site is more fun than my business, you guys are so lucky to do this for a living, and if I get my wish to join you, this article seems like one of the first ones a fellow should read. And BTW, how to be a good SEO client is a must read, bad SEO clients are only hurting themselves in the end. Gonads plus brains always win, write that list!

  9. Sjefke says

    #3 “Recommends 302 redirects” – what would you advise instead? Can you contact the SE’s themselves, supplying them with a list to update their URL’s? If so, how do they check it is legit (could be my competitor updating my pages to his site)?

  10. says

    Sjefke – Generally speaking the best type of redirect to use is a 301 redirect. Search engines recognize this as meaning that they should pass the link juice through from the old page to the new page.

  11. says

    Thank you this is great info. I talked to an SEO company yesterday and they are forcing sales down my throat and are trying to get a sale. When I said no thanks they were offering me discounts.

  12. Sjefke says

    Thanks Eric, for the ‘clarification’ – I confused 302 with 301, so I was wondering if you won’t use a redirect, what other method would you use? But I see now – makes perfect sense.

  13. says

    Excellent post and oh so true!

    I like the suggestion Mark had that an SEO firm should rank well. To that, I’d like to add ranking well for at *least* one highly competitive phrase. If they can’t get their own site into the top 10 for something competitive, how can they get someone else’s site there?

    I experienced the micro-site suggestion during a client meeting just the other day. I fail to see the logic behind it, but this client was insisting that some guy in California was this SEO wizard and suggested they do that. Apparently the CA guy/gal suggested I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t suggest that myself. Ha! Not sure who he/she was, but they forced me to waste about an hour debunking the theory.

  14. says

    I have saved many clients from bad SEO firms. You are so right about telling the clients about the challenges and then showing what their options are. I have had the most success using that approach.

    I had one SEO firm tell me that they had a relationship with Google, and they described it as “we used to be dating, but now we are engaged” I had to get off the phone because I was laughing so hard. Those are the kinds of firms I tell clients to run from.

    Again, great article, these are the kinds of things that help people like me convince clients that there are people who care about the true outcome for the client. If you do right for your clients, the money is always going to be there.

  15. says

    Well done – I would add – do not follow the basic principal of avoiding duplicate content. 301 for non www to www

  16. says

    You’re 100% right, well almost…
    It is about Point number 9 “Says they know the Google algorithm”.
    Allow me to introduce myself first; my name is Martin Rotstain. My clients refer to me as “The Search Engine Doctor”.
    I’m a member at SEMPO Search Engines Research Committee and is currently involved in research with PhDs around the world.

    I will say it loud and clear – I do know the Google algorithm. Yes, I don’t know it entirely, and we don’t know the exact weight they’re putting in each argument, but other than that replacing real values instead of their 0.8 damping factors can do miracles to your ranking.

    Click on the link attached to this post to explore some of Google hidden formula secrets.

  17. says

    Sorry Martin – it doesn’t wash. You can read all the patents and research papers on search in the world, and talk to all the PHD’s you want. You still will not be able to list all the factors that Google ACTUALLY uses. Anyone who does serious research can list all the things they MIGHT use, but that’s it.

  18. says

    Eric, this has been a most welcoming post and just reinstates why I launched ICT Advisor.com, because we are doing exactly what your closing paragraph states and that is the educating and setting realistic expectations with clients.
    I recently returned from New York after attending the Search Engine Marketing Strategies conference there and the topic I was raising awareness too is an Ecommerce Excellence Initiative program we are getting ready to launch here in Scotland but open its doors to the world. It will be a university that will try to mobilise the (initially) Scottish business and supply community to be made aware of ecommerce marketing excellence, how to do it and how to make money from it. The idea will be a fusion of:

    “Open University” for ecommerce providing training, community support, best practice guides and self accreditation schemes.
    An “Entrepreneurial Exchange” style of get together meetings to promote ecommerce to the business community.
    Annual awards and events.
    Technical conferences and workshops.
    A mechanism for getting robust and reliable statistics about the subject.

    What we should see come out of this is online marketing professionals who are not just your average SEO dude, but someone who has been educated to follow a standard that produces a search marketing professional that works to ethical guidelines. Our website will have more details soon.

  19. says

    Reading Martin’s post reminded me of something I wrote in an article last year on SEO:

    “To rank high on Google, your website has to be measured by “500 million variables and 2 billion terms” of Google’s equation, as stated on Google’s Corporate Information Technology Overview page. ”

    Aside from the fact they are always changing… I highly doubt anyone has these all memorized.

    Nice article…I hope people looking for SEO firms read it…

  20. says

    This was indeed an excellent article and contributes as fuel towards an ecommerce excellence initiative that I am in the process of raising.

    There are any amount of ‘website mechanics’ building websites for the small medium sized business owner. But all these ‘mechanics’ are doing is building websites. And all the business owner is doing when choosing a ‘mechanic’ is looking at this guys portfolio of sites and saying – “that looks nice, I will have one of those please”. The web developer thinking – great – I have built one of these – so easy money!!! Mr Business owner wanting a website – your in partnership with the wrong guy!! The ecommerce excellence initiative is to teach marketing graduates and ‘website mechanics’ the guidelines towards online marketing. Why am I doing this? Well after speaking with many graduates and marketing executives and sharing with them my knowledge of website marketing which is more than just some keywords and finding out the Universities don’t really have time to teach in-depth tactics for online marketing, or what makes a good website layout to achieve the marketing objectives!

    ICT Advisor.com got a very positive response to all of this in New York, so watch the standard of websites go up in 2008 being done by people who are not doing BAD SEO like what is listed in this article. Keep it simple and follow the guidelines!

  21. says

    I agree with all the points you make. I would add that many scammers also try and tell you that they have experience ranking because they rank number one for “New York SEO with Flipper”!

  22. says

    Guys, it is all about knowledge, time and money.
    Let’s assume that a car factory in China hiring ALL of us to do SEO for them with “GM”, “FORD” keywords. Landing page will be gm.ch and ford.ch.

    Money? Not a problem…
    You all be agree (I hope you will) that it is possible, and we can take them to 1st Google page, right?

    Why? Because you have unlimited SEO budget?

    Same true with knowledge. More knowledge is equal for more power.
    It works with AdWords (money + knowledge) and it works for SEO.

    YES IT IS!

  23. says

    It’s increible but I see lot of pages that have 100+ meta keywords.. And I mean pages where they sell SEO services..

  24. says

    Jarkko you may want to look into the relevance of meta keywords…. I have learned that meta keyword and meta descriptions are not currently considered in googles ranking algo…..

  25. says

    Hello to all the SEO’s here, I myself have found this blog post to be very informative and I must agree with many points here, however, I feel that many “BAD SEO’s” are misleading there client prospects, and they are shooting for short-term results, but I think we all here know that, its more important to shoot for Long-Term results, and not just short term results .)
    U guys totally rock, and I really enjoyed reading all of your comments!

    Ps.. 301 redirects are what search engine like Google, want to be used ,)

  26. says

    Back on the wires here again and since my last comments further up, we have started to address the issue here in Scotland. Friday 12 Feb I am launching in Scotland http://www.onlinexcellence.com. And I am pleased to be doing it with the help of Rand Fishkin from over at SEOmoz.org who is flying in to Glasgow tomorrow.

    OnlineXcellence is going to take two people out of the business and start educating them properly. One will be the Managing Director (CEO) and that person will get up to 3 days education, but then the employee, this person who can become in-house champion at making their website ‘sing’ all the right notes.

    This means the web author champion who is in effect the ‘page journalist’ has to keep the website regularly ‘fueled up’ to be competitive. But it means the person is being trained to do this in an ethical way and is taught to follow the guidelines.

    This program does not put the professional SEO out of a job, no no, he is still in their at a strategic level. It does not alienate the web design company, we all need good mechanics. Thats right, don’t try and be everything to everybody. Good mechanics (fixers) can work with tuners (SEO Pro’s) and then of course the driver of the website platform, the champion employee who is paid to populate the site and it make sales and profitability for its business owner.

    And this is where the problemhas been towards website failure, not being educated enought to be in daily control of actually driving the website understanding what to look for and what to do properly to ensure the website remains competitive.

  27. says

    #6 and #7 are also forcing you to compete with yourself. Using multiple sites and having duplicate content on multiple sites only spreads your visitors out thin. The main website begins to lose visitors to the duplicate page or the new microsite….bad news…

    Keep up the good work!

  28. says

    Very good list.
    You can add:
    – invest 0 time on improving your web site content
    – splogs – spam blogs
    – dont invest time reading you Google analytics / webtrends

  29. says

    I have found this blog post to be very informative and I must agree with many points here. Specially to build the SEO for long term.

    • says

      Hi Ivan – I think of on page optimization as enabling you to compete for keywords. In other words, with poor on page architecture, you can’t rank for anything. However, on page optimization alone will not cause you to rank in any significant way on competitive keywords. Links drive rankings. So, the complete answer to your question:

      1. Treat on page optimization like a project. It has a start and a finish. Once done, your on page optimization should time should be minimal.

      2. Once your on page optimization is done, focus the large majority of your efforts on link building.

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