5 Ways To Weed Out Bad SEOs…Like An SEO

by Christopher Yee on February 7, 2011

You’ve finally taken a big step in admitting that your website needs to be optimized for search and compiled a list of SEO agencies in your area.  Now all you need to do is call and ask them countless boring questions about how they’re different.  Well guess what?  They already know what you’re going to ask and have the answers ready.

Don’t believe me?  Perform a search on Google for how to hire an SEO company and you’ll find more than ten million results.  All those articles out there telling people how to choose an SEO consultant coupled with the negative attention the industry already receives, you better believe these companies will have trained employees who at least know how to read from a script.

That leads us to the main question of this post – how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?  Below are 5 tips (in no particular order) on how to think like an SEO analyst to quickly weed out questionable SEO agencies and consultants.  How?  By examining their website.  Not only will this save you time and money but you’ll glean some valuable insight into how they operate.  You know what they say, “actions speak louder than words.”

1. Examine their footer links

Links in the footer are extremely valuable in SEO so it’s definitely worth taking a look at it.  Are they linking to other pages of their website?  If not,where are they linking to and is it relevant?  Why are they linking there?  The picture below is the footer for a local company ranked at #4 in Google search.

spammy footer link

The question I would be asking myself at this point is, “why would an SEO company link out to a dental website?”  The trick is to follow the trail of links so when I clicked on “Cosmetic Dentist San Francisco,” it led me to a dentist’s website (one of their clients) with their office located in Los Altos, CA – nearly 45 minutes from San Francisco!  Moreover, clicking on “links” helped me discover their “clever” strategy – linking from their own website.

seo link spam

Yeah, I think I’ll pass on these guys.

2. Scan the Services page

An often over-looked method to validate an SEO agency is their Services page.  Take a look at the quality of their content.  Is it just a long list of industry jargon?  Do they explain each bullet point?  Are they giving you information you can easily search for yourself (Alexa Rank, indexed pages, etc.)?  Do they mention anything about optimizing your meta tags?   If they do, they’re stuck in the 1990s and you may have a bad SEO on your hands – get rid of them.  Here is one local example ranked #3 on Google.

crap seo services

3. Check out their title tag

The title tag is another significant element for on-page optimization but it is easily abused as well.  This tag is easily identified in the upper left corner of your browser window.  If you take a peek at this tag you can quickly gauge how your SEO in question implements their keyword strategy.  In the case below, a local “SEO” company is ranked #2 in Google with an extremely spammy title tag.

spammy title tag

What to do?  Scratch them off your list.

4. Look for search engine logos

I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous SEO websites but those who feel compelled to lie are by far the worse.  I use to work for a tour company in San Francisco and received a call one day from an SEO sales person.  She claimed they could double our revenue in three months because of their strategic partnerships with over 200 search engines.  Luckily, this was the same time my SEO journey began so I visited their website and found this image:

fake seo partnerships

No SEO company has “partnerships” with the major search engines.  Sure, they might get press releases but those are reserved for the big game hunters.  Let’s be honest – nobody has these coveted search engine secrets.  If you see a bunch of search engine logos on their home page just avoid them like the plague.

5. Did I mention links?

I already mentioned footer links but links in general are the bread and butter of SEO so I can’t stress this enough – check their on-page links!  Observe every page closely and see where they link out to or what anchor text they are using.  If they have a blog, skim through their feed.  You will eventually feel that something isn’t right.  For example, I found this in the “Our Process” page for a local company ranked #7 in Google.

more spammy links

Further digging led me to discover this in the company blog (just an excerpt).
spammy blog links

Granted, it’s not “illegal” but if this is what they call link building you should seriously reconsider their proposal of $5,000 per month.

BONUS:Don’t look for your SEO company via search engines

If you haven’t noticed already, all of the preceding examples were pulled from page one of Google search.  Ironic, isn’t it?  You need help generating traffic to your website by people who “understand” search engines yet you shouldn’t trust the search engine results pages.  Although this isn’t always the case, the majority of them are spam-tastic bad apples.  My solution is to ask for referrals from other businesses and then go through this checklist for safe measure.

In the end, this is just a quick way to eliminate the illegitimate SEO businesses out there from your list.  You’ll still need to pick up the phone, give them a call and play 21 questions.  That’s what you would do when you hire a prospective employee after all, right?