I’m writing this article because there are so many cowboys out there happily taking peoples money and delivering little value in return. There are also many great SEO professionals but sorting between the good, the bad and the ugly can be difficult.
I hope this article can help people navigate the minefield of picking the right SEO partner by highlighting some simple red flags. Looking out for these simple red flags 🚩 should save people time, money and opportunity cost.
This week three prospects have come to Lilac James after having a bad experience with other freelancers and agencies. All are great businesses, and they deserve better, it’s the conversations with the people behind these businesses that have inspired this article.
Prospect 1 – Spent £8000 over 12 months. They were locked into a 12 month contract and achieved zero rankings. Our review quickly identified that although their website was effectively optimised, the SEO and keyword targeting strategy was incorrectly targeting national level keywords with extremely high competition levels. Prospect 1 would simply be unable to compete in the medium term with the businesses on page 1 and as such should have been niched into more long tail and regional based keywords.
Prospect 2 – Spent £100pcm for the preceding 3 years, total cost £3600 for zero rankings. This prospect tried to do their SEO on the cheap with a freelancer in the Philippines, we can’t really figure out ANYTHING that this freelancer did for their SEO other than provide an automated monthly report. Prospect 2 isn’t too concerned about the lost and unrecoverable £3600 but they are concerned about the lost 3 years where their SEO could have been developing some incredible rankings.
Prospect 3 – Paying £1000pcm to the second SEO agency they’ve used. The first SEO agency they were paying £500pcm. They said to me ‘both agencies did the same thing, they were great in the sales process, but as soon as the contract was signed our account was handed over to the tea boy’. Our review concluded that the keyword strategy needed refinement with additional landing pages building for niche search terms, their existing content and backlink strategy was building links from websites that weren’t relevant to their products and services so were not building the necessary authority in Google and improving their rankings.
The Red Flags 🚩
Please note that just because one or more of these red flags are present, it does not mean you absolutely should not use that agency or freelancer. It may however mean you need to conduct some further due diligence.
1. The freelancer or agency has many service types
SEO is a marketing niche, it takes a lot of time, practice and focus to get good at this skill. If your Freelancer does SEO among a range of other digital marketing services, it’s likely they’re not focused enough to have developed their SEO skillset or built out effective processes to deliver a top quality service.
If you’re working with an agency, and they have lots of service types listed such as SEO, Google Ads, Social Media Ads, Website Design, Email Marketing, Graphic Design, Print, PR, CRO, E-Commerce etc… then that agency best be a big one with lots of staff who can each individually specialise in these unique areas.
If the agency has 3 members of staff, but 10 service areas, they’re very likely to be good at one or two of these services… but not all 10.
If the agency has 10 specialist service areas, but has 20-30 staff, then there is a higher likelihood that they can have genuine specialist skills in all of these areas as they can dedicate individuals specifically to each service.
2. Their case studies speak predominantly about other service areas
This is very common with website design agencies who also sell SEO services but it’s also a big red flag 🚩 for every agency or freelancer.
It’s always worth checking out case studies, but for some agencies and freelancers their skill sets clearly lie in one specific area, such as website design or Copywriting, and SEO is an add on service they have started offering. Such agencies and freelancers can be easy to spot as their case studies will often only talk about their strongest area. If that’s not SEO, then perhaps ask them for some specific case studies.
At Lilac James we have a range of case studies but we can’t write about all of our success stories, there unfortunately isn’t enough time in the day. When customers come to us from a specific sector, they often want to know we’ve delivered results for a business just like theirs, we then happily put them in touch with current or former clients who fit this criteria.
3. They don’t outline their SEO strategy
It’s very easy to say “we’ll optimise your website and get you on page 1” and this is what many agencies and freelancers do. They blind prospects with the science of SEO, sending hefty PDF’s about all sorts of SEO factors such as Meta Data, Alt Tags, Backlinks etc… but they never say ‘HOW’ they’re going to get you onto page 1, and for which search terms.
With SEO, strategy is so important. Taking prospect 1 (at the start of this article) as an example, their website was perfectly well optimised, but the strategy was all wrong. They were competing for hugely competitive national search terms far too early in their business growth curve. The agency who optimised their website was primarily a website design agency, they knew how to optimise a website, but they were lacking in the optimisation strategy that would actually deliver traffic, leads and sales.
When you engage an agency or freelancer, don’t be blinded by information overload. Ask what their strategy will be. At Lilac James, every prospect gets a free strategy session where we specifically outline exactly how we’ll deliver page 1 rankings.
🚩 These next red flags are slightly more obvious and may only become apparent after you’ve gone into contract but they’re very good to keep an eye out for 🚩
Expectations and False Promises
A good SEO partner should be setting your expectations about when you can expect to see increases in rankings and more website traffic. If your SEO partner is promising you the world, then it’s likely they’re either being dishonest or don’t have the experience to accurately predict results. SEO takes time, but is so worth that time for many businesses.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of prospects we speak to whose previous agency or freelancer made them do their own keyword research. This is an SEO providers bread and butter. A good SEO partner should be having deep conversations with you to understand your business and customers, then THEY should be doing the in depth keyword research. At Lilac James we do all our keyword research and use both Google data and additional in house SEO software.
Website and Google Data Access
To optimise a website your SEO needs access to your website and Google assets such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Business Profile and Google Search Console. Google Analytics is how you measure everything on your website, Google Tag Manager allows you to customise your measurements and goals, Google Business Profile controls the information you display on search and map sections and Google Search Console does many things including informing you of exactly what terms someone types into Google when they land on your website. If they don’t ask for access, how on earth are they meant to optimise your website, measure and report results?
Google likes high quality on site information and a regularly updated website. Blogs are a great way of doing this and many lazy SEO providers publish short, 500 word blogs and incorrectly tell their customers this is enough. In fact, Google likes long form content, we always aim for 3000 words, and certainly no less than 1500.
There are lots of great SEO providers out there, but any kid with a laptop can create a website on a simple website builder and run some Facebook or Google Ads advertising their SEO services in a heartbeat. This makes finding the right SEO partner a real challenge and many good people get burnt.
It would be easy for me to say ‘simply look at page 1 in your local area’… because, if you’re near Cambridgeshire you’ll likely find Lilac James there, but the reality is many of the businesses on page 1 are outside the marketing budget of some businesses. There are also some great SEO providers that simply haven’t had the time (longevity is a big ranking factor) to generate page 1 rankings but may still do a great job so please shop around and make enquiries with reputable local companies.
I hope this article will be of use and stop some people out there getting burnt, if you would like to contact me about SEO services, Lilac James offer a free and no obligation SEO strategy session* that will help you see what potential SEO could have for your business.
Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a contact form via our Contact page linked here.
Thanks for reading.
Sales and Marketing Director
Lilac James Co.