15 Signs to Look Out for When Hiring a SEO Company

Kendrick Liang
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“Get ranked quick” is no longer what a crooked SEO company will say when you are about to hire them. Nowadays, they are more clever, covering their bad intentions by mixing the truth and lies together.

Imagine one day, some SEO providers reaching out to the CEO or CMO of one company, offering a free SEO audit. That in itself is suspicious, but the service comes with the tagline of “adding value first,” which makes the company look okay. Then, they send back the report filled with some good news mixed with a lot of bad news.

This is a common tactic, where the the SEO company is telling lies (the bad news) and sprinkles some truth (the good news) into the mix.

SEO Company Hires: Good News and Bad News

You see, the bad news can easily be ignored, but the CEO or CMO already feels worried. Especially when SEO is part of their company’s core marketing and the bad news looks legit. Most companies get caught by this tactic because they are afraid the bad news will get worse if it isn't resolved.

What happens then is those businesses would give a chance to this SEO company to fix the issue. Well, turns out they successfully deliver what they promised. However, no significant changes are happening to these companies.

There is almost zero revenue added to the business. What happened is either the website is ranked on the wrong keywords, or Google penalizes it because of the use of illegal tactics.

Again, they successfully mix their lies (delivery of their promises) and truth (the actual outcomes). This type of SEO company really hurts these businesses both in revenue and search engine ranking.

Most CEOs and CMOs know that SEO is a long-term commitment and expensive. They are willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars of their marketing budget per month to get a reliable SEO partner. It may take years for some businesses to break even.

The good news is, there are ways for you to avoid those crooked SEO providers. Below are 15 signs you can refer to when you hire your first or next SEO company: 

1. Working with a SEO Company Shouldn’t Be a Discovery Journey

Five years ago, there may have been some SEO secrets to ranking and driving traffic organically. But for today’s SEO, almost every secret is already exposed. There are no secret techniques or blueprints that need to be discovered that can make one company better than the other. If that’s the case, what determines which SEO providers are great or poor?

It’s their execution. So the first sign to look out for is the outline of these providers’ workflow. They should be capable of giving you a clear roadmap for what they want to improve and how they plan to do it. What tools or software do they use to execute and organize their overall SEO campaigns?

The more in-depth their presentation to you, the better the chance they’ll do great moving forward. So if they try to hide their techniques or methods, it’s a red flag not to hire them. But if you can understand their plans from A-Z, you may have just found a reliable SEO company.

2. Personalization Attention

Another sign of a great SEO company is their personalization and attention to clients. So what form of personalization should you look for?

The ideal case is the SEO company structures its operation by placing one project manager to handle a smaller number of clients. This means every client can receive more personalized work from their project manager. But that's not all.

With this structure, there is more continuity with your SEO campaigns. The project manager who calls you will be the same person every single month. There won't be a new stranger every month speaking to you about a script or checklist.

However, it doesn't mean all SEO companies who don't do personalization attention are bad. It's just the chances that you will get a reliable SEO partner will be higher. 

3. Are You Clear about Their Level of Involvement?

When it comes to SEO, it goes both ways. A weekly report or at least a monthly report from their company is critical. It's related to the number #1 sign: transparency. You and your team need to be in the loop and know everything about their SEO execution.

Report routine also plays a significant role in pivoting. SEO is a very competitive field. There are times when everything goes well and times where things goes south. But the report can't lie, so when something is going downhill, it'll help you to bounce back very quickly.

You can also judge their responsiveness based on their willingness to inform progress and setbacks. Some SEO companies are still undermining the reporting routine and being lazy on their reporting schedules. So if you're unclear on the level of involvement they can provide, make sure to turn away from hiring them.

4. Shady, Iron-Clad Long Contract

There is not much to write about this one. A crooked SEO company always wants to tie you down with a contract lasting more than one year.

However, some reliable SEO companies sometimes also target a 1-year commitment, but they must get tons of legit reviews to back them up. They may even refer you to speak with some of their real past clients.

Another thing to get clear before signing the contract is to assess the flexibility of the contract itself. What happens if, four months or six months down the line, nothing changes? Most SEO providers don't offer a money-back guarantee. But if they are excellent at what they do, they'll let you have the flexibility to cancel the contract.

5. Knowledge Transference

Knowledge transference will become very crucial if a company does SEO both in-house and through outsourcing. Doing SEO in-house is great because you can get easy access to daily progress from your team. You can get that sense of trustworthiness and care as the in-house team isn't a stranger that you've just met.

The downside is most companies don't have the knowledge base and time to train the in-house team to be good. Even if the company is knowledgeable about SEO, the results could have been better when relying on outside expertise.

That's why some companies prefer outsourcing the whole SEO activity or do a little bit of both. This is where knowledge transferring plays its part.

A combination of both in-house and outsourcing is pretty effective when the SEO provider is willing to share their knowledge. They are happy to give coaching or consultation for the in-house team as a complement. That's why a SEO company that conducts knowledge transference can lead you to long-term, organic marketing success.  

6. Can They Provide Highly-Tailored Services?

A reliable SEO provider knows that every client is different. There are clients who have already established an online presence, but have problems maintaining it. Some are just starting and want to grow their presence, both online and offline.

The goals of their clients also vary. There are companies who want to launch new offers and need help to increase and maintain the traffic from pre-launch to post-launch. Some companies need help to improve their ranking for both existing and new keywords to effectively reach their target audience.

So the next sign to look out for is: Do the providers you're evaluating offer highly customized service? Are they fit to work with some unique needs or circumstances your business might have? The goal is to hire a SEO company that is capable of creating tailored services that match perfectly with your audience and company's needs. 

7. B2B vs B2C

B2B and B2C content marketing are different. The big difference comes from the level of knowledge the targeted audience has. To make sure your SEO efforts are on point, you have to do a little bit of digging into your client’s history.

B2C audiences are relatively less aware of features behind the product or service the company offers. B2B audiences, on the other hand, are more sophisticated. They are highly knowledgeable about the products or services that you offer. That’s why the content needs to be thoroughly researched and written at a higher-level to maintain your brand credibility.

So the next sign is: Are they experienced enough to handle B2B marketing? However, sometimes you can find companies that do both B2C and B2B or can quickly adapt to the B2B field.  

8. Beware of Testimonial Trick

For testimonials, things can be a little bit tricky. It comes back to how some of these lousy SEO providers are very clever in mixing their lies and truth. Some of them have an abundance amount of testimonials. However, the quality of these testimonials is often questionable.

Remember, it’s relatively easy to get ranked high on SERP with low-search volume keywords. Businesses who are new to SEO give their testimonials thinking the provider has done an excellent job for them.

So make sure to always look at the quality of their reviews and testimonials. Is this SEO company successfully helping their past or existing clients in a very competitive niche?

Also, ideally, you want to focus only on long reviews. They can help you to make comparisons between your situation and the situation the SEO provider managed to solve. 

9. Are They Focusing on Metrics that Matter the most?

Analytics is where an SEO company wants to make themselves look smart. But the fact is, you don’t need to know every metric and statistic on your SEO effort. Leads, conversions, total organic clicks, bounce rate, and lead score alone can tell you everything that’s going on with your SEO efforts.

If they plan to focus on metrics that seem too fancy, then try to uncover the reason they target those metrics. Once you realize it has zero to do with leads or sales, get ready to move on to the next company.  

10. Content Expertise

Google is very strict with their rules. They regularly kill all websites that use black hat SEO tactics to cheat the system. Google also routinely updates its algorithms to improve user experience and deliver the best credible content to its searcher.

That’s why no matter what algorithms that change, high-quality content will always be effective. High-quality content is content that is comprehensive, useful, and answering the targeted audience’s questions. That’s why the next sign you need to look for is their expertise in content development.

Can these SEO providers identify knowledgeable articles that drive sales and increase customer lifetime value? Do they understand the market you operate in? And can they create new, SEO optimized content for your target market? Their answer will show you how good their expertise is.

11. Can They Explain Their Target Keywords Inquiry?

Keywords usually are the part where crooked SEO providers do their “get ranked quick” scheme. Any content can quickly rank at the top of a search engine by targeting low-search volume keywords. So their competitive keywords analysis is the next sign to look for.

Can this SEO company identify the most relevant and highest converting keywords in your niche industry? Do these keywords specifically target what your audience looks for? Do you feel their keywords analysis offers big opportunities to capture new leads?

With Google BERT update and voice search gaining more popularity, searchers are more likely to use long-tail phrases for their inquiries. Long-tail keywords also give you a chance to rank higher in a very competitive niche.

Remember, ranking higher for keywords you already rank for is nice. But what makes the difference is ranking for new targeted keywords you weren’t ranked for at all before. So if SEO providers can’t show you the reason behind their keywords inquiry, cross them out from your hiring list.

12. Linking Is Not Only for the Sake of Linking

Many years ago, most business websites could get away with using paid links. Today, Google will notice them. Great SEO providers always have a proven link building structure. There are two critical elements of link building: internal linking and backlink outreach.

Internal linking has the purpose of keeping the targeted leads to stay inside your site when looking for information. A backlink is one of the factors that Google uses for ranking their websites.

The easiest way to build backlinks is by targeting some industry leaders or respected influencers. They are always looking to give value to their die-hard followers’ lives. So if your content can help them to accomplish this, they are more than happy to link back to your site.

As you can see, link building is deeply connected with content expertise and keywords inquiries. Thus you want to look for SEO providers who are planning to combine high-quality content, targeted long-tail keywords, and strategic link building,  

13. Their Outsourcing Quality

Still related to high-quality content, how does the SEO company you're talking to get their writing done? Most providers are outsourcing most of the content writing to remote copywriters. If that's the case, you want to pay attention to the place where they hire their writers.

Avoid providers who outsource writers with low rates. "You get what you paid for" is the cardinal rule when it comes to outsourcing writing. Their writing team might not understand the scope and the scale of your brand.

On the other hand, a writing team filled with professionally trained copywriters is always on point with their writing. They understand how to write the correct content for both the buyer's persona and buyer's journey.

Another challenge you can find down the line is scheduling and tracking. How can you and the SEO provider get together to track all of the writing process? If they can't give you a straight answer, it's another red flag not to hire them.

14. Is SEO the Only Thing They’re Talking About?

In today’s B2B content marketing, SEO is tightly connected with social media and email. In the latest research, blog posts, social media content and email newsletters are the highest performing content types for lead generation. That’s why search engine ranking is not focused only on SEO.

Both social media and email play a vital role in boosting your search engine ranking. But how? We begin with an introduction. Social media content is how we start our interaction with the target audience. The next step is to start a conversation with them.

We use email sequences to lead the conversation. We keep building and nurturing our relationship by sending them useful content on our blog and website. Once they find your content is informative and valuable enough to share, that's when your SEO efforts will pay off.

So when you begin to eliminate some of the candidates, look for SEO companies that provide more than SEO. Many SEO providers can do other things, such as social media marketing and email campaigns. Their expertise usually includes driving both organic and paid traffic. 

15. Are They Talking About Sales?

The last sign, which is the most impactful on every SEO effort, is generating sales. Believe it or not, some providers don't even talk about sales when they try to sell you their SEO packages. They are too busy explaining their fancy mechanisms and their quick result testimonials.

You want to hire an SEO company that understands the impact of soft selling. Can they create content that speaks to a target audience that doesn't want to be sold? You want to find out if their content strategies can lead the audience to move closer to the sale or not. And if you understand and are satisfied enough with their answers, the chances of you getting reliable SEO efforts are high.


The aftermath of hiring a crooked SEO company is damaging. But the upside can certainly outweigh the risk. As 70% of marketers say, SEO is more effective at driving sales than PPC. So like what the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg once said: "The biggest risk is not taking any risk."

If you are looking to create a stream of high-quality content to boost your SEO efforts, hiring professionally trained copywriters is the best bet. Book a consultation call now with one of our SEO experts to learn how you can start leveraging the service of professional content copywriters.

Kendrick Liang

Kendrick is a trained copywriter at Copywriters.com. He dedicates his life to producing high-quality copy for his clients to help them grow and scale their businesses. He also has an education background in International Business Management.

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