By Neil Patel, from Search Engine Land –

I’m a firm believer in the power and success of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — but I’ve had to fight an uphill battle. There are some digital marketers who scorn SEO, are skeptical of SEO agencies, and cling to the misguided idea that SEO is a vestige of a bygone era.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe that SEO is the panacea of all world ills, and is the only path to online success.

In the middle is a careful and strategic view of SEO. SEO is alive and well. It’s bigger and more important than ever. Things are always changing. Strategies are always adapting. SEO is critical.

But in order to succeed in this unpredictable era of search engine algorithm changes and content innovation, you need an SEO agency that is doing things right. If your SEO agency is a failure, you need to fire them on the spot. No more wasted money. No more risky practices.

Here are six reasons why you might want to fire your SEO.

1. They Don’t Explain Their Process

An SEO agency that doesn’t explain its process is dangerous. This signals that they’re doing something that is either black-hat, gray-hat, or otherwise suspicious. They don’t want you to know about it, because you’re probably not going to like it.

Is it going to give you short-term gains? Maybe.

Is it going to provide the results that they predicted? Probably.

Is it going to come back and bite you? Definitely.

The algorithm eventually gets smarter than the spammy techniques intended to game it. Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s right — or sustainable.

SEOs who participate in less-than-ethical schemes to get results have diplomatic and polished responses to your wormy questions. They’ve practiced.

You innocently ask, “So, can you tell me exactly what you guys are doing?”

“Sure,” they respond loftily. “We use a systematic method of link-enhancement that helps to algorithmically create high-DA derived source code for a penetration-proof process of anchor text selection, dramatically increasing the protective layer of keyword-rich content, and search-engine safe metacoding for optimal SERP display and cluster content featured in Knowledge Graph carousel positioning above the fold.”

“Uh, yeah,” you respond hesitantly, as a feeling of confused relief washes over you.

What the heck did they just say?!

You have no idea, but hey, they’re obviously a lot more knowledgeable about SEO than you, right? Shouldn’t you just submit to their extreme SEO prowess, and let them do their thing?

Maybe, but remember the wisdom of Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Jargon can mask ignorance. Get your agency to tell you exactly and simply what they’re doing. If they can’t do it, be skeptical. My goal in my consulting is to be as clear and forthright as possible. Dodging issues benefits no one.

I’ve seen SEO agencies firmly rooted in the spammy techniques of a bygone era. And what do they do? They destroy websites with manual penalties.

Don’t let that happen to you.

2. You Notice An Increase In Spammy Backlinks

I recommend that every webmaster keep a close eye on the backlinks to his or her website. A site’s backlinks are the substance of that site’s health and authority. A rash of bad links are the precursors of a manual penalty.

Guess where these spammy backlinks come from? The most common source of spammy backlinks is misguided link building. And the most common perpetrators of such link building practices are dangerous SEO companies.

You need to know if your SEO agency is engaged in backlink building. Then you need to know what they do to create these backlinks. If they explain that backlinks are only a corollary of their efforts, explain how those corollaries arise.

If the spammy backlinks come, then your SEO could be the culprit. Not always, but often. If they are responsible for the spammy backlinks, please do yourself a favor and fire them.

3. They Can’t Explain Or Don’t Adapt To Algorithm Changes

The best SEO companies have a clue about algo changes.

The reason why so many SEO companies of five years ago have disappeared is because they failed to adapt to the changing algorithm. Once upon a time, indiscriminate directory listing and zealous keyword stuffing actually worked.

This sheer pragmatism led some SEO agencies to cling to these methods, despite the overwhelming opposition of the algorithm.

How often does the algorithm change? Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts answered that question: “We tend to make changes to our core search algorithms at least once a day.”

Most changes are tiny. Some changes are huge. Whatever the case, change is always happening. The algorithm is always evolving.

If your SEO agency (1) is not telling you about major algorithm changes, and (2) is not explaining those changes, consider yourself warned.

4. They Have A Poor Reporting Platform

Look for an SEO company that gives you a suite of reporting tools, such as an online dashboard with your own unique login. Some SEO companies use advanced tools such as a proprietary reporting system that is available only to their clients. This alone is a great reason to work with a company.

SEO is a data-driven industry. Numbers are the currency of information for SEO. Every SEO understands the critical nature of metrics like bounce rate, dwell time, click-through, and domain authority.

You, as the site owner and client, should be fully apprised of every metric that is critical to your success, or evidence of your demise. If an SEO isn’t giving you these numbers in a comprehensive and regular way, consider their contract over.

Here are a few specifics you should expect:

  • Regular reports — monthly at minimum.
  • On-demand reports.
  • Interpretation, analysis, and assimilation of data.
  • Year-over-year and month-over-month performance. Short-term data doesn’t quite cover it. You need comparison to see how your business is doing over the long haul.

5. They Provide No Strategic Consultation

I’m going to assume that your SEO agency is comprised of smart people who communicate effectively and respond quickly to your inquiries. But this isn’t good enough.

A really good SEO firm goes beyond just SEO and provides some level of strategic consultation.

Here’s why this is important. Over the past few years, SEO has expanded to such an incredible degree that it comprises more than just links, H1s, keywords, and title tags.

Now, the field of SEO involves content marketing, touches on social media marketing, and delves into issues of conversion optimization. That’s why influencers like Moz’ Rand Fishkin emphasize the importance of the T-Shaped Web Marketer, and why SEO firms are intent upon building out their skillsets.

If your SEO agency is silent on these issues, you have reason to question their legitimacy. Quality SEO agencies know when to speak up and comment on issues that are related to, but not strictly part of, their purview.

To make this clear, let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re an e-commerce clothing retailer looking for SEO help. You contract with an SEO company, and they start delivering lots of traffic, some great linkbacks, and an increase in site authority. You’re appearing in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for all your targeted keywords. Life is good, right?

Maybe. But is this traffic converting? Has your revenue gone up since you hired them? How has your conversion rate changed? At this point, your SEO agency should have some remarks on conversion optimization.

This is strategic consultation. They may not be the ones who are responsible for performing conversion rate optimization services, but they should have some advice for where you should go and what you should do.

6. They’re A One-Trick Pony

Most SEO firms have a specialty. They do one thing really well. That’s okay.

But even if they do one thing really well, they need to be able to do other things, too.

Some “SEO firms” are actually just link building agencies. That’s all they do. You come to them, expecting some help with your title tags and sitemap.xml. What you get instead is, “Oh, we’ll be glad to build links.”

An SEO agency needs to be upfront about what they do and don’t provide. As a client, you need to understand this, too. I’ve known people who hire SEO companies expecting website administration or design. But I’ve also known of SEO companies who claim to be a one-stop shop, and all they do is keyword research.

In an age where digital marketing is all-important, you need an agency who knows their stuff — beyond the basics and into every area of SEO.


These sounds like high expectations. They are. You can effectively eliminate 80% of the SEO agencies just by analyzing them through this matrix of these six qualifications.

When you do find a good agency, stick with them. Treat them like the partner they are. They can do a whole lot of good.

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