SEO Agency Scams: How to find a Reputable Agency

SEO Fraud

Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for your website’s success, but not all SEO agencies are created equally. Sadly, there are many so-called SEO agencies that only exist to scam you. How can you tell the difference between a reputable agency and a scam one? It may take a bit of digging, but an honest company will be there to support you every step of the way.

What is a Reputable Agency?

There are several things you can look for to ensure that you’re working with a legitimate company. For instance, they should have at least one specialist who works exclusively on SEO.

Although it’s great to have multiple talents, putting a website and the proper SEO in place is sort of akin to building a house. It will take a lot of work, and there will be multiple professionals who help you. After all, you wouldn’t hire a plumber to do an electrical job, so why would you hire the same person to build your website, do your SEO and work on your pay-per-click (PPC) marketing?

There are many reputable SEO companies that can do everything mentioned above, but they’ll have different people attending to your needs. Pay attention to exactly what they offer you. If they say that they can sprinkle your SEO on after completing your website build, this is a very bad sign. It would be like sprinkling the plumbing onto your house after it’s already been built.

The reality is that SEO doesn’t always show hockey stick growth on a chart. Instead, most websites tend to be very volatile, and your SEO won’t attract a large number of visitors every single day. Still, if it’s done properly, you should experience overall growth. Meanwhile, if an agency is hiding your traffic drops, this is an indicator that they don’t know how to fix it or are inexperienced.

Scam Signs

If any of the following has been done to you by your SEO agency, you’ve most likely been scammed.

1. No Communication

No communication is a sign that the agency simply took your money and ran. This is a nightmare scenario for many small business owners. If the company happens to be out of state, you’re likely to have no recourse, either.

2. No Reports/Overwhelming Reports

An SEO agency should be highly focused on results, which includes reporting on all the work they’ve completed. A good example would be providing a new list of articles published, along with including what articles were optimized. However, what a scam agency will do is try to overwhelm you with reports or not send any at all.

Have you ever received an Excel document with thousands of lines? This is often done to confuse the client. Instead, a reputable agency provides a monthly email that includes the Overall Website Traffic Percentage and your leads. There should also be a link to a more in-depth report.

seo report
Green/Red Percentages make it really easy to understand the site’s health

By looking at the overview, you should be able to determine if, for example, your traffic is up 6 percent or down 6 percent. Any downward movement needs to have an explanation, along with a plan to reverse the trend.

3. No Qualified Leads

Do all your leads seem to be fake or uninterested in your products? The odds are high that a scam agency has been using the wrong keywords to bring in leads, but no overall results. This is a misuse of vanity metrics, and if you let it go on long enough, it’ll break your bank.

4. Keyword/Traffic Focused, Instead of Lead Focused

Again, an SEO agency isn’t doing any good if the only thing they focus on is getting traffic. In some cases, they use the entirely wrong keywords, as mentioned above. In this example, they’re bringing traffic to your site by using keywords that are almost right, but don’t result in viable leads. For instance, many drug rehab sites will use the phrase “how to beat a drug test.” This will produce great traffic, but the vast majority of people who look up that phrase have no interest in going to rehab.

Your SEO agency must put their focus on capturing genuine, qualified leads. These are the only leads that will pay off, so they are the only ones with any real value.

5. Instant Links

Purchasing instant backlinks from high DA sites such as the New York Times or EDU sites is not going to help you in the long run. These are examples of blackhat tactics and can actually get your site penalized by Google.

6. Guaranteed Ranking

Anyone who guarantees you a specific placement on Google is lying to you. No one can make these sorts of promises and ever hope to keep them. Guaranteed rankings are not a thing, and if someone tries to convince you they are, they’re a scam agency.

Signs of a Bad Agency

Not all agencies that use bad practices are necessarily a scam. However, if they do either of the following, you shouldn’t consider using them.

1. Unsolicited Emails

A reputable agency will never need to send out an unsolicited email because their referrals will keep them busy. So, if you receive an email with a heading such as “We Noticed Your Website Isn’t Ranking for…”, the odds are extremely high that they don’t really know what they are doing. Steer clear of this type of agency.

2. Free Trial and Prices Too Good to be True

The truth is that SEO takes a lot of time, money, and resources. What are the odds that someone would offer to do that for free? Even if a legitimate company were to offer some free time, it’s not going to be long enough to truly judge their work. Also, if the price seems too low to be real, that’s an indicator that the company doesn’t understand how much work goes into real SEO practices.

Red Flags

Finally, we’ve reached SEO agency red flags. These indicate that although it might be a real company, they’re not going to be an agency you can rely on to provide proven results. Run the other way if an SEO company does any of these things.

1. Agency Owns Your Data

It’s a very bad sign if the agency refuses to release your domain name to you. In fact, it’s considered to be blackmail if they don’t allow you access to your domain name and social media accounts. They may have set them up with the intention of managing them, but it should be very easy to gain control over your social media accounts and domain name.

2. Lack of Transparency

It’s really not that difficult to put together a report that says how many articles were published this month. They also need to include optimizations, technical fixes, links built, and several other metrics that should be easy to read and understand. If there’s no transparency on their end, you can’t trust them to be doing a good job.

3. No Ranking for the Agency’s Website

Can your SEO agency pass a simple test? Go to a free rank checker and check to see if they rank for “SEO + the city they’re located in.” Do they appear in the rankings? More importantly, do they show up as one of the top-ranked sites?

seo agency organic traffic
Example: Prominent SEO Agency Non-branded Organic Traffic

You can trust that if they’re low in the search rankings, they have no idea how to make your site go any higher. After all, if they had the skills, they would have used them on their own website.

SEO North's Non-Branded Organic Traffic
Example: SEO North’s Non-Branded Organic Traffic

Finding a Reputable SEO Agency

This article may have made it seem hopeless to find a real SEO agency, but don’t despair. There are actually many companies out there that are reputable, and you’ll find that they don’t use any of the tactics listed above. They may be more expensive than a bad agency, but you’re going to get a much higher return on your investment. This is ultimately the thing that truly matters, so be sure you take the time to investigate your SEO company’s claims instead of getting scammed.


  • Why do SEO Agency’s Scam people?
Posted in SEO

Published on: 2022-04-05
Updated on: 2022-06-29

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. Isaac has considerable expertise in Search Engine Optimization, Server Administration, and Cyber Security, which gives him a leg up as a Google Algorithm Analyst and SEO Expert.