Top 5 SEO Agency Red Flags

You always roll the dice when getting into a new relationship. Hiring an SEO agency isn’t any different. Ideally, you’ll find a long-term partner who’s honest and moral. But sometimes, you run into sketchy behavior and empty promises. If you’re new to our world, then you may not be able to spot SEO agency red flags at first glance.

We don’t even want to entertain the idea of working with a shady business, so we’re here to help you identify the warning signs. It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and see the red flags for what they are.

Jenga Blocks with SEO Terms Stacked, Man Wearing Blue Checkered Shirt Sitting Behind

They say you’ll see instant results.

SEO is not a quick fix—it’s a long-term strategy that includes technical optimizations and content creation. It’s an ongoing process, and it can take months before you see any improvement. It’s possible to make significant progress early on, but if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

If they promise overnight results, then run. This is a major SEO agency red flag. No one can achieve instant results unless they’re doing dishonest work. And that’s only going to hurt your website in the long run. Fast progress is tempting, but Google considers it suspicious. They will investigate your site, determine that you’re breaking the rules, and penalize your website accordingly.

The agency guarantees rankings.

Their pitch sounds great. They say you will get the number-one position in search results, and you’ll rank for all your top keywords. And best of all, they’ll make it impossible for your competitors to keep up. But we have some bad news for you. SEO agencies can never guarantee rankings. Realistically, they can’t promise anything other than best practices.

This SEO agency red flag may seem counterintuitive. You want to work with a company that’s confident in its work. But remember, Google’s algorithm is always in control. That means search results constantly fluctuate. No SEO agency can promise that your site will rank for a keyword or phrase. Nobody can guarantee that your web pages will even get indexed.

They use “industry secrets.”

SEO secrets do not exist. We all read the same blogs, use the same types of tools, and attend the same webinars. The SEO community shares information freely, and it’s common to see more experienced optimizers mentor beginners in online forums.

In other words, a legitimate SEO agency doesn’t have insider information. They’re not on friendly terms with Google. Most importantly, they’re not using secret methods. If they claim to have industry secrets, they’re probably talking about Black Hat SEO, which exploits Google’s algorithm. And Black Hat isn’t an industry secret. Everyone knows about it, but ethical agencies choose not to partake.

You don’t receive SEO reports.

A good SEO agency will be forthcoming about what they’re doing. They will share hard data via regular reports, and they’ll be willing to explain what the numbers mean. Getting left out of the conversation is an SEO agency red flag.

A shady agency will hide the numbers. They may give you a summary of your website’s performance but omit the data. Even worse, they may even skip the reports altogether. But don’t fall for their excuses. The data is not too complicated to explain.

Believe it or not, optimizers love talking about SEO. Good agencies will take any opportunity available to talk about Google. That includes reviewing your reports and teaching you about SEO best practices. We live for this stuff.

Man's Hands on Laptop Keyboard, Google Analytics Reports on Screen

They withhold administrative rights to your Google Analytics account.

You’ve determined it’s time to break up with your SEO agency. You try to remove them from your Google Analytics account. But you can’t. It turns out they have full admin access, and your permissions are restricted. You can’t manage users, and they ignore your requests for full rights.

There are a few reasons why an SEO agency won’t give you admin rights:

  • Your SEO reports don’t match the data in the accounts.

  • They’re trying to get more money out of you via an ownership transfer fee.

  • You’re more likely to stay out of convenience because it’s difficult to leave.

We can’t even begin to tell you how common this scenario is. And this isn’t just an SEO agency red flag; this is a red flag in general. Some dishonest agencies like to sink their claws into Google Search Console ownership and website logins too. We recommend clarifying ownership and admin rights before you sign a contract.

Never ignore the red flags.

Many SEO companies are transparent with clients. They live up to their word and deliver what’s promised in their contract. But there are some suspicious agencies out there.

They see you as quick income, and they count on the fact that you’re unfamiliar with SEO. They cut corners, break Google’s rules, and are willing to exploit your trust. If you encounter any of these shady maneuvers, run the other direction.

Unfortunately, our list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other red flags out there, and some of them are notoriously easy to miss. It’s important to trust your gut and do what’s right for you. And that may include cutting ties with your sketchy SEO agency. Remember—you deserve better, and you don’t have to settle for empty promises.