With 53.3% of all website traffic coming from organic search, SEO drives 1000% more traffic than organic social media. In fact, 60% of marketers say that inbound SEO and blog content is their highest quality source of leads. You cannot ignore SEO, and you need to find a provider who can do it well.

When looking for an SEO company, it is essential to cut through the jargon. Everyone will say they are the best, do a brilliant job, and help you rank in Google results. To help you make a decision, in this post, we will present some of the flags that tell you whether an SEO company is as good as they say they are.

Results speak for themselves

Any SEO company should be able to provide you with a list of previous successes and references. Those results will include the metrics they deem as being the most important and present a case for why you should invest in their services. Typically, a good SEO company will talk about the revenue they generate from organic traffic, how they use organic keywords, and conversion rates.

Results are one thing, but a significant giveaway is that they don’t talk about your business goals. Any SEO company must understand that every business is different, and if you don’t talk about achieving objectives, there is no way they can guarantee results. All aspects of an SEO campaign must aim towards a common business goal, in alignment with other digital marketing strategies.

A good SEO company will be able to tell you what goes wrong, as well as all the great things they have done. The entire premise of SEO is that you need to test different types of content and keywords. There should not be an expectation that it will work perfectly the first time. If an agency hides away results, it alludes to suspicious behaviors, and you need to elicit those as soon as possible.

If an SEO company provides results that are outdated, you also need to be careful. An excellent campaign for ILoveShoes.com that worked in 2005 would be irrelevant to modern-day marketing and search crawlers. Make sure that you can gauge their talent in 2020, understanding how they adapt to changing trends in the digital landscape.

The SEO company is not transparent

We all know that SEO is a long-term strategy. You are not going to appear in the first position of search rankings overnight magically. However, an SEO company should be able to explain their methods and practices to show you how it will provide future benefits. The agency needs to show their customers what they are paying for, and you have every right to ask for some deliverables. Such deliverables should be made clear during an initial discovery phase.

According to digital marketing expert Neil Patel, there are some sure signs to tell if your SEO firm is hurting rather than helping you. He says that responses like below are glaring signs of a scam.

  • “As an SEO firm, our efforts on your behalf must remain confidential.”
  • “Oh, tons of things, it would take too long to explain.”
  • “Due to the nature of the industry, we’re not permitted to disclose our practices.”

An agency should be able to clearly explain any technique and strategy they are deploying for SEO. Even at the very early stages of your SEO journey, a reliable vendor should be able to complete the following, as these items will be a necessity for moving forwards.

  1. An SEO audit of your website to ascertain short, medium, and long-term targets
  2. A review of your domain authority and link profile. For example, a list of any sites that link to yours.
  3. Recommendations for how to optimize the content on your website

A more obvious indication that they are not working through an effective strategy is if they haven’t asked you to provide any information. For example, an SEO agency will need to access your CMS, Google Analytics, social accounts, and webmaster tools, if they are to review your current state of affairs efficiently. If they don’t ask for these details, they are likely posting links up or bombarding the internet with spam that could end up doing more harm than good.

On the flip side, don’t give any company full control of any logins or systems. It’s great for an agency but gives you a predicament if you ever want to review their practices or move to another vendor.

A guarantee of the number one ranking spot

In short, no SEO professional can guarantee that you will rank first in search engine results. Well, in a sense, they can, but they are not clear about what they get ranking in the first position. Many SEO companies will be able to rank for a certain number of keywords that they choose themselves. Those keywords won’t necessarily align with your business but will achieve a number one spot in search results.

Any agency guaranteeing top spot will do so but not for any term that generates serious traffic or provides enough relevancy to the customer.

Search rankings are also notoriously variable. For example, if you search for an SEO Company in New York and do the same in Florida, the query will produce different results. Search engines have the propensity to fluctuate, meaning even if you do happen to be number one today, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will stay there tomorrow.

The Google algorithm is ever-evolving and always changes how it works, depending on users and the market. Artificial intelligence (AI) is specifically designed to operate independently, meaning that there are parts that Google cannot even fully explain when it comes to rankings. If the algorithm itself cannot guarantee what results will look like, there is no way an SEO agency can guarantee it. Even if an agency says so, nobody has an insider scope on the Google search algorithms.

A credible SEO company will be in a continuous cycle of improvement. Strategies need adjusting with your input and revisions to business goals. SEO needs to keep up with your business trends and changing objectives.

Emphasis is on rankings

Ranking at the top of search engine results is excellent, but it only matters if it impacts the bottom line. For example, if you are at the top of Google's results pages for keywords that have low volumes, low competition, and do not convert, then your SEO strategy has not achieved anything.

Keyword research should look for highly relevant phrases, generate traffic, have commercial intent, and adequate competition. When your competitors make changes to their sites, these metrics will always differ, causing search engine results to reshuffle. Finding ways to optimize content is a long-term strategy and not a quick-fix solution to get to number one.

Within Google Analytics, you can see how keywords are driving traffic to your website, within the Acquisition section.

Google Analytics

If you are gaining traffic from unfamiliar keywords or not ranking for ones that you should, there is likely to be a problem with your SEO strategy. Traffic from unrelated keywords is a sign that your agency is focusing on ranking well, rather than looking at how to get quality leads.

Ask whether you would share the content

An SEO company could be writing content that ranks brilliantly in search engine results. However, as traffic hits your site, it does not convert, and you are not getting a substantial return on investment. Have a look at your content and ask yourself whether it is something that you would share on social media. If the answer is no, that is a sure sign that your SEO agency is not creating the right kind of content.

The example below has a clear goal of ranking for the term “SEO Course.” However, the content here is not something that reads well, does not convince the reader to convert, and would not be shareable in other channels.

A genuine SEO company will focus on high-quality content over strategies like keyword stuffing, which search engine crawlers now frown upon.

“Dirty” links

Bad SEO companies will drive traffic to your site from other websites with low domain authority. The best way to check is to look at inbound sources in your Google Analytics reporting.

If the referral websites show any of the traits below, they are not likely to be credible sources and are a sign that the SEO company is looking for quick fixes.

  • Links from irrelevant websites that are different to the topics on yours. The traffic coming into your site is not high-quality and will not convert.
  • Pages that are written in poor English and contain a lot of advertising.
  • A vast number of links in blog posts, comments, and forums.
  • Links sourced from abroad.

If you see any of these types of inbound links, it is time to question the agency as to their link-building practices. In some cases, agencies will outsource these tasks to places like India, where the labor is cheaper than Europe or the US. In doing so, they are devaluing your brand and customers.


SEO is not an instant solution to generate traffic and leads. It is a long-term strategy that you need to work on with a credible SEO company. An agency that guarantees anything different is one that you should be avoiding, as it can take six to twelve months before you get positive results. Before starting with an SEO vendor, have clear objectives, and work on a robust core strategy where both parties understand what the requirements are. The entire SEO process must be transparent if you want to ensure success.