SEO is a very competitive marketplace. Therefore, it can be difficult to know which SEO agency to choose and whether your incumbent agency is doing a good job. Bad SEO practices can actually be damaging to your rankings and reputation with the search engines, so it is essential to choose a reputable and respectable SEO agency, that use trustworthy practices to help with the organic visibility of your website.

Follow our tips below to find out what makes a good and bad SEO agency, and potential signs you can look out for to help find the best possible SEO partner to your business.

A bad SEO agency:

Makes promises based on rankings

SEO is a long-term process in which there are no guarantees. Any SEO agency or partner that promises to have you on the first page of Google within a certain time frame is not trustworthy because rankings are wholly controlled by search engine algorithms. Any promises like these should raise red flags, as it may be possible that the agency would use underhand ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques to try and get there. Any SEO strategies that go against Google Webmaster Guidelines could result in a Google penalty, which can be extremely damaging to any website’s search results. Furthermore, getting your website to rank on the first page of Google is an ambiguous promise in itself: your brand term when searched will most likely (and should) return your website on the first SERP, however, SEO is not just about making your website visible in the SERPs for your own business search terms, but for non-brand high intent keywords which will lead to conversions and brand awareness.

A good SEO partner will never promise specific search engine rankings but will discuss their long-term strategy with you and how this may affect or contribute to ranking for specific keywords over time.

Guarantees a number of backlinks per month

It is well known that a strong backlink profile is key to a website’s organic strength. The search engines are aware, however, of unethical so-called ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques to gain backlinks such as buying them or spamming below the line. If your website has lots of these kinds of backlinks, Google soon catches on and you can suffer an algorithmic penalty. Therefore, it is recommended not to choose an SEO partner who will promise a certain number of backlinks per month, because these take hard, long term and organic work to gain, and backlinks gained quickly may have been acquired through black-hat techniques.

It is also important to be wary if you hear your agency start talking about a secret network of blogs or websites (also known as private blogging network or PBN), as these are sometimes used as a way to get backlinks and again, the search engines are privy to this black-hat trick and could also land your website in hot water.

A good SEO partner:

Is transparent...

Like any professional working relationship, transparency and communication are central to its success. A respectable and trustworthy agency will ensure that they lead regular reporting sessions, either via telephone or in person and accurately track progress. Additionally, if a campaign or specific test hasn’t gone as well as initially hoped, a good SEO agency will explain that to you rather than trying to hide behind or disguise their mistakes.

A transparent SEO partner will gladly share with you their previous work or SEO campaigns that they have worked on or will be able to share testimonials or reviews from other clients. In SEO, reputation and experience are key, so pick an SEO agency which has a good portfolio of campaigns.

Furthermore, a transparent agency will also always share with you their SEO methods rather than keeping them a secret. There should be no secrets in SEO, and if an agency doesn’t want to disclose their methods of SEO, then it is likely they will be using the black-hat techniques which are ultimately bad for your business.

A good SEO agency will discuss your business KPIs with you, not just randomly promise more leads, more phone calls or more clicks. At the end of the day, SEO isn’t just for fun, it is to help improve your business, and therefore, a good partner will make sure that they are doing work on your website and SEO that helps achieve your business goals or at least contribute to them.

Make sure that you are receiving deliverables from your SEO agency as proof that they are actually doing work which will contribute to your organic search engine success. Also, it is important to remember that SEO is a long term investment, and it could take up to six months to start seeing a real uplift.

Has a good reputation

A great way to check if your SEO agency is reputable is to see if their website has case studies. Case studies will show proof of work with existing or previous clients, and usually will have client testimonials.

Does your partner have a reputation within the digital world? If they contribute to trade events, speaking gigs or have thought leadership pieces then chances are they are reputable and trustworthy. Additionally, look at their website to see if they have a blog, are they keeping up with trends in SEO and digital? After all, SEO is an ever-changing game and therefore your agency must be up to date. Furthermore, if they are trusted in the industry, then most likely, they can be trusted by you.

In general …

If you’re aware that your SEO agency is using any of the following black-hat techniques then we recommended you steer clear. These include but are not limited to; buying or spamming backlinks, using a PBN, cloaking, keyword stuffing, stealing content, sneaky redirects etc.

It is also good to check if they have any SEO experience in your industry. For example, if you are law firm do they have any experience with these kinds of professional businesses? What about if you are an e-commerce company? E-commerce SEO can differ to normal SEO, much like local SEO, so check to see if your potential agency has experience in your area.

Lastly, SEO isn’t just about SEO. It's about all different kinds of digital marketing working together including social media, content, paid and more. If your agency has a rounded focus which includes all of these things then this is, of course, a good sign, that they are looking at the overall picture of digital marketing.


The best advice we can give is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no guarantees in SEO. Additionally, the landscape is constantly changing, so it is essential to have a transparent SEO partner, who uses white-hat techniques and keeps up to date with the latest trends.

If you are looking to replace your incumbent SEO agency or need to get your website off the ground with a robust SEO strategy then get in contact with our experts today, who have a combined 25 years of experience in the industry. Alternatively, enquire about an SEO audit.

Written by Alice Pelham

Find out if your current PPC agency is right for you.

share this article: