Avoiding the Pitfalls: 16 SEO Agency Red Flags You Need to Know


  September 11th, 2023


Whether you’re a small business owner or a marketing manager, you know that a robust Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy can drive traffic, increase visibility, and boost sales. But with so many SEO agencies promising the world, how do you separate genuine experts from those merely talking the talk?

Choosing the right SEO agency is akin to finding the perfect partner for your business’s online journey. It’s not just about rankings and algorithms; it’s about trust, transparency, and shared goals. Unfortunately, the road to finding that perfect match is fraught with red flags – ignoring them, much like in the dating game, can lead to chaos and misery. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the common red flags to look out for when hiring an SEO agency. From unrealistic promises to outdated strategies, these warning signs can save you time, money, and frustration. So grab a cuppa, settle in, and let’s dive into the world of SEO agency red flags. Your business’s online success may depend on it.

Why Hiring a Good SEO Agency Matters

In the bustling online marketplace, standing out from the crowd is no small feat. For small business owners and marketing managers across Australia, SEO isn’t just a strategy; it’s a lifeline. A good SEO agency can be the difference between getting lost in the noise and rising to the top of search engine results. Here’s why finding the right SEO partner matters:

Driving Quality Traffic 📈

A skilled SEO agency knows how to target the right audience. They don’t just bring traffic; they bring potential customers interested in what you have to offer.

Enhancing Brand Visibility 🔎

Being on the first page of Google isn’t just about bragging rights. It’s about being seen by those who are actively searching for your products or services. A good SEO agency helps you achieve that visibility.

Building Trust and Credibility 🤝

People trust search engines. If your website ranks high, it’s seen as more credible. A reputable SEO agency works to build that trust through ethical strategies and transparent practices.

Long-term Growth 🚀

Unlike paid ads that stop the moment you stop paying, SEO is a long-term investment. A good SEO agency focuses on sustainable growth, ensuring that your online presence continues to flourish.

Avoiding Costly Mistakes 💰

SEO is complex, and mistakes can be costly. Whether it’s a penalty from search engines or lost opportunities, a good SEO agency helps you navigate the pitfalls.

Aligning with Your Goals 🎯

Every business is unique, and so should be its SEO strategy. A good SEO agency takes the time to understand your business, your audience, and your goals, crafting a tailored approach that aligns with your vision.

But not all SEO agencies are created equal. While the right one can propel your business to new heights, the wrong one can lead you down a path filled with empty promises and wasted resources. That’s why recognising the red flags is crucial. In the following sections, we’ll delve into the warning signs to watch out for, ensuring that you make an informed decision that benefits your business.

SEO Agency Red Flags to Look Out For

While there are many reputable agencies that can help your business grow, there are also those that may not have your best interests at heart. Recognising the red flags can save you time, money, and potential frustration. In the following sections, we’ll explore some common warning signs to be aware of when considering an SEO agency.

1. Unrealistic Promises and Guarantees

In the competitive world of SEO, it’s not uncommon to come across agencies that make grand promises. Whether it’s guaranteeing a top spot on Google or promising to double your traffic overnight, these claims can be alluring. But beware, as they are often too good to be true. SEO is a complex and nuanced field that requires a strategic and tailored approach. Quick fixes and sweeping guarantees are not only unrealistic but can also be a sign of unprofessionalism or even unethical practices. A reputable SEO agency will set clear and achievable goals, working closely with you to create a strategy that aligns with your business’s unique needs and objectives. Real SEO success requires a strategic approach, ongoing effort, and investment. Always look for an agency that provides realistic expectations and a clear roadmap to success.

2. “Immediate Results”

SEO is a long-term game, and anyone promising immediate results is likely overlooking the fundamentals of a sustainable SEO strategy. Achieving meaningful and lasting success in SEO takes time, effort, and ongoing optimisation. An agency that promises immediate results may be using shortcuts or “black hat” techniques that can lead to penalties from search engines. These quick wins may look good in the short term, but they can have long-lasting negative impacts on your online presence. A good SEO agency understands that real success in SEO takes time. They will focus on building a solid foundation, implementing ethical practices, and working towards steady growth that benefits your business in the long run.

Realistic SEO campaign results – 18 months of organic traffic growth from one of our client campaigns.

3. Lack of Transparency and Clear Strategy

Transparency is key to a successful partnership with an SEO agency. If an agency is unwilling to share their methods, strategies, or even past successes, it’s a significant red flag. For instance, an agency that refuses to explain how they plan to improve your rankings or what specific tactics they’ll employ may be hiding something. A reputable SEO agency will be open about their approach, providing detailed plans, regular updates, and clear explanations of how they intend to achieve your goals. Lack of transparency can lead to misunderstandings, misaligned expectations, and ultimately, disappointment in the results.

4. Lock you into Lengthy Contracts

Being locked into lengthy contracts by an SEO agency can be a significant red flag. While commitment is essential for long-term SEO strategies, inflexible, extended contracts can hinder adaptability, limit accountability, and pose financial risks. It’s crucial to partner with agencies that offer transparent, flexible agreements, ensuring alignment with your business’s evolving needs and objectives.

5. Low Visibility

An SEO agency’s online presence can tell you a lot about their expertise and credibility. If you’re struggling to find information about the agency online, or if their own website ranks poorly in search results, it may be a sign of incompetence. If an agency claims to be an expert in local SEO but doesn’t appear in local search results for their area, it’s a clear warning sign. Look for agencies that practise what they preach, with a strong online presence, positive reviews, and a well-optimised website. Their visibility online is a testament to their ability to help your business achieve similar success.

6. Vague Plans

A successful SEO strategy requires careful planning, tailored to your business’s unique needs and goals. Vague or generic plans that lack detail or customisation are a red flag. If an agency provides a one-size-fits-all proposal without taking the time to understand your industry, audience, or specific challenges, it’s likely they won’t deliver the results you’re looking for. For example, an agency that offers the same link-building strategy to a local bakery and a multinational corporation is likely missing the nuances that make each business unique. Look for agencies that take the time to get to know your business, offering clear, detailed, and customised plans that align with your specific objectives.

SEO success is easy, just follow the signs.

7. No Long-term Strategy

SEO is not a one-time effort but a continuous process that requires a long-term strategy. An agency that focuses only on quick wins without considering the future may leave your business vulnerable in the long run. For example, an agency that prioritises temporary tactics like buying backlinks might boost your rankings momentarily but can lead to penalties from search engines later on. A reputable SEO agency will work with you to develop a sustainable strategy, focusing on ethical practices that build a solid foundation for ongoing success. They’ll consider the ever-changing landscape of SEO, ensuring that your business is well-positioned to adapt and thrive in the long term.

8. No Clear Goals or KPIs

Clear goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are essential for measuring the success of an SEO campaign. An agency that fails to establish clear goals or provide specific KPIs is likely lacking direction and accountability. For instance, an agency that promises to “increase traffic” without defining what type of traffic, from where, or by how much, leaves too much ambiguity. Without clear goals and measurable KPIs, it becomes challenging to assess progress and make informed decisions. Look for an agency that works with you to define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals, providing regular reports and insights to track progress and make necessary adjustments.

9. Unprofessional Behaviour and Mismatched Values

Professionalism and shared values are key to a successful partnership with an SEO agency. Unprofessional behaviour, such as missing deadlines, poor communication, or a lack of responsiveness, can hinder progress and strain the relationship. Additionally, an agency that doesn’t align with your business’s values or ethical standards can lead to conflicts and dissatisfaction. Go for an agency that demonstrates professionalism in all interactions and takes the time to understand and align with your business’s unique values and culture. A strong partnership is built on trust, respect, and shared goals, and finding the right match can make all the difference in achieving your SEO success.

10. They Never Ask for Your Input

Your business is unique, and your insights and input are invaluable in shaping a successful SEO strategy. An agency that never asks for your input or disregards your ideas is missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. If an agency develops a content strategy without understanding your brand voice, target audience, or industry nuances, it’s unlikely to resonate with your customers. A collaborative approach, where your insights are welcomed and considered, leads to a more tailored and effective strategy. Look for an agency that values your input, engages you in the process, and works with you as a partner rather than just a client. Your involvement ensures that the SEO strategy aligns with your business’s unique needs and goals.

11. Outdated or Unethical Practices

SEO is a dynamic field, and what worked yesterday may not work today—or worse, it may lead to penalties from search engines. An agency that relies on outdated or unethical practices, known as “black hat” SEO, is a significant red flag. These practices might include keyword stuffing, hidden text, link farming, or other tactics that violate search engine guidelines. For example, an agency that offers to buy hundreds of links to boost your rankings quickly is likely engaging in practices that could harm your site in the long run. A reputable SEO agency stays up to date with the latest industry standards and guidelines, employing ethical “white hat” practices that build lasting success. They’ll focus on creating valuable content, earning quality backlinks, and optimising your site in ways that align with current best practices. Choosing an agency that adheres to ethical standards ensures that your SEO efforts are not only effective but also protect your online reputation.

Poor/Outdated SEO PracticesModern SEO Best Practices
Keyword stuffing (repeating the same phrase many times on the same page to “increase prominence”)Using keywords naturally in headings and body content, with variations to avoid spam
Generic, mass-produced contentDetailed, researched and peer-reviewed content tied to your brand and products
Acquiring links from spammy sites, often with no relation to your businessCarefully selected backlinks created manually by reaching out to niche-relevant websites
Spammy anchor text profile in backlinks (i.e. majority of backlinks have exact-match anchors)Natural anchor text distribution among backlinks; mix of branded, naked, and keyword-variant anchors.
Focusing solely on search engines: writing content only for search engines, not users.Producing user-centred content: creating content that resonates with the audience, providing value and engagement.

12. Misleading Metrics and Poor Reporting

Transparency and accountability are key to a successful SEO partnership. An agency that provides misleading metrics or poor reporting is not only unprofessional but can also hinder your ability to make informed decisions. An SEO agency that focuses solely on increasing page views without considering user engagement or conversion rates may be missing the bigger picture. Regular, clear, and comprehensive reporting that aligns with your goals and KPIs ensures that you can track progress, identify opportunities, and make data-driven decisions. Look for an agency that provides transparent reporting, clearly explaining the metrics, their significance, and how they align with your overall objectives.

13. Overemphasis on Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics, such as likes, followers, or page views, can look impressive but often don’t translate into real business value. An agency that focuses solely on these superficial metrics without considering more meaningful measures like conversion rates or customer retention is likely missing the mark. For instance, an agency that celebrates a spike in website traffic without analysing the quality of that traffic or its impact on sales is overlooking what truly matters. Look for an agency that focuses on meaningful metrics that align with your business goals, providing insights that drive real growth and success.

14. One and Done Approach

SEO is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort, optimisation, and adaptation. An agency that treats SEO as a one-time task, without ongoing monitoring, updates, or improvements, is unlikely to deliver lasting success. For example, an agency that optimises your site once and then moves on without regular reviews or adjustments may leave you vulnerable to changes in search engine algorithms or emerging competitors. Look for an agency that takes a proactive, ongoing approach to SEO, continually monitoring performance, analysing results, and making necessary adjustments to ensure long-term success.

15. Priced Too Cheaply

While budget considerations are important, an agency that offers SEO services at a price that seems too good to be true may be cutting corners or lacking expertise. In the digital marketing industry, just like any other, you usually get what you pay for. Quality SEO requires time, expertise, and resources, and an agency offering rock-bottom prices may be unable to provide the level of service needed for success. For example, an agency charging a fraction of the industry standard may be outsourcing work to inexperienced providers, using automated tools that lack nuance, or employing outdated or unethical practices. Look for an agency that provides transparent pricing that reflects the value, expertise, and customised service they offer.

More often than not, you get what you pay for.

16. Outsourced Content

Content is a critical component of SEO, and the quality, relevance, and authenticity of that content can make or break your strategy. An agency that outsources content to low-quality or inexperienced writers may be compromising your brand voice, message, and credibility. Content written by someone unfamiliar with your industry, audience, or Australian culture may lack the nuance and resonance needed to connect with your customers. Look for an agency that takes content seriously, working with skilled writers who understand your business, your audience, and your unique voice. Quality content not only enhances SEO but also builds trust, engages customers, and drives conversions.

Who is really writing your content?

I’m Aware of the Red Flags – Now What?

Recognising the red flags when hiring an SEO agency is an essential step in protecting your business and ensuring a successful online strategy. But awareness is just the beginning. Here’s what you can do next:

Evaluate Your Options

Take the time to thoroughly research and evaluate potential SEO agencies. Look for those with a strong online presence, positive reviews, transparent pricing, and a clear commitment to ethical practices.

Ask the Right Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask potential agencies about their strategies, methods, reporting, and any other concerns you may have. A reputable agency will be happy to provide clear and detailed answers.

Check References and Case Studies

Ask for references or case studies that demonstrate the agency’s success with businesses similar to yours. Real-world examples can provide valuable insights into their expertise and approach.

Align Your Values

Ensure that the agency’s values, ethics, and approach align with your business’s unique needs and goals. A strong partnership is built on shared values and trust.

Consider a Test or Trial Period

If you’re uncertain, consider starting with a trial period or a smaller project. This can give you a chance to assess the agency’s capabilities and compatibility with your business. An example – at Ape-X we offer a Free Website & Marketing Review service to help demonstrate our knowledge and give some upfront value to businesses about their digital marketing. Request yours by clicking the big yellow button in the main menu.

Monitor and Evaluate

Once you’ve chosen an agency, continue to monitor progress, evaluate results, and maintain open communication. A successful SEO partnership requires ongoing collaboration and adaptation.

By being aware of the red flags and taking proactive steps to evaluate and choose the right SEO agency, you can build a successful online strategy that drives growth, enhances visibility, and aligns with your business’s unique goals and values.

Top questions to ask an SEO agency before hiring them

Before hiring an SEO agency, it’s essential to ask the right questions to ensure they are the right fit for your business. Here are some top questions to consider:

  • Can you provide examples of your past SEO successes and case studies?
  • What strategies do you employ to improve organic search rankings?
  • How do you conduct keyword research and select target keywords?
  • What tools and technologies do you use for SEO analysis and reporting?
  • How do you approach on-page and off-page optimisation?
  • How do you stay up-to-date with the latest SEO trends and algorithm changes?
  • Can you explain your link-building practices and the quality of backlinks you acquire?
  • How do you measure and track the success of your SEO campaigns?
  • Will you provide regular reports and updates on campaign progress?
  • Do you adhere to ethical SEO practices and guidelines set by search engines?
  • What is your approach to mobile optimisation and website performance?
  • How do you handle technical SEO issues and website audits?
  • Can you provide a breakdown of the costs involved and the expected timeline for results?
  • Do you offer any additional services or expertise related to digital marketing?

Asking these questions will help you evaluate the expertise, transparency, and alignment of an SEO agency with your business goals. Remember to take the time to discuss your specific needs and expectations to ensure a successful partnership.

Check out our SEO Services at Ape-X

Finding the right SEO partner is crucial, and at Ape-X SEO and PPC Services, we’re committed to providing tailored solutions that align with your unique needs and goals. Here’s why you should consider our SEO services:

  • Expertise: With years of experience in the Australian market, our team of SEO experts understands the nuances of local SEO, ensuring that your business stands out in the crowd.
  • Customised Strategies: We believe that every business is unique, and we craft SEO strategies that are tailored to your industry, audience, and objectives.
  • Ethical Practices: We adhere to “white hat” SEO practices, focusing on long-term success through ethical and sustainable methods.
  • Transparent Reporting: Our transparent reporting provides clear insights into your SEO performance, with regular updates and actionable recommendations.
  • Collaborative Approach: We value your input and work closely with you to ensure that our SEO efforts align with your brand voice, values, and vision.
  • Comprehensive Services: From on-site optimisation to content creation, link building, and more, our comprehensive SEO services cover all aspects of a successful online strategy.
  • No lock-in contracts: We believe in letting our results do our client retention for us…not our lawyers… We work closely with you from the start to ensure we’re aligned in terms of expectations and what an SEO campaign looks like (for both of us). Then, we maintain clear and regular communication so that any concerns that arise during a campaign can be addressed swiftly and to everyone’s satisfaction. And if after all that you no longer see the value in working with us, we won’t force you to stay. (PS: our average client stays with us for 21 months because they love working with us)

Whether you’re a small business owner or a marketing manager looking to expand your reach across Australia, Ape-X SEO and PPC Services offers the expertise, customisation, and commitment you need to drive online success. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your business grow.


Alyssa Jose

Alyssa started her digital marketing journey six years ago in social media management, later switching gears to focus on Search Engine Optimisation. As an SEO Content Coordinator, Alyssa combines her technical SEO knowledge, content writing, and graphic design skills to create engaging online content for Australian businesses

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