So, I was doing some research on the new Google Penguin updates, and I came across an article from Highrankings talking about a particular case of a well-meaning company getting bamboozled by an unethical inbound marketing agency. This really drove home just how important it is to find an SEO firm that is truly transparent.
Transparency in an inbound marketing agency goes beyond simply having an set pricing list. It means that you should never wonder, "What are these guys doing? Are they really helping me?" You should never ask questions of your SEO company and not get hard, factual answers back.
If you aren't getting those answers, there's a good chance you may be on your way to being taken for a ride. They may even be hurting your business far more than they're helping it.
Let's look at a few things to watch out for.
Guaranteeing Transparency In Your Inbound Marketing Agency
This is one of the oldest scams in the book, but still unfortunately effective. It turns out, once it's time to sign on the bottom line, there are suddenly fees that weren't mentioned before then. Or, worse, the fees are buried in the fine print in hopes that don't see them.
Either way, this should be a sign that it's time to walk away from the table immediately. If they weren't up-front with you while courting your business, they probably won't be honest once you've signed either.
It's not something that most above-board inbound marketing agencies even like to talk about, but there are a lot of "black hat" SEO techniques which might be effective in the short term, but will fundamentally hurt you in the long run. The article I linked to above talks about one of the most common of these, "splogs," which is a neologism for "spam blogs."
You've undoubtedly seen them. These are the blogs that are filled with junk content, or use autospinners to rewrite the same article dozens of times. No one wants to read them, but combined with an SEO push, they can briefly boost your hit counts... until Google notices what you're doing and your site stats plummet, often beyond recovery.
Most companies that engage in these practices will use euphemisms to try to cover them up, or dodge questions about their specific techniques. Your SEO company should be able to tell you exactly what techniques they're utilizing, without trying to slap a coat of white paint on the black hat they're wearing.
Not Enough Data:
Another common sign of a poor SEO company is that they can not, or will not, give you hard data showing the effectiveness of their campaigns. This isn't the 1960s. Any online marketing effort should be fully documented and have plenty of numerical proof showing direct links between their marketing and its benefits to you.
Similarly, you should also be wary of companies only showing certain pieces of data. Many of these firms love to brag about increases in site visits, for example, but suddenly get a lot quieter when you start asking about lead generation or (heaven forbid) actual sales figures resulting from their work.
Don't let your agency get away with cherry-picking data. They should be able to produce facts which demonstrate they truly are providing you a return on your investment. If they can't show that their ads are leading to more sales, it's time to go somewhere else.
Keep Asking Questions!
The key takeaway here is, if you are discouraged from asking questions, they're probably not working in your best interests. You need an SEO firm that will be transparent with you every step of the way, from pricing, to procedures, to final results.
Have you ever had dealings with an unethical SEO firm? Warn the world in our comments!