14 Shady SEO Agency Lies & Client Crimes

It’s critical to know what your service providers are actually doing when it comes to SEO, explains Motoko Hunt, long-time search marketing consultant and the chairman of SEMPO. In this SMX West session, “Avoiding Shady Search Marketing Practices,” she breaks down some of the common ways shady digital marketing agencies deceive unwitting clients.

Motoko Hunt SMX West 2015

SEO Lies Shady Agencies Tell

Below, Motoko lists some of the common ways shady agencies trick you.

  • “We build SEO-friendly sites.” Sure, but you have to ask for it.
  • “We have the best search team.” Some search teams forget to remove robots.txt and forget to unblock a site for months. Are they really the best?
  • “The performance has improved by 200 percent.” But what does 200 percent mean? What are the actual numbers, two to six?
  • “Here’s the high level report.” This means you are not going to see the detailed report because it show s all the problems with your campaign.
  • “We have to own the account.” Because the last we need is for you to check our work. Because if you do, you may not like what you see.
  • “We guarantee a No. 1 Ranking.” You mean for branded terms or long-tail keywords?
  • This is what you get. It doesn’t matter what you need.” They disregard your campaign goals.
  • “Our contract is a minimum of five years.” If you try to back out before, the shady agency will tell you they created the website and you don’t own it. If they do let you keep the website (that you paid for), they’ll threaten to remove links, or confiscate data and history.
  • “That’s Extra.” Everything turns out to be extra and the site takes longer to launch and the budget skyrockets.
  • “You’ll get custom templates.” Once the site launches, you find out they’ve been using pre-created templates even though you paid for the premium template.

4 All-Too Common Client Crimes

  • Crime 1: Having little knowledge. Knowledge is power. Do your research and empower yourself.
  • Crime 2: Lacking goals. Don’t ever approach a project or campaign without goals.
  • Crime 3: Being too cheap. Budgets are limited, but you can’t expect to get 1 million dollars worth of project work done for $1,000. You need to be realistic. If your budget is limited, prioritize your goals and start with the most important ones.
  • Crime 4: Being naïve. Don’t trust blindly — check the details. Read the fine print and negotiate the contract until you’re happy.

3 Solutions!

  • Ask for five references (and check them!)
  • Search your potential agency’s name and read reviews.
  • Always ask for the detailed service plan that clearly explains the agency’s terms of service and methodology.

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “14 Shady SEO Agency Lies & Client Crimes”

Thanks for this article. It help me to understand more about SEO company and their tricks and techniques.

It is very informative post for any firm who wants to hire a SEO Company. Great article!


This is great!
I like the fact that people like you feel the need to step up and protect an industry which really does need “protecting” when you consider how easy it is to “become an SEO”….

Anyway, I loved the first advice to clients the most: “Knowledge is power. Do your research and empower yourself.” Very important, and everyone needs it.

As for the first of the 3 solutions:
“Ask for five references (and check them!)”

Shouldn’t that depend on the age and perhaps size of the agency?
I started doing SEO two years ago in Nigeria (West Africa) and I have just 3 (paying) clients so far. Others are just folks that I give some freebie advice and help them do a few little stuff like set up Google Tag Manager and Authorship (when it was still useful).
Anyway, asking for 5 references sounds a tad too much because I would have shared this article with my potential clients, except that it disqualifies me as well. lol


Chelsea Adams


That is excellent feedback for Motoko Hunt! I think the heart of that message (“ask for five references”) is just to be bold enough to ask for references (any number of them!) and to actually do the legwork and check to make sure that the references are legit.

When dealing with large-scale service providers, I can see how five would be a good number to ask for; reading five excellent references that endorse a service provider before signing on to work with them would be an excellent way to set your mind at ease and to get to know how the service provider approaches their work. It’s not too many (20 would be unreasonable), and it’s not too few (1 good resource could come from anyone; someone’s brother, for instance. Everyone knows one person who is willing to vouch for them!)

That said, I 100% hear where you are coming from. Small businesses and new businesses won’t necessarily have 5 reviews to pass over.

Here’s what I recommend you do, Rotimi:
1) Take that number with a grain of salt. The idea is that clients should ask their service provider for references before signing the contract; how many they ask for will shift dependent on many circumstances.

2) If a client DOES ask you for five references, transparency is always the best option. Simply tell the client what you just told me: you’ve only been offering services for two years, you work with clients on a small scale, and you’re still building your reference portfolio. Then offer to give them what references you do have — even if it’s only one or two. They’ll appreciate your straightforward honest, and when it comes to working with an SEO agency, transparency is ALWAYS good.

Brian Harnish

Great article, Kristi!! However, “comon” in #4 should be “common.”

Chelsea Adams

Hi, Brian! Glad you enjoyed the article — and thanks for being an extra set of proofreading eyes. These liveblog sessions go so fast a missing M sometimes slips right past us.

Enjoy the rest of the sessions! You can see our entire SMX West 2015 Liveblog schedule here: http://bit.ly/smx15


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