The SEO industry has a lingering reputation problem; SEO has long been seen as a means of manipulating your rankings in search engines through trickery. The nature of SEO agencies, for a time, perpetuated this stereotype. Black hat practices were common, and many agencies relied on gimmicks to attract and retain clients.
Today, thankfully, the SEO world is more sophisticated, based on quality content production and long-term results rather than short-term trickery, and most SEO agencies rely on white-hat techniques and organic strategies to help their clients. Still, some agencies deceive or lie to their clients — sometimes out of competitive desperation, sometimes because they’re still stuck in a black-hat mindset, and sometimes because they simply don’t know any better.
These are some of the most common lies my clients have told me that they’ve been told by other agencies:
1. You’ll see guaranteed results. When new marketers and entrepreneurs consider SEO for the first time, their biggest concern is getting the most out of their investment. They may be afraid of penalties, or be skeptical of the practical advantages of an SEO campaign. To try and reassure these skeptics, many agencies have resorted to promising results — sometimes egregiously (such as promising a top ranking within an unrealistic timeframe) and sometimes more casually (such as an increase in organic traffic over time). Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to predict results accurately — especially since every client is unique, with unique goals, competitors, challenges, budgets, etc. Results will come with the right approach, but not in any solidly predictable way.
2. There’s only one route to success. Some SEO agencies are specialists, focusing on only one strategy to help you see results. For example, you might find a content marketing agency that only writes on-site blog posts, or a link building agency that only builds off-site links. SEO is too complex to reduce to these individual functions; instead, it’s a web of influence derived from on-site optimization, on-site content, off-site content, link building, and even social media marketing. You don’t need to have a single agency that’s capable of providing all these services in one package (though that can help), but you do need to be aware that no single strategy alone can earn you ideal results.
3. This strategy works for everybody. In a similar vein, some agencies have package deals that they claim will work for any business. SEO packages aren’t inherently bad; they help new customers throughout the decision process and make accounting simpler on both ends. However, the majority of SEO campaigns require a heavy degree of customizability, as no two clients are alike. You’ll need different targeting, different volume, and different adjustments over time if you want to earn results. If an agency claims to use the exact same approach for all their clients, something is probably off.
4. More is better. Quantity is a persistent problem in the SEO industry. Newcomers and seasoned professionals alike learn to correlate individual pockets of effort, such as a blog post or an inbound link, with measurable results. Then, because the human mind likes to project small correlations onto bigger scales, most people assume that more is always better — that more blog posts or more inbound links will instantly net you better results. This isn’t the case; quality must always come first. One knockout blog post is far better than 10 mediocre ones, and the same holds true for inbound links.
5. Google can be exploited. This is sometimes used as a colloquial way to explain the process of SEO, implying that Google’s algorithm can be manipulated. However, this doesn’t accurately reflect what most modern search optimizers and content marketers are doing. We aren’t looking for loopholes to exploit in Google’s algorithm; doing so would simply bring attention to the loophole, force Google to close it, and collapse everything we worked for. Instead, it’s better to identify the criteria that Google uses to evaluate the quality of a site, and try to build that criteria into our sites. Google can’t be directly “exploited” — at least not in the conventional sense.
6. You can’t do SEO by yourself. This one is a half-truth, because you can definitely do SEO by yourself, given enough time and resources. All the information is out there, and if you spend enough time researching and practicing, you can theoretically do everything necessary to get your site to rank higher in search engines. However, there is a steep learning curve — it takes a long time to learn all the technical factors responsible for search ranking success, and an even longer time to go through the executory steps. For these reasons, it’s not necessary — but is substantially easier — to seek help from an agency.
7. Search engine updates are responsible for our poor results. It’s true that Google updates its algorithm often, and that many times, those algorithm updates can interfere with your rankings. However, Google’s been following a relatively predictable pattern for the past several years, refining its algorithm to reward sites with high-quality content and high-quality links (along with user experience factors like mobile optimization). In fact, it often announces major changes (or implies they’re coming) before they’re ever committed. Any volatility you see from search updates should be relatively minor, and it’s the SEO agency’s responsibility to keep up with Google’s latest changes. Don’t accept “search engine updates” as an excuse for lackluster results.
If you hear any of these lies, consider it a red flag. It doesn’t mean your agency is intentionally trying to deceive you, or even that it’s a bad agency — but you probably aren’t getting the full story.