10 Warning Signs of Bad SEO Companies

18 Mar 2024 Last updated: 17 Jul 2024 By Agile Agency

Is your professional services firm collaborating with an SEO agency but failing to achieve the desired outcomes?

Or perhaps you’re unsure about the expertise of your current SEO partner? It’s crucial to remain vigilant for indicators that determine whether your agency is a reputable professional entity or falls short as an ineffective SEO company.

In this article, we’ll uncover the top 10 red flags identifying bad SEO companies, helping you steer clear of ineffective services.

Warning Signal #1: They Rush to Start

Warning Sign: When agencies are too quick to start work without first understanding your specific needs and goals, it may indicate a standardised approach or a lack of expertise.

A knowledgeable SEO consultant would take the time to conduct detailed interviews to understand your objectives, current situation, target keywords, and competitors.

Example: In a recent consultation, we spoke with a financial blogger who claimed to have extensive expertise in the field. He had created a lot of blog posts and had plans to expand further. However, our assessment found a major issue: the platform he was using was not suitable for his long-term growth.

Unfortunately, his current SEO agency had overlooked this critical aspect. As a result, he found himself now with a large amount of content that would need to be migrated to a more appropriate platform.

Take aways:

  • Insist on comprehensive consultations to ensure alignment with your business objectives.
  • Demand a detailed understanding of your goals and expectations before commencing any work.

The discovery phase is an important part of developing a custom SEO strategy for your business. If your agency is not prioritising this step or not giving it enough time, it may be worth assessing their dedication to achieving results.

Warning Signal #2: They prioritise their services over your needs

Warning Sign: When selecting an SEO agency, it’s vital to verify that they prioritise analysing your current online presence and offering tailored recommendations.

Be cautious of agencies solely fixated on their services without regard for your specific needs. For instance, if a comprehensive website analysis reveals issues with user experience or web design instead of SEO, concentrating solely on boosting organic traffic may prove ineffective.

Example: In our experience, we have found that many small businesses, despite having engaged with SEO agencies for a while, still operate with slow or poorly designed websites. It is common for professional services businesses to perceive SEO as a solution that will automatically attract clients and solve all their problems.

However, they fail to realise that SEO is just one part of the puzzle. A good SEO company can assist in optimising your website for search engines, but they may lack expertise in other areas of digital marketing, neglecting important aspects such as user experience, design, and CRO.

In many cases, clients engage with one agency for hosting and website design, and another for SEO. Unfortunately, these two agencies often operate in silos, failing to communicate effectively with each other. The SEO agency may focus solely on creating content, while the agency responsible for website maintenance remains unaware of critical issues that could be hindering the client’s SEO efforts.

Bad SEO companies ignore poor performance issues
Website incorrectly using the h1 heading

The lack of coordination and a holistic approach can lead to missed opportunities and less than optimal outcomes for the client. This underscores the importance of selecting a professional SEO agency that offers a comprehensive range of services and prioritises effective communication and collaboration across all areas of digital marketing.


  • Advocate for a holistic approach that addresses your company’s unique challenges and goals.
  • Emphasise the importance of aligning services with identified needs for optimal results.

Warning Signal #3: They Guarantee Rankings

Warning Sign: It is important to be cautious of SEO agencies that claim to guarantee specific rankings, as search engine algorithms are not within their control. Be wary of agencies that promise top rankings or first-page results, as such claims may not always be credible.

Example: A prospective client shared a message from their SEO agency for our opinion:

Website ranking number 1 for irrelevant keyword

This client probably thought this was a great achievement. But what he didn’t realise is that he was ranking number one only for the keywords enclosed in quotes, while a search for that “long-tail keyword” without the quotes did not rank their website in Google.

Furthermore, when we conducted a deeper analysis of the search volume for that keyword, we found that it had a very low search volume. So the result was that he was ranking for something that nobody was searching for in that way, and when people searched for that query without the quotes, his website did not rank.


  • Seek clarity on the agency’s methodologies and avoid those making lofty promises without factual basis.
  • Embrace a realistic outlook on SEO outcomes, focusing on sustainable strategies rather than short-term gains.
  • Seek to understand the volume and relevance of the keywords you rank for, ensuring alignment with your business objectives.

Warning Signal #4: Lack of Communication

Warning Sign: Effective communication is essential for a successful partnership, and the same holds true for your relationship with your SEO agency.

If you find yourself struggling to get in touch with your account manager or if responses to your inquiries are delayed or vague, it could be a sign of poor communication practices within the agency.

A reliable SEO partner should be responsive, proactive, and transparent in their communication with you.

Example: As part of our services, we offer a free SEO analysis to companies seeking insights into their SEO performance. These companies are often already engaged with other SEO firms but desire a second opinion on their current performance and potential issues. One client who received this free SEO analysis told us, “Guys, in 10 minutes I learned more than in the last 3 years with my SEO company”.

This highlights the importance of effective communication between clients and their SEO agencies. When communication is lacking, clients may miss out on valuable insights and opportunities for improvement, ultimately hindering their SEO efforts.


  • Set clear expectations regarding communication frequency and channels.
  • Demand regular updates and transparent communication throughout the engagement.

Warning Signal #5: Ownership of Data and Logins

Warning Sign: Exercise caution if your agency holds full ownership of your assets, data and logins, as it could signify potential red flags. Ensure you retain control over the assets that are produced as part of the SEO project to safeguard your interests.

Example: A prospective client sought our opinion on his current SEO efforts and shared that his website was currently held by the agency that created it, with no provision for ownership transfer upon termination of the contract.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case; we have encountered similar situations numerous times. In some instances, clients have expressed fear of informing their current agency about their decision to leave due to concerns about potential repercussions. Consequently, we have been asked to rebuild websites discreetly to have them ready before the client formally notifies their agency.

With Agile, you can rest assured that all assets created as part of your SEO project will remain under your ownership.


  • Retain ownership of essential assets such as website design, logins, and data.
  • Implement protocols to monitor and control access to sensitive information shared with the agency.

Client testimonial:

Singleton Law Firm: Client testimonial on Clutch

Warning Signal #6: Quantity Over Quality

Warning Sign: Be cautious of agencies that prioritise quantity over quality when delivering content or services. A flood of low-quality articles or irrelevant content can hinder rather than enhance your online presence.

Example: We have encountered numerous cases where SEO agencies churn out a significant volume of content for a client’s website. The client may assume that adding more content will automatically improve their website’s performance, echoing Google’s mantra that “Content is king”.

However, upon closer inspection, we often find short articles that fail to target specific keywords or use keywords with little relevance or search volume. Furthermore, these articles frequently lack considerations for SEO copywriting.

It’s worth noting what Google says about thin content with little or no added value:

This doesn’t imply that all your content must be long-form. Thin content is acceptable if it’s relevant to your business and target audience. However, avoid falling into the misconception that flooding your site with numerous articles will automatically boost your ranking.


  • Assess the relevance and quality of the content produced by the agency.
  • Monitor the performance of the content through analytics to determine its impact on your SEO efforts.

Warning Signal #7: Lack of Action on Identified Issues

Warning Sign: An agency that merely identifies problems without offering solutions or assistance in rectifying them may not be serving your best interests.

Nowadays, with tools such as Ahrefs and Semrush, you can run a pretty solid technical SEO audit. However, these SEO reports should not be blindly followed.

A concerning sign with bad SEO companies is receiving such reports without personalised explanations of what the items mean for your specific case and how resolving them could benefit your business. This is particularly crucial if your website is managed by someone else.


Example: We have seen many cases where clients share with us reports they received from their agencies, and it appears that the agency simply exported a PDF from one of those online SEO tools.

These reports frequently lack comprehensive explanations or actionable insights, leaving clients feeling frustrated and uninformed regarding the effectiveness of their SEO strategies.

Consequently, there is a substantial shortfall in the value provided by these agencies, as clients begin to question the efficacy of their investment in SEO services.

To remedy this issue, agencies need to move away from simply exporting generic PDF reports and instead focus on providing bespoke insights tailored to each client’s specific goals and objectives.

This may involve offering detailed analysis of key performance indicators, such as organic traffic, keyword rankings, and conversion rates, alongside actionable recommendations for improvement.

By adopting a more proactive approach to reporting and communication, agencies can enhance client satisfaction and showcase the tangible impact of their SEO efforts.

This not only strengthens the client-agency relationship but also helps to instil trust and confidence in the agency’s expertise and capabilities.

Ultimately, it’s about delivering value beyond mere data points and metrics, empowering clients to make informed decisions that drive tangible results for their business.


  • Seek clarification on how the agency plans to resolve identified issues and improve your SEO performance.
  • If you lack assistance in maintaining your website, you should seek an SEO company that not only acts as a consultant but also offers practical help in fixing all the issues found on your site.

Warning Signal #8: They use a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Warning Sign: Employing a generic, one-size-fits-all solution that overlooks your specific needs and objectives is unlikely to deliver optimal outcomes.

It’s essential to demand a tailored approach that takes into account your unique requirements and challenges.

Example: Our experience has revealed numerous instances where clients have engaged with SEO companies, only to find upon analysis of their online presence, a plethora of technical issues or a lack of optimisation for relevant keywords. In some cases, websites lack fresh content or fail to attract traffic.

It often becomes evident that the SEO efforts by the agency are minimal, perhaps limited to installing an SEO plugin and leaving the site to operate on autopilot while collecting their fee.

This scenario is frequently encountered with low-cost SEO agencies, where clients may opt for budget packages despite having higher expectations.


  • Advocate for personalised strategies that align with your business objectives, ensuring that your unique needs are addressed.
  • Avoid agencies that offer generic solutions without fully understanding the intricacies of your industry and target audience. Instead, seek out partners who demonstrate a commitment to understanding your specific challenges and goals, and who are willing to tailor their approach accordingly.
  • Share your budget and expectations openly with the SEO company, ensuring alignment on what services are offered and what results can realistically be achieved. Be wary of SEO companies that make big promises for a low budget, as this could be a clear red flag indicating potentially bad SEO companies.

Warning Signal #9: They Engage in Black Hat SEO Techniques

Warning Sign: Transparency is key in any professional relationship, especially when it comes to SEO.

If your agency is vague about the tactics they’re using or hesitant to provide detailed reports on their progress, it could be a red flag.

A trustworthy SEO partner should be open about their strategies, explaining the reasoning behind their actions and providing regular updates on the impact of their efforts.

Exercise caution if your agency engages in unethical or outdated SEO practices, as these can tarnish your website’s reputation and harm your search engine rankings.

Example: During an evaluation of a prospective client’s SEO efforts, already under the purview of another agency, we discovered a substantial number of backlinks.

However, a closer examination revealed that these backlinks were obtained through a questionable technique known as article spinning.

It became apparent that the agency, likely employing black hat tactics, had been generating numerous external posts by merely swapping out words with synonyms and making slight modifications to sentences before publishing them on low-quality websites.

Article spinning example


  • Familiarise yourself with ethical SEO practices and ensure your agency adheres to industry standards.
  • Hold the agency accountable for maintaining integrity in their SEO strategies and tactics.
  • Evaluate the performance of the agency’s own website on Google or through SEO audit tools to gauge their proficiency.
  • Familiarise yourself with Google’s spam policies for web search to better understand what practices to avoid. If your agency engages in such practices, it’s a clear red flag that you are dealing with one of the bad SEO companies.

Warning Signal #10: Lack of Clear Expectations and Reporting

Warning Sign: The absence of transparent communication and honesty from the SEO agency can lead to misinterpretations and dissatisfaction.

If your agency fails to establish clear expectations regarding their responsibilities and deliverables, or if they withhold important information from reports, it could signify a lack of integrity and accountability.

Example: In the example below, a prospective client shared a report from their SEO agency indicating a positive evolution in website performance.

image 10

However, upon closer examination, it was revealed that the data in the report only extended up to two weeks before it was sent.

When we asked the client to cross-check the information with their Google Search Console account, they discovered a significant decrease in website traffic during the period omitted from the report.

image 12

This deliberate manipulation of data obscured the true state of the website’s performance, misleading the client about the effectiveness of the SEO efforts.


  • Emphasise the importance of transparency and honesty in all communications and reporting with the agency.
  • Clearly define expectations regarding the frequency and content of reports to ensure comprehensive and accurate reporting.
  • Regularly verify data independently through reliable sources to maintain transparency and integrity in the SEO partnership.


Selecting the right SEO agency is crucial for achieving meaningful results and reaching your online objectives. By carefully identifying these warning signs and taking proactive measures, you can safeguard your business’s interests and cultivate a fruitful partnership with your chosen SEO collaborator.

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Agile is an independent Digital Marketing Agency headquartered in London, specialising in web design and search engine optimisation. Our proficiency is underscored by several HubSpot Certifications, and we take pride in being recognised as a 2023 Global Award Winner for SEO by Clutch. At the heart of our success lies a team that seamlessly navigates the intersection of technology and marketing, ensuring innovative and impactful solutions for our clients.