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People will do anything to get ahead in this world, and many SEO companies have adopted the Machiavellian philosophy that the ends (better rankings) justify the means (anything that works).  Unfortunately, many of these SEO practices for quick results are not only unethical, they can significantly damage your website in the long-term.  In the SEO world, clean, ethical SEO is called “White Hat”, and unethical, shady SEO is called “Black Hat”.

Identifying a shady seo companyIdentifying Shady Seo

For the average business owner who knows nothing about SEO, identifying these shysters isn’t easy, especially when they throw confusing terms at you and lay on their thickest advertising spiel, oftentimes leaving you so confused you decide it may be best to just give them money and let them take care of all these complicated SEO matters.  A good consumer is an informed consumer, and these investigative techniques will help you become just that.

1.  Ask for references and get the web addresses of previous clients

Step one is to get the web addresses of some websites the SEO company has previously done work for, preferably 2-4 clients.

2.  Check their clients’ sites

Spend some time reviewing their clients’ websites, looking for poorly written content, keyword stuffing, or anything that catches your eye as something that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.  SEO is more about user experience now than appeasing search engines, so make sure the site looks nice.  Remember, these are the sites the SEO is willing to let you see, so they should be the best of the best!  If you see an inordinate amount of links in content (10+), blocks of keywords repeated in numerous different ways, or poor navigation, it may be a good idea to walk the other way.

3.  Check their clients’ keyword rankings.

Don’t take the SEO company’s word for it; check the keyword rankings yourself.  Visit the client’s website and check the home Title tag, which will appear at the top of the tab of your browser (e.g. Firefox or Internet Explorer).  Hover over the tab and see which keyword phrases have been included, then do searches for these phrases to see where they rank.

4.  Check their clients’ links

Go to Moz’s Open Site Explorer (www.opensiteexplorer.org) and run the clients’ website to see what kind of links they have.  Follow the links and make sure they are from reputable sources.  If the links are of poor quality or from questionable sites, that’s a red flag.  Check as many of their clients’ sites as possible using this process, checking for any recurring shady link building processes.

5.  Check their and their clients’ reviews on Google+ and Yelp

A very common practice done by shady SEO companies these days is to write fake reviews with the hopes of increasing rankings.  Do Google+ and Yelp searches for the SEO company and their clients and check their reviews, if there are any.  If there are only 5 star reviews, and many reviews, that’s a flag.  Read the reviews and check if many of them appear to be written extremely poorly or just don’t seem right.  Again, check these for numerous clients to see if there are any patterns.  If they have YouTube videos, make sure the number of views isn’t extremely disproportionate to the number of followers.  If it is, something’s fishy.

6.  Google the SEO company’s name

Do a search for the SEO company and look for any bad reviews or anything that strikes you as out of the ordinary.

Following these 6 steps doesn’t take a long time, but they can save you time and money in the long-run.  SEO is important, and not all SEOs are created equal.  If you want something done right, you have to do it the right way; make sure your SEO company follows this philosophy and promotes white hat optimization.

Geoff Hoesch is the owner of Dragonfly SEO, a Maryland SEO company. He believes in a “quality over quantity” SEO strategy and works to promote white hat practices.  Follow him @dragonflyseo