Sales & Marketing Tech

Steer Clear of These Four Red Flags When Outsourcing SEO Services

By | 7 min read | Published

When it comes to outsourcing SEO services, it’s important to be discerning.

If you’re thinking about outsourcing your search engine optimization, or SEO service, you’re in good company. Forty-two percent of respondents in Gartner’s 2022 Tech CEO Survey have hired external SEO contractors[1].

But how exactly does a small-business owner or marketing manager such as yourself find an SEO agency that’s worth your business? There are many agencies out there that promise page-one rankings and fast results, but are they too good to be true?

We’ll tell you this much: any SEO specialist worth their salt will not promise rankings of any sort, but they will do their best to set your business up for success. This SEO primer describes four red flags to look out for when outsourcing SEO services, and guides you toward better qualities so you can find the best SEO company for your small business.

Red flag #1: Biased reviews

Don’t get us wrong–we strongly recommend doing a deep dive on any SEO company you’re considering. Proper vetting ensures you get your best return on investment, and it protects you in the long run, as weak SEO strategy can harm your site’s performance.

But what you don’t want to give too much credence to are reviews or blurbs provided by the company you’re researching, as well as past-client lists. These tend to be cherry-picked to spotlight clients who will speak favorably about their experience.

To avoid bias and get a true feel for a company’s past experience, we recommend gathering information from third party-sources:

  • Reviews from past clients provide transparent information from those who have had both positive and negative interactions with an SEO agency. They can also show you how companies respond to the latter.
  • Forums can be a great way to source even more candid information from clients who don’t necessarily want to attach their name to a review.
  • Forbes recommends listening to podcasts where an SEO professional from the company has been interviewed. This can give you a sense of how the company’s leadership displays their expertise and competence[2].

Red flag #2: They don’t show their work

One benefit of outsourcing SEO service is having an SEO expert coach your team on SEO strategy. If an agency doesn’t seem willing to share their wisdom or show their work, keep shopping around.

What you do want to look for is transparency in terms of deliverables, data, and communication.

Deliverables refer to the SEO strategy and/or content provided by the company. But the timeline in which you receive these deliverables should also be clear, whether that’s daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Ask the company for their portfolio, which will help you get a sense of their working style and the types of results their clients have received.

Transparency in terms of data tracking and analysis is also important. Ask any SEO company you’re vetting how they track and analyze data. They’ll usually start with an SEO audit to gauge current performance, but over time, you’ll want to know how your site is performing in terms of website traffic, search engine results page (SERP) rankings, user flow, leads, and conversions.

Capterra tools and tips

Most SEO companies will have their own tool stack and share reports with you from there. However, there are some SEO tools you may want to consider investing in to have the most fruitful relationship possible with your SEO consultant(s):

  • Dashboard software such as Google Analytics allow you to track, analyze, and report data about your website.
  • SEO software can help you with a broad range of SEO tasks such as site audits, keyword research, and competitor analysis.
  • Social media marketing software automates the creation, tracking, and management of online campaigns through social media sites. More specifically, it can help your SEO efforts by collecting customer response metrics.
  • Local SEO tools such as Google My Business enable businesses to improve online presence and visibility in local search results. They help track keyword rankings on a local level, provide competitor insights, perform audits, develop SEO-optimized keywords, monitor website performance, and measure audience engagement.

Lastly, a good SEO company will answer any questions you have, maintain clear and consistent communication with your business, and be available when you need them. They’ll also update you about your business’s progress, including both the successes and the struggles. The right SEO agency will also educate your team so that your in-house SEO practices are stronger.

Red flag #3: One-size-fits-all agencies

An SEO strategy should be as unique as the business it’s serving. What drove traffic to your neighbor’s recipe blog won’t necessarily work for your pet supplies website. Why? Because SEO is complicated, and each site has its own needs and circumstances.

A reliable SEO company will help you meet the goals and KPIs that are important to you. These might not always be performance-based, by the way. It might be the amount of content you produce, or improved user experience.

Also, just as you’re being selective in terms of outsourcing your SEO service, you want your SEO to be equally choosy about whom they work with. One-size-fits-all agencies tend to take on any clients they can, and they don’t focus on any particular industry. If you’re looking for local SEO services, or eCommerce SEO, the SEO company you select should specialize in that.

Red flag #4: Promised rankings

If you see an SEO guarantee rankings, run in the other direction. Why? Because an SEO agency that promises rankings is often guilty of black hat SEO.

Black hat SEO refers to the deliberate manipulation of search engine indexes to move higher in the SERPs. The following methods come from Google’s quality guidelines[3] and are considered black hat SEO:

  • Automatically generated content intended to manipulate search rankings.
  • Participating in link schemes, such as paid link building.
  • Sneaky redirects, or redirecting a user to a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler.
  • Spamdexing, or hiding keywords or phrases in a web page to increase that page’s ranking on search engine results pages.

Bad SEO practices can improve your Google ranking—that is, until your site gets flagged. If Google finds your site to be in violation of one or more of these guidelines, they may take manual action against it, which results in pages or sites being ranked lower or omitted from search results[4].

A reputable SEO company will not promise rankings, but will work with you to set expectations in terms of both performance and scope. Building a good reputation for your website takes time, so be patient, and pass up any agencies that claim otherwise.

Find a match? Take the next step

Once you’ve found an SEO company you feel good about, request a pricing quote. Most SEO companies will provide you with a pricing quote upon request, provided they know your specific business requirements. This can help you wade through the very many SEO company options by comparing packages to pick the best SEO agency for you.

If you need more help finding a trustworthy SEO company, download our free decision tool.


  1. Think Like a High-Growth Company — How Top Tech CEOs Grow Faster, Gartner
  2. How To Find A Reputable Enterprise SEO Company, Forbes
  3. Webmaster Guidelines, Google
  4. Manual Actions Report, Google

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

About the Author

Lauren Spiller

Lauren Spiller

Lauren Spiller is a Senior Content Writer at Capterra, covering customer management, customer service, and customer experience with a focus on customer acquisition through SEO. She has an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from Texas State University and has presented her work at the European Writing Centers Association, Canadian Writing Centres Association, and the International Writing Centers Association conferences. She is currently developing content for a workshop series on SEO writing. She loves to cook and spend time outdoors around Austin, Texas.

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