Avoiding cookie-cutter SEO: 8 red flags to watch out for
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Not all SEO providers are cut from the same cloth. Discover how to steer clear of generic strategies and discover the ideal SEO collaborator.
SEO has a long history, but experiences with it can be incredibly diverse. With numerous agencies offering SEO services today, it’s easy to assume that SEO is a one-size-fits-all service, with providers offering essentially the same thing.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Relying solely on price or broad criteria when selecting an SEO resource or partner is a risky move. It often results in one-size-fits-all approaches that fall short of addressing a business’s unique goals and requirements.
When assessing SEO providers, be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
Rush to get started
Given my extensive background in SEO, I’ll be upfront about my experience—I own a digital agency that specializes in search optimization. I must confess that I get excited whenever someone brings up the topic of SEO and expresses a desire to delve into it. I’m always eager to roll up my sleeves and dive into tasks like auditing, workshopping, and strategizing to help clients achieve their objectives.
However, it’s important to note that when you’re considering resources for your own SEO endeavors, you want to work with an employee or vendor who views the partnership as more than just a quick opportunity to make money or acquire a new client. It’s crucial to carefully assess compatibility and ensure that both sides of the relationship can benefit positively.
While a swift eagerness to jump into action, fueled by a genuine passion for the subject, is commendable, it’s a red flag if you find yourself subjected to a sales pitch, funneled through someone’s predefined sales process, and sold something without much inquiry into your specific needs. In such cases, you’re likely to end up with a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t align with your unique goals and requirements.
Claims it is easy
I have the privilege of knowing exceptional individuals within the SEO industry who specialize in incredibly detailed aspects of SEO. They excel in areas like local search, content creation, link building, keyword research, and more. What sets them apart is not only their expertise but also their understanding that their specific niche within SEO isn’t the entirety of a comprehensive strategy.
It’s important to recognize that if someone claims SEO is a straightforward task, it’s essential to seek clarification on what exactly they mean. It’s possible that they have an extraordinary grasp of SEO and have successfully figured it out. If that’s the case, it’s certainly impressive. However, if they suggest that SEO is simple because they focus solely on one or two aspects and consider that to be the entirety of SEO, it’s crucial to delve deeper.
I want to emphasize that I’m not criticizing anyone’s techniques or areas of mastery. Instead, I’m suggesting that if you’re thinking about hiring someone who asserts that SEO is easy or claims to have a simplistic method to achieve your goals, it’s advisable to gather more information to ensure their approach isn’t cutting corners or lacking a broader, long-term perspective that aligns with your comfort level.
Low price leader
The topic of pricing in the realm of SEO can indeed be a sensitive one, and it’s important to be aware of the various tactics and psychological strategies employed by SEO tools, consultants, and providers. Whether they offer published package pricing or a fully customized bidding approach, there isn’t necessarily a universally “right” answer, and I don’t hold a strong opinion on what’s best either.
I don’t believe that the cheapest option is inherently the worst. However, it’s a well-established principle that, in most cases, you tend to receive the level of service and quality that matches what you pay for.
Consider whether a small business, embarking on their first SEO journey, truly requires an enterprise-level solution. Can a single individual or a small agency effectively cater to the needs of a Fortune 500 corporation? Does spending more always equate to getting more in terms of results?
These are all valid questions to ponder. However, at the core of the matter, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your ROI (Return on Investment) equation and your tolerance for risk when investing in SEO.
On one extreme, if you’re willing to invest money in SEO with no immediate expectation of seeing a direct return, you should assess whether such an investment could potentially cripple your business. On the other hand, if you have specific ROI expectations, you should be prepared to allocate a budget accordingly.
It’s worth noting that resources and budgets can vary significantly, and it’s essential to fully grasp what you’re purchasing and the potential outcomes associated with your investment in SEO.
Lack of strategy
Ongoing SEO efforts encompass a plethora of tactics. There exists a myriad of “best practices” in the SEO landscape, grounded in time-tested and proven methods and techniques.
However, it’s essential to recognize that even if you diligently follow all these established guidelines, you can still find yourself investing significant time and money without achieving the desired long-term results.
I often refer to “check the box” or “checklist” SEO work, which can create a false sense of progress. It might seem like you’re moving forward, but at some point, it may fail to deliver the expected ROI.
In many cases, the underlying issue lies in the absence of a coherent strategy when assessing why someone isn’t realizing the anticipated ROI despite substantial investments in in-house or agency-driven SEO services.
Some memorable instances have raised questions about who is truly steering the strategy—the client or the agency.
Having a well-defined strategy is paramount. It involves setting clear goals, planning tactical approaches, maintaining flexibility in the plan, and establishing realistic expectations and accountability. This strategic foundation is the compass that guides your SEO efforts toward the desired outcomes, ensuring that your investments yield the results you seek in the long run.
Transparency and comprehension of the elements within an SEO investment are undeniably crucial. While you don’t necessarily need to be well-versed in every intricate detail at the level of your entrusted strategist or tactician, you should feel comfortable with the overall plan and understand what your team or vendor is undertaking.
When confronted with a lack of transparency, it should raise immediate concerns. In my view, it could signify several issues. It might suggest that the work is happening in isolation (which I’ll discuss shortly), that the approach being employed isn’t aligned with your expectations, that a checklist-style SEO strategy is in use, or that the pace and aggressiveness of the efforts don’t meet your standards.
I’m aware that, from the agency’s perspective, clients sometimes assume that limited information or communication implies that little work is being performed on their behalf. This perception isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of the situation, but it can indeed become a reality. If you aren’t receiving the necessary information before you hire or engage with an SEO provider, it’s essential to insist on it. Waiting until the work is already underway may not yield the level of transparency you desire, and proactive communication is key to a successful partnership.
When I embarked on my SEO career nearly two decades ago, I had a considerable degree of autonomy and could handle a wide range of SEO tasks. This approach still holds true to some extent for small businesses or roles that encompass multiple responsibilities.
However, as you navigate larger organizations with compliance, legal, IT, PR, content, UX, and various teams involved in approvals for website changes, a siloed approach to SEO no longer suffices.
Let me be clear—I cherished the autonomy of being an SEO specialist with significant control. I also hesitated to intrude into the domains of others or step on anyone’s toes. It was much more straightforward when I could solely focus on reporting SEO metrics and identifying issues within those other categories, leaving them to their respective experts to resolve.
In my opinion, the most effective SEO practitioners are those who possess a profound commitment to solving problems and overcoming challenges. They aren’t content with merely executing traditional SEO tasks and delivering reports on SEO metrics. Instead, they are dedicated to collaborating with all stakeholders, ensuring that every aspect of the SEO strategy is executed and optimized comprehensively, from conception to implementation.
Full-service offering or value-add
In my agency, we collaborate with several other agencies that engage us as their SEO partner. In some instances, these agencies are designated as the primary agency of record, and SEO is just one of many components within an annual plan. This setup is quite common, particularly for full-service or integrated agencies.
Occasionally, I come across companies that have worked with full-service agencies and found that while SEO was listed as one of the services offered, the agency didn’t possess the expected level of subject matter expertise in this area.
If SEO is a pivotal element of your marketing strategy, rather than just one of many channels or components, it’s crucial to ask pertinent questions and assess how deeply your partner or resources can dive into SEO. Drawing from my own experience, I can affirm that it’s challenging to excel in every facet of marketing. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that your chosen partner has the requisite expertise and focus on SEO if it holds a significant role in your overall marketing efforts.
Set it and forget it
I observed the mention of SEO checkboxes earlier. Taking a deeper dive, merely discussing “SEOing” something or engaging in an occasional round of it falls short.
SEO is not a one-off task or an occasional endeavor, especially if it holds significance in your digital strategy. It demands a strategic approach, tactical execution, continuous monitoring, and persistent effort for success. Adopting a set-it-and-forget-it or one-time optimization approach risks commoditization and minimal results.
Find an SEO partner, not just a vendor
Over time, individuals involved in SEO have begun to sound quite similar. It has become increasingly difficult to discern who genuinely comprehends the subject and to what extent, given that almost everyone asserts expertise or experience with it on their resumes.
I firmly assert that SEO is not a generic, readily available service, despite the occasional perception suggesting otherwise. It’s essential to delve deeper into what you’re investing in and recognize that not all SEO professionals are identical, even if they appear to discuss similar topics.