7 Warning Signs When Interviewing an SEO Consultant

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Whether you’re getting ready to interview a potential SEO for your in-house team, or you are looking to hire an SEO consultant, the fear of getting scammed runs deep. You want to make sure you’re hiring someone who knows what they are doing, will accrue results for your website, and who you can trust to do their job without being constantly managed. What you don’t want is to have someone take your money and run.

To ensure you’re not going to get screwed over, there are certain warning signs to look for when reviewing resumes and SEO agencies. If you see any of these 7 red flags, you might want to take a step back and ask more questions before signing any sort of contract, forking over cash, or offering a job.

1. They don’t have a website

First of all, congratulations on finding an SEO that doesn’t have a website, especially if you’re looking for an SEO consultant or agency. SEOs that don’t have any sort of web presence are few and far between, so it’s a bit like finding an endangered species. So if the SEO doesn’t have a website it’s a good time to really question what this person would bring to the table.

But even if they do have a website, take a look at it. Is it responsive? Do their URL structures make any sense? Is it easy to navigate? If the answer to these questions is no, that is a major warning sign too. The website an SEO puts out to the world is an indicator of the kind of work they do. These are basic optimizations that should be done, and if they aren’t doing it for themselves, I would be concerned about what they are going to do for you.

By definition, an SEO should optimize your website to help you earn more traffic. If they aren’t even doing that for their own business or personal brand, then they probably won’t do it for your business.

2. They have engaged in questionable SEO tactics

This one can be a little tricky to ascertain, but there a couple ways you can see if the SEO you are looking to work with is on the up-and-up. One of the first places you can look at is their website (if they have one) or a client’s website (if the SEO will share this information). Review the content that they are putting out and think:

  • Is the content thin and/or poorly written?
  • Are you seeing the same keyword over and over and over on a single page?
  • Is the title tag stuffed with same word or phrase repeatedly or in just slightly different ways?

If you’re answering yes to these questions, the SEO might be guilty of trying to keyword stuff their website and putting out content that may be penalized. You can also use siteliner.com to see how much duplicate content they have on their website, which is another big mistake.

You’ll also want to use a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs and look at their backlink profile.

When looking at their backlink profile, see if the links are legitimate and high in their authority. Is their backlink anchor text diverse? It should be because it looks spammy if all their backlink anchor text is the same three words. Have they been growing their backlink profile over time or is there a sudden spike? A sudden spike is usually a sign of spammy backlink activity.

Take a deeper dive into their backlink profile. Go to the actual pages where the links are coming in from. A good link coming into a website is one that has been earned through their content, product, service, or something else that has distinguished their website. You want to be sure that they aren’t using link building techniques that could get you penalized.

For example, let’s say at first look you see what appears to be a diverse link profile. You click through on a couple of their backlinks and you see they the links are coming from badges that say “Best Designed Website.” If you look at the code and see that the link is a “follow” link, this is against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This should make you raise your eyebrows and question the tactics of this SEO.

You want to make sure that the links are legitimate and if they used these same link building strategies for your website it wouldn’t cause any issues or put you in jeopardy for a penalty.

3. They won’t explain what they plan to do

Transparency is key when building a relationship with any business partner. The same goes for any SEO you are working with. If they aren’t going to up be upfront with you about what they are doing and how they plan to go about doing it, you better turn and run. This is only going to lead to conflicts and possibly scary SEO techniques being used on your website.

When I work with clients, I like to lay out what I plan to do for them over the first couple of months, and show them how I intend to find opportunities for growth, or issues that need to be fixed. I stress that the plan may change and is flexible. To get this outlined is not only useful for the client because they see how I intend to help their website, but it’s helpful for me because I can plan for their campaign more efficiently with client buy-in.

You are putting your trust and money into an SEO resource, you want to know what’s going on with your campaign. You wouldn’t hire a contractor for your kitchen remodel and then not ask them for blueprints or samples to look at. You would ask questions, be engaged, and would certainly fire them if weeks went by and they still hadn’t shown any progress or given you plans. Hold your SEO to the same standard you would a contractor.

The one thing you should really push an SEO on is how they plan to build links for your website. If they refuse to tell you their link building strategies that’s usually a good sign that they plan to use gray or black hat strategies.

If they come out and plainly say they utilize black hat strategies, you can feel free to end the interview right there and thank them for their time.

4. They won’t commit to timely reports

Reporting in SEO is crucial to show the return on the investment you made into this channel. An SEO should be able to produce reports on a regular basis. What a “regular basis” is differs from business to business—for some weekly may make sense, and for others monthly is more appropriate.

If an SEO you’re talking to is waffling on whether they will provide reports to you, this should make you raise your eyebrows. You should have a clear set of defined KPIs that an SEO will be able to measure and report back to you on in a timely manner. This will show you if you are investing your money in the right channels and if you need to adjust your strategy. An SEO that wants to black box their findings is not someone you want to be in business with.

5. You can’t find anyone to vouch for their work

Whenever you hire someone you most likely dig into their references, and this is no different when you are hiring an SEO. Not only should you be able to get on the phone with someone who can vouch for his or her work, but the SEO should be able to show you how they have achieved results for a website.

Granted, he or she are allowed to cloak business names for privacy reasons, but they should be able to pull screenshots from Google Analytics or Search Console. Or they can pull ranking reports to show you gains they’ve made from whatever tool they use to measure that (Stat, Authority Labs, Moz, etc.).

Even if someone is newer to the SEO game, they should still have a website that they have worked on. They can show results they’ve made for their own website to demonstrate their proficiency. A really good SEO will use those wins they’ve gotten to write a case study and can use that to draw in prospective clients.

Bottom line: if you can’t find anyone to vouch for their work, it’s best to stay away.

6. They promise to get you to rank #1 in just a month

The old adage holds true here: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No SEO worth their salt should be promising results like that because they have no way of directly controlling your rankings. Sure, they can earn quick wins if your website isn’t crawlable by Google bots or you don’t have a Google Business listing, but major progress in the SERPs takes time and effort.

Google itself says that it can take four months to a year for your SEO efforts to yield positive results. Drastic changes in your rankings are bound to go back to their original position because these sudden movements are usually because of spammy activities, like a spike in backlinks or keyword stuffing. Anyone can do these black hat techniques and get a boost for a brief moment, but a true SEO knows that it will take longer than a month to achieve sustained growth.

Don’t get suckered in by the snake oil salesman, stay far away and find an SEO with a more realistic timeline for an ROI.

7. They don’t know anything about your market

A good SEO should have done research into your target market before they come to meet you so they can speak to how difficult it will be to see results with your websites.

Using tools like Ahrefs or just analyzing your local SERPs, an SEO can glean important details, and if they haven’t put the time in to learn any of that, it should set off alarm bells. And a really well-prepared SEO will come to the interview with tangible strategies and tactics that they feel will help your company’s website.

If you see any of these 7 warning signs, make sure to take a step back and think about whether this hire will be a good fit for your business. Don’t let a lackluster SEO trick you out of your money, and make sure you get someone who can deliver results for your website.

By Kate Neuens, an SEO who has been in the industry for over 6 years. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter.