10 red flags to look out for when hiring or working with a SEO agency

SEO is complex by name, complex by nature. There’s the jargon, the constant change and different specialisms – not to mention the workload! So, it’s understandable that lots of brands would like to hire an external agency to support them.

But finding the right agency can feel like a bit of a minefield, and it’s easy to get confused by what to expect. That’s why we’re sharing 10 red flags you should be on the look-out for when choosing an agency – but also ones that should trigger warning signs when you’re already working with an agency too!

1. When an agency guarantees they’ll achieve number one position for your top terms

While we’d all love to be able to guarantee a number one ranking for a client’s top terms, this is no simple task.

It involves months of hard work to ensure a site is as optimised as possible. From audits and strategies that mean refining and rebuilding technical elements of the website (for example, page speed optimisation), regularly creating the best user-centric, keyword-focused content in your market, and removing the old under-performing content, plus a whole load more – all while ensuring they’re growing their backlink profile.

Although it is possible, you should never trust an agency if they promise a number one ranking straight out the doors.

2. When an agency never asks for your input on work they’re doing

Collaboration is key! The customer knows best, so they should be helping to inform everything, from the content to target queries.

For example, one of the key elements to a successful organic search strategy, is that the content produced is relevant to your industry and target audience. How can an agency do this without regular interaction and input from you?

From our experience, the more you collaborate with your client, the better the result (and the experience for them)! That’s why we always have multiple ways our client and teams can connect – from MS Teams or Slack, to Trello and a good old-school phone call.

3. “Content doesn’t matter”

With 5+ billion internet users completing 40,000 searches every second, it’s no wonder that it’s such hard work to get anywhere on organic search.

But that’s where content makes a BIG difference. Google wants to give users the best, most accurate and relevant content to any query. It’s with content that you can offer that and have a significant point of difference compared to others when it’s done well.

“Great content can help any brand lay solid foundations that builds-up your authority for a wider pool of queries – and when done right, it’ll help you rank higher for the keywords that matter (and convert) most.”
Laura Rudd – Head of SEO at No Brainer

For example, creating content for search helps:

  • Expose your brand to users at differing stages of the funnel
  • Open-up your chances of ranking for terms related to your product or service – a website with a handful of well-optimised pages is nice, but without that “supporting” content to build your authority, it’ll be an up-hill challenge to rank for the keywords that matter most
  • Build your brand (and website) authority by being the experts in the topics you have licence to speak about
  • Offer new and alternative ways to generate backlinks (think reports, insights and useful tools like calculators).

Google ranks content based on its relevancy and how well it informs users. So, yes, content does matter and yes, we need your input on what that content looks like.

4. When you get a new website build and they redirect all previous links to the homepage

Redirects are key to informing search engines that a page that they’d indexed has moved from X to Y, or has been temporarily moved from A to B. That way, your previous positions on search will recover after a few months.

No redirects or redirecting them all to the homepage can tank a website on search – something that’s incredibly hard to recover from.

From a search perspective: All previous URLs should be assessed prior to the new website being launched, and categorised into what has moved, what should remain and what should be deleted.

From a user’s perspective: A good website makes the user experience (UX) as smooth as possible (it’s something Google will reward too). So, if users are trying to reach a certain landing page, but keep getting directed back to the home page, this dramatically worsens that experience.

Agencies and development teams should take the time to redirect links to their new relevant new page, boosting overall UX and encouraging customers to stay on the site. Plus, a positive UX does wonders for how Google views your content.

5. When they build you a new website but it’s slower than your previous site

There is nothing worse than a slow website – there we said it. We’ve all been there, trying to load a site but instead get the dreaded loading screen. And what do we all do next? Leave the site.

A slow site massively impacts UX, with nearly 70% of consumers admitting that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer. What’s more, we know that page speed is a ranking signal for Google – so if you’re looking to update your website, it’s essential page speed is improved.

6. When an agency puts design before optimisation

What’s the point in having a pretty website if no one can find it?

It’s the old adage of style over substance. While an attractive website may look pretty to the naked eye, if it’s not optimised, then Google won’t rank it as highly as you’d probably like.

Ensuring your website is fully optimised can range from optimising the platform you’ve built your site on, to simple changes like compressing images and producing relevant and regular content. Check out our SEO checklist for some hints and tips on how to optimise your site (or get in-touch with us!).

7. When they no-index your website when putting a new site live

A no-index tag on a website essentially asks search engines to ignore it and not show it within search results. If done by mistake, it’s a BIG issue for any website wanted to perform on search, right?!

This is an example of what a ‘noindex’ tag looks like within the code of your website:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

You can read more about index-tags on Google here.

Making sure your website is indexed on Google should be the first thing to ensure for all businesses, and their agencies.

8. When an agency generates lots of poor-quality links with no relevance to your website

Relevancy is one of the most important signals Google uses when ranking your site. So, although it is important to generate links to your site, if they aren’t relevant and are of poor-quality, Google isn’t interested – and may even penalise your website if there’s too many.

Go back 10+ years and all that mattered was the number of links you had, which is now considered ‘black-hat’ SEO – but don’t get us started on that!

Nowadays however, it’s essential your backlinks are from trusted sites, ideally with high domain authorities, that includes content that’s relevant to you and useful to users.

Don’t trust an agency trying to “sell” you thousands of backlinks because the likelihood is, they’ll be low quality and actually worsen your website’s performance. A good backlink is earned, not purchased. So be weary of anyone suggesting otherwise!

9. When their organic strategy consists solely of blog content

We’ve already talked about the importance of great content, but that isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to good SEO, and if an agency tells you it is – warning bells should start to go off in your head!

An effective organic strategy involves many different moving parts, including but not limited to blog content. It’s a granular approach, ensuring each important part of your website (large and small) work harder to promote your business or brand. Different elements can include:

  • On-page optimisation – ensuring top pages are performing properly via content and SEO audits
  • Keyword research, mapping and strategy
  • Blog content – informed by an audience-driven and well thought out content strategy
  • Technical SEO strategy – from page speed, to crawl-depth, structure and architecture
  • Internal linking
  • Digital PR and link building

Our team has extensive experience in developing SEO and content strategies that work together in order to deliver big results for our clients.

For example:

In our latest SEO case study, we explain how we worked with an ecommerce brand to craft their SEO and content strategy that’s already delivered:

  • +73% increase in organic traffic
  • +516% blog traffic increase
  • +60% increase in online revenue

If it’s solely about rankings, content alone will never achieve the kind of results most brands will be looking for.

10. When an agency has ‘fixed price’ SEO

Every website is unique, with its own unique problems and issues to fix.

A ‘fixed price,’ one size catch all SEO model cannot account for these differences and will generally include cheap tactics, shortcuts and potentially black-hat tricks to get it over the line.

Here at No Brainer, we use our Creative Intelligence model to develop a tailored approach for every client that is led by data, insights and experience. Our SEO prices vary from client to client, depending on their specific needs and how we can support them.

After all, if an SEO doesn’t say “it depends” to any form of pricing query, are they even an SEO?

If you’re interested in learning some more about our SEO offering, and how we can support your business, get in touch by completing the form below.

Picture of Laura Rudd

Laura Rudd

I’ve worked in digital and content marketing for over 20 years, specialising in SEO since its inception. My career has spanned both agency-side and in-house roles, working alongside brands like HomeServe, Taking Care, Checkatrade, and AO.com. My expertise centres on SEO and content marketing, where I’m passionate about audience-first strategies that drive long-term organic performance.

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