Comparing SEOs is sometimes as difficult as comparing beef enchiladas made with a red sauce to chicken enchiladas with a cream sauce. I mean, they are both from the enchilada family and probably pretty tasty, but there can only be one winner!

Where was I going with this? Oh right, comparing SEOs. In essence, all SEOs are there to do the same thing, but they come in a lot of different flavors. Depending on what meat and sauce each uses, you could end up with something that completely disagrees with you.

Thankfully, there are a few tell-tale signals that your SEO may give your site a bit of indigestion. Here are a few things you might want to look for. If you spot them, run away, run away!

7 SEO Red Flags

The SEO's website advertises MSN, or AltaVista as search engines they will get you ranked on.

Any SEO that notes these search engines as ones they'll target are selling you something, and it doesn't smell like SEO. The fact is, there is no "MSN" search engine (Microsoft's old MSN changed to "Bing" years ago),, the 4th most used search engine, captures around 3% of the total search market, and AltaVista hasn't really been a viable search engine for over a decade!

In reality, there are two search engines that matter: Google and Bing. You can throw Yahoo in there for good measure since they get around 15% of the search volume, but they are just pulling from Bing and putting their own spin on the results. Together, Yahoo and Bing cover about 30% of the marketshare to Google's 70%.

The SEO advertizes their search engine and/or directory submission services.

Any kind of mass submission to search engines or directories are signs of SEO circa 1998. In web years, that's like 150-year-old SEO! Aside from Pay-Per-Click (which doesn't require submission) and Google's new pay-to-be-included merchant results, if your site is designed to be found, it will be. Period. Submitting to search engines is a wasted exercise. There is a reason Google doesn't even have an option for submitting to them.

As for directories, most directories have very little, if any, searcher value. That means your submissions are like passing gas in the wind. You might get a whiff of it for a second but it's gone just as fast!

Their main SEO service is "optimizing meta tags."

Your page title tags withstanding, there is very little "tag" optimization that can be done that can be considered effective SEO. While optimizing your page title tags is one of the most important aspects of SEO, it cannot be done outside of having performed your keyword research. Without keyword research, any optimization performed on your title tag is for naught.

Your meta description tag is useful for what's displayed in the search results (not actual rankings). The keyword meta tag is all but completely useless to the search engines and likely isn't worth the time it's taking me to type this right now.

The SEO guarantees #1 rankings

Have you ever made a "guarantee" to a friend that you could predict how someone else would react to a certain situation? It's kinda fun to be able to make predictions like that. But do it enough and sooner or later, the person you are talking about will act in an unpredictable way. Is that your fault? No, but you might look like a bit of an ass for being wrong. This is similar to how SEO guarantees their work.

An SEO agency doesn't have any direct control over what sites the search engines put into their top results, so making such a guarantee is really just guess work. While it might be educated guess work, based on SEO principles that we know work, ultimately, we can't control the end result. Most SEOs that offer guarantees combat this with the guarantee small print. They word the guarantee just right to ensure that it's never their fault for getting the rankings, making the guarantee void. They may be right, but unfortunately, it means you need a guarantee on their guarantee!

The SEO says what they do is "proprietary" and therefore they can't share their "secrets."

This is a sure sign that the SEO is doing something naughty that will, very likely, get you tossed out or filtered out of the search results. Scary stuff, either way. Nothing about SEO is proprietary, and rarely can you find any hidden "secret" that will magically vault you to the top of the search results. SEO requires good old-fashioned elbow grease.

There is no software, tool or formula that will get you rankings outside of an analysis of a real, live person. What this SEO is selling you is more likely a bunch of snake oil, which I hear is pretty good for rheumatoid arthritis, but doesn't do much for the pain of losing all your SEO rankings because you're an idiot spammer.

The SEO claims to have a "special relationship" with Google.

The only special relationship SEOs have with Google is they might have hung out at a bar with Matt Cutts or asked a random Google engineer a question at a conference. And really, you don't even have to be all that special, just a knack for getting noticed over everyone else clamoring for a chance for the same.

Google does not offer any kind of special programs, services or insights to one SEO that they don't offer to the rest of the world. That means that any SEO touting a special ability to get you ranked because they have a partnership with Google is, well, lying to you.

The SEO offers SEO, PPC, link building, analytics, social media and content services but has a staff of one.

SEOs are routinely jacks of many trades, having knowledge in multiple disciplines. However, there is only a limited amount of time any SEO can spend educating themselves deeply in the various web marketing disciplines. The tools and technology required for staying current on SEO is vast.

Between keeping up on industry changes, tips, strategies, news and the typical algorithm changes can keep an SEO pretty busy. Multiply that into several areas and you have an SEO that either has no clients (and his hoping to score you) or an SEO that subcontracts most of their work out to someone else of questionable quality.

Before hiring an SEO, it's important to know what you're getting into. Hire the wrong SEO and you might be stuck in a long-term contract that nets you little value at best and destroys your site (costing you a lot of money in the process) at worst. Keep an eye out for these red flags and save yourself a whole lot of trouble by avoiding them like you would avoid a really bad chicken enchilada!

Image credit: zyphyrus / 123RF Stock Photo

February 19, 2013

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Hi Stoney! Catchy title for this post! :) And these 7 points are helpful! So true! If someone "guarantees" me a #1 ranking and claims to have a "special" relationship with Google, I'll definitely raise my flag! Thanks for the reminders and I'll make sure to take note of them!

And the end of the day it's your website! Any SEO provider that tells you they can't provide such and such report because it will reveal "trade secrets" is selling your something and it isn't something you want to be buying. There is no secret! We all know what everyone else knows and sending you a link building report isn't going to undermine their business. It's your site and your reputation on the line--you deserve to know what is going on!

will keep these in mind if i ever decide to hire an SEO expert. thanks for sharing

", the 4th most used search engine, captures around 3% of the total search market, and AltaVista hasn't really been a viable search engine for over a decade!" Some more details would be nice.

Ask hasn't maintained their own index since 2010, they get their results from Google. AltaVista has been owned Yahoo since 2003. Sure you can still go to AltaVista and perform a search, but it's just Yahoo. Even the url says Seems like these would be some pertinent details to include in your post.

Matt, I don't see how the information you provided is particularly germane to the point I was making, which is, top rankings on these engines doesn't amount to a hill of beans. That's true regardless of who owns AltaVista.

Another red flag for me is the price , many agencies or website developers charge a very small fee for "SEO services" ( directory admission and meta tags ). Especially in Greece where i am located the majority of the companies are charging a very low price for a service that in reality they don't provide, and that makes our job a lot more difficult because we have to explain to the customer what is SEO all about and why we charge so high.

Kostas, good point! That's one of the biggest frustrations we have when trying to sell services. People don't understand why SEO costs so much when some web developer is selling "SEO" when it really isn't. SEO is marketing and marketing is more than tweaking code or submitting to search engines. It's, um, marketing!

Hi Stoney. This is excellent. May I have your permission to reprint at Thanks.

Been reading you Stoney since you first came onto the scene.
I dont do the scene, dont have to, never will,
testing this post to see if it really posts,
then I post something of worth

SEO Support Services, SEO Services, Smo Services +91 – 8800700773

SEO Support Services, SEO Services, Smo Services India As an Internet Marketing Strategy, SEO Considers How Search Engines Work, What People Search for, the Actual Search terms or Keywords typed into Search Engines and Which Search Engines are Preferred by their Targeted Audience.

SEO Services, Smo Services, SEO Support Services,

Contact Us :
D - 67
Sector - 2, Noida, (U.P)
Phone No.: +91 – 8800700773

Thanks for the advice. I read a lot about SEO as I run my own small business and can't afford these services. I just learned recently how important the tag line is in the page title and have altered it accordingly. The only question is now, how soon the site will be re-indexed and will the damn phone start runing again! You have to be so careful about what you tweek!

Mike, You're right, the title tag is important, however that alone may not give you the rankings you want. It will help for sure, but other on-page optimization may need to be done, as well as off-page link building.

I get two or three emails every night using one (or more) of these tactics you point out Stoney ;-) It's amazing how this is all ruining SEO. Thanks for pointing this out and hopefully this post save some folks from getting ripped off.

It only too one time for me to learn my lesson. We had a site last feb that got washed up due to some bad seo scrapeboxing and xrumering thousands of links thinking it would help out...

This was some interesting information that I never knew about before. Thanks for sharing it in such a way that it was easy to understand

Affiliates which attended dearly loved that video tutorials of these in addition to discussed in addition to discussed in addition to discussed. That problem connected with operating locally can certainly spam nationally thru giving organization lovers, loved ones, good friends in addition to customers.
Education Information

This is really great piece of information here on your website. Keep up the good work and continue providing us more quality information from time to time.

AT LAST! Somebody out there has the courage to write it. Thanks a lot Stoney. I would very much like the permission to translate this to French (with credits linking to your original version, or course). How can I get this?

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Hiring an SEO? Look Out For These 7 Red Flags (And Run Away If You Find Them)