4 Red Flags You Can’t Ignore: Hiring SEO with Ruth Burr ReedyRead Time: 5 minutes

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Can you trust your SEO company?

Ruth Burr Reedy helps you navigate the flash and promises of SEO companies when trying to hire a SEO service agency for your business. Ruth brings 12 years of digital marketing to the table, including two years at Moz leading Inbound Marketing and now works with UpBuild. On this week’s episode, she explains what you need to know internally before you even start looking, why SEO guarantees are not as good as they seem, and the top three places to start looking for an SEO company.


You hear that SEO is important. Everyone should do SEO. Right?

So, you’re looking to hire an SEO agency.

The very first step is not an external one. The first step is to ask yourself:


Many companies feel they need an SEO agency because of the buzz around it. Yes, SEO is an essential digital marketing tool, but you need to know what you want to get out of it.

Ruth offers three questions to ask yourself before you look when hiring an SEO company:

  1. What are you trying to do?
  2. How are you going to know if it’s working?
  3. What’s your budget?

You may want to increase revenue, drive traffic, or promote an event. “The better the idea you have of what you really want out of the engagement, the more successful the entire engagement will be,” explains Ruth. If you want to see your SEO score today, try our SEO checkup tool, from our suite of free SEO tools.

When it comes to the timeline, remember that SEO is a long game. It may take months to see results. In Ruth’s experience, the first three months are agency research, auditing, and coming up with recommendations. Then, a launch date is set for when the company implements the recommendations. Once live, it may be a couple months before you start seeing SEO results.

Results may come sooner, but not always. “There’s a reason why a lot of agencies will not do an engagement for less than 6 months.” It’s difficult for SEO companies to demonstrate value on a shorter timeline than half a year.


When you’re hiring an SEO company, there are four things you have to be seriously wary of:

1. Guaranteed rankings

This red flag might seem surprising, but Ruth explains that there’s a good reason why the best SEO companies won’t make ranking guarantees:

“Google is a third party, no one has control over that.”

Companies can guarantee #1 rankings, but they won’t be valuable rankings. “I can get you a #1 ranking tomorrow. It’ll be for ‘I love brand new cheap carpet’. You’ll get 1 click a month, but technically, it’s a #1 ranking. It’s not going to make you any money.”

2. Vanity metrics

Vanity metrics make you feel good. It’s a nice company ego boost to rank higher, get a link from a cool website, or see increased traffic.

However, unless those metric changes bring in money (or other value), it’s not a good return. Be leery of SEO companies who talk about vanity instead of value.

3. No client references

SEO companies should be happy to offer client references who highlight past successes. If they can’t or won’t, you should wonder: “why”.

4. Lots of new links each month

While it’s possible to consistently achieve the same number of new links each month, it doesn’t mean you want those links.

The only way to guarantee that many new links each month is to build low-quality links. Those links might be spam sites or simply won’t have any value. This promise might appear appealing but should be carefully considered when you’re hiring.


Now that you know what you want, how do you find the best SEO agency? You might expect that Googling ‘SEO agency’ would naturally highlight the most capable companies, but Ruth advises that Googling is not the best strategy.

She shares her three places go to find agencies:

  1. The Credo SEO list
  2. Word-of-mouth from your network
  3. The Moz Recommended list

Each of these places offers a list of SEO agencies with a trusted reference. This direct or indirect referral increases the chances of a positive engagement.


Ruth provides some real talk about how to get the most out of your SEO agency engagement:

“Don’t think of it as hiring a vendor, think of it as hiring a consultant.”

You can’t hire an SEO agency to do SEO for you in a black box. A legitimate SEO agency will be working with you, requesting content and development information, and offering recommendations to implement. SEO cannot be done successfully when only done externally.

Your company’s internal SEO work will likely require an internal budget as well as the external agency budget. The agency’s acknowledgment and explanation of internal requirements in the sales process will be a valuable hiring indicator.


  • Before you hire an SEO company, ask yourself what you want to achieve and how much you want to spend.
  • Guaranteed rankings are the #1 red flag when hiring an SEO agency.
  • SEO is a consultation, not a black box process. Be ready to work with your SEO company.


  • The best SEO companies will be direct about what they can offer and what they need from you.
  • Implement agency recommendations as quickly as possible to optimize SEO results.
  • Communicate internal changes to your SEO company to set yourself up for success.





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