How to Spot Cowboy SEO Firms

A company’s online presence is everything and it’s for this reason that Search Engine Optimisation has become so important. The higher up a website appears within search results, the more traffic it is likely to get and the more business it will receive. Unfortunately, for every reputable firm that is offering high quality SEO, there are cowboy operations looking to make quick money. It is therefore important to use caution when looking for SEO expertise. Here are just some of the warning signs to look out for which could help you to separate the good from the bad.

Unrealistic Promises

One of the easiest ways to spot a less than trustworthy SEO firm is if they promise the impossible. Many companies will make grand claims such as promising that your website will appear on the first page of Google’s search results. This sort of achievement takes a huge amount of time and effort and anyone that guarantees that this will happen in the short term is either lying or using underhanded tactics. In reality, nobody can guarantee that a link will get a high spot in the search results because only Google know how this is calculated. It is also worth noting that due to the advent of personal search preferences and data tracking, different users now have different search results and this is completely out of the hands of SEO companies.


A good SEO firm will understand the importance of security, whether it be data protection, password protection or just general online safety. Giving out your passwords to any person or company comes with its risks and you should thoroughly vet any recipients before you do so. It is also worth pointing that no SEO operative should require all of your passwords and any that insist on this should be avoided. SEO based security breaches can affect anyone, even large organisations with limitless resources. Earlier in the year, it was discovered that website giant WordPress had a massive security hole within its SEO plugin. This fault left countless users open to malicious attack from hackers. As well as looking after security at your end, make sure your SEO operative is doing the same and is updating their software regularly.


Communication within business is paramount and it would be wise to be suspicious of any companies or individuals which don’t share this mantra. There should be open and transparent communication between you and your SEO contact, this means either face to face or at least via Skype. If your SEO operative is only willing to communicate via email you should take this as a warning sign and consider changing.


It is very rare within business that you can guarantee instant results and this is especially true of SEO. Any contract that is set up between you and an SEO firm should be long term and realistic. Anybody that guarantees top results within a short period of time is either lying to themselves or lying to you and should therefore be avoided. Your SEO services will likely begin with a large undertaking to set up the basic foundation but should then include regular maintenance and ongoing contact. SEO is a long term commitment and this should kept in mind when choosing a candidate.


There are two categories of SEO and these are labelled as white hat and black hat. White hat SEO describes the process of improving a websites ranking in the long term, using techniques which are appropriate and encouraged. Inversely, black hat SEO is the term for the use of any techniques which are discouraged or outright banned by the search engines. Black hat SEO firms employ countless different techniques to achieve their goals, many of which are dishonest. Knowing full well that they will be eventually found out by the search engine, many of these firms produce quick but temporary results before moving on to their next target. Nobody is safe from black hat techniques, as was found out in 2006 when BMW Germany was removed from Google for using ‘deceptive practices’. The site was eventually reinstated but only after the relevant pages were amended.

The only way to avoid the types of companies mentioned is to do your research. This can include checking their website and asking their existing clients for references. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to ask questions, this is the only way to distinguish the good guys from the cowboys.