Effective SEO strategies are essential to your site’s good performance. Unfortunately, there are many disreputable or shady SEO providers that will try to scam you. Before you sign a contract for SEO services, it’s important to know whether or not you’re at risk of being ripped off. How can you tell if your SEO contract is good or bad?
But first, is an SEO contract even necessary?
Stay away from no-contract SEO: Why you should require a minimum contract for SEO services
At a minimum, you should have some sort of SEO contract. Not only does it outline the services you can expect, but it also spells out both parties’ legal obligations.
Also, contracts are important for maintaining transparency and quality. It ensures that your SEO provider doesn’t resort to any potentially-damaging black-hat SEO techniques while allowing for a reasonable amount of time to conduct an effective SEO strategy.
How to tell if your SEO contract is good or bad: a quick checklist
Signs of a good SEO contract:
- Short, simple, with clearly-defined language
- Doesn’t guarantee traffic & rankings or over-promise services
- Easy to break, without unreasonable penalties
- Offers transparency of services and methods
- Comes from a demonstrably reputable SEO provider
Signs of a bad SEO contract agreement:
- Over-promises services with unreasonable guarantees
- Offers deeply-discounted or “cheap” services
- Difficult to break the contract
- Uses shady marketing practices like spam emails
- Lacks transparency, frequently promising secretive SEO methods
- Offers no or limited process reporting or verification capabilities
The warning signs of an SEO contract scam: 9 questions to ask yourself before signing
1. Were SEO services offered by unsolicited emails?
How did you first learn about the SEO agency with which you’re looking to do business? If it was via an unsolicited email or social media message, you’ll definitely want to run for the hills.
Why? Because any agency worth their salt will have first used their SEO expertise to optimize their own site. If they have to resort to spammy emails, then they obviously don’t have the capability to boost their own website traffic or they can’t compete in the search engine rankings themselves. This should stand out as a major red flag.
Also, SEO scammers usually make these claims in their unsolicited emails:
- They “know” someone at Google, potentially giving you an “inside” edge
- They use “secret” SEO techniques (more on this below)
- They have audited your website and can promise traffic and/or search engine rankings (more on these below)
- They offer free trials or unreasonably “cheap” SEO services
- Tell you your domain is scheduled to expire and you need to contact them to avoid your website shutting down
Before signing an SEO contract, make sure your relationship with the agency didn’t begin with any of these promises.
2. Can I back out of the SEO contract?
It’s all too common in the SEO industry for disreputable actors to try and lock clients into long-term contracts from which they can’t escape. Not only does this leave you on the hook if you aren’t happy with their services, but they can actually take your website or data hostage if you refuse to pay. It happens all the time.
For SEO to work, the agency will have to gain access to your website’s back end and data analytics platforms, which requires handing over your logins. Once they have administrative access to your site, they can easily change the passwords and lock you out — refusing to return your access until you pay.
On the other hand, a reputable SEO agency’s contractual language will make it relatively easy to break the contract if required. They will spell out exactly which obligations you’re under, as well as any penalties and legal dispute remedies. And no, granting them permission to hold your website hostage will not be one of them.
At Miromind, our own SEO contract is a short and simple document with no minimum time commitment and without cancellation penalties. We believe that, as a good SEO agency, it’s important to make all parties feel comfortable and in control, with reasonable and clear language. Not only is this a good business practice, but it also helps to protect our industry’s reputation.
3. Does the SEO contract guarantee search rankings?
Here’s an uncomfortable fact: nobody can guarantee first-page search engine rankings for a website. Anyone who claims they can promise your site will appear on Google’s first page — or any other page for that matter — is lying.
Google uses an advanced set of metrics to determine how its algorithm will rank pages. SEO experts use best practices to optimize sites in a way that tries to influence higher rankings. But Google — and only Google — has the final say in where your website will appear.
A legitimate SEO contract will address this, indicating it will only provide services that are typically shown to boost search engine visibility while offering no guarantees. If it does make any explicit ranking guarantees, it’s a scam.
4. Does the SEO contract guarantee specific website traffic numbers?
As with search engine rankings, no reputable SEO agency will ever make specific website traffic guarantees. It’s simply not a promise within their power to make.
Organic website traffic generation typically stems from two things: search engine visibility and well-written, informative content. SEO optimization combined with content strategy is the best tried-and-true way to boost traffic. However, there is no way to know in advance how many visitors your site will actually receive.
What scam SEO companies usually do is promise a certain number of visitors to your website, and then use black-hat traffic generation methods to artificially inflate your visitor counts. It’s very easy and lucrative to do: anyone can go to a site like Fiverr.com and pay $5 for thousands of fake traffic hits, then turn around and bill their client hundreds for their traffic delivery “service”.
These black-hat traffic generation tactics include but aren’t limited to:
- Artificial traffic bots
- Fake traffic redirects
- Real visitors who are otherwise enticed to register a “hit” on your site
- Fake cookies
- Other malware or software
At best you’ll be flooded with a horde of useless “visitors” who aren’t interested in your products or services, and with only a terrible bounce rate to show for your efforts. At worst, Google will see through these tactics and penalize (or even de-list!) your website. So don’t get scammed into thinking you’ll be getting thousands of easy website visitors overnight. You won’t.
5. Does the SEO contract offer unreasonably low-cost services?
Does the SEO contract use language to refer to services as “combos”, “packages,” or “specials”? Are these services offered at an extremely low cost, or with a free trial, or at a deep discount?
Don’t fall for it. It’s likely a scam.
The fact is, SEO is a time-intensive process that can’t be done effectively in a short period of time. SEO agencies with good track records will perform extensive audits to determine your site’s initial performance; do keyword research to identify search terms that will drive the actual SEO strategy, conduct ongoing on-page and off-page SEO activities like link-building, schema tagging, and content optimization; and ultimately bring a large degree of expertise to the table.
Legitimate SEO services are an essential investment. But they’re not necessarily cheap. So it’s a definite red flag if your SEO contract offers these services at a deep discount since it’s very likely you won’t actually be getting what you think you’re paying for.
6. Does the SEO contract specify vague “secret” or “proprietary” techniques?
There is no “magic” or “secret” SEO. Effective SEO relies on tried and tested techniques that are gleaned from experience, result from a deep understanding of how Google’s algorithm works, are widely understood by other SEO professionals, and are designed to help influence search ranking results.
Since the earliest days of Google, unscrupulous SEO providers have worked every angle to try to game the system. Black-hat methods are always evolving in a (futile) attempt to try and stay one step ahead of each new algorithm update. So when a shady SEO agency claims they have some sort of secret new technique that they won’t share, it’s probably just their latest attempt to pull one over on Google.
If your SEO contract uses language like “proprietary techniques”, or lacks transparency on their methods, then stay away. On the contrary, it’s a sign that they probably use black-hat SEO methods that may give you an initial temporary rankings boost but will end up permanently damaging your rankings — at which point they’ll be long gone.
Remember: Google sees everything and knows everything. When they figure out your SEO “experts” are trying to manipulate them — and they will — your site will end up plummeting down the search rankings and your traffic will dry up with it.
7. Does the SEO contract promise to manually submit your website to multiple search engines?
Manually adding your site to multiple search engines was a great SEO strategy in 1999. Today it’s virtually useless. Google and other SERPs use sophisticated bots to automatically crawl your website. So while you can manually suggest your site be added, and request Google to crawl your site, it’s completely unnecessary. They’ll find you anyway.
Offering to manually submit your website to Google won’t hurt. But if your SEO contract lists this activity as one of their provided “services”, it’s a sure sign that they’re trying to scam you
8. Are spammy link-building services included in your SEO contract?
Most people know that link building is a critical aspect of SEO. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the fact that there’s a big difference between having a healthy backlink portfolio vs having a vast list of spammy and low-quality links pointing to your site.
One will help your rankings, the other will sink them.
Don’t fall for an SEO contract that offers bundles of links. You’ll end having thousands of directory backlinks that aren’t only useless – they’ll earn you penalties unless you disavow each and every one.
9. Are the contract SEO services verifiable and reportable?
Finally, before you sign an SEO contract, it’s important to understand the quality of the reporting. Whether through regular and thorough reports or via a dashboard, a reputable agency will be completely transparent with their activities.
Better yet, before signing on the dotted line, ask for a sample report. These should be free — never accept a contract that tries to force you to pay to know how your investment is performing. If your SEO provider is cagey or offers generic or unverifiable claims, then it’s a sign to avoid doing business with them.
What does the best SEO contract type look like? To summarize:
A short and simple SEO contract is preferable
- The contract should be short (one to three pages is preferable), that clearly spells out the services offered, can be easily broken without excessive penalties, and specifies the reasonable obligations of both parties.
Reasonable SEO contract indemnification
- Don’t sign a contract with unreasonable contract indemnity clauses, i.e. one that limits the SEO provider’s liability too much. If they do irreparable harm to your site, they should be both liable for legal remedies that can be enforced. Protect your rights.
A clear action plan with verifiable metrics
- A legitimate SEO contract will always offer clearly-defined services, at a reasonable cost, without making any wild traffic or ranking guarantees, and the ability to verify the metrics with clear KPIs.
Why Miromind’s contract SEO services deliver peace of mind
Miromind is a leader in providing effective SEO services to businesses around the world. Our 12-years of experience combined with a multi-national team of experts will work with you to help boost your traffic and sales, all with the peace of mind that comes with a simple, clear, and no-nonsense contract that doesn’t lock you into time commitments or cancellation penalties.
Contact us today to learn how our SEO services can help you meet your business goals.