Could your budget SEO agency be harming your rankings with these 'black hat' tactics?

Digital360 on 18 May 2017

When some small to medium-sized businesses are just starting out, it can be tempting to opt for a budget SEO agency. They’ll promise you all the essentials – plus the bells and whistles – at a reduced rate. However, the problem with many of these low-cost agencies is that they’re not always up to date on best practice SEO.

If your agency is harming rather than helping your rankings, it’s likely they’ve been using ‘black hat’ SEO practices. This isn't always on purpose. A lot of the time, budget agencies don’t have the time or expertise to monitor Google’s changing algorithms, or simply cut corners to keep costs low.

Google is always revising what it classifies as ‘spammy’ behaviour. What once were ‘white hat’ – in other words, above-the-board – practices, may suddenly reel in a penalty. Using black hat SEO is not only money down the drain, but can also seriously hurt your search rankings.

So, which outdated SEO techniques could be hurting your business? Here are some common tactics that cheap SEO agencies tend to keep in use.

Bad links

‘Organic’ link building is one of the best ways to build SEO. Other kinds of link building – like buying links or 'spamming' URLs – are widely known to now do more harm than good for SEO performance.

If your SEO agency offers something called ‘link schemes’ – that's an immediate red flag. Link buying has been bad practice for years. It involves buying links from unrelated sites for the sole purpose of boosting search rankings. Google is always on the lookout for these link building schemes. If your SEO company has bought links, there’s a high chance your site could be caught out any minute – and even banned from rankings.

Low quality link building is just as risky. Monitor your site metrics to see if you notice any suspicious backlinks in your profile. If so, your SEO company could be targeting a bunch of random, irrelevant links to try and spike traffic. This used to work on occasion, but Google has since cracked down on link credibility. A great SEO agency will earn your search rankings with organic link building with reputable sites.

Keyword stuffing

Keywords make your page visible, and are important for hitting those high search rankings. But beware – plugging too many keywords will result in just the opposite. Google now penalises keyword stuffing as spam – and the same goes for overloading anchor text (i.e. attaching URLs to the same keywords). If your SEO agency hyperlinks one keyword, again and again, Google will chase it up for suspicious behaviour.

Even if Google doesn’t immediately pick up on keyword stuffing, it’s a sure-fire way to turn off your visitors. Keyword-stuffed text is difficult to read, and publishing low-quality content will lower your site authority. Although keywords may draw traffic, there’s little chance of turning that traffic to conversions if your site content isn’t helpful or engaging.

So, how would a credible SEO agency do it?

They’d use a handful of keywords as anchor text, making sure the language is varied and natural. The easier your site is to read, the better your Google ranking. They’ll also make sure your keyword density is no more than 4-5% of your content. Anything more, and you'll risk triggering Google’s spam filters.

Duplicate content

Great SEO is all about great content – meaning content that is engaging, helpful, and always unique. In an attempt to cut corners, cheap SEO agencies may fall back on duplicate work. This often means plagiarising from credible, high-traffic sites, who have already keyword-optimised their content. Often, these cheap SEO agencies will also rely on duplicating content from other parts of your website, with only minor changes.

With its sophisticated algorithms in place, Google picks up on duplicate content issues in an instant. Creating duplicate content not only harms your search rankings, but can also lower your authority big-time. After all, reproduced copy hints that your company isn’t knowledgeable in its field.

A reputable SEO agency, on the other hand, knows that fresh new content is always in Google’s favour. Because Google prioritises the user, it will reward your site when you do, too. A credible agency is always researching the latest industry developments, which means the content they provide will always be forward-thinking and unique. Having interesting and in-depth content also tells your readers that your company is an industry authority.

Final thoughts

Remember: a quality SEO agency always acts with transparency. Make sure your company boasts best-practice SEO – and don’t be afraid to stretch your budget a little for it.

And, although not all budget SEO agencies are going to use so-called 'black hat' tactics, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The last thing you want is to think you’re saving money with low-cost provider, only then to find out that you’ll have to pay a second agency to repair the damage done.

Searching for a best-practice SEO agency for your business? Talk to one of our SEO specialists to find out how you can get started.