Five Ways to Tell if Your Agency is Using Black Hat SEO

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Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

With Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms affecting around 15% of all searches, it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re doing things the right way when it comes to online marketing. So-called ‘black hat’ techniques like cloaking, building spammy links and keyword stuffing pages may have worked in the past, but nowadays they’re a quick-fix approach to sliding down the search engine rankings and alienating your audience.

So how can you smell a black hat rat? What are the tell-tale signs of an digital marketing agency damaging your brand with nefarious techniques? How can you spot black hat SEO tactics?

1 – They’re giving you unrealistic guarantees

For us, the great thing about working in marketing is there’s no hard and fast answer. You can put the hours in analysing the market, employ some of the industry’s most brilliant brains and create a campaign that you think will really take a brand to the next level. But you have no definitive answer on how well it will perform – you just have to wait and see.

Sometimes it works. Occasionally it surpasses your expectations. Every now and then it doesn’t. So if you have an agency that’s promising the earth to you – whether that’s an incredible surge in customer traffic or ranking first for a very competitive keyword – in a short space of time, you should be suspicious.

Organic SEO is a process that works gradually over the long term. There’s only way to get big results, quick, and that’s through disreputable black hat techniques.

2 – They’re not doing the business for other clients

We know that every agency lives and thrives by word of mouth. Therefore, it’s important to get an idea of the work that your agency is doing for other businesses. Talk to those business contacts who recommended your agency: What are they doing online? Are they getting results over the long term? Have they ever noticed a sharp fall in site visits?

3 – You’ve got dodgy backlinks

Getting the right links to a site is an essential part of online marketing. So why not take a look at the links that your agency is building to your site? Majestic SEO runs a free, easy to use service that allows you to examine your site’s backlinks. Or ask your agency for a monthly list of the links they’re building to your site. Here are some things to look out for:
•    Have you recently witnesses a huge rise in links to your site?
•    Are there a variety of terms being used as anchor text?
•    Is your brand a common anchor text term?
•    Are you being linked to by adult websites and foreign pages?
If your link profile looks unnatural to you, then sooner or later Google will decide the same thing and you’ll start to slide further down the rankings.

4 – They’re telling you the wrong things

Nowadays a cohesive, all-encompassing content strategy is pretty much the only way to get great organic results over long periods of time. Therefore, if your agency isn’t talking about content and working with you to bring customers to your site through informative, entertaining blogs, videos and infographics then they’re probably working on some shadier techniques.

5 – Your traffic has dropped

Hopefully, if your agency happens to use dodgy link building techniques you’ll notice before it’s too late. But unfortunately the majority of black hat practices are only discovered when search engine rankings take a huge tumble. As a result, visitors dry up and revenue decreases sharply.

What can I do if my agency has been using black hat on my brand?

The good news is that you can start to build your way back up the rankings, but it will take time to convince Google you’re acting properly. And the sooner you act, the better.

You’ll need to start doing things the right way:
•    Using Google’s Disavow Tool to disassociate yourself from any spammy links
•    Writing online content that informs and benefits your customers
•    Making your website easy to use
•    Diversifying your anchor text, with an emphasis on brand searches
•    Sharing your knowledge with relevant websites through guest blogging
•    Growing your brand on social media

Need help recovering from a Google penalty?

White-hat SEO results may take longer, but in the long run you reduce the chances of being hit by a Google penalty. Read how long it takes to see SEO results to find out more.

Talk to us, we can help. With fully accountable programs and a commitment to keeping you informed every step of the way, we’re committed to building, and protecting, your brand online. Call our Cardiff SEO agency on 029 2076 6467 or London 020 7549 2818 today or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

Owen has worked in primarily Ecommerce since leaving University. Many years spent in the online sports retail arena before gaining experience in the online catering business then becoming digital marketing manager for national toy company before finding his feet in SEO. As a results driven individual Owen loves nothing more than when we can give…

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