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Search Engine Optimization is a term you have probably heard at some point over the last few years. Search Engine Optimization, better known as SEO, is much more than an industry trend or buzzword. SEO is a powerful strategy for web development which helps a website rank better on Google search results pages. Wouldn’t you want your business to come up when potential customers search for terms related to your industry? This is where SEO comes into play.

Black Hat vs. White Hat

While many agencies offer SEO services, it is essential to understand that not all SEO strategies are created equal. There are two schools of practice when it comes to SEO: Black Hat and White Hat. Black Hat refers to methods that Google does not approve of, while White Hat refers to working alongside the Google algorithm ethically.

Black Hat SEO can deliver incredible results, often very quickly, but these results often come with a price. Google regularly checks websites that are ranking-highly, and if they detect Black Hat tactics, they will penalize rankings and sometimes remove a site from their search engine entirely. So the question that remains is: how do you know if an agency uses black hat tactics? Below is a list of red flags you should watch out for when choosing a Search Engine Optimization provider.

Red Flags To Look Out For When Choosing An SEO Provider

1. An Agency Should NEVER Promise Specific Rankings

As a Google Partner, GriffinWink Advertising follows the policies put in place by Google. One of the most strict policies Google requires is not promising specific ranking position when offering SEO services. If an agency approaches you with promises that they will get your website  “ranking #1”, this is a major red flag.

Not only does this go against the policies which Google has in place, but it is also impossible to guarantee a ranking position. When an agency promises a specific page rank, they are most likely using Black Hat tactics as that is the easiest way to move up the rankings fast. Beware though, while your website might move up quickly, your site will be penalized, usually resulting in a lower position than where you started.

2. An Agency Should Always Provide (At Least) Monthly Reports

Since SEO can be a complicated subject, many companies attempt to skirt around providing regular reports and hope you take their word for how you are improving. While other software exists, at GriffinWink we use the undisputed leader in SEO technologies, Moz.

Moz can generate reports at any time that provide rich details about your website’s search engine optimization. You should be able to see how your site ranks for specific keywords by location. Reports can also include data such as the amount of traffic that has been earned through organic search queries, and the amount of sites that link back to yours.

If an agency does not have data and analytics to provide whenever you ask, this is a major red flag.

3. Look Out For Dummy Pages Used For Link Farming

No matter who you choose to work with for SEO services, it is important to stay involved in the process. Before deciding on an agency, gain a basic understanding of how your website runs and be able to login to the “back end” of the site. The front end of a website is what the public sees and what search engines refer users to. The back end of a website is where edits are made, and only you and your digital advertiser should have access.

Having a basic understanding of how your website operates helps you look for potential Black Hat tactics. For example, upon looking at a new client’s website, we discovered several pages the client was not aware existed. These pages were not linked to any menus on the site and contained information and links to companies not related to the client. These were masked as “Resource Pages” when in reality they were a Black Hat tactic. The client’s former agency used their website unbeknownst to them to advertise other clients’ sites and build backlinks.

The other agency did this because a significant ranking factor in SEO is the number of other websites that link back to your site. The proper way to do this is through working with directories like Yelp! or producing content that is so excellent other websites choose to refer back to it as a source.

4. If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

When you hire an agency to optimize your site, it is essential to pay attention to your rankings. While it is entirely possible to make big jumps quite quickly in some markets and industries, if you are all of a sudden ranking #1 for every single keyword related to your business, chances are something is fishy.

Search Engine Optimization is a long-term strategy for your business. It takes time and includes creating new content, filling in the proper metadata and alt-tags, altering existing content, building backlinks and optimizing how your site loads. Since there is so much that goes into a coherent SEO strategy, when a site jumps very quickly overnight, it can serve as a red flag for potential black hat tactics.

Google does not detect black hat SEO immediately. After all, the internet is a large place, with billions of pages. Even Google cannot regularly police every corner. But eventually, Google always detects when a site is trying to cheat the system. Many times, when a website jumps to the front page for multiple terms overnight, it is because of link stuffing.

While one client we have worked with at GriffinWink was using a different agency for SEO, they saw their backlinks jump from a reasonable level of a few hundred to 35,000 overnight. Needless to say, after a few weeks Google detected this anomaly and wiped all of their backlinks clean, leaving them in a worse position than when they started.

5. An Agency Should Always Get New Content Approved Before Posting

In the early days of SEO, one of the most critical aspects of the strategy was including keywords in various places around a website. While keywords do carry some weight in SEO, they are not the magic bullet they used to be. This is because Google searches have become more sophisticated over time. Google no longer searches only for the phrase you search but instead tries to determine the intent of your search query.

What this means, is that Google wants to provide you with the best possible information you may be looking for, not just a website that has the terms you used in your search. For this reason, keywords are slowly becoming less effective. Many agencies still rely on keywords as the cornerstone of their SEO strategy, and this results in many copywriters writing content that reads very unnaturally.

Let’s say for example you selling candy in Austin. Someone searching for your business might Google: “Candy Shop Austin.” Many agencies will try to include that exact phrase into your website’s copy thinking it will have great results. They might write something like this:

“We are the number one candy shop Austin. We carry all major brands from Hershey to Godiva. So do not delay, stop in and visit your local candy shop, Austin.”


That sounds pretty bad, right? We think so. That is why we choose not to ignore a keyword strategy but instead, write rich and colorful content that checks all the boxes of Google’s algorithm while still sounding as natural as possible. You always want to read and approve any new content that an agency wants to put onto your website. If it looks unnatural, clunky, or seems stuffed with keywords, you should send them back to the drawing board.


SEO is a compelling strategy in web development and digital marketing. It can make the difference between nobody finding your business and generating thousands of leads. Over 90% of online sessions begin with a search engine query, and more than 70% of Google users never click past the first page. In short, SEO should be the cornerstone of any digital advertising strategy.

SEO is a continually evolving school of thought. Google will continue to update its algorithms to return the highest quality results for their users. This is why it pays to work with an agency like GriffinWink, who not only follows best practices but adapts their approach overtime to return the best possible results for your website.

To learn more about our SEO services, or to get started, visit our SEO page here.

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