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How to spot an SEO no-go


Enamel talks to SEO industry heavyweight, Marcus Miller, about avoiding SEO consultants who operate outside of industry best practice.

SEO is one area of the digital landscape which is evolving at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, this means the industry is awash with cheap and cheerful companies operating outside of SEO best practice to offer quick but often temporary, results.

The fact of the matter is simple, if you’re after long-term ranking success and want to avoid practices that could be ruinous to your online presence, then you need to play the long game.

But how can you be sure you’re employing the right team for the job? And how can you spot a potential SEO no-go in such a noisy marketplace?

We interviewed industry heavyweight, Marcus Miller, to learn more.    

So, who is Marcus Miller?

Apart from being a family man and all-round nice guy, Marcus is considered an SEO expert by industry figureheads, and frequently features in the Moz.com top 20 list of SEO professionals.

He contributed to the creation of the 2015 Local SEO Ranking Factors and has been cited on BBC Make it Digital, Ember TV, Moz.com, Search Engine Land, aHrefs and many other SEO and digital marketing industry blogs and news outlets.

As the owner of digital marketing and SEO agency, Bowler Hat, Marcus is passionate about achieving SEO success the right way, which he says “might not be the quickest way, or the cheapest”.

For him, the right way means abiding by best practice, not trying to outsmart Google and adopting robust and creative digital marketing strategies. For me, there was one line Marcus said during this interview which stuck in my mind: “It’s Google’s ball you’re playing with, so if you want long-term success, then you have to play by the rules.”

What did we want to find out?

We were keen to discover which online strategies, bold marketing statements or business practices should act as red flags for companies looking to hire an SEO agency or independent practitioner. We also wanted to learn more about the potential consequences of hiring the wrong person. Here’s what Marcus had to say:

Let’s not beat around the bush – what are the consequences of hiring the wrong SEO pro?

“Hiring an SEO team that relies on lower quality tactics to get your site ranking can be damaging in several ways. The most common consequence by far is pouring money down the SEO-plughole by investing in fringe tactics, which only deliver short term results at best. Using outdated or questionable SEO techniques can become ruinous over time, making it hard for your site to rank well. Ultimately you will have to invest more money to rectify the problem.

“At the sharp end, we’ve seen business face sizeable financial penalties or ruinous ranking demotions which render websites incapable of ranking past page 50. The good news is that, consequences this severe are becoming a thing of the past, with the latest link spam penguin algorithm update moving in favour of devaluing things like low-quality links, rather than penalising the site as a whole.

[NOTE: You might be wondering what the hell ‘link spam penguin algorithm’ is? Don’t worry, Marcus wasn’t drunk, ‘Google Penguin’ is a code name for an algorithm first introduced in 2012, which decides which sites rank well and why. You can read about it in more detail here.]

“The bottom line is, Google will only get smarter, so no matter how good you are at tricking it, using low-quality SEO tactics will always end badly.”

What are the most common low-quality tactics which businesses should look out for?

“There are so many and they usually all boil down to trying to trick the search engine in some way. It’s worth mentioning though, that many practitioners do this through naivety and a need to cut costs, rather than a willingness to make a quick buck in return for poor service.

“Many SEO companies are one-trick ponies, specialising in a particular SEO technique which on its own probably won’t be robust enough to secure long-term success. The most in-vogue poor quality techniques are:

  • Manufacturing low-quality links. Private blog networks are not compliant with Google’s webmaster guidelines. If an SEO pro utters these words to you, alarm bells should ring. Links remain an important part of any SEO strategy, but it’s about quality and relevance.
  • Low quality content and pages. Creating hundreds, or even thousands, of ‘doorway’ pages designed to rank for certain terms will not secure long term SEO success. Usually these pages focus on different locations (plumber in Leeds, plumber in Manchester, plumber in Birmingham) and contain almost duplicate content.
  • Keyword stuffing. Weaving in key search terms whilst maintaining great copy is an acquired skill, and one best left to a trained copywriter. An example of keyword stuffing would be creating sentences like: “We’re the best SEO company Birmingham and can help you with your SEO Birmingham.”

What are Marcus’ top tips for finding a reputable SEO pro?

“There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re investing in the right SEO team. The bottom line here is that sound SEO is built on hard work and consistency, strategic digital marketing and a solid understanding of how search works.”

You get what you pay for

“If you have £300 a month to spend and want to rank for highly competitive search terms then it probably isn’t going to happen. That’s not to say there won’t be half a dozen SEO firms willing to take your money and promise you the moon on a stick.”

Do your research

“Don’t be seduced by bold claims of ‘guaranteed results’ because in SEO there is rarely such a thing. “Ex-Google employees” is another popular sales line, which indeed sounds tempting. Remember that most UK Google staff work in sales for the AdWords PPC product – which gives them very limited experience when it comes to SEO.

“Do your homework above and beyond what the company says it offers. Research the founder, their experience and credentials so that you can be sure they are of a certain pedigree before they start work. As mentioned previously, naivety plays a big part in getting SEO wrong, so make sure you choose someone who has earned their stripes.”

Consider your overall strategy

“The most important part of finding the right SEO partner for your business is to opt for a team who can (and are willing to) evaluate your overall SEO strategy. Many poor-quality companies will hang their hats on the search terms which are less competitive and therefore easier to rank for so that they can say “we got you on page one” when the truth is, they’ve got your ranking for a search term which has no commercial value to your business and will therefore not deliver ROI. Make sure you discuss the harder SEO tasks as well as the easier jobs.”


If you want to find out more about Marcus and his team at Bowler Hat, visit their website. To find out more about producing engaging content, blog posts and SEO copywriting services, check out The Enamel Works.