5 Signs Your Agency Is SEO Clueless

Ian Lurie

Big agencies throw “SEO” on their services pages the way I throw exercise clothes into my suitcase: They know there’s no way in hell they’ll use it.

Another “big-time” agency just did it, and I’ve got steam coming out of my ears because this means another list of Fortune 1000 clients will get second rate service (if they’re lucky).

And, frankly, it means Portent won’t get those clients. So help me out.

You can check your agency’s Search Engine Optimization (that’s what SEO is – your agency may not know) skills. Try these tests. If any turn up positive, dump the SEO team like last week’s compost:

1: Ridiculous Redirects

Nerd method: Run a CURL command on the agency’s web address. It should show a 200 response.

Muggle method: Go to a site like httpstatus.io. They’ll do the work for you. Far less nerd cred, though, and you may not get the most accurate results.

Either way: If it returns a 301 redirect, that’s not great. If it returns a 302 redirect, punch the agency team in their collective faces and shove them out a window. If it shows multiple consecutive redirects, see previous. Shannon Walsh explains why here.

302 redirects are bad

I just threw up in my mouth

Note: Google’s muddied the waters about 301 versus 302. Don’t believe it. There’s a fundamental difference between 301 and 302 redirects.

2: Cro-Magnon Title Tags

Go to Google and type this into the search bar, using your agency’s web address:

A site: search on Google

A site: search on Google

Look at the first result. The top bit is usually the site’s title tag. It should fully describe the company. This does not:


I get it! That's funny! Hahahahaha... You're not joking, are you?

I saw this on a real agency site today. I pooped a brick. An honest-to-god, ready-for-use brick.

If a title tag reads “home,” someone got hit on the head with a two-by-four. Ask your agency: Is that your title tag? Really? I mean, really?!!!

Google and Bing prioritized title tags shortly after we started walking upright. There’s no excuse for “Home.”

3: The Mononational Multinational

Does your agency claim “Global” status?

That means they have offices around the world. I can’t blame anyone for using their mom’s apartment as their Paris location. I have a Manhattan office in my mom’s condo near Columbus Circle.

I start eying sharp implements when a so-called multi-national doesn’t do basic international SEO. You can check:

  1. Go to your agency’s home page
  2. View their source code: If you’re using Chrome, click view >> developer >> view source
  3. Search for “hreflang.”

The “hreflang” tag tells visiting browsers and search engines how to find alternate-language versions of the current page. If your agency is international, they should have an hreflang tag. While there are some explanations for not using hreflang, they all suck.

Your agency doesn’t know squat about SEO. They don’t know diddly, either.

4: Structural Stupidity

Go to Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Enter your agency’s address.

If the test returns zero items, run. Screaming.

It can return errors. It can return warnings. If it returns nothing, then your agency drank from the stupid fountain, long and deep.

5: Keyword Caca

Ask your agency, “Which meta tags do you optimize?”

If they include the keywords tag, kick them out. Scour the floor upon which they stood. Filter the air they breathed. Rub down your office with alcohol wipes. Scrape off your outer layer of skin and bathe in Purell.

Otherwise, you may catch whatever imbecillic virus they had. The keywords meta tag hasn’t mattered since I weighed less than 170 pounds. Which was a long time ago.

Sooo much more

Agencies claim they can do SEO. Then invent new and creative ways to punch themselves in their relevant private parts. I could list another fifty or sixty things to look for. But the five above are tests almost anyone can run. Start with them.

I’m always impressed that a digital agency can even publish a meaningless title tag without triggering the apocalypse. Save us all:

This Is A Trust Issue

How can you hand your SEO fate to an agency that can’t even optimize their own site?!!!! If your agency’s site has any of the above symptoms, take the SEO work away from them.

But also consider whether you want to work with them at all. They’re prepared to deliver a critical service about which they have no clue. Is that the foundation of a good working relationship?

Nope. May I recommend a fine agency in Seattle…?

Next time: Detecting PPC idiocy

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Nice rant – but really this is not how we decide if an agency knew what they’re talking about or not!
    It’s a lot more simpler & holistic – you’re just scaring people who don’t know much into thinking this is it.
    It’s not. And to figure if an agency knows what they’re talking about or not – one just has to ask them why should we do what they suggest and how to measure. Simple.

    1. If you knew nothing about HTML, could you figure out what was true and what wasn’t when someone told you why to do something or why not? Nope.
      The idea here is a nice, easy test. If an agency can’t do stuff this simple, they don’t do SEO.

  2. My favorite: They have no idea who Matt Cutts is. That’s like an attorney not knowing who the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is. Or a financial adviser not knowing who the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is. Simple, non-technical question that anyone can use to vet an SEO practitioner.

  3. This rant was pretty funny (especially the bit on meta keywords) but in all honestly, there are more pressing things to watch out for when choosing an agency. Yes, people who claim to be “global” and those who do nothing but spam with schema are definitely SEO’s that you want to avoid. Bigger red flags would be guaranteed #1 rankings within short periods of time, no references or referrals and a website that looks like the default theme of WordPress.

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