Following the recent Interflora penalty, I bet many SEO agencies asked themselves this question: what if this was our client? Despite the fact that there was no proof of a single agency who listed Interflora as their client being clearly responsible for the penalty, incidents like this one can easily destroy an agency’s reputation and ultimately, the whole business. Recovering can take years and a lot of hard work.
Whose fault is it?
The real fault of the agencies involved in working with Interflora lies in not discovering the problem which was most likely created inhouse over a prolonged time period or, if they did discover and understand it, not insisting on fixing it and explaining the risks to Interflora. The responsibility of the SEO agency working for a client like that should have been to look into their whole setup, see the existing risks, evaluate them and suggest the improvement strategy, regardless of the actual job they are hired for.
That’s what we do for our clients. On the other hand, this being a large business likely wanting to remain in control of their strategies (and this may sound familiar to many agencies with large clients out there) they might have not left much choice to the agencies working for them and just didn’t give them the right to change that structure. It is typical for large companies to have a complex relationship in place determining what gets done in-house and what external agency is hired for what kind of work.
It is also not unusual that the in-house people running the whole show might not be the brightest types but would still want to keep as much control over the prices as possible in their hands. This is understandable, but if an agency tells an in-house SEO about the threats they see it is silly to just brush that warning off. Yet, this is what happens in many cases.
It should be therefore necessary for the agencies to establish the rule where they evaluate the risks, bring them to the attention of a client, if the client does not want to fix whatever looks risky in their setup but still wants the agency to work on some part of their campaign it might be safer for the agency to just say no rather than risk getting into a situation similar to Interflora’s. I know, sounds crazy turning down clients but losing the whole business must be much worse.
How can I prevent this?
That all said, we understand that in real life there is more than one agency involved in the process. No matter what you discover and suggest and no matter if they take your advice, if you are not their exclusive agency what are the chances another agency does not do something sketchy that gets them penalised, and then it’s as good as anyone’s guess to gauge the public opinion on what exactly got the client burnt since there is no comment from Google in any case.
What could be a way out is setting up a standard for independent SEO audits of companies’ websites and networks, maybe even recurring ones, much like it is done with financial audits. I understand that not every agency has the skills for a serious comprehensive audit, and there are always hidden motives if somebody does an audit for a client they potentially will work for – it is tempting for some to “discover” things that aren’t there to get a larger chunk of work and more budget. Hence, there is a place for qualified independent reviewers who have no interest in a site other than the actual audit they are running.