Inheriting a Penalty from Another SEO Company

It has happened to us a total of 3 times now: we have signed a new client that was free and clear of penalties but after a few months a penalty was applied as a result of links being built from another SEO company’s work.

It’s Totally Our Fault

No, we were not the ones who built the links but in hindsight we should have been more vigilant.  Our accounts department is very well trained in SEO and they all know how to look for a bad backlink portfolio and signs of a penalty.

We agreed to take on new clients and move forward with an offensive SEO plan while remaining ignorant to the facts at hand: there were bad backlinks pointing to the site.

By choosing to ignore the facts at hand and begin an SEO contract when there are red flags, it is putting everyone at risk including ourselves.

Having “the talk” With Your Client

It is probably the hardest phone call you will ever make, or receive. It goes something a little like this:

“Sir, we are sorry but your site has been penalized and it is due to the tactics that your previous SEO company employed.”

What are they supposed to say to this? Our client hired us to make their site better in the search engines and it is now way worse.

Having to deal with this issue pop-up as a surprise without prepping your client first can be extremely difficult to say the least.

Some clients want to cancel right away, and rightfully so.  They want to go to another SEO company and pretend this did not happen.

The best thing to do is to be completely straight with your client:

SEO Scare Tactics

Ok no, I am not implying that we manipulate our clients by using scare tactics.  However, it is in our & our clients best interest to be upfront at the beginning of the agreement and disclose that there might be bad backlinks in place that must be attended to.

Most of the time if you show your clients cold hard facts paired with recent posts & videos by Matt Cutts that talk about sites that receive penalties, this is enough to at least get them on board and on track.

Using a fear based approach is perfectly legitimate as long as you are being forthright, honest, and you have the best interest of your client in mind.

Hold the Previous SEO Accountable

In a few cases, we contacted the former SEO company on behalf of our client and spoke with them about the penalty.

This also is not an easy conversation.  Most of the time the other SEO company is extremely defensive and will not take any accountability for what was done under their watch.

In my opinion, it is at least worth a try to attempt to get them to remove some or all of the links that were built by them.  A lot of times you can simply ask them if they have login access to these properties or contacts for webmasters of the offending domains.  Something is better than nothing.

In a best case scenario, the previous SEO company will take full responsibility and remove or disavow all of the links.

Change: Assessing Risk Pre-Contract

Since this happened 3 times in under 2 months, we knew we had to take action in a major way.  No longer could we blindly accept clients without regard for how risky their backlink portfolio might be.

In the past few months we made a bunch of changes.  The first change we made was contractual.  We added an addendum to all contracts that released us of any liability for any work that was done by other SEO companies.  But the goal is not to simply cover our own ass, we ultimately want to help our clients to the best of our ability.

The next change we made was treating every new client as if it is at risk for a penalty, and educating our clients on this fact up front.

In the past when we were courting a new client we would primarily create a plan of action that focused on building their brand organically in an offensive way. While we still incorporate this strategy in our pre-contract phase, we now also focus on any risk that might be in place as a result of links built by another SEO company.

The Future of SEO Contracts

Gone are the days where you can simply provide a set of static deliverables in a contract and hope your clients website will move up in the SERPs.  Every website is a dynamic enttity and must be treated differently.

To ignore the fact that a new client has a troubled history would be irresponsible and will most likely only harm you.

It is our duty to fully assess our incoming clients for any signs of a penalty, whether it is spammy backlinks or duplicate content.

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
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