How to Avoid the SEO Rug-Pull

A Guide to Verifying and Securing your SEO work. Prompted by yet another example we came across of a client paying for “rented” SEO features without knowing it that it wasn’t theirs to own.

That title above isn’t in H1 and we don’t care. How it functions as a meaning signal on the page relative to the rest of the content is more important. Just call us “SEO Rebels”.

The reputation of the industry suffers for a reason. Today, we came across an interesting question posted by a user in a Facebook group we’re part of. The question essentially asks if it’s fair for an SEO company to remove all the content they created for you once you decide to end your collaboration. We must approach this question with caution, as the specifics of each agreement can vary greatly. Nevertheless, let us provide you with our perspective on how SEO services are typically delivered by an agency:

When a business recognises the need for SEO work on their website due to a lack of organic search traffic, they begin searching for an agency to hire. Finding agencies offering SEO services is not difficult, as we are constantly bombarded with spam messages from such companies. The real challenge lies in selecting an agency that truly knows what they are doing. Many agencies claim to be experts, but only a few actually possess the necessary knowledge and expertise.

Additionally, understanding the exact deliverables of an SEO service can be challenging. SEO is a complex and ever-evolving field. By the time a book on SEO is written, it is likely outdated. So, relying solely on books is not the best approach. Here are a few general guidelines to consider:

Content for SEO:

An agency agrees to provide SEO work either based on an agreed-upon value or a specified volume per month. Ideally, they should use tactics that can be easily monitored, such as creating content, editing website text, optimising images, and more. These tangible developments can be shown to the business as clear evidence of work. If you hire our agency, RankPower, to create SEO content for you, you become the owner of that content.

However, some agencies may have agreements allowing them to hire out the content to multiple end-users who utilise it in their marketing materials. If this is the case, it should be explicitly stated in the agreement, and it may mean that the agency owns the content. Consequently, your right to use the content may cease once your collaboration with the agency ends. At RankPower, we take a different approach. We do not bind our clients with contracts and provide them with ownership of all the work we produce. We believe in building long-term relationships based on trust, rather than forcing clients to stay through contractual obligations

Technical SEO:

Certain elements of SEO, like meta data, schema markup, descriptions, titles, language references, and canonicalization, are less obvious but still essential. Although demonstrating the impact of these elements may be harder than showcasing visible content, efforts should be made to highlight the changes made for SEO purposes and provide insights on what is working and why.

These technical aspects become integral parts of your website’s code. If you pay us to develop and apply them, they are yours 100%. Some agencies may also offer to work on other SEO elements that are harder to demonstrate, such as link building and off-page SEO. However, it’s important to note that link acquisition, apart from natural processes, goes against Google’s guidelines. According to Google, links should be earned, not bought. If an agency strictly adheres to this guideline, their plan may involve sharing content on social media, collaborating with influencers, and obtaining permission from other businesses to publish content on their sites. Although some of these tactics may not have a direct impact on SEO, they contribute to brand equity, which is crucial for gaining market trust and naturally acquiring links.

Connecting Links to Success Metrics:

Demonstrating link acquisition can be challenging, especially when hundreds of links are involved. Moreover, establishing a clear connection between these links and improved organic traffic is often elusive. Consequently, if your business experiences a surge in organic traffic in the future, it might be difficult to attribute it directly to the links.

Link Ownership:

Ownership of links can be a complex matter. Some agencies resort to “link farming” where they own or control the domains hosting the links. This approach saves them the effort of finding suitable places to add links. In some cases, web development agencies engage in this practice, creating hidden pages on their clients’ websites and linking to other sites from there. They may rent out these links to clients who pay for SEO services. This tactic is dubious and goes against Google’s guidelines. If caught, it could result in wasted time and money for the client. Furthermore, the clients may not even be aware that their websites are hosting link farms, leading to potential legal battles.

At RankPower, we never engage in link building as a specific task. Instead, we focus on content-driven strategies that align with Google’s guidelines and help our clients naturally earn links. All our off-page SEO efforts revolve around content that our clients own.


By reading this far, you should understand that ending your partnership with RankPower is a straightforward process. We will not claim ownership of the work we have done, and it will continue to benefit your website even after we part ways. However, this may not be the case with other agencies. Terminating collaborations with them can become messy and complicated, and we are deeply dismayed that some agencies do that on purpose.

The SEO Rug-Pull:

One technique some agencies employ for technical SEO is using Google Tag Manager to inject content into your website. This content is usually visible in the Document Object Model (DOM) code of your website. However, when you sever ties with the agency, they might argue that they own the Google Tag Manager account and subsequently remove the injected SEO work from your site. It’s akin to pulling the rug out from under you.

These agencies may warn you about the need to continue SEO work to avoid falling behind. However, what they really mean is that you must stay in a relationship with them, or they will remove the work they have done. This tactic can leave you in the dark about what was or wasn’t done and make you believe that the agency was right all along. Consequently, it’s no surprise that many businesses distrust SEO professionals and view the field as a scam.

Identifying Dodgy SEO Practices:

Before partnering with an SEO agency, it’s crucial to understand the type of SEO work they will deliver. SEO is not magic; it requires hard work. No one has a direct line to Google or possesses all the SEO knowledge and secrets. Any agency that guarantees specific rank positions in Google search results is misleading you. Such guarantees often revolve around keywords that already have a high chance of success, regardless of the agency’s efforts.

A tactical plan should be provided to you, outlining the agency’s approach to your SEO work in broad terms. It doesn’t need to be detailed, just a one-page summary would do. For instance, it should specify the number of content pieces produced per month, the platforms used for content sharing, and the focus on technical SEO and a strategy for link acquisition. During regular review meetings, ask the agency to demonstrate the produced content. If nothing tangible is presented, it suggests that the agency either focuses solely on technical SEO (which can be verified by experienced web professionals) or engages in link building through means not approved by Google. Clarity on the agency’s approach should be established from the beginning.

If the SEO work is highly technical and not immediately visible, inquire about quantifying its value, measuring the results, and ensuring long-term ownership of the work remains with you. If the work involves link building, it should ideally be part of a content sharing program, aligning with Google’s guidelines. Otherwise, there is a risk that your investment may be wasted if Google detects unnatural link acquisition. This often leads to performing more of the same work when the value of those links are discredited, and more of the same again can result in a penalty to your search rankings.

How to measure the success of SEO work:

This is the really tricky part.

It’s tricky because the side effect of Paid Advertising in Display or Video channels is Brand Search, so you may not be able to draw any clear line between SEO growth and SEO effort if you are actively building your brand in other channels.

Right there, I have said there is a relationship between running a paid display ad, and the amount of organic Google search that results for your brand. That is one of the first and highly measureable steps towards SEO success, and you can easily monitor in two ways:

  1. By watching Google Search Console for your brand keyword and how many times you win traffic from it.
  2. By runnng Brand Only ads in Google Ads and measuring your market share and demand over time.

Both of these are quite in-depth tactics, so there would be no surprise if you’re not sure where to start to surface that data. You can’t use Google Analytics (organic search channel data) to measure your SEO success because you can’t tell how much of that organic traffic is a flow-on from Paid Ads driving Brand Awareness, not SEO. You also can’t use Google Analytics to detect details about the demand-side: i.e. how much market demand is actually occurring that you are getting a share of. Increases or decreases in demand observed in resulting Google Analytics data will lead you to drawing incorrect conclusions about the success of your organic channel.

RankPower recommends that you use a combination of Google Search Console data AND Google Ads performance data to really understand your SEO position. This is because both of these tools operate in the same environment, but simply with different viewpoints of the same data, giving you are broader and more accurate perspective.

The Cost of SEO:

Running paid Ads obviously costs money. So what is the cost of SEO?

Great SEO pays off over time, usually not immediately. And if done well, it continues to pay off for a while later, even after pausing the effort. If your business hired an agency to do SEO work and when you ended their contract everything went bad, then you probably experienced the SEO Rug-Pull.

Bad SEO (or SEO that ends in the Rug-Pull) costs you in two ways: You paid for the work to be done. And you will have lost precious time where positive SEO effect should continue to pay off later. Bad SEO is often cheaper by the dollar, but far more expensive by the result and the potentially negative impact to your business.


To avoid falling victim to the SEO Rug-Pull, it is essential to know exactly what you are signing up for and to have tangible evidence of the work being done. SEO is not a magical solution but a result of hard work. Furthermore, ensuring that all paid work becomes your property is crucial. The responsibility for consequences of the SEO Rug-Pull lies with the agencies that engage in such practices. Identifying these agencies and avoiding them will protect your business and contribute to the integrity of our industry.