Let us start with a rant…

So, recently I came across a post on LinkedIn saying SEO is dead. In the two years of experience in this industry, I have read this a countless number of times, but this was a connection of mine who had no idea of the long-term effect SEO can have on your website. And when I talked to that guy, he had come to this conclusion because of his previous experience! I was not at all surprised by that, I realized that this guy has been a victim of one of the various digital marketing scams ongoing in the industry! I am active on a lot of Facebook and Google Plus communities where people are ferociously under-cutting each other. It has come to a point where people are selling content-writing services for a few dollars! The other day, someone was offering to write a 2000 Word Article for $5!! I mean, how can you do that? It takes me around 8 hours to write a 2000 Word Article, I could not believe what I was seeing.

People were ready to slice their prices in half or even more than that just to compete with others. And you know what happens? This never stops! People will keep under-cutting each other to the point where they themselves have to pay the client to write content. And do you think, these people are going to bring you quality content which actually converts your audience? Nuh uh! If I am writing a long-ass article for $5, trust me I am going to copy-paste and use article spinners to churn out content for you.

My advice to all freelancers is that you need to start valuing yourself. Do not sell yourself short just for one gig. It will ruin your value forever. Build up authority, show the client what you bring to the table and prove that that you are charging the appropriate amount for the quality of your work. Because what I believe, is that clients pay for the value you bring, so learn to value yourself and focus on getting better at what you do. And don’t even think about the other clients who don’t want to pay you what you are worth.

So, now I had decided to write this article for clients and businesses who are looking to hire a freelancer or an agency for outsourcing their digital marketing work, but I just had to get that rant out of the way. Now, moving on!

Why are there so many Digital Marketing Scams?

SEO crime

Well, if you went through my rant, you would realize why there are so many scams in the digital marketing industry. Two main reasons :

  1. Freelancers/agencies undercutting prices and compromising the quality of their work.
  2. Clients without any knowledge of the industry just looking to pay the least amount of money without considering the quality of work!

So this is a two-way street actually. The clients as well as the agencies/freelancers are bringing the value of their work down. I hope this work reaches the clients looking to out-source their digital marketing needs so they can navigate through the heaps of con-artists in this industry and find the right agency for their needs. Or it will at least help you identify the red flags and stay away from these “Digital Marketing Experts”. This is the first red flag, actually, if you see someone calling themself a Digital Marketing Expert, RUN! and never look back. If you ran, then congratulations! You just avoided one of the most prevalent digital marketing scams!

How to stay away from Digital Marketing scams and save yourself from getting ripped off?

Digital Marketing is a fast-growing industry today. And thus, digital marketing scams are also on the rise! This is because all the businesses are going online right now, people are finding it less of a hassle. If you want to start a store, an online store is most definitely the better way to do it. This will prevent the cost of renting a place to set up your store. Instead you are renting a domain online which will cost you about 1/10th of the price. So, you understand why Digital Marketing is getting popular, and as with every thing that gets popular, people start exploiting it. Digital Marketing is the need of the hour, not just a want for any company to be successful.

Here is how you decide which is the right freelancer/agency for your Digital Marketing needs!

#1 Check the credibility of the agency to prevent digital marketing scams!

Everyone will claim they have x years of experience and they have worked with y number of clients. But, how do you even know that they are speaking the truth? Well, you need to do some research!

  1. Go through their social media profiles, look at how much engagement they are generating, look at their brand parternships and reviews. If they have actually worked with legitmate clients, then you will definitely find something about the clients and their experiences with the agency somewhere on their profile.
  2. Check out for how long they have been in the business. Look for the team on LinkedIn, even if the agency is new, the founders might be experienced! The company being new does not have to be a reason for you to discredit them, although you need to be cautious and work out some arrangement so you don’t get taken for a ride.
  3. These new “agencies” usually buy social media followers, so do check out if they receive any engagement on their posts or not.
  4. Look for the company’s website. Check if their design looks good to you. An agency who cannot optimize their own website, will definitely not be able to get you any results!
  5. An agency who cannot market itself has no scope of producing any results for you, always keep that in mind.
  6. Google search this company, and look for what people are talking about them. If it is a well known, reputed agency there have to be articles mentioning these companies! Try negative search terms like “fraud” , “digital marketing scam by”, “poor results” with the agency’s name. I believe negative searches are the best way to gauge a company’s credibility.
  7. Watch out for companies acquiring fake awards or paid reviews from publications. If you are finding it hard to spot the difference between fake awards and real awards, do a negative search for the awarding body and you will get your answer.
  8. Agencies will list down a lot of clients and put their logos on their website under the banner ” Our happy clients”. It is your job to find out whether they actually worked with happy clients or not, don’t hesitate to get in touch with few of these clients and confirm it. It is your hard-earned money, do not give it away without doing full research.

#2 Enquire about the team

You know what is funny? Most of the agencies out there are actually outsourcing their work to under-paid freelancers. So you outsource your digital marketing work to an agency which in turn outsources their work to freelancers. This raises a question over the quality of work done. So what you pay for is not what you will be getting. You will be getting what the agencies decide to pay for. Now, this is not an issue when the agency outsources the work to qualified people, but it is a problem when the agency outsources this work to some unknown entity.

So, confirm if the agency is going to be outsourcing your work or they have an in-house team. An in-house team guarantees that everybody works in sync with each other and the agency has complete control over the entire project. If the agency is outsourcing your work, let the agency take complete responsibility of reviewing the work before pushing it forward. Or, you can put a clause in your contract where you are not liable for any payment to the agency if the work was outsourced by them. Depends on your choice!

You can ask the agency to connect you with the freelancer so you can review them and see if they are fit for your work. How you go about it is your choice, I just want to address the issues you need to deal with! Digital marketing scams are on the rise and it is better to be safe than sorry!

#3 Stay on Top of the Project all the time!

So you finally chose a company with a decent reputation, now this does not mean that your work her is done! Choosing the right agency is just the first step. Now, ensuring your money is going to get you results is the next step!

But you don’t have time to follow up? Well, if you are not going to follow up and manage your project then be prepared for unfavourable results. If you don’t have time, here is how you ensure that the project gives the best results:

  1. Hire a project manager or an account manager, or give someone you trust this task if you are working at a small business and hiring is not an option.
  2. List down your expectations from this project. Use this expectations and note down your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) through which you will monitor your project.
  3. Make sure you set your KPIs according to your requirements, do not go for standard KPIs as this will never help you get the right result.
  4. Demand daily/weekly/bi-weekly/monthly reports according to the length of your project.

A Digital Marketing Agency which does not offer reporting should not be hired. You can almost get all the data you need from Google Analytics itself, so there is no reason why the agency should not be able to provide you reports. This helps you prevent scams. Pay according to the results obtained.

#4 Beware of botched reports

Do not let any agency take you for a ride! Agencies have a bad practice for billing you more for your Ad Spend. If they spend $1000 on Ads, they may try to bill you for $2000. A great way to counter this is by letting them use your Ad accounts so you can see the actual spend. There is nothing wrong with agencies charging for their services. But if they are twisting numbers to squeeze more out of you, that is certainly wrong! You, as agencies need to make sure that you are paying them well enough for their services, so they do not have to resort to this! But, alas some people are very greedy and they will try to get more out of you!

Be very clear about the amount of money you are allocating, and make sure the agency takes responsibility if they overspend. You are not liable for the extra money spent if you were very clear in the beginning about the money you want to spend. This kind of false reporting is one of the most prevalent digital marketing scams out there. And clients who have no idea about the actual cost, just pay up the amount! Especially if the result is good, the client is more than happy to pay. However, this does not change the fact that the agency is actually doing a crime! The only way to stay away from these digital marketing scams is to educate yourself about the average costs associated with your business.

#5 Have an honest discussion about the expected results

If any agency says they can guarantee rankings or get you on the first page of Google in 2 months, then they are lying to you or maybe they are even lying to themselves, because I have seen people rank for never searched before keywords and thinking they are good at ranking a website. No agency has control over what results Google displays, and they can’t even dictate what your competitors will do. They might get you the first page rank, but if it is not targeted for the correct audience, it is bullshit.

Put forward what you expect from the agency, if the agency offers you too good to be true results, note that they are really too good to be true. This is a two-way street, you need to have realistic expectations and the agency needs to be honest with their forecasting too. Take a few days to decide if you are a good fit for each other, don’t just jump into a deal!

Be as specific with your expectations as you can. You want people to organically find your t-shirt store online? You need to rank for keywords where the customer shows the intent of buying. If people who don’t want to buy your product are coming to your store, then it is of no use. So keep that in mind before conveying your expectations.

If you find click-bait words like “Get your website on the first page of google“, “Get a 5x ROI in your first month” etc etc., please stay away from them. PLEASE! It is exactly what you want to hear, and it is exactly why these digital marketing scams happen. You think, these guys are not charging much and offering so much, so you think about giving it a try, but try not to do that. The results will never be long-term and you will start doubting the effectiveness of Digital Marketing in general. Avoiding digital marketing scams is easy really, just keep your eyes open.

These agencies are saying what you want to hear, but not what you need to hear. Sure, but don’t listen to me I am justĀ  a random blogger, what do I know? Listen to Rand Fishkin who tells you why exactly the top SEO companies never guarantee any results.

#6 Make sure you don’t get fooled by someone offering a singular strategy

Never fall for a one-dimensional strategy. SEO, Social Media, E-Mail and any other method of promotion are all inter-linked. One might get you a better result than the other but one cannot survive without the other. If someone offers you results by doing just e-mail marketing or social media marketing, please do not fall for that. Sure, the agency may be great in writing great e-mail copies or they are an expert in social media campaigns, but what happens after that? After the initial engagement, the audience needs to be converted! For this you need a well optimized landing page. Who is going to do that? If you are not, then the agency will say that it is your problem that you din’t convert the traffic sent to your website. And of course, it is your fault because you did not explain what exactly you wanted. And the agency used that to take you for a ride!

If someone offers you a single solution to all your woes, then it is definitely one of the digitial marketing scams! Digital Marketing projects require a multi-dimensional strategy. Keep that in mind!

#7 We discussed reporting earlier, but what do you do with the data?

If the agency offers you data reporting without any real recommendations about using the data, then what good is that? If you are not using your data in your stratgies, then it is completely pointless.

Based on the data, the agency should be able to do some analysis about things. For example :

If 100 users are coming to your landing page, but only 2 are converting, then the agency should be pointing out that there is something wrong with your landing page and make changes accordingly.

This is a simple example, but you get the gist. Make sure the agency is using data and not just reporting it. This means they should improve on the good results and not be afraid to display bad results too. This will help them and help you get better results next time.

Results are not immediate in Digital Marketing, so it requires patience too!

Bonus #8 Do not buy Social Media Likes, Followers or Engagement of any sort

It is not hard to distinguish fake followers from real followers. It is better to have 10 real followers than 1000 fake followers. These 10 followers may bring you business, but those 1000 followers will definitely not bring you business.

This is specially for those very small businesses or start-ups who fall prey to these kinds of digital marketing scams.

Conclusion

Hopefully this will help some of you out there to choose the right agency for your digital marketing needs! New start-ups and small businesses should especially stay away from these digital marketing scams as they are the most prone to fall for these. It is disheartening to see that the profession is being undermined because of some bad actors. We as marketers also need to take reponsibility, since it helps us too! Good service will help you retain your customers, bad service will get you one paycheck! Choice is yours, retain a client and gain reputation in the market or scam different clients every month! I hope you make the right choice too!