The world has gone digital and with it comes the ability to create websites, send e-mails, and even chat online, all under false pretenses. Digital marketing scams seek to accomplish a variety of sordid things, from identity theft to monetary theft and beyond. With so much business happening online, how do you protect your small business from SEO scams?
At Outreach Digital Marketing, we specialize in custom SEO across a range of industries and niches. We work with businesses of all shapes and sizes, offering solutions to target individual aspects of your brand and digital identity. Working with so many companies across North America, we’ve come to learn the signs and weaknesses of digital marketing scammers.
Worried you might fall victim? Here are some tips to steer clear.
Do Your Due Diligence
Before committing to, or even considering an online marketing company, do some research for yourself. It’s easy to build a website and social media account, but not so easy to fake years of Google Business and Yelp reviews without getting caught in the act.
Beginning with the easy stuff through a simple Google search on the company, we suggest you proceed to look into management and individual members. Can you trace each identity within the company to a credible source? Look for things like:
- University credentials
- Cross listings
Each of these areas can be further investigated by contacting its place of origin and inquiring on the person or business in question.
Not seeing a lot of information on the company? It might be because there’s no information to find, and that’s a red flag. Remember, you’re hiring a digital marketing agency. If their own brand isn’t ranking highly online, it’s unlikely they can do the same for you.
Be Mindful of Businesses Who Promise the Sky
Is your prospective digital marketing and SEO agency promising big ROI fast? Does the price seem too good to be true? Are they offering your brand in major listings? If things aren’t adding up, there might be something missing. We recommend trusting your gut.
With that said, there are companies that have connections with major directories and can get their clients listed. If you have an opportunity for such a listing, just be wary. Do your research, as we mentioned above.
The biggest problem with these types of lies is that the company may try to list you somewhere, just not where you were expecting. If the directory your label ends up in has negative connotations attached, it could harm your company’s image.
Avoid Digital Marketers Who Avoid Reports
As a small business, it’s important that you monitor analytics to ensure your marketing efforts are making a difference. Overspending on marketing can be a killer for small businesses, so, maintaining a knowledgeable front will keep you on top of potential overspending and underperforming.
If a digital marketing company won’t send regular reports, it’s probably because they have nothing to report on. This is another red flag, especially if you’ve been working with them for more than a week. Even if the process is slow going, a professional digital marketing team will share ongoing data on your SEO pursuits.
Get a Second Opinion
There’s no harm in asking around if your digital marketing team gives you a suggestion that doesn’t make sense. A scammer will opt to get the most money possible out of your pocket for a single service. Usually, this focus points toward your website design and any flaws it may have. Why? Because optimizing a website is costly.
Of course, web optimization sometimes is the best place to begin a digital marketing campaign. This is where it’s important to get a second opinion. Talk to fellow small businesses about their digital marketing efforts, look for differences between your website and theirs, and speak with a second digital marketing and SEO company about their recommendations.
Don’t Fall for Fake Reviews
If a digital marketing agency is offering only examples and reviews from their personal website, it could be a red herring to a lack of positive reviews in general. Ask to see reviews and customer experiences from other avenues, like Google Business and Yelp. Remember, the farther back reviews go, the greater the chance that your SEO team is being honest with their self-portrayal.
If you’ve ever been to an interview or interviewed someone else for a job, you know that a common question is, “tell me about your biggest flaw”. Con artists aren’t likely to be forthcoming with any flaws at all, showing only the positive and ensuring anything negative is buried far beneath the surface.
Check out these stats by BrightLocal on fake reviews:
- 74% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, though they’re not always easy to spot
- Reviews with repeated exclamation points are more likely to come from reviewers who have never made a purchase
- Fake reviewers are much more likely to make specific requests to the seller or business
- The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates fake reviews potentially influence £23bn of UK customer spending each year
Make it Legal
Legally binding contracts make fraudsters nervous. Why? Because your lawyer needs to speak to their lawyer and that’s where fake names and businesses get messy.
You may find that a digital marketing company wants you to sign a contract as a new client. This is standard for payment and service retention purposes. However, be sure to tell them your lawyer will look it over first. Not only does this protect you in the case of legitimate contracts, but it will also force a fraudster to back off, citing some reason or another why your lawyer doesn’t need to get involved.
Never Buy Followers
Whether for social media accounts or your company blog, buying followers can lead to some steep penalties. Search engines are all about organic and natural traffic. They want to see that customers are genuinely interested in your brand and engaging with you as a business. When you buy followers, you essentially commit fraud against this algorithm. It could get you blacklisted on Google and other search engines. Worst of all, it could tarnish your reputation as an honest local business. Consumers don’t want to be tricked into liking or following your brand because you spent money on a bunch of bot accounts. They want to find a genuine connection to your brand.
If an SEO company is asking you to buy followers or offering it as part of their service – run. This is not the digital marketing company for you. Experts in online advertising know better than to tempt search algorithms and social media with fake followers. They should be warning you against such an act, not recommending it.
Ask for a Plan
Marketing fraud happens where there’s no plan in place. Or, when a plan appears too broad and doesn’t give you any specific steps to be followed. When a professional SEO company partners with a new client, they will take the time to go over your current online presence and build a strategy to move forward and improve it.
If your digital marketing execs are making big promises, but not giving you any tangible steps, it might be that they don’t know what steps to take to reach these outrageous goals. Asking for a plan, in print, is a good place to start when working to avoid fraudsters. It gives you something to physically follow as you begin a new digital marketing campaign, and it offers something in writing if you need to take things down a legal route later.
Be Picky and Shop Around
Fraudulent digital marketers pay to get their name where you’ll see it, if only for a short time. This doesn’t make them credible. When choosing an SEO expert, we recommend selecting from a pool of three different companies. Weigh them against each other and measure the pros and cons of each. Once you’ve got a handle on which company might best suit your brand, reach out.
Speaking to somebody at your digital marketing firm is important. It solidifies the beginning of a business relationship and lets you get a feel for how this company treats their clients. Meeting in person isn’t always an option these days, but speaking on the phone or video chat provides a more personal experience and an online chat meeting.
In the end, remember you’re in charge of your brand and business and it’s okay to be picky about who you let into your fold.
Digital fraud happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. Protect yourself by staying on top of your SEO company, and always playing a role in your marketing endeavors.
Contact Outreach Digital Marketing
Outreach Digital Marketing caters to small businesses like yours. We strive to design digital marketing services that make a difference and ensure your success. One of the ways we build rapport and trust with our clients is by being transparent. Transparency allows you to see who we are at our core, and what we’ve accomplished with our business, flaws and all.
We can help you grow your small business into a recognizable online brand, but we’ll do it the old-fashioned way, with honesty, hard work, and plenty of personalization.
Want to learn more about Outreach Digital Marketing and our small business digital marketing services? We can help your business level up! Contact us today by calling 1-805-624-6646.