A client recently asked me to talk to a sales representative with an “all-in-one” local marketing service.
The company promised a lot – they build you a website, get you on the first page of search engines, automate your social media efforts, collect online reviews and handle your email marketing.
Sound too good to be true?
Probably because it is.
I had investigated this company before after they contacted my husband’s law firm with a similar sales pitch.
What I found wasn’t pretty.
Hundreds of negative reviews.
Dozens of reports to the Better Business Bureau.
Numerous blog posts outlining how this company is a sham.
I’m thankful our client asked us about it. That’s why we’re here – to help our clients make smart, informed decisions about their marketing efforts.
But, if he hadn’t, he would have likely found himself in the same situation that hundreds of other companies have – out lots of money with little results to show for it.
Sadly, digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) is filled with snake oil salesmen, scammers and phonies.
These companies know you’re desperate to make your phone ring. They also know you are likely busy, overwhelmed and don’t have the time to handle this stuff yourself.
So, these scammers put together an amazing website, slick sales pitch and know just how to hoodwink small businesses into buying their solutions.
They promise the world, take your money and then get the heck out of dodge.
How to Avoid Digital Marketing Scams
So, how do you avoid getting ripped off? Here are some tips to help you:
1. Watch out for guarantees.
If a company promises they can get you on the first page of Google, you should run the other direction.
No company can guarantee results – especially when it comes to search engine rankings. Any company that promises to do so is selling you a lie.
After all, Google changes regularly as do search engine rankings. The search engine results today may be different tomorrow or even a few hours from now.
That’s why companies can’t (and shouldn’t) promise rankings on the first page. And, if they do, they are likely promising that for branded keywords (i.e. searching for “Blue Kite Marketing”, for example) or for phrases that aren’t valuable to your brand.
The same is true for social media and other marketing efforts. If the company promises hundreds or thousands of new followers, chances are good they are buying the followers or using spammy practices to get them.
Good marketing takes strategy, hard work and time to create success. The best marketers know this. They also don’t make promises they can’t keep.
2. Beware of hard sales tactics.
If the sales people are putting pressure on you to sign up today or calling you incessantly, this should set off alarm bells.
Many of the digital marketing scams out there use these sales tactics because they don’t have the credibility to back up their claims. Instead, they use pressure-filled sales to prey on desperate small businesses.
For instance, the company I researched had numerous complaints about their sales tactics. Many complained that the company kept calling despite asking to be on their “no call list.” Others said they continue to get nagged by sales people or that the company’s sales tactics were deceptive.
Trust your gut. If the sales people are pushing you too hard, take a step back to evaluate the company further.
3. Do your research.
Don’t believe everything you read on a company’s website. They paint a very rosy picture there. They can say whatever they want and only show you the most positive reviews.
You must dig deeper.
The good news is that you can typically find this information pretty quickly. If you’re looking into Acme Marketing, simply search for “Acme Marketing reviews” or “Acme Marketing complaints” to see what turns up.
When I did this for the company I was investigating, I found dozens of links in a matter of seconds.
You can also look at the company’s Google Plus page or Facebook page for reviews or see if there are any complaints on the Better Business Bureau or Ripoff Report. All of those are great places to look.
If you don’t see anything when doing this, this company likely doesn’t have any huge glaring issues. But, there are still a couple of things you should do to make sure.
4. Ask around.
Once you’ve done some research, ask around to see if you can find anyone you know who has worked with the company.
If you’re working with a digital marketing agency or consultant, ask them. They will be your best resource.
In the alternative, you can ask colleagues and friends or reach out on your social networks to see if there’s anyone who might be willing to offer some input or advice.
5. Talk to their customers.
Don’t take the testimonials on their website at face value. Ask to talk to their customers.
If they don’t want to provide that information or allow you to talk to them, that should be a big, red flag.
Reputable companies are happy to let you talk to customers for a reference.
Beware of SEO & Digital Marketing Scammers
Always remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you follow these steps, you will avoid falling victim to the SEO scammers and digital marketing frauds.
And, if you’re looking for more advanced tips, Moz offers an excellent guide to help you detect possible scams.
Have you ever encountered any digital marketing scams? What other things should people look out for when evaluating services?