- Scare you by saying everything is wrong with your website
- Confuse you with a lot of technical language that is actually quite easy to break down into terms everyone can understand
- Convince you that they know some “secret SEO tricks” or “shortcuts” to get your site to the top of Google and beat out your competitors
- Charge you an arm and a leg for their services (which they may or may not actually follow through on)
Ask These Questions to Determine Digital Marketing ScamsThere are ways for you to avoid digital marketing scams. Here are some key questions to ask about anyone who approaches you:
1. Is this company legit?
- Customer testimonials or reviews
- Good Design
- Good Grammar
- Examples of previous work
2. Are they offering a one-size-fits-all package?Watch out for language like “If you just implement this one simple trick…” or “We know the one secret other marketers won’t tell you…” Ever notice how there’s no good one-size-fits-all approach to anything that’s difficult?
3. Do they put too much stock in vanity metrics?A good digital marketer measures practically everything. A great digital marketer looks underneath the numbers to infer meaning. Scammers may offer up nice-looking numbers when pressed, but do they see the big picture? For example, a high bounce rate is not always bad. A high click-through rate is not always good. When you look at these numbers in isolation, you may be tempted to break out into dance at your desk or cower under it without understanding what these numbers really mean for your bottom line. You should definitely try to improve bounce rates for relevant traffic – that is, traffic that contributes to your conversion rate. However, for some pages, bounce rates can simply mean that users found the information they needed or were not in your target audience. Some of your visitors may never become leads, no matter what you do, so you don’t need to spend time trying to capture them. Get this: A high clickthrough rate, often considered the map to the holy grail among marketers, can actually be bad. Sometimes it means the user isn’t finding what they’re looking for! Maybe they were directed to a landing page from an ad, and the landing page copy did not match the promise of the ad. They grew frustrated, started clicking around the site to find the information or product they were looking for in the first place and finally left.
4. Are they using “black hat” tactics?Search engines frown upon many SEO tactics that worked in the past, such as stuffing a bunch of keywords and phrases onto a webpage or including hidden text on the page that is meant only to be consumed by search engines and not users. But you know what? That hasn’t stopped many marketers from still trying to use such outdated tricks.
Marketing Scam Warning Signs:Tactics include…
- Asking you to pay for links (your site may see a temporary boost in traffic, but once search engines catch on, your website will completely drop off the results)
- Building links from irrelevant websites and low-quality directories, or having too many of these links on your own site. This is another old-school technique that doesn’t work anymore.
- Promising a front page ranking but not telling you how they plan to achieve it. If they make this promise, and especially in a short period of time, you can be sure they’re going to use some underhanded techniques to get you there. They’ll happily take your money – but then they won’t be able to help when you drastically drop off not too long after due to search engine penalties. (Google actually says to beware of these promises)
5. Are they claiming “insider knowledge” of Google?99.9% of people who work at Google don’t understand the algorithm. For an outsider to claim secret knowledge of Google’s inner workings is ludicrous. Even the Google Partner badge (which is definitely something important to look for in a digital marketing agency) simply shows that someone at the agency has completed Google AdWords training and passed certain certification exams. While it demonstrates that they are experts in the industry, it does not prove that they possess extra hidden secrets. Likewise, beware of anyone who claims to “know someone at Google” who can give you a leg up.
6. Is it too good to be true?Google says it best: “Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for ‘burn fat at night’ diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.” Guaranteed first-page rankings are another red flag that you might be dealing with a digital marketing scam. B. S. Puffery may very well get you to the front page and present a neat-looking monthly report with that shiny “#1”…but even if they don’t use underhanded tactics, what if you rank #1 for a phrase no one is searching for? The front page means nothing unless you’re actually getting some eyeballs on your page. Plus, there are so many different ways to get on the front page of Google. We’ll briefly go over them:
Ways You Actually Can Get on the Front Page of Google
Usually, a Knowledge Panel appears when users search specifically for your brand. It takes up a huge amount of real estate – about a third of the search results page without scrolling down. If you make sure your Google My Business profile is filled out, potential customers will be able to find all the information they need in order to contact you – phone number, email, hours, etc. (I thought it would be amusing to search for “Google” and see what they put in their own Knowledge Panel).
SitelinksTo the left of the Knowledge Panel, you will often find that another third of the page is devoted to not only your homepage, but also some of your most useful other pages:
When you search for one of our clients, Displays Fine Art Services, you see not only the homepage but also the pages that are typically most helpful to customers. They have storage facilities in both Dallas and Albuquerque, which is why those pages appear at the top, and their most popular fine art services relate to transportation and storage.
Paid AdvertisingGet this: When B. S. Puffery promises you front page rankings, he may not even be talking about organic search! When you use Google AdWords, your PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ad will appear closer to the top of the page depending on 2 things:
- How relevant your ad is to the user’s query
- How much you are paying
Local PackHave you ever searched “sandwich shop near me” or something similar? In these searches, you’ll find what’s called the “Local Pack” just underneath the ads. It includes a map and the top 3 businesses near you that match your search. I searched “digital marketing near me” and was not surprised by what came up: Google still prioritizes proximity, so as long as you have positive reviews and a solid online presence, odds are pretty good that you’ll appear on the front page at least for searchers nearest you.
Answer Box or Featured SnippetHave you ever just asked Google a question? “How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?” “How do I crate train my dog?” You’ll often get your answer at the top of the page without even having to click anything. Welcome to the convenient “answer box” feature that appears above other questions and the organic search results! Just for fun, I asked, “What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” (Major props if you get the reference). Here’s what Google came back with: If you can appear in an answer box or featured snippet, that’s great for your number of impressions as well as number of clicks. You’ll be established as an authority in that area, like our brand 1Dental for the phrase “cheap wisdom teeth removal.”
VideoIf I change the search slightly to “airspeed velocity of a swallow,” rather than receiving a direct answer to my query, I receive organic listings plus a clip of the referenced movie on YouTube: If your company has a strong presence on YouTube, that can also get you on the front page of Google.
Social Media AccountsThat’s right. Social media still matters – and not just video, either. If you have an active Twitter presence, like CNN, you might get a little “Twitter ticker” that appears on the front page:
Top StoriesIf your organization is newsworthy, like OSHA, top news stories relating to you will appear on the front page:
People Also AskWhen I ask Google how to train my puppy, it will not only show me the answer box but also other relevant questions I might find helpful below it: I present to you a couple of pictures of my newly-adopted dog just for the “awww” factor:
Organic RankingsFinally, we get to what people usually think of when they picture ranking on the front page of Google. When I search for “craftsman contractors fort worth,” one of our clients, S4S Design+Build, appears in the top spot: Fantastic, right? Yes, but here’s the thing: I actually have to scroll down to get to the #1 organic listing. In this case, there is no real estate left for natural organic listings above the fold because the space is taken up by ads and the Local Pack! Do you still want to rank #1 on organic listings if at all possible? Of course, because even with Google’s expanded space devoted to ads, most people still naturally scroll past them. Also, because people are used to looking for traditional organic listings, they may even scroll past the map. However, you see the point that “getting on the front page of Google” is part of a multifaceted, comprehensive digital marketing strategy. There’s no one trick that can get you there. There’s not a quick fix. There’s no hidden secret. Again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Is SEO Itself a Scam?Sometimes you’ll hear people refer to “the day SEO stopped working.” They say not to waste time on it. Nope. SEO never stopped working. It just changed, and people who couldn’t adapt fell behind. Some people think that SEO = stuffing meaningless text onto your website, paying for bad links from useless directories, putting hidden words on your webpages and basically creating an awful user experience for your customers. But if we break it down, Search Engine Optimization means precisely that – optimizing, or adapting, your pages to the patterns of search engines. Optimizing used to mean finding the loopholes in Google’s algorithm. As Google has gotten smarter over the years, optimizing means working with the algorithm. It means making an awesome website with useful content that will help your customers – and that’s what you want to do anyway, right?
“Technical SEO now means doing exactly what Google wants you to do to put you on the same level playing field as everyone else,” says Brad Urani over at Techli.Ultimately, you don’t just want “SEO” – you want full-service digital marketing that’s going to look at the whole picture, test and analyze.
We hope you’ve found this list of questions helpful. If you have any further questions about how to avoid marketing scams, or even a tale of a “B. S. Puffery” scenario that might be helpful for other readers, please share in the comments.
Thanks for the comment, Fred! Just checked out your site, and I really like your post about Instagram bots. I think chatbots, auto-follow bots and other “bots” are one of the more interesting developments in digital marketing to keep an eye on in 2018.
I agree. I think this is why it’s so important for business owners looking for digital marketing services to learn at least a tiny bit about what “SEO” actually is. Otherwise, it can be easy, especially when just getting started in the digital space, to fall for a quick-fix, low-cost solution. People probably reason that they might as well give it a shot, yet they don’t realize that “cheap” SEO can actually do HARM to their website. It’s never neutral.