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7 Ways Small Business Get Scammed by Digital Marketing Services

May 24, 2021 | Business, SEO, Web Design

Digital marketing scams

Digital marketing is not just an option but a necessity in the interconnected world we live in. Even as early as the year 2000, around half of the American adults were already using the internet. Today, the proportion stands at 93%, according to Pew Research. Given this level of internet penetration, if you have a target audience, they are on digital platforms. Digital marketing helps you capture their attention.

Knowing that many business owners choose to outsource online marketing, there are a myriad of agencies offering these services. Alarmingly, however, there’s no shortage of digital marketing scams that businesses are falling into with each passing day.

This time around, we’ll take you through some of the most common digital marketing scams to help you avoid them when one try’s to target you:

1. Long-Term Contract Scam

Many aggressive online marketing firms seem to be offering awesome services but will seek to lock you into a 12-month contract when it’s time to sign up.

Beware of such firms. Within 1 – 2 months, it becomes clear whether a digital marketing firm is generating relevant leads for your business or not. If you discover that you aren’t, and you signed up for a 12-month contract, you’ll be stuck paying them for another 10 months. Since your marketing dollars are tied up, you can no longer switch to a results-driven online marketing agency.

More often than not, these scammers will entrap you by claiming that your marketing campaigns need a few months to gain traction. Don’t fall for this trick. Any digital marketing service should generate results in 1 to 2 months. PPC, for instance, should start generating leads within a few weeks. SEO takes no more than 2 months to start showing results if the firm is doing things right.

A simple way to dodge this scam is to avoid a company that requires you to sign up for a long term contract. Instead, choose an agency that charges by the month, which means you can switch if their services aren’t driving results. Such companies are more likely to deliver what they initially claimed to.

2. Using Your Website Issues to Justify Their Expertise

Website backend issues

If you examine thoroughly, you can detect issues with just about every site on the internet. This is a commonly used tactic by digital marketing scammers. Real-time solutions in web development play a key role in boosting your online presence. These help build a high-performing site that drives high traffic volumes and generates leads.

If you don’t have backend development experience, scammers will try to exploit you by misrepresenting those modern website optimization solutions as issues. They will portray them as technical issues and offer quick solutions and fixes for high prices. These are usually third-party freelancers that will mess up the setup of your website, leading to long-term harm.

Instead of blindly believing what digital marketers say, consult with your web developers regarding the concerns that marketers raise. In your website does have potential issues, your in-house developers should be more capable of fixing them than external digital marketers.

3. Useless Directory Listings

Trusted and well-known online directories can certainly provide increased visibility and value if you list your business on them — and we are fans of submitting to good directories. Among the most popular directories that customers regularly visit include Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Houzz, Angie’s list, and so on. You should choose a directory that works best with your industry and will connect you to relevant customers and boost conversions.

As a side note, most directories will allow you to list for free, however some more popular ones may call you to “upsell” you to a paid listing. Think long and hard before agreeing to go into a paid arrangement with them, because it can get costly to do so.

What many small businesses don’t realize is that there are also countless digital directories that will never give you potential leads or yield any positive results. Some digital marketing scammers will ask you to submit your business information to those obscure directories for outrageously high prices. They will claim to send your company’s details to hundreds of directories, not telling you how useless they are. In fact, listing your company on low-quality sites can rather hurt your brand reputation.

We always try to list our clients in multiple directories, however we try to find ones that are relevant to their particular niche, when we can.

So, if your digital marketing agency attempts to submit your business to online directories, make sure you’re aware of those platforms and how they will add value to your business.

4. Double-Sell Scam

This is among the most prevalent digital marketing scams out there. A large number of small businesses new to the world of digital marketing have already been a victim of this scam. This scam has become so rampant these days that if you haven’t yet faced it, there’s a great chance that you will come across it in the next few months.

Suppose you have a business website and you’re working on SEO and PPC when an online salesperson pitches SEM (Search Engine Marketing). You heard or read somewhere that SEM is crucial to boosting online business presence but don’t know that SEM covers paid and unpaid digital marketing on search engines, which means it’s nothing other than SEO and PPC. In other words, scammers attempt to sell exactly the same services you are already paying for.

These are not the only terms that can be used to deceive clients. The digital marketing landscape is full of fancy and sophisticated words that you need to watch out for. Many small businesses have been fooled with terms like marketing automation, conversion software, fast social, and so on. Such ambiguous terms are used to keep clients in the dark. The digital marketing services you sign up for should be straightforward. Simply put, they must be responsive in attracting new clients.

Plus, it’s not just about the cost. The scam will double your local listings for PPC and SEO services, thereby rendering your existing marketing efforts ineffective. Double listings also tend to damage your online reputation instead of building it.

When a digital marketing firm approaches you, ask them to explain what each of their services exactly mean. Oftentimes, they’re just calling what you’re already paying for something else. For example, the term Fast Social sounds tempting, but if you’ve already invested in paid ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc., move on.

5. Fast Track SEO

 Black hat SEO

Did you know that over 55% of American shoppers begin their product searches on digital platforms?  Among them, 28% turn to Google to find their desired products. That’s the reason every other business wants to make it on the first search engine ranking page (SERP).

When entering the world of digital marketing, however, it’s critical to understand that there’s no shortcut to achieving results, regardless of how much you pay. No matter what path you choose, achieving a strong online presence takes time. While many SEO agencies will stick to that notion, some players can pull of amazing black hat strategies. When the latter types approach you, stay as far away from them as possible.

Most of these companies won’t directly tell you that they’re leveraging black hat SEO (practices used to boost a webpage’s search engine ranking by violating the search engine’s terms of service). Then how do you know that you’re dealing with such as firm? An SEO agency that offers to deploy a trick or hack that no one knows about to get your site at the top of Google in no time, chances are they’re into some serious black hat work.

It’s not that they won’t achieve what they assured you they would, they can certainly deliver their promise, but with the risk of forcing you out of the digital business landscape altogether. Yes, if Google finds out how your site managed to accomplish the high rank, it will delist your site. No one will be able to access your site then, not even you.

Thus, you should only partner up with digital marketing agencies that rely on white hat SEO practices to ensure that your site stays in Google’s good books. More importantly, embrace the fact that only genuine way to ace Google rankings is to create valuable, engaging content about topics that interest your customers. There aren’t any shortcuts outside of this secret to success.

Blind Guarantee of High Google Ranking

A sub-scam of the fast track SEO scam is an SEO agency guaranteeing a top Google rank. This should be viewed as a red flag because no qualified SEO expert talks that way. Google algorithms are subject to regular updates, so what works today may not work tomorrow.

Experienced digital marketers recognize this fact and will do their best to strategize and show how their efforts can produce results. They will certainly explain what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what those efforts will do you improve your rankings for relevant keywords, but won’t guarantee an outcome. The most they will do is promise to stay on their toes for any Google algorithm updates and about their flexibility to adapt to those changes. Take those realistic promises but walk away from guarantees without any basis.

6. Stealing Your PPC Spend

Some online businesses wonder why their PPC campaigns aren’t driving results. Perhaps because their digital marketing agency is stealing their PPC spend. It’s important to understand that while SEO can be frustrating, PPC should help generate leads right away.

If you’re managing a website for your healthcare facility, for instance, you should be able to generate a new patient lead with a $150 to $250 PPC spend and a patient call for a $50 PPC spend. Hence, if a digital marketing agency says that it’s spending $1000 on PPC, you should be getting at least 4 new patient leads a month. If you’re getting anything less than that, your agency might be stealing your PPC money.

In most of these scams, the victims have no idea how much money they’re paying is going to Google. The agency is supposed to deduct a campaign management fee from the amount you’re paying (such as 15%) and invest the rest into PPC. For example, if 85% of what you’re paying them should go to Google and the remaining 15% should be retained by your digital marketing agency, you should be able to see that it’s happening.

7. Domain Name Renewal Scam

If you own a business website, you should also be aware of domain name renewal scams. A clear example is domain slamming, in which the scammer attempts to trick you into giving up sensitive payment information or involuntarily switch domain registration companies. They’ll send you a notice via mail, email or phone call.

The scam specifically cites your business and domain name, urging you to renew the domain name that is expected to expire soon. With your correct personal name, domain name, and business name, the notice seems official, which makes the scam effective on most small businesses.

The email, mail, or phone call you receive will not be from the company your domain is registered through. Anyone can access your website’s domain registration details as well as the contact information of the site owner on sites such as Whois.com.

To avoid falling for this scam, pay close attention of the sender’s email address for such emails. If it’s not associated with your provider, it’s certainly invalid. Thoroughly check the spelling of the emails, because some scammers use a misspelled email address similar to that of your provider.

Even if the email looks legitimate, verify it with your domain registration provider on call or email before taking any step like sharing details or making a payment.

Also, malicious, scammy emails are also known to carry multiple links to phishing scams or viruses that can steal your company’s sensitive information. Merely clicking on those links can prove harmful.

By the same token, unscrupulous SEO agencies or web designers may try to get you to move your domain name over to them, saying it will be better for some reason. Don’t ever do that! You should always maintain control of your own domain name.


At the end of the day, all it takes to avoid digital marketing scams is some awareness about the services. Most scams are either trying to slide under the radar with information you don’t understand or trying to scare you into taking an action before giving much thought. Developing a deep understanding of services such as PPC, SEO, social media ads, etc. and having a digital marketing expert by your side should safeguard you from most of these scams.

For reliable web development and SEO services, contact Nora Kramer Designs today!

Nora Kramer Designs, Team 2
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