In my homeland of Australia, there’s been a recent crackdown on SEOs and digital marketing agencies that have been ripping off businesses. And in the near future, I believe this will be a global issue that all SEO consultants will have to contend with I call this SEO-Darwinism.

Digital Marketing is a booming industry. Considering 90% of users only look at the first page of search results, more and more people see the value in not only beautifying their websites to attract consumers but also polishing up their SEO to boost web presence. With the growing demand for help with digital marketing comes an inevitable increase in deceptive digital agencies promising to deliver the world to businesses.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell shed light on this issue discussing the prevalence of digital marketing malpractice in Australia. She said that consultants are giving businesses a raw deal, over-promising while under-delivering, meanwhile, all business owners can do is complain that they’ve been ripped off, from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. This poses a threat and an even bigger problem for small businesses that mostly rely on digital marketing for visibility.

The misdemeanors not only entail black hat marketing but extends to other deceptive issues. The ombudsman mentioned that some reports include allegations about:

  • False representations—Deceptive practice in promoting digital marketing services to clients including unfair contracts 
  • Misleading deceptive conduct—Selling a product or service despite not fitting a clients’ profile 
  • Wrongly accepting payments—The inability to supply the digital service promised, oftentimes supplying a different service than what was negotiated and paid for by the client. 

Another classic example of malpractice involves SEO companies taking ownership of websites at the beginning of a contract, then as soon as the contract closes, the website closes as well. In some cases, a company states that they’re going to implement both SEO and PPC but only does the PPC which does nothing for organic traffic.

These fraudulent digital marketing firms are flourishing because of the lack of regulation. While there were about 100 SEO-related complaints filed to ASBFEO last year, there are still more serious cases that go unreported


The Law and Marketing Misdemeanors

While the issue is now gaining prominence, prosecuting deceptive practitioners is still rare. Committees and advocates know that this is a huge can of worms and they are working on solutions to monitor and better regulate the digital marketing business. For now, it’s up to businesses to pursue the agency in court.

Right now, Google may be your most active ally in fighting bad SEO. Google’s near-constant algorithm updates make it harder and harder each year for SEO tricksters to keep up. The moment will come when they’ve successfully managed to filter out the blunderers from real professionals. For now, you can report any shady company or consultant you detected to Google. 

What Should You Do?

Spotting shady operators can be challenging because it’s easy for an agency to claim to be SEO experts. In order to weed out the bad from the good, or filter the amateurs from experts, business owners need to take that extra measure of learning the basics of digital marketing and SEO. It’s similar to telling someone who doesn’t bake that baking powder and baking soda are the same. That person can only nod, but a real baker can automatically call the bluff.

Why Guaranteeing Rank is a Red Flag

An agency saying they can rank you overnight is a red flag. This is because any SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business or website. Meaning there’s no guarantee when it comes to SEO—the main job of a successful SEO is to help you put your best foot forward.

Remember the old adage “You get what you paid for”? This applies to SEO companies as well, but note that there will be companies out there who will use this against you and overcharge while underperforming. Take action by doing a background check on the company you’re going to partner with.

How to Choose the Right SEO Company

  1. Conduct an interview with your prospected SEO Agency. Have them explain their SEO Services and how it will benefit your business since this will let you know what kind of people will be handling your company. A special trait to look out for is the sincere interest of the agency toward the reputation of your business. Note if they talk about realistic expectations and goals since it reflects their realistic delivery capacity as well.
  2. Be wary of SEO companies who use bots and spam your email. Check reviews or testimonials from companies or previous clients that you can look for on their website or social media accounts.
  3. Ask for a technical site audit (there are companies who offer this for free)
  4. If possible ask to talk to one of their clients personally and see if the client is happy with the services the company did for them.
  5. Decide if the company is a good match for you and if you want to partner with them.

What happened in Australia is not an isolated case. Many issues have been reported in the U.S. and U.K. as well, and business owners who fell victim to deceptive agencies or SEO malpractice should speak out. Why? Not only is it important to raise this issue, but the more voices are heard, the more data is gathered, resulting in a quicker solution.

Bear in mind that SEO is not magic—it’s a scientific process. There are digital marketing companies out there specializing in white label SEO programs and that have generated effective methodologies. 

Acquiring digital marketing services isn’t supposed to be complicated and though SEO is an evolving business of trial and error, choosing the right company to partner with doesn’t have to be.