How to avoid been ripped of by Australian SEO scam artists

Sadly the digital marketing industry has become plagued by sales orientated companies with no real digital marketing expertise offering packaged and promotional services in the name of a quick cash grab leading to thousands of Australian companies been burnt by the inevitable  poor results and service provided by these SEO sales companies.

They use aggressive sales tactics and lie through the skin of their teeth to convince vulnerable Aussie businesses to commit to long term, lock in contracts where once signed you will be lucky to receive 10% of the contracted work which is black-hat, outsourced work anyway.

Every week any given Australian business will receive dozens of calls and emails from people offering them some form of digital marketing for their business and/or website. There are two kinds of people who makes these calls and send those emails.

  • Salesmen working for a sales orientated company who’s products are cookie cutter digital marketing services generally outsourced dirt cheap to the third world
  • Genuine digital marketers utilizing some of their time to prospect for new business connections to help their boutique agency grow

This article will explain in-depth how you can easily distinguish between the two and using a bit of simple research avoid been taken for a very expensive ride costing your business thousands of dollars in blown marketing and lost revenue. Digital marketing is well worth your time no matter your businesses current situations, needs and limitations but you need to know which companies are well deserving of a swift kick out the door and those that are a relatable fellow Aussie business trying to provide an honest, valuable service to clients. If you are thinking of paying for SEO or are in an under performing SEO contact then please use the following to steps to help you research your decision properly.

Does their online reputation check out?

Every SEO company loves to display great testimonials on their website but that is controlled content where the company would of course place favorable reviews. Most of the time those reviews are genuine and from clients that did get results, but what about the bigger picture and the clients who didn’t get results. This is where the freedom of speech of the internet can be your biggest ally and revealing the true identity of the nice sounding SEO salesman’s company, the companies culture and attitude to clients once signed up.

Simply go to google.com.au and search for their company reviews using such keywords as…

<insert seo company name> reviews

<insert seo company name> scam

<insert seo company name> ripoff

<insert seo company name> negative

<insert seo company name> waste

And also search for some feedback on them on some popular Aussie business forums.Whirlpool is business and tech forum where a lot of the scam tactics of these large SEO companies are revealed by former and current clients. So search <insert SEO company name> whirlpool to see if their is a bad reputation for the business out there.

You should also search for now defunct google business profiles as well as reviews for their individual offices. A lot of SEO companies will setup virtual offices around Australia and the world which will have it’s own google plus business page. Don’t just assume because the branch of the company you are talking to has decent reviews that this is the company wide standard of service. Search for <insert seo company name> sydney / perth / melbourne / uk / singapore etc. Looking on their website will often reveal what locations they provide seo for and help you do more in-depth research on their reputation.

A lot of SEO companies will re-brand themselves when the negative reputation becomes too much for their sales team to overcome so be on the look out for that by searching for those old company operations too and doing due-diligence on their reputation as well. Find out the who the owners of the company are and search for their names on google to reveal what other companies they operated.

Any reputable SEO company should practice what they preach and be providing a quality service to ensure they have a 5 star rating. Look out for bogus fake reviews though. If it’s a generic sounding review with no reference to an actual person within the company, no description of why the reviewer is happy, no link to a legitimate social media profile or website of the reviewer or the review is without a verifiable business name then it’s probably a fake review either bought or scripted by the company themselves. Do your research, some companies stoop so low to cover their negative reputation as to buy fake reviews and people have blown the lid on those companies doing so. If they are prepared to break Australian consumer law by obtaining fake reviews then there is obviously no limit to their deceitful nature.

Tone of the conversation

Is the person you are speaking with talking about themselves or asking a lot about you. ‘We are and we will do this and that and we promise and guarantee you this and that.’ vs ‘How do you currently market your business and has it worked well for you?’ The tone of the conversation can easily reveal whether you are talking with someone reading from a script or someone who has helped businesses before. Every digital marketing campaign needs to be of a bespoke nature, tailored to each individual businesses circumstances. Asking questions is the best way for a digital marketing agency to understand the approach required for any given campaign and to be able to set realistic goals for a business. Any one saying what they will do for you before they even know detailed information about you, your business and it’s history is treating you and your business with contempt and would try and sell ice to you if you were an eskimo.

How do they respond to questions?

Fire a few questions back at the person you are speaking with and gauge their response – did they sound genuinely appreciative of your questions or disrupted by them? I know for me personally questions from a business owner help me to better understand them and whether my company may be able to help them so i am always appreciative of such questions eg ‘I’ve never done anything with the website, how exactly will you market my website?‘ to which an example response would be ‘basically what we do is write new, unique content about your products and services that is highly engaging and informative and publish that across multiple channels such as social media platforms so in turn your website receives direct targeted traffic and acquires natural links which in time will aid your rankings‘ By answering in clear detail both parties can be one step closer to knowing if we could work for them.

However the sales guy reading from a script might try and work around your question by asking a questions back or by repeating a previous line he used. If he does give a direct answer it will be something blunt and uninformative like ‘we will optimize your website for your keywords and build links for you‘ Basically he is sticking to his sales training which taught him to stick to the script – which again is we do, we will, we are. They don’t care about your business, it’s not in their interest to. It’s their job to get you to buy into the bells and whistles of their script. A quick tip – if you do know a thing or two about web design, SEO or Social Media flick them some more technical or method based questions and quickly watch the sales guy crumble and mumble their way out of a sale. They will prove to know nothing beyond the we, we ,we script.

The truth behind those bells and whistles

So you like the sound of money back guarantees, pay on results or a large percentage off? A poisoned chalice if i ever saw one. Something that seems oh so good but is in real truth going to prove very harmful to you. Whilst these kind of offers may sound reassuring they are merely used to give a false sense of security in the pursuit of a signed contract. Most of the companies that offer such gimmicks have structured their campaigns so the T&C’s of the contract are easily achievable and result in them been able to lock a business into a lucrative long term contract without actually doing much if anything at all. Let’s look in depth at the immoral methods used by some companies…

Money Back Guarantee’s and Pay on Results campaigns generally have a keyword clause that states there must be a certain amount of page one keyword results achieved within a stated amount of time otherwise the client is entitled to a full refund of the campaigns cost and/or the client is required to pay no money so to achieve the terms they do the following…

  • Include low competitive keywords in the contract to greatly increase the chances of the clause been met
  • Quickly spam your site with low quality, paid for links which boost rankings dramatically for a short period, thus achieving the guarantee or on result clause.
  • Google catches onto your recent link buying and penalizes your site into ranking oblivion whilst you now find yourself tied into a long term contract with the company responsible. Poisoned chalice indeed.

Discounts on services are possible for an agency here or there, but for those agencies with consumer friendly pricing who complete all their work in house with native English speaking professionals then the service they offer should be self explanatory about it’s quality and effectiveness and not require the need to discount. Beware of someone who suddenly offers x% off to sweeten a deal as they most probably work for a company that outsources their work  somewhere like India or the Philippines. Hence…

  • They make a 500%+ mark up profit on everything they sell full price, eg a website they sell for $2000 costs them $300 to outsource
  • This leaves them with scope to offer 20% discounts as sweeteners because a 300-400% markup is still great profit
  • Either way you end up paying for what you are lead to be believed is the highest quality web design that actually gets built by someone you could have gone to directly for a fraction of the price

Whilst there may be a select few companies who offer these kind of clauses with legit methods behind them the bottom line is that there is no guarantees in digital marketing or SEO. Google is a third party  in these campaigns and they can and do change their rules without notice. So any company offering guarantees are taking a well planned and calculated ‘risk’. The legit companies won’t be offering you such gimmicks, but rather be able to explain to you and help you appreciate the importance of diversity, patience and integrity required in a digital marketing strategy to achieve long term, natural results for your business.

Do you want your business to be a sales figure or a valued client?

Ultimately the biggest difference between your business becoming a successful cash grab for a sales guy or a testimonial for a reputable SEO company is ensuring you understand the philosophy ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ very much applies in Digital Marketing. To make a website a truly successful one takes time and a variety of methods, not 1-2 months of one single method. Spending thousands on some month, bells and whistles campaign is probably going to prove an immense waste and leave you feeling conned. A well structured 6-12 month+, no contract campaign that fits within your businesses marketing budget will prove fruitful as the methods applied steadily build your websites reputation and traffic.

Also if you are going to outlay $500+ a month for SEO surely your campaign should have attention from a director or company owner. In Australia most businesses work ethically with one another and key staff between companies regularly communicate and collaborate on projects. Be wary of the SEO company who places the management of your campaign with the fresh faced sales kid who has to keep you buying whilst not knowing anything about your actual campaign or what SEO really entails. At Content SME our 3 most senior staff and directors are in regular contact with every client and are very hands on in the management of campaigns – after all that is how good and ethical business is done.

Are Content SME any different?

To summarise, Thousands of Aussies businesses could have saved themselves a lot of money and heartache by reading an article like this one and learning how to do the proper research to reveal the true nature of the SEO companies selling them. Not every SEO company are unethical and are trying too provide a service of real value and benefit among the minefield of their dodgy seo peers.

We at Content SME won’t claim to be the perfect company immune to anything negative – any fellow business owner reading this can nod their head in agreement that if you do business for long enough you will always have at least a couple of unhappy clients or buyers whether warranted or not. But what you can do is operate your business in an ethical manner to severely reduce the chance anyone should ever feel let down by your service and should an unhappy customer arise approach the situation with a calm, sympathetic nature and understand that all businesses and people have constantly changing needs and situations.

I can honestly say as the owner of Content SME our company has only ever one unhappy client in 2 years of operation. There was a couple of issues with this particular adelaide businesses campaign. One, there was a misunderstanding relating to the expectations set and two, one of our SEO techs placed a meta description too long to be considered optimal which some other SEO company had noticed and called him about, using that to, i can only assume, try to sell him away from our agreement. He was in month 1 of a 3 month agreement but as he was pretty set on his dissatisfaction with us i instructed my accounts team to void the contract and the remaining two months of owed payments thus allowing this client to leave without much fuss and genuine good will towards his business.

Try and walk out on an agreement with one of the larger SEO companies and see how much legal and T&C stick you get from the companies bottom of the chain salesman, let alone the owners of the company. And that’s why we are different – we treat fellow business owners with respect and understanding and the one unhappy client we have had we dealt with it in a professional manner so although he may have been unhappy with our service, he can’t ultimately feel like we ever were unfair or unethical towards his business.

Google is not there to be gamed, it has a very smart algorithm that only gets smarter and knows how to detect a website trying to manipulate it. So next time the sales guy calls you, you know how to quickly suss him out and why you should promptly hang up. However you also know how to spot the genuine digital marketer who is interested in growing you business. No matter how convincing the sales guy might seem vs the calm, clear nature of the guy setting more realistic expectations always do in-depth research and seek alternative options. And if you’re been taken for a ride their are avenues you can take to recover damages.

I’d rather Content SME remain a small scale SEO firm that performs for clients using genuine marketing skill then ever become a SEO giant that has a reputation for scamming thousands and thousands of dollars out of vulnerable Australian business owners. We’ve serviced the SEO campaigns of 181 clients since our launch and we’ve had one unhappy client which we’ve been upfront about – that person has never left a negative review of any kind but the fact that we brought that incident up should say enough about our honesty and transparency as a company.

If you are fair dinkum about doing SEO then do it with people who will actually give a shit about your business and not just your credit card.

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