In a field as corrupt as marketing, we have undoubtedly encountered a vast array of scams as we work to assist people. Personally, I have encountered so many over the last 20 years, I barely trust anyone who even calls themselves a marketer.
It always plays out the same way too. “Hey Rob, can you speak with my friend (insert name here)? They are having trouble with their marketing/website/consultant/agency.” I always say yes, and I always shock the “friend” when 4 words into their first sentence I tell them the rest of their story.
For your personal benefit, here are the most common scams I encounter in digital marketing:
Agency/Consultant Actually Owns The Domain and/or Website
This is the most common scam, and it is always a very painful experience for the individual/business. The business hires someone to build them a website. They run with that site for a couple of years and discover their SEO is lacking, or that the site is so dated in appearance that it needs an update(the marching penny gif just doesn’t sell cars like it used too). So they engage another company/individual to help them build a new site. That company/individual asks them for the login/ftp information for their website…and when they reach out to the previous individual/company, they discover that they do not actually own their domain/website and that they will have to pay some fee(usually around $5000) to release it. This is often right in the agreement the business/individual signed with the person who built the original site, and they had no idea. I have built at least 20 free websites over the years just to help out people who have found themselves in this situation, because it is the most deplorable thing I can imagine doing to a small business owner.
Black Box Paid Marketing Services
You hire a company or individual to run some paid ads for your business. They run them on Facebook and Google, but you never receive access to the actual ad accounts. At the end of each month they simply send you an invoice with a cost per click amount, or even worse, a budget spent amount, and await payment. 99% of the time, what is actually happening is the company/individual is using optimization tactics to lower the cost per click, and then putting a charge on top of that amount when they invoice you. So they bill you at $1.50 per click, but in reality they are buying the traffic for $0.25 per click, and keeping the profit in the middle. I personally despise this practice as it reflects the most common attitude I run into in my industry…”the only way to make money is to take it from someone else.” That line makes me sick, because if a marketer is legit, they know at the end of the day their work makes/saves jobs and just taking that money away from a business hurts many people.
Blind SEO Services
You have noticed you have lost rank, or that you are not having any luck gaining rankings on Google. You get an email or are approached by a salesperson/nephew/dude with a man bun, and they tell you they can get you the ranking you want. They let you know that it can take 9 months or more to see the benefits of their work (which is true for SEO sometimes) and they start billing you. You start getting an invoice for ($300 - $15,000) per month, and keep waiting for more traffic to hit the site. With a real SEO at the helm, this should mean you begin to see growth, but in the case of this scam, that “SEO” simply collects your money and does nothing at all. When 9 months rolls around, they tell you that you were hit with a penalty and that they are working to get that fixed. If they can, they will keep kicking your agreement down the road until you finally cancel. In reality, these scammers aren’t doing any work, and are just milking you for your money.
At some point I will take the time to write down all of the scams(promise) but for now, let’s just cover what you need to do to protect yourself when hiring someone for website/marketing work.
Without question, you must own all of your assets. Your domain, website, hosting, and email address need to be entirely your property. Do not move forward with any agreement unless this has been clarified and documented. It doesn’t matter if the consultant looks like Michael Langdon(talk about dating yourself), if they are worth working with, they will make sure you have the administrative rights to all of your stuff.
You should also have administrative ownership over all of your marketing channels. If they are running Google, Bing or Facebook ads, you should be able to look into those platforms and see for yourself what the cost looks like. If they are doing a horrible job, you should be able to go into the platform, kick them out, and invite the next person to work in the account. Also, one of the most important parts:
Your data is valuable!
You are spending your money(or your company’s money) to run these ads, and all of the performance data is very valuable in the right, and in the wrong hands. Ask your agency/consultant what steps they take to protect your data, and if they do not have an answer that satisfies you…do not proceed with them.
Take those steps, and you will be in good shape…
PS: If you were reading this, and suddenly found yourself concerned about your current situation, feel free to drop us a line. No sales, just happy to to give you whatever advice we can.
Rob T. Case