Business Marketing

Are You Getting Ripped Off? How to Spot a Poor Digital Marketing Agency

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How can business owners avoid being preyed upon by unethical digital marketing agencies? Here are five signs of a misleading agency.

It’s easy to see your landscaping company is ripping you off if the grass in your backyard is a foot high. It’s no question your contractor is ripping you off when your kitchen remodel is three months past the completion date and you haven’t heard from him in two weeks.

But, how can you determine your digital marketing agency is ripping you off?

Below are five signs your digital marketing agency might as well be throwing your money away.

1. Their Portfolio Isn’t Up to Par

The tell-tale sign an agency isn’t giving clients the attention they deserve? Identical website layouts. What your agency doesn’t want you to know is how easy it is to customize a site when they are simply reusing an existing template. I’m still shocked by how many site portfolios I find that not only are outdated (user experience is important for rankings), but also embarrassingly similar. If an agency willingly uses a portfolio like that to market their services, they simply aren’t a legitimate business.

Analyze the web presence of their current clients. Do they have well-written web content and relevant social media posts? Can you find them easily on Google? Is their site easy to navigate and responsive? If the answer is no to any of these, that agency isn’t even delivering the basics.

2. They Push One-Size-Fits-All Service Plans

Reliable and knowledgeable digital marketers approach accounts with a consultative mindset and create strategies based on short-term or long-term goals. One-size-fits-all plans that follow the same course of action for each client can result in valuable marketing dollars going toward unnecessary methods. Meanwhile, not enough was allocated for more goal-centric services that are likely to yield a higher ROI.

If your account manager is pushing pre-priced packages and additional add-on services, they aren’t tapping into the creative nature of digital marketing. Many agencies might start with a selection of plans, as it makes services appear more tangible and ethical to those unfamiliar with the industry, but the best agencies don’t quote their services until they know their client’s needs.

3. They Lack Transparency and Manipulate Report Analytics

There is a common lingo among digital marketers that contains phrases and terms without relevance to almost any other industry; link juice, keyword research, UX/UI are just a few examples. Ask questions about words and methods you’d like clarification on, and a good agency will give you concrete answers. Transparency is important to the experts, but illegitimate agencies assume ignorance in their clients and provide as little detail as possible.

It is essential that you review reports from your agency. The first red flag is data inflation, so be aware of the benchmarks and time periods used in a report’s analytics. Suppose a blog post with a hyperlink to your site gets shared over 500 times across multiple social media platforms.

Because of this, your site gets 150 new visitors that week (in a two-day time frame), compared to your usual 15 visitors per week. If the report is only comparing that week from the previous week, the increase is 1,000 percent. Data manipulation is a prevalent strategy used to rip off digital marketing clients because many clients want to see fast, substantial progress and agencies play on that desire.

4. A Traditional Marketing Agency Using Traditional Methods

Many marketing agencies that specialized in television, radio, and print over the past five to six decades treat digital marketing as an extension of traditional methods. Just as they would pitch a year-long radio advertising contract, they often turn to contracts for expensive, spammy software programs that aren’t developed in-house.

They can cost upwards of $20,000 per year, and marketing reps receive a commission for selling the outside product. This situation is alarmingly frequent in the online marketing industry. There isn’t one single program that covers all avenues of digital marketing, and superior agencies won’t direct their clients to dump their entire budget into one solution.

If your marketing agency has started offering digital marketing services in recent years but hasn’t grown or changed up their staff, it’s a bad sign. This is most recognizable in small, local operations. Unless a current employee developed a passion for online marketing and has put in significant effort to learn the industry outside of their current position, they are probably not following (or are even aware of) best practices.

SEO is not just a new service add-on like printing services or a YouTube paid ad campaign, it’s an entirely different school of thought.

5. They Guarantee First Page Google Search Placement, Among Other Extraordinary Claims

Finally, beware the agencies with the guarantees. It has become the unfortunate norm for digital marketers to take advantage of a general lack of knowledge. The “oversell and under-deliver” tactic is so common because it can be difficult to sell digital marketing services. Industry best practices are constantly changing and the concepts are relatively new.

This creates an intangibility with online marketing services, which can make clients feel like they are grabbing at air. Promising the first page of Google or 500,000 Twitter followers provides a sense of actual benefit, but is simply not the way to achieve real results through digital marketing. Ethical guarantees would be assuring progress on your site’s Google rank for top five keywords, and a 40 percent increase in organic social engagement. Not only are those goals attainable, they indicate white-hat SEO practices.

As of last year, Millennials, the generation that grew up online, make up the majority of the workforce, which means digital marketing is now a necessity for all companies. The industry as a whole is still in its beginning stages, and it destroys the century-old ideal of perfecting a process to boost efficiency. Digital marketers face the challenge of changing the way they do things quickly and frequently; therefore, it’s important to hire agencies that are not only hyper-aware of the landscape but also passionate about the success of their clients.

About the author


Paige Geer

Paige is a passion entrepreneur and digital marketing professional. She's proficient in blogging, content marketing, social media and consulting small businesses on local SEO best practices and brand building. As an efficient researcher, Paige stays up-to-date on current digital trends through outreach networking and building strong relationships with top industry influencers.