Scam alert! Ombudsman reports dodgy SEO agencies are on the rise.

2 April, 2019

15 mins read

Scam alert for dodgy SEO agencies

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The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell is on a warpath to put an end to dodgy SEO agencies in Australia. While legitimate industry insiders have been warning their customers for years about cowboys in the marketplace, the office of Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) are now looking to escalate the matter to the ACCC to get actual regulation in place.

“Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s quite easy for people to work for you and do absolutely nothing.” Kate Carnell, Small Business Ombudsman (SmartCompany, 2019).


Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell
Image source: Kochie’s Business Builders

She’s not wrong. In the SEO world, there are good tactics, known as whitehat techniques, and bad tactics, known as blackhat techniques. The thing is, the theories behind blackhat techniques sound genius, and if you knew no better, would fall into the trap of potentially ruining whatever search engine results you had already.

Before you hire an SEO service in Australia to work for you, keep an eye out for these key signs.

8 Signs Your SEO Agency is Scamming You

1. They make guarantees.

In the world of SEO, you can be confident but you can’t be 100% certain. Even Google states no one can guarantee a specific position on a search result, such as the number one position or being on the first page.

So, why am I paying someone for SEO if there’s no guarantee?

You’re paying for an SEO specialist’s knowledge and time. Someone who is experienced in SEO can audit a website and tell you the possible factors negatively impacting your search engine results, based on many, many hours of research and testing. They will monitor your website traffic and search engine results for you, and make adjustments as they feel needed to hopefully make an impact.

Authenticity sign

If an SEO specialist can’t guarantee results, how do I know they’re any good?

SEO can be expensive (see below) so you’ll want to be confident with who you’re choosing before you handover your hard-earned dollars. Like any business, you should do research online to see how transparent the service is with their pricing and information, as well as their online reviews. You can also ask for what they’ve been able to achieve for some of their other clients and what they did to do so. They may even have case studies to explain this.

If the service also provides Google Ads services, look for the Google Premier Partner badge. While this is a partnership for search engine marketing, it still shows a sign of trust in the agency or service.

2. You have no idea what they’re saying.

One of the main reasons people choose to go with an SEO specialist is because they have no idea what they’re doing themselves. However, if your consultant can’t explain the processes in a language you understand, they could be trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

When you’re prospecting services, ask plenty of questions. If you don’t understand something, ask them to clarify. Don’t stop probing until you can relay back to them what something is and the pros and cons of doing so.

3. There’s no sign of reports, or they’re very vague.

There are many ways you can measure the success of SEO. You could be aiming to appear in more snippets on search results for voice-activated search or straight up just want more traffic to your website.

At least once a quarter (ideally every month), you should receive reports from your chosen service to say what they’ve done, the results they’ve achieved and your return on investment. A really good specialist will even share with you little victories, because they should be excited as you are by every success.

SEO reports dashboard

4. They say they’re buddy-buddy with Google.

We’ve already mentioned how a Google Premier Partner is a likely sign of a trustworthy service provider. However, like mentioned, this is only recognition for agencies or services working on Google Ads accounts for other businesses but can be a sign of a reputable provider.

A Google Premier Partner cannot:

  • Reduce prices by being a Google Partner.
  • Achieve better results as a result of their partnership.
  • Guarantee their results (remember, no one can).

A Google Premier Partner (like Localsearch) has been recognised by Google for maintaining a certain number of accounts and results, and receives dedicated support and training by Google. If the agency does not provide Google Ads services, they will not be able to become a Google Partner at any level.

5. Their monthly rate is far too low.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new phone with all the latest features. In stores, you find what you’re looking for but every model is $500+. So, you decide you can build your own mobile phone with what you want for cheaper. You spend six months researching and training yourself, another three months sourcing parts and the tools you need to buy to make the phone, plus you spend another few months actually paying for the phone. Then you need to figure out the networking, technology…you get our point.

When looking at SEO packages, consider if it fairly covers:

  • Research time for keeping up to date with the latest SEO best practices for your specific industry (yes, SEO can change per industry).
  • The time spent on actively aiming to impact your SEO (working on your website, off-page strategies, etc.).
  • Tools to monitor, report and alter website traffic, search results and other SEO factors.
  • The years of experience the specialist has to learn the technological and creative sides of SEO.
  • Plus your standard business costs, like electricity, computers, their marketing, etc.

6. Emphasis is put on rankings.

“You want the number one spot on Google and I can get you there.” Tell us; when you Google something, do you click on the first thing you see at the top of the page or do you scroll a little and wait for something to jump out at you? The number one spot on Google is not the be-all-or-end all of SEO.

Voice search is becoming a bigger thing with every passing day. If you’re SEO specialist isn’t focusing on voice search (amongst other things) in their activities, you should be looking elsewhere.

Google Analytics on Google Search

7. They can’t tell you where your SEO fits into the bigger picture.

Your digital marketing is like a puzzle, and SEO is just one of the many pieces. If someone tells you your business can rely solely on a good SEO campaign, you have a bit of a problem on your hands. To start, your SEO needs a good website to operate well. Then there’s battling your online reputation or even getting one to begin with.

Read More: The Latest Thing Google Loves

8. You don’t see any results after at least 3 months.

Here’s the thing; SEO takes time. If you want a bigger probability of instant results, look at search engine marketing, where you pay how, when and where you want to get in front of people. SEO is a bit of a game.

You’ll pop up first one Google, and then disappear into oblivion the next day, just to show up on the first page again a week later (example only). Our word of advice, don’t go searching for your website until you receive your first report—it’ll drive you crazy otherwise. You’re paying for your specialist to do the stressing for you.

However, if you find it’s been a few months and you’re still not receiving results, or even a report, from your specialist, get in touch with them. Three months is the general amount of time you should be seeing some results, at the very minimum. Again, what these results you’re trying to achieve are will be between you and your specialist.

How do you report a dodgy SEO agency?

Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell is urging business owners to come forward if they have a dealing with a dodgy SEO service provider. In 2018, around 100 complaints were received to the ACCC about SEO services, however, it’s becoming clear there are many more ripped off businesses out there.

If you have a dodgy dealing, lodge a formal ACCC complaint and to Google. The ACCC will assess the situation, see if it’s a misunderstanding or a legitimate cause of concern and take action from there. Kate Carnell, small business ombudsman, is hoping the real problem coming to light will help the SEO industry be regulated to minimise the risk to small businesses trying to grow online.

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