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20 / 10 / 22

7 digital marketing scams to avoid

We get it.

There's so much head-spinning jargon around digital marketing.
Unfortunately, some cowboy companies will use that to prey on you.

Wearing the guise of a digital marketer, these cons often rely on your innocence and try to wow you with their industry expertise.

Letting them get their hands on your precious marketing budget can result in funds going down the pan and your business being no better off.

To arm you against such attacks, here are common digital marketing scams and how to avoid them.

1. Business Directory Scams

Does anyone else have a core memory of standing on the Yellow Pages catalogue to reach something? (Usually something you shouldn't…)

Well, business directories have come a long way since then with an array of online options. But which are the best for your business? It’s an overwhelming question - don’t let it be used against you!

Unscrupulous digital marketing agencies might promise to get you listed on an impressive number of directories.

Here’s the thing: not all business directories are going to be relevant to your industry, not all are made equal and not all of them charge!

In the worst instance, you pay for listings on websites that could damage your reputation through their inferior associations.

If you’re offered directory listings, be sure to ask:

  • which specific directories they have selected
  • why they’re appropriate for your business
  • how much do you have to pay and how often?

A trustworthy agency should be able to justify their choices and expenditure.

Plus, there are tonnes of free UK business directories out there; check whether a free option would work for you and your industry.

2. SEO Scams

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, has become a business buzzword. But do you really know what it entails?

When you use a search engine (like Google), how often do you look at the second or third page of results? SEO is the process of improving a website so that it will appear higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). Every business wants to appear on the first page.

Digital marketing scammers might try to lure you in by promising page-one rankings with a quick turnaround.

If so, immediately alarm bells should be ringing.

The problem is that SEO is a gradual process. That. Takes. Time. There are no quick wins and it’s impossible to rank first for all keywords. It could take months before your website reaches the higher SERP rankings.

Any agency worth their salt will be realistic about what’s achievable.

Ask them to explain their strategy and give sensible possible outcomes. They should assess your website's content and technicalities and then suggest a measured approach to improving your rankings.

If you're met with grand promises and pushy sales tactics, consult your web developers first to confirm areas for improvement.

Don't fall for these SEO scams.

3. Social media click farms

We’ve all been guilty of placing too much importance on Facebook or Instagram likes. But when it comes to your business – fair enough! These are significant ways of building your customer base and tracking what’s popular.

Have you come across a marketing agency guaranteeing a large increase in your social media following? It can sound tempting. But – you’re surely picking up on the theme by now – there’s a catch.

The tactics used by such companies can have a detrimental impact instead!

If you’re buying a social media following, you’re essentially paying for a form of fraud: click farming.

A “click farm” often uses low-paid workers who will create an army of fake social media accounts to – you guessed it – click to follow or engage with whoever is paying for the service. From Instagram to Facebook click farms, these deceptive strategies skew social media stats to look more favourable.

Of course, social media is a popularity game, so the higher the number of likes, reactions or follows, the more sort-after you’re going to appear.

But, after the initial popular kid impression, anyone who cares to check will easily spot the fake followers (avatar profile pics, incoherent bios and random posts).

It becomes a quantity over quality game. Sure, you have some high stats but they're meaningless. Your following is not your customers nor potential customers. The number won’t convert into any sales. Avoid these social media marketing scams like the plague.

Building a quality following of advocates for your business is worth far more to you.

4. Falsified back catalogue

Choosing a new marketing agency is a leap of faith. Not only is your money at stake but the very nature of marketing means your reputation is in their hands as well. You want someone with a strong track record of satisfied customers and top-quality work to their name.

There's just one problem.

Scam marketers will have no scruples about faking a back catalogue to lull you into a false sense of security.

So, how can you tell if an agency's portfolio is legit? With a little investigation.

First stop, Sherlock, is their website. Who are they claiming as clients?

As you’ll see on Formation's homepage, we list companies we've worked with such as Engineering Technology Group and Coventry Rugby Club. You can also find case studies about the projects we’ve completed and for website builds, like Cov Rugby’s, the keen-eyed will spot our logo in the footer.

Alongside these checks, you can validate an agency's purported back catalogue by looking at their business reviews on Trust Pilot and perhaps even their social media platforms. Do they interact with those supposed clients on LinkedIn? If you're really considering an agency, could you contact those clients to confirm?

Taking this time to reassure yourself could ultimately save huge amounts of time and money in the long run.

5. Website performance

Untrustworthy marketing agencies might try to prospect by blindsiding you with jargon and "severe" technical issues they've identified with your existing website.

Warning: there is an issue with your website's thingamabob. If you do not get this resolved, your site will virtually implode and no one will ever find your business online ever again.

Or something along those lines.

The truth is, if you know enough about website design and development, you could pick faults with any and every site out there. More often than not, scam marketers will exaggerate these supposed flaws so that they can overcharge you for relatively simple fixes.

If you can't trust them to communicate transparently about their services, how do you know whether they'll truly have the expertise required to work well on your site?

Worst case scenario: you hand over access to the backend of your website only to have them cause greater problems.

Always, always, always, get a second opinion. Check with your website provider first to validate the "issues". Try to get informed and if in doubt, go to other marketing agencies for their audits and quotes for optimising your site.

6. Pay-per-click expenditure

This scam is especially malevolent.

For those of you who don't know: pay-per-click (PPC) adverts are what they say on the tin. You set up an online advert and pay a fee to achieve a specified number of clicks. Once that many people click on the link, your limit is reached and the advert is taken down (until you pay for more).

Here’s the trick corrupt marketers will pull: quietly stealing from your PPC budget.

If you’re paying for someone else to run a PPC campaign for you, you have to pay for their knowledge and time. Fair enough.

However, there should also be a set fee for this time. They definitely shouldn't be skimming more money than agreed off the top!

Establish a clear distinction between your PPC spend and the marketers’ fee right from the start.

Also, ask the agency to provide you with an analytics report. Platforms like Google provide plenty of data that can prove how much has been spent and how many clicks have occurred.

7. Domain name renewal scam

This final scam tends to catch out small businesses in particular.

Think of your website’s domain name as its street address. Every site needs to register one and the cost is often included in your site's initial build or set-up and will need renewing once the period you paid for has lapsed - usually a year.

Unfortunately (but impressively?), some con artists will do their homework and find details about your business and website. That way, when they contact you claiming your domain name has (or is about to) expire, they can seem pretty convincing. The messaging will have a sense of urgency to it, (Renew before it expires!) to try to pressure you into falling for the con.


Don’t fall for it. Don’t click on their links. Don’t make a payment. Doing so runs the risk of losing money on a service you might not have even needed and then when your actual renewal date comes around, you’ll have to pay all over again!

How do you avoid getting caught out by this? Make your own enquiries.

Contact whoever dealt with your website directly and find out from the source when your domain is due for renewal. Once you know, follow their recommended route to renewing rather than putting yourself in the hands of a marketing stranger.

Spend your marketing budget wisely

In short, have your guard up! Watch out for these crafty online marketing scams.

Whenever you're contacted out of the blue, if you're bombarded by jargon or pressured with tight deadlines and vague pitches, take time to run checks.

Also, having knowledgeable people you can trust on hand is another key way to check what’s been used as a sales pitch.

Remember: your marketing budget is sacred. It enables essential communication with your prospects and customers, so protect it with your life! (Or something less dramatic…)

Here at Formation Media, we pride ourselves on being trusted marketing partners and giving our clients reassurance that they're in safe digital hands.

Get in touch with one of our team here with any questions or to get your own digital journey started the right way.

Written by Laura Formation