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The Australian SEO Industry Mined With Dodgy Practitioners – How To Avoid Them

A common reason why small businesses delay the decision of using SEO services is represented by the negative stories they have heard from other people in the industry. There are so-called SEO experts who promise a lot but deliver very little, or there are even scammers who leave with advance payments never to be heard of again.

Under these circumstances, small business owners who don’t have contacts in the SEO and digital marketing industries don’t know where to start and are afraid of taking risks, so they give up on the idea of improving their online presence with the consequence of losing customers.

Not just the SEO industry but also the wider online marketing and web design industry that has dodgy practitioners. Fraudsters trying to con honest people have always been around, and the Internet has become a perfect ground for them as getting away is easier when the people don’t interact face-to-face.

VMA case studies

We have had many clients come to us after previously being burnt by not only other SEO agencies but also by web development agencies. One of those clients that were previously deceived was a dog training business who put down a 30% deposit with a Melbourne web development agency and 2 months went by and still no word or action from the developer.

We quickly developed an action plan and managed to complete a large custom development project, first focusing on the front end development. This allowed us to get a sign-off for the grant while still working on the backend development, which required more time. As a result, our client now has a fully customised web development site that uses automation to streamline their business operation and expand by adding more trainers.

Another client we are happy we were able to help was Fragram Tools, who had waited for 12 months for the previous developer to take action and fix problems such as the website tasking g in more than a minute to load! The solution we proposed was redeveloping the website from scratch and building it our way, with our own theme architecture and customised design, while also securing the site to avoid hacking. The new website was live by the 4th week, and our client was very pleased with the end results.

What these case studies teach us that without the right SEO and web development expert you will be struggling for months in a row; being deceived by a dodgy practitioner can harm your online presence and business significantly, causing you to turn away prospects and lose customers. This danger has also been emphasized by the office of Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise, through Ombudsman Kate Carnell who has said that “the industry is rife with ‘horror stories’ in which small businesses (SMBs) are ripped off by SEO consultants ‘over-promising and under-delivering.’”

The need for industry regulations

Carnell is planning new regulations for the industry as many of the deceitful actions fraudsters are taking are often located in a grey area. As a small business owner, you too probably receive dozens of sales contacts a month from unknown companies proposing to help with your business’s marketing. Some of these cons not only spread the word by email, but go one step further through robocalls announcing companies that their listing on Google is unverified. Next, they claim they are affiliated with Google and promise they can put your website on the first page of Google search results or try to sell you a Google My Business listings management service. If you receive this type of message and consider somebody is trying to trick you, you can contact Google via their complaint centre and report violations.

The number of formal SEO-related complaints in Australia last year was relatively small – about 100 – but the office of Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) thinks that many fraudulent SEO engagements go unreported. Corroborate this with the lack of regulation (the ASBFEO can investigate and advocate but not independently create new regulations) and you have “a minefield of dodgy practitioners” looking for their next prey.

How can you avoid becoming the victim of a SEO or online marketing scammer?

The first rule of thumb is that no SEO agency can guarantee to get you on page 1! Unless they are using long tail keywords that people don’t search for.

Being cautious is the best way to avoid problems. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is! Before you sign a contract with an SEO or web agency you need to ask them these questions:

·         Can I see examples of your previous work?

Reliable SEO and web development agencies usually present some past work samples on their websites. If not, they should be able to provide them on demand. If they refuse, this should be a warning sign for you.

·         What are your customers saying about you?

Again, a digital marketing expert who knows their business should have already disclosed feedback from customers in the form of testimonials featured on their website and by allowing customer reviews on Google My Business and on Facebook. A simple Google search can reveal other customer opinions that will help you make the right decision regarding your potential collaboration with the SEO services provider you are considering.

·         Can you provide references and contact details of past clients so that I can speak to them directly?

A genuine and reliable digital marketing expert will always be able to provide a positive answer to this question.

·         What is the framework or process that we will follow?

Not being able to answer suggests the person you are talking to is either very disorganised or they have never completed SEO or web development work at all. Having a process to follow means they know how to do their job effectively and that they are aware of the challenges they may have to deal with in the process.

·         Will there be one central point of contact throughout the process?

Customer service should represent a priority for your digital marketing provider. Preferably they should assign one person who will represent your first contact throughout the project. If not, whenever you have a complaint they will refer you from one employee to another and no one will know for certain who is responsible for solving your problem.

·         Do you offer a guarantee?

Many businesses use guarantees to reduce the perceived risk of the product. The guarantee is rarely invoked by customers, but if someone happens to be dissatisfied with the products/services provided, the business offering the guarantee should keep their promise.

Providing a money-back guarantee suggests that the respective company is taking risks like exposure to manipulation, customer service burden, and complicated finances, something not everyone is able to do. However, it is important that your SEO provider does more than include a money-back guarantee badge on their website – they should also be able to present you the procedure for getting a refund in case you are not satisfied.

By asking the right questions before starting your collaboration with a SEO practitioner or a web developer, you should be able to avoid unpleasant situations where your website is working very poorly or there is no work done for the money you have paid. Hopefully the upcoming regulations in the SEO industry that the ASBFEO Ombudsman is looking to implement will reduce the number of fraudulent practitioners and encourage more and more businesses to call to the services of a SEO expert, online marketer, or web developer without being afraid of falling victim to scams.