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15 Deceptive Online Marketing Tactics Employed by Other “Marketing Companies”

By January 8, 2024Marketing

My view on investing in marketing is rather straightforward: online marketing should deliver tangible, bankable results. I have no patience for vague metrics like impressions, views, or branding. I expect any money spent on marketing to directly translate into leads and revenue. I want to track the effectiveness of marketing tactics, be it review software, a website, SEO, or PPC. Anything less feels like throwing money into an abyss.

You might ask, “What should you expect from my online marketing investment?” Here’s my simple formula: for every dollar spent, you should aim for at least $3 in return, if not more. At the very least, you should break even, making $1 for every $1 spent.

While there are reputable online marketing companies out there, far too many employ high-pressure sales tactics to deceive business owners.

While you may uphold ethical standards in your practice, most marketing firms lack such principles. They prey on unsuspecting businesses, charging $3,000-$8,000 a month for virtually no results or revenue.

If I were investing in marketing for my company, I would expect my online marketing partner to uphold the same level of professionalism and ethics as I do.

When I started this article, I intended to list 3-5 common online marketing scams. But as I inquired with my team about scams reported by clients, the list kept growing…

It’s a bit of a read, but it’s worth your time. To protect your business from marketing scams and financial losses, it’s essential to uncover the truth about each. Read to the end to discover the most widespread online marketing scams.

The Prolonged Contract Deception

Many clients have shared their experiences with this pervasive and damaging online marketing scam. It’s the most prevalent and costly scam affecting small businesses.

The deceptive marketing firm lures you with their services, only to lock you into a 12-month contract when it’s time to sign up. But why do they employ this tactic? The answer is simple: once you realize, a couple of months in, that you’re not getting new patient leads, you’re still obligated to pay them for ten more months. This traps your marketing budget and prevents you from seeking a more ethical and results-driven lead generation firm.

They might argue that marketing takes time to gain traction, but that’s often nonsense. The truth is, either your website effectively converts traffic into calls and contacts, or it doesn’t.

Here’s a simple test to identify a scam: if a marketing firm charges you on a monthly basis, they’re likely legitimate because they must deliver results to keep your business. If they demand commitments longer than a month, it’s probably a scam, and you’d be wise to find an honest partner.

The Double-Selling Digital Marketing Scam

This is the most common online marketing scam out there, and it has victimized many practice owners. The scheme is quite straightforward: you’re already investing in SEO, PPC, or other online marketing services when a salesperson approaches you, trying to sell you similar services under a different name.

In Sara’s case, she was already paying $97 a month for Local Listing services to boost her SEO and attract new patients. Then she got sold the exact same service for an additional $997 a month, without discontinuing the previous service. The result? Negative impacts on her site traffic.

Many other practice owners have fallen victim to the double-selling scam. Beware of misleading terms and names for services. Successful online marketing for attracting patients relies on essential elements such as a responsive website, quality blog content, local listings, and PPC. Duplicating these services isn’t just a rip-off; it can harm your online reputation.

Doubling up on SEO or SEM services is costly, pointless, and could damage your existing online marketing efforts. Verify the meaning of each service’s name with the marketing firm to avoid this scam.

The Lack of Results Swindle

This scam often involves impressive digital dashboards filled with data about page views, impressions, and graphs, but what’s conspicuously absent is the most critical metric: the number of new customer/client leads generated. To evaluate your marketing effectively, you need only three pieces of information: the total number of new calls and contacts, the cost of your marketing, and the value of these new leads to your business or practice. These three numbers help you calculate your cost per new customer lead and return on your marketing investment.

Many online marketing firms avoid providing this information because it exposes their failure to deliver results in terms of new customer leads compared to the cost of their services. Instead, they offer visually impressive but ultimately useless dashboards. Have you fallen victim to these data dump dashboards?

Legitimate marketing firms that deliver results share their success stories and discuss your results with you regularly.

The Fake Magazine Interview Ruse

This audacious scam involves fraudulent interviews for magazines. A company calls, claiming to be one of the largest publishers of monthly magazines, and offers to interview you about your practice for a free PR article. However, once they arrive for the interview, it quickly shifts towards marketing and persuading you to sign a long-term contract costing over $2,000 a month.

This deceitful tactic is used to trap you into long-term contracts for unproven and usually ineffective marketing services, under the guise of a “free” article. Has a similar call reached your business?

The More Websites, the Better Scam

An aggressive “marketing firm” contacted one of our clients, who already had a successful website that attracted a steady flow of new patient leads. The salesperson convinced him that having one website wasn’t enough; he needed more. This advice contradicts the basic principle of focusing all your search engine efforts on one website. Google penalizes websites that use multiple domains for the same business, and it rarely makes sense unless you operate entirely different businesses. Avoid falling for this scam.

The Clone Website Fraud

Joe experienced a variation of the two-website scam, involving local online marketing. He signed up for PPC, a potentially effective strategy. However, the marketing firm, instead of linking the ads to Joe’s primary website or a dedicated landing page, cloned his entire site without his knowledge and hosted it on a server in the Cayman Islands. This not only violated copyright law but also led to penalties from Google, damaging Joe’s primary website’s search engine ranking. This scam can be highly destructive to your online reputation.

The Excessive PPC Spending Scam

Mary, a practice owner, reported this deceptive tactic. Despite paying $1,500 per month for PPC, she saw no new patient leads. Typically, a well-structured PPC campaign should yield leads within the $50-$250 range. However, Mary was receiving nothing. The reason became clear when she disclosed that the marketing firm refused to reveal the allocation of her payments between the PPC campaign management fee (usually 10-20%) and the actual ad spend on Google.

The firm was pocketing at least 60-70% of her $1,500 monthly investment. By charging excessive campaign management fees and underinvesting in actual ad spend, they were essentially stealing her money.

This scam can be difficult to detect, but vigilant practice owners will review their Google Ads invoices and demand transparency regarding fee allocation.

The Bad-Content Blog Swindle

The blog section on your website can be a powerful marketing tool, as it provides informative, relevant, and educational content for potential patients. It also helps your site rank higher on Google.

But be aware: many online marketing firms outsource their blog writing services to low-quality content mills, where the articles are poorly researched and written. This scam can harm your online reputation, as visitors will notice the subpar content and leave your site, reducing your lead conversion rates.

To avoid this scam, ask your marketing partner where they source their blog content. If it’s from a content mill, AI-produced, or outsourced to non-professional writers, consider finding a new partner.

The Link-Spamming Swindle

Google’s algorithms value high-quality, relevant backlinks to your site from authoritative sources. But some marketing firms use black-hat tactics to generate spammy, low-quality backlinks that can harm your website’s search engine rankings.

If your marketing partner is promising hundreds of backlinks a month, they’re probably engaging in this deceptive practice. Instead, focus on building quality backlinks from authoritative sites within your industry, and avoid the spammy approach that can get your site penalized by search engines.

The Phantom Reviews Deception

Online reviews are critical for a practice’s reputation. Some unscrupulous marketing firms generate fake reviews to boost your online rating. However, fake reviews can lead to severe consequences when discovered by review platforms like Google, Yelp, or Healthgrades. Your site may be penalized or removed from search results entirely.

Legitimate marketing firms help you improve your online reputation by encouraging genuine reviews from satisfied patients instead of resorting to fake ones.

The Pay-to-Play Review Swindle

Another deceptive tactic involves marketing firms that pressure you to pay a monthly fee to access or manage your online reviews. In many cases, they’re charging excessive fees for services you can easily manage yourself or with the help of a reliable reputation management tool.

Always seek clarity on what you’re paying for regarding online review management. If it seems excessive, consider other, more cost-effective options.

The SEO Overcharging Scam

SEO is a valuable component of online marketing, but it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what you’re paying for. Some companies charge exorbitant fees for basic SEO services while delivering minimal results. To avoid overpaying for SEO, have a transparent discussion about what services are included in your SEO package and how they will benefit your practice.

The Fake Google Guaranteed Listings Ruse

Beware of firms claiming to guarantee you the top spot on Google search results for your industry. Google does not allow anyone to promise a specific ranking, and such claims are fraudulent. Instead, focus on improving your website’s content and optimizing your online presence within Google’s guidelines to enhance your organic search rankings.

The Landing Page Pay-Per-Lead Deception

Some marketing companies offer to create custom landing pages and charge per lead. While this model may seem appealing, it can become expensive quickly. Plus, if you’re not closely monitoring lead quality, you could end up paying for unqualified or irrelevant leads.

The Social Media Auto-Posting Scam

Marketing firms offering automated social media posting services may save you time but are often less effective than genuine engagement. Social media requires real interactions, not just automated posts. An effective social media strategy includes meaningful content and direct engagement with your audience.

To avoid falling victim to these deceptive online marketing tactics, keep these strategies in mind:

Demand transparency: Your marketing partner should provide clear, understandable reports and discuss your results regularly.

Verify reviews and references: Don’t solely rely on online reviews or testimonials; request references and reach out to current or past clients to hear about their experiences.

Read the contract carefully: Before signing any marketing agreement, review the terms and conditions thoroughly and consider consulting legal counsel if necessary.

Invest in ethical marketing: Partner with companies that follow ethical marketing practices and share your commitment to professional standards.

In summary, while there are legitimate online marketing companies that can help your practice grow, it’s essential to be aware of these deceptive tactics. By staying informed and vigilant, you can protect your practice from falling victim to marketing scams and ensure your marketing investment delivers tangible results.

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