Checklist: Is your marketing agency scamming you?

Is your Digital Marketing Agency Scamming you?

I’m Devansh Gupta, SEO Expert. I’ve been practicing dark arts in digital marketing since the last 6 years. I’ve been a hacker, developer, philosopher, creative writer and so much more. I’m a polymath and I love to experiment around more than one should. I’ve got my friends backing me up.

I’m running my own digital marketing agency – AI Advertisment since Feb’21.

I’ve worked with over 500 clients till date across major demographics, these are some of my findings on how the marketing space is not welcoming to online businesses. Specially, small businesses & start-ups.

There are a LOT of marketing agencies around the world.

There is a really good chance that your marketing agency is just smoke and mirrors and might be doing your business more harm than good!

Here are the most common scams:

Bot Traffic/ Fake Traffic

There are a lot of fake traffic generators available online. Thousands of fake hits can be bought for pennies and an amateur programmer can write simple scripts using a quick Google search.

Some examples of Fake Traffic

How to verify:
  • Check Behavior tab under Google Analytics 3 and analyze how users are interacting with your website.
  • Hire a Technical SEO Expert who can help you with analyzing your logs to find fake traffic to your website. Keep in mind, they’re quite expensive.

Showing Vanity metrics as growth

SEO is similar to black magic, even the most veteran SEOs don’t really know what is happening. SEO is not an exact science. It is really hard to measure SEO success and performance through proper KPIs but there are a lot of myths and obsolete metrics that are still in the market.

Some of them are:

  • Domain Authority (DA) & Page Authority (PA) – Authority of a website is NOT a ranking factor, it never was! Back in the day, high DA websites used to rank higher but it is not the case anymore. It is a third-party ranking factor created by Moz using their own algorithm. I still see references of DA & PA in performance reports written by agencies for their clients.
  • Alexa Rank – It is a global website ranking system developed by and it can be used to track a website’s growth but it cannot be used as SEO KPI.
    Update: Alexa’s website retired on May 1, 2022.
  • Average keyword rank – There are branded keywords, irrelevant keywords, very low ranking keywords are included in the average rank. It is just BS and I don’t know why this is still shown in Search Console.
  • Audience demographics – Pageviews, Time spent on site, Bounce Rate, Conversion Rate, Pages per visit, etc. These cannot be optimized by any means by any SEO whatsoever.

How to Verify:

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to really see behind all the numbers and charts and see what really is going on. Either reach out to us to help you or hire a trusted professional to audit the reports and the health of your website.

Backlink Scam


It is true, I used to pay for backlinks and guest posts myself 2-3 years ago and I saw absolutely huge gains through those links but as Google’s algorithm is being refined daily to check for spam backlinks. But it is impossible to get a paid backlink that will help your business. Google released a lot of updates including a Link Spam Update between May and August earlier this year. Google has gotten a lot smarter in figuring out unnatural backlinks.

Rule of thumb to follow: If it looks fake, it probably is!

How to Verify:

If the backlinking website is not in the same niche as yours, it counts as unnatural link. Eg. – A boutique website will not link to a car repair website in any scenario.

Related article – What happens when you buy high quality backlinks for your website.

Promoting their other client’s business on your website

Let’s say you’ve got an E-Commerce store which sells healthcare products and your agency has another client who sells beauty products. They can publish content on your website to promote their products without you knowing.

They’ll be doing the same thing on their website and promoting your products.

But Devansh, why is this a bad thing?

This is known as Link Farming or Private Blog Networks (PBNs) which is frowned upon by Google and is considered as a Black Hat SEO tactic which will present you with a penalty from Google which even worse than it sounds.

How to Verify:

Keep check of changes done on your website and ask your agency to get your approval before making any changes on your website.

Setting up false KPIs for performance monitoring

False KPIs might include any third-party metric like DR, DA, TrustFlow, CitationFlow, Total number of backlinks etc.

Some agencies also provide reports with false numbers and metrics to their clients who don’t know much about marketing and analytics.

How to Verify:

Get an expert who can verify the reports and check for any discrepancies in provided metrics.

Manipulating the tracking pixel

A tracking pixel is a piece of code that is added on pages you want to track. Google has a tracking pixel that is installed on the last page of the conversion funnel.

When you directly open the conversion page of the website, the tracking pixel will fire up and which will count as a sale.

Some marketing firms keep up to 50-60% of the whole ad spend budget for themselves instead of the agreed 10-20%.

How to verify:

Go to Google Analytics > Conversions and compare the no. of transactions from different channels and what was provided to you.

Work for competitors

It is, sadly, a common practice done by large agencies. They leverage the case studies and growth reports of one client and then target their competitors directly saying either they used to work with them in the past or they know all the secrets and campaigns of the said store and we can help you scale.

Overuse jargons and keep you in the dark about the involved risks

This sales technique is as old as the universe itself, but I refer to it as. Most people are naïve and doesn’t know a lot about the down and dirty tricks of marketing and sales.

Many websites who are dominating search today are NOT properly optimized at all. They don’t need to worry about keyword cannibalization, marketing attribution, link juice/link velocity, and thousands of other SEO issues.

Google is dominating the search and many E-Commerce stores are solely dependent on their organic traffic which is keeping their business afloat. SEO is great and all but business owners must understand the risks of decrease in traffic due to core updates.

Fake Report

Most agencies believe in Quantity over Quality. Many agencies invest heavily in lead gen and sales and not enough on retaining clients and training their employees.

To ensure client happiness, the keep on providing reports with fancy graphs and charts and a list of activities that repeats forever doesn’t make much sense.

Promoting themselves through your marketing channels

Many agencies use their own ad accounts to run ads for their clients and use your ad budget for running their own marketing campaigns.

How to Verify:

Ask your agency/freelancer for proper bills and segregation of your daily ad spend.

Billing tools to their clients

Marketing software cost a lot and agencies use this to their advantage as they bill extra amount to the clients.

Dedicated teams are a myth

If you’re paying anywhere around $100-5000 per month and the agency is promising a dedicated team to you – either they’re lying or are white labeling projects to third world agencies.

Warnings! Warning! Warning!

Your website WILL survive if you don’t fix H1 and image alt tags ASAP if you’re already getting traffic from Google. Do not believe any agency that your website will die if you don’t start working with them right away.

Go Big or Go Home

You don’t need a lot of ad budget to get sales. A genuine marketing agency will suggest you best marketing channels and marketing budget according to your business needs.

You only need to excel at a single marketing channel to get revenue flowing to your website.

Fix these issues immediately otherwise your business will perish under a month

These warnings are true but not critical. There might be some truth to them as Google is always implementing algorithm changes to their search engine.

Sometimes these are valid as they can lead to a penalty to your website and de-index your website from search engines.

Showing growth doing anything

Google is weird. Sometimes, websites see a little spike in traffic after algorithm updates and agencies use this tactic to their advantage to cover their tracks of doing obsolete activities.

Bait and Switch

$200/month for SEO for your website is a lucrative offer but you should know that in the long term this will cost you a lot more and you’ll not have the budget to hire a proper agency that’ll get you out of the mess.

After a fantastic sales pitch, you receive little to no results

It is really easy to get confused by jargons and technical terms agencies throw at you whenever you’ve got questions about anything related to marketing or their activities.

Most common scams include –

  • Backlink building – They’ll build backlinks by doing link sharing and social bookmarking on sites like Reddit, Quora, Medium etc. which does not have any impact on rankings due to Google’s Link Spam Update.
  • White label services – There are a lot of agencies in third world countries who sell white label SEO & PPC services for $50-200/month.
  • Incompetent and/or overworked employees – Agencies hire employees with not much experience to help with the great deal of work from their day with not much growth for getting better at digital marketing or learning new skills.

They seem too good to be true


Pitch – We offer a complete package of web development & design, on-page SEO, content writing for $300-800/month.

Reality – It’s a 99% chance that you’ll see little to no results even after a year.

They deprive you of negative outcomes

SEO is a continuous practice. Yes, your website will see a drop in traffic after a google update and you should not completely rely on organic revenue for your business.

A business needs to be present on multiple channels and think of ways to monetize those channels.


There’s always something going on behind the scene of digital marketing. Anything can happen to your main revenue channel. Always diversify.

No admin Access

Many agencies use their own accounts to create your business’ online accounts so that they can have leverage over your brand.

The Long-Term Contract Scams

If an agency asks you to sign a year long contract with them, turn around and run as fast as you can.

The double sell

You’ll hire or outsource to an agency for a single service like SEO or Social Media Management. After a couple of weeks, they’ll pitch their other services also and try to reel you into their whole package deals. This is not a bad thing, but most agencies do not have proper internal communications set up properly, that is SEO & PPC might be communicating like this SEO Expert > SEO Team Lead > PPC Team Lead > PPC Expert who might be working on a single client account.

The brand marketing ad spend budget

Many agencies tie up with tabloids who charge hundreds of dollars for a low-quality backlink. This won’t get you to the top.

Managing trust and expectations is important.

Do your own research. Or call us.

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