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2020 brought about a huge push for digital transformation, in the context of the global pandemic. Small and big companies alike were forced to move their business online in the wake of lockdowns, social distancing and quarantines. This meant that almost all these companies also needed services from online marketing agencies. And most of them have gone above and beyond to provide clients with the best websites, excellent marketing campaigns and amazing client service. Especially since everybody understood how important quality was to be able to stand out in the mass of businesses moving online. 

But this growing demand for online services, has also left space for companies who are not working with the client’s interest in mind. I’m talking about those shady players, the ones that either rip the client off immediately, or provide less than ideal services. The ones clients go out of their way to write negative reviews about, in order to help others not make the same mistakes.

If you’ve never been burned before, this list might save you in the future. Here are 5 red flags that mark a shady online marketing company and some information on how to spot them fast.

5 red flags an online marketing company is shady:

  1. Unbelievably low prices
  2. Promises of “instant” results
  3. No permanent email address / website / contact information
  4. They have no testimonials or reviews
  5. They don’t ask you to sign a contract

Now, let’s break down the list together. 

  • Unbelievably low prices – Who could ever resist an amazing price? I personally can’t … but it’s important to figure out why a service or product is so cheap to begin with. 

When it comes to clothes, fast fashion brands like H&M cut corners by having factories in third world countries, while other brands have higher prices because they take care of their workers. But, when you think about an online service, things might not seem so black and white. You might be attracted to say that a low price means fighting off competition. Or just a one time special offer! 

But on closer inspection, few companies fall into those categories. Most of them try to get clients by promoting unbelievably low prices for services like web design, website development or SEO, and not offering much in return. In the case of SEO services, you can expect black hat or outdated methods, while web design can be, best case, plain, or, worst case scenario, copied and faulty.

There is a saying “You get what you pay for” and that applies here very well. In the end, you might receive the service, but the quality definitely has to suffer.

  • Promises of “instant” results – this applies to companies offering fast solutions to services that usually take a long time. Think link building, 10k followers on instagram or tons of likes on your Facebook page. 

As you can imagine, there is definitely something shady here, since you probably know how hard it is to get quality links and engagement. Such online agencies use bots, fake accounts and black hat techniques that will negatively affect your brand in the long run.

  • No permanent email address / website / contact information – one of the biggest red flags you should watch for is when an agency does not provide any legal identification (for example a company name and registration number) on their own website. They can also be misleading by not having a website at all.  
  • They have no testimonials or reviews – be on the lookout for online marketing companies that don’t provide testimonials on their websites or for professionals with no Linkedin reviews. You can always ask them up front to provide recommendations, but a quick search may offer more information if you know where to look.
  • They don’t ask you to sign a contract – last, but not least – always have a contract – the basis for any B2B or B2C collaboration. If the agency does not provide you with a contract for your web design project, or outright states that a contract is not important – run away! 

It’s one of the most telling red flags, signaling the fact that you might just not get what you paid for. Respectable online marketing companies always sign contracts with their clients and respect them. 

So try to keep your eyes open when it comes to these 5 red flags. This way you will be able to differentiate between companies worth doing business with and the ones you should run away from.

It’s your turn now. Have something to add to the list? Use the comment section to share your experience.


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