Graphic showing an assortment of warning signs.

n this day and age, digital marketing isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity. And with consumers expecting an easy-to-use online experience, it makes sense that businesses that expand digitally do better.

And with the constant competition to get more visitors online, there is no shortage of online marketing scams that any given company can fall into.

Here’s what you should know about scams you could encounter, how best to avoid them, and why reputable SEOs never promise guaranteed rankings.

WARNING! The screenshots below are real and may cause anxiety if you have fallen victim to one of them. Proceed with caution!

GIF of John Lithgow saying "This is all a scam!"

If you’ve made the mistake of using a service like the ones mentioned below, take a moment to breathe, and then cancel the service. Limiting the damage done by these digital marketing scams can be difficult, and stopping them immediately is always the first step.

Screenshot of a website selling reviews.

Sometimes marketing campaigns place a lot of emphasis on engagement, especially on social media. However, you must never pay for non-organic engagement. Are you trying to sky rocket your social media presence? Don’t buy likes, follows, comments, or reviews from a freelance digital marketer, or an agency.

If they’re offering you 10K followers for a certain amount of money or comments on your blog, no amount of comments or followers from these scammers will not do what they’re promising.

Social media can be a great way to connect with your audience, but if you’re not actually reaching any of them, then that extra 500 Facebook or Instagram likes will not matter.


Invest in Real Followers

Instead, work hard at providing helpful content to the 1, 10, or 100 real followers that you currently have. Invest in those real followers, not in fake followers.

Faking engagement is a scam that deceives a lot of business out there because they think any engagement is good engagement, and that just is not true.


2. Guaranteed SEO fast 🏃💨

Screenshot of a website guaranteeing page one on Google.

Are there marketers promising to bump your SEO (search engine optimization) and get you to the #1 spot in Google search in just a couple of weeks? Or are they even guaranteeing you page one results?

That’s a red flag! 🚩

SEO doesn’t work that way, and any legitimate SEO will tell you that. While it can be frustrating to play the waiting game, getting super-fast SEO results are typically a digital marketing scam that can be easily avoided.


Improve Your Website

In general quality SEO takes time and consists of completing very technical tasks that improve the health of your website that will eventually appear in Google after a few weeks or months.

The process of fixing technical issues with your website, adding quality content, improving the user experience, and promoting your website is not something that happens instantly.

Quality SEO services will properly set your expectations, and equip you for the long game.


3. Verify that impressive client list

Screenshot of a website showing different company logos.

Does that agency boast a long list of very impressive clients? It is possible that it might not be legitimate. A common expression from back in my IT days was, “Trust but verify.” That agency might be telling the truth, all you need to do is verify.

There are digital marketers and agencies out there who will fabricate their client list to make themselves seem more credible and experienced. Their deception can help win them clients that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Trust but verify.


4. Shortcut Outsourcing*

Outsourcing can be a digital marketing scam depending on the way that its done. Let me be clear, outsourcing is not a scam. Even I will hire a local freelance photographer or copywriter for some of my projects.

What can be problematic is HOW and WHY an agency outsources. For example, outsourcing can show a company has attained a level of business and needs to expand.

✅ This is a good thing!

Or it may mean that they’re looking to cut corners, and leave customers working with an unknown 3rd party.

⛔️ This is a bad thing.

Companies that partner with reputable organizations is a great practice. Yet, there are others who outsource with unqualified low-wage workers around the world.

Because of this, you can lose the scope and quality that you need. There may be issues with connectivity, language barriers, and time zones. Keeping this in mind can save you some trouble during the process itself. Don’t be afraid to ask. 

*Proper outsourcing is not a scam. Want to know the difference between outsourcing and offshoring? Read this post from Forbes.


5. Prices don’t quite look right

One rather deceptive scam is seeing prices that look too good to be true. No one ever wins in the race to the bottom for pricing. 

When prices don’t quite add up to what you see and hear, then you need to double check. Find out what other digital marketers in your area are charging.

Low-quality providers often provide cheap prices to gain customers. Often they don’t deliver on the services they offer. Unfortunately, there’s a wide array of pricing in the industry because it’s always changing.

Now that you know what to look for, let’s take a look at how to avoid these scams.


How to avoid digital marketing scams

Like many things in life, you cannot just avoid a bad practice, you have to replace with with a good practice in order to prevent even being tempted. Here are 5 ways to avoid falling into these scams.

GIF of a baseball player avoiding a tag.

1. Increase engagement with valuable and share-able content

Instead of faking engagement, invest in organic engagement by creating share-able content that adds value.

When you get organic engagement with your customers, you’re able to reach them in a meaningful way. They comment on and like posts that interest them, and you’ll be able to continue that cycle.

Posting that content on social media, or to your Google My Business listing, are some of the ways that you can spark organic engagement in and build that community.


2. Invest in growing organic traffic

Screenshot of a BrightEdge study showing organic search traffic is still a top source.

According to a 2019 study by BrightEdge51 percent of all website traffic comes from organic search with 32.5 percent being the average traffic share the first Google organic search result gets.

SEO is an acronym you’ll probably get tired of hearing, but it’s so important to optimize your website, if you want your consumers to be able to find you.

That said, SEO is generally a slow process that can take time for you to see results. In fact, it can sometimes take 6 months or longer.

Don’t give up though. While it can be frustrating, your work will pay off.


3. Do your homework

Sometimes the information won’t be available, but when it is, you want to make sure that you know the agency that you are working with. 

Don’t hire just anyone. Talk to them about the scope and deliverables you can expect to see and ask about some of their clients.

If you do talk to previous clients, remember those clients may not have a similar situation to your business. Despite the many benefits of SEO, the results they see may not be the results you will see, both good or bad.


4. Vet your potential marketer or agency

This may sound like something your parents do, but make sure you vet your potential marketing agency if you’re worried about anything happening behind the scenes.

Just like with their client list, and concerns about outsourcing, this can all be alleviated by just asking a few questions.

Double checking with the marketing agency and avoiding the ones that your gut tells you to skip are the best way to go.


5. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

As mentioned above, the industry is continually changing. That said, if you’re looking at a price, and it looks unbelievable, make sure you check again. 

GIF of a cat putting on sunglasses.

The good rule of thumb 👍🏽 is, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Don’t trust the number someone is quoting you just because you don’t know. Get second and third opinions so that you know that you’re getting a good price for quality work.


Why don’t SEOs guarantee results?

In short, because they can’t. SEOs and other marketers do not own the search engines and so they have no way of making any website appear on Google’s, Bing’s or DuckDuckGo’s search engine.

Even the search engines themselves tell you they cannot manipulate the algorithm that provides the results. Each user’s results are provided by a combination of relevance, proximity, search intent, user preferences and a myriad of other factors.

Reputable SEO’s will strictly adhere to guidelines and recommendations made by the search engines and focus on providing valuable content that meets the search intent of the user.

Anyone who guarantees ranking results is not being honest with you about how search engine optimization works.



Digital marketing scams impact everyone. Small businesses, freelancers, and large companies all look to boost their web traffic.

Avoiding scams that digital marketers try to pass off as the norm is one of the best ways to protect yourself. Have a question? Have you been scammed? Schedule an online meeting and let’s see if there’s any damage to undo.