10 Characteristics Of A Shady Digital Marketing Agency


We believe in helping you make good choices (even if it is not us).

Making your way through the digital marketing world can be challenging, especially if you don’t know what questions to ask and where to look for answers.

One of the most important things to consider when selecting a digital marketing agency is whether or not they are trustworthy.

We think it is important for anyone who is looking to hire a marketing agency to know what to look for that might get them into a bad partnership

How would you know?

If you don’t know the industry, how would you know what to look for?

Unless you have superpowers or you have a family member or friend in the industry, most people would not know what to look for.

I bet you have some inclination on what to look out for, but I also bet if you are reading this, you are open to more suggestions.

We got them.

Strap in and let’s get you equipped to find an amazing agency to fit your website and marketing needs (yes, even if it is not us).

If you find yourself asking “Is this company a shady digital marketing agency?”, keep the following red flags in mind:

1. They have testimonials on their website that don’t share people’s real names, or businesses or just say something like “Sue M. – Business Owner”.

Right now on the spot I can find some stock image of a person in a business outfit, write some fake review and add it to my website and no one would know the difference.

That is why our reviews show real people and businesses you can look up.

Don’t get caught up in believing testimonials unless you can see the proof. This is a common practice to manipulate people into thinking that a company has more reviews than it does by people that don’t even exist.

This is why Google reviews are also good to look at. Google reviews are monitored more, have to be posted by someone with a Gmail account, and can’t easily be fabricated without alerting Google and getting into trouble.

Screenshot image of Google reviews for Rise Visible.

2. You looked at their Google reviews and they don’t have many or their Google reviews look strange.

Google reviews are a very important part of social proof not only for website design or digital marketing agencies but for any business.

First, look at the number of reviews. Low reviews do not always mean bad things, but it shows they are not very seasoned.

Look for bad reviews or too few reviews. If a company has a random bad review, it happens. We are all human – it is almost impossible to never get a bad review because you can’t please everyone. However, if there are a handful of bar reviews, that is an obvious red flag.

Look to see if any reviews seem weird or redundant.

Companies sometimes pay for Google reviews which is illegal to do.

You could also look to see if the people that put reviews have actual case studies on their website.

 Hubspot had 5 tips to use to look for fake Google Reviews.

  • Pay attention to the details in the review.
  • Look at the complexity of words.
  • Check for repeated exclamation points.
  • Examine the reviewer’s name and avatar.
  • Flag reviews without comments.
  • See if the reviewer has reviewed other businesses.
  • Look at how frequently the reviewer leaves reviews.

3. Look at places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, etc.

The best way to avoid being scammed by a shady digital marketing company is by doing your research before hiring one.

Searching social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will help you find out what other people have said about their experiences working with an agency—and it can also tell you whether the company is trustworthy or not!

On social media and other review sites, you can learn a lot about a business.

4. You feel uncomfortable talking to them.

Just because you feel uncomfortable talking to an agency does not mean that they are a bad company, it could mean that they are not a good fit.

Listen, I am sure there have been times we have not worked with a client based on them just not liking our vibe. Are we a bad agency, no – but that does not mean we are for everyone.

Trust your gut, if something does not feel right don’t do it.

5. They talk over you and use language that makes you confused.

Website designers and digital marketers have their own lingo, as does any industry, but when talking to clients they should not make you feel dumb and uncomfortable.

Companies that prey on unsuspecting clients and try to rope them into services with pressure by often use confusion and big language. These are signs of agencies and digital marketers to stay away from.s to stick away from.

Your agency should be able to explain everything to you easily so that you feel like a partner not that you are walking into a complicated game of chess.

Your agency should be a team player and you should feel a partnership and camaraderie.

6. They make BIG promises.

This is a big one and it happens all the time. I can’t tell you how many times clients come to us upset about big promises companies told them and never delivered.

Example 1: I will get you on the first page of Google in 3 months.
That will never happen unless you are in a remote city in Kansas and you are the only business in that industry.

Example 2: Give us 1,000 email addresses and we will help you make $3,000-$10,000 a month.

If they could make that happen, they would not need you because they would be doing that themselves. Promising results in a short amount of time is something to watch out for.

Goals are important, goals that follow the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) formula are what you need.

If something sounds too good, I bet you $5 it is.

Again, listen to your gut.

7. They ask for a ton of money upfront.

Digital marketing and website design is not cheap, however, do your research and come into a meeting knowing the average numbers for services.

If a company quotes a large amount right off the bat, walk away.

Example: If you are looking for a basic website, you will be looking to pay an agency anywhere from $2000-$5000 depending on the complexity. They should never ask for the full amount upfront.

It is customary to pay 1/3 to 1/2 as a downpayment and then the final amount upon the finalization of the website. This gives you both power in this situation.

If you don’t like the website, you don’t pay the final amount until it is fixed how you want it and the agency at least got part of the money if a client ghosts them. It does not happen often, but it does.

8. They have no case studies of clients on their website.

If the website does not show any client logos, work, or real case studies then they might be a new agency.

There is nothing wrong with working with a new agency, I was new at one point and someone gave me a chance.

However, you need to have your exceptions in check based on the experience of the agency you are working with.

9. They do not offer you a contract.

When we first started, we did not offer contracts. It was a rookie move, but we know that contracts are just as important for us as they are for our clients.

So, never work with an agency or service provider that does not have a contract. A contract will be protection for both parties.

Remember, we can be in a conversation about service details with someone and we both come away with a different understanding based on what we know, our experiences, if we were distracted, or if we understood.

Having them outlined in written format helps both parties be protected as well as know what the heck is going to go on. Make sure that the contract is not one-sided and that you feel comfortable.

If the contract seems difficult to understand or it is an excessively large amount of money for a project it might be good to get some legal counsel on that. Many cities have small businesses that help small businesses with legal troubles at a much more reasonable rate.

10. Their website looks unprofessional, confusing, or messy.

If you are working with a digital marketing agency and the website is unprofessional, confusing, or messy – it is a big red flag.

Websites are a huge part of digital marketing and would be a large telltale sign that something is really wrong.

Always protect yourself and do your research when making decision.

Do the research. This is a cardinal rule when it comes to business dealings, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with digital marketing agencies. You should always do your research before hiring someone to represent your brand online.

A shady digital marketing agency can ruin your online reputation, waste your money and leave you with little to show for it. Unfortunately, these types of services are becoming more common every day. That’s why it’s important to do some research before hiring anyone for your business. You can also ask around for recommendations from trusted friends who may have worked with similar companies in the past.