16 Signs You May Be Hiring A Dodgy Digital Consultant

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My aim for this post is not to out those guilty parties, but to protect would-be clients from predatory, unethical practices (and outright lies) of digital freelancers/agencies. As a side note can I quickly say that there are plenty of reputable honest digital industry folks who work hard to best practice guidelines.

Hopefully this list of things to listen out for will help you establish whether you are dealing with a proficient expert or clueless swindler.



1. “All You Need Is SEO.”

seo services

Disclaimer: NOT a real button

SEO should never be the sole aspect of a digital marketing strategy. Anyone who claims it’s all you need has no understanding of the sales funnel, user behaviour or buying channels. Avoid them!

2. “My Techniques Are Too Complicated To Explain.”

An experienced digital marketing expert will be able to explain any element of their practices in laymen’s terms. Test them by asking them to simplify anything you don’t understand. If they cant do that at this early stage then how will they be able to during the course of your working relationship?

3. “Jargon, Buzz Words & Tech Speak”

Look out for over use of jargon, buzzwords and tech speak. Some in the industry use this cloak and dagger technique to baffle the potential client into assuming they are experts.  Catch them off guard by asking them to break down what certain terms mean. If they struggle then that could a sign they will be difficult to work with.

4. “I Can Get You To #1 Position On Google.”

Still to this day I (as a digital consultant) get emails from ‘John Random’ with the subject line saying something about “#1 Position On Google”.  This is an old school marketing mentality that by getting number one positions for generic terms you will somehow rule your market and reap the rewards. This is naive and dated for three basic reasons:

  1. SEO has changed so much over recent years that there is no clear or simple formula to guarantee #1 positions for a certain term.
  2. Even if they can get you to position #1, with the amount of  algorithm changes, negative SEO and (fair or unfair) penalisation, holding that position isn’t guaranteed.
  3. Search behaviour has changed so much that it’s debatable whether your target audience even use generic terms. Instead they may use what’s called “long tail” search terms making up phrase or query containing several keywords.

5. “The More Links, The Better Your Rankings.”

This type of “quantity over quality” link building worked for SEO about 5 years ago. Since then Google has firmly bolstered its algorithms to prevent such quick and easy methods from having an affect. Now this method is actually more of a danger or hindrance for your sites SEO than something to actively encourage/pay for. Test the perp by asking them what Google’s Penguin update would think of that.

6. “The More Keywords, The Better Your Rankings.”


Source: Jon Fife

Keywords used to be the key to SEO success. Stuffing them into everything from page content, to URL’s and meta data resulted in quick ranking increases. Google stopped that with their Google Panda update.

7. “I’ll Submit Your Site To Hundreds Of Search Engine Directories.”

link directories

Alarm bells should ring when anyone mentions “search engine directories”. Being a cheap quick win SEO method you can correctly guess that Google has stamped on sites who try it. Dont risk the temptation for the short term gain and instead look for someone who has a strategy to build high quality links on relevant domains.

8. “You Don’t Need To Worry About Google Algorithm Updates.”

panda penguin updates

Source: Maria

If SEO is going to be a strong part of your overall digital strategy then you NEED to worry about Google’s updates. They rule how the SEO industry develops and adapts and anyone who things they are immune from their effects is sure to find themselves or their clients penalised. Quiz the experts on how they have adapted since the updates.

9. “Once Your Site Is Live We Will Get To Work”


Source: Rentittoday

The development stages of a website are one of the most important stages for laying the foundations of SEO that can make the difference between ranking and not even being indexed in Google. Any “expert” who claims they will start work once your site is live probably doesn’t have a clue about technical /on-site SEO and should be avoided.

10. “I’ll Get Your SEO Fixed In A Month For A Flat Rate.”

easy fix

Source: JD Hancock


The first obvious questions would be to ask exactly what’s wrong with your SEO and what will they do to fix it? Secondly remember that any changes to the site will take at least a couple of months to have any affect on your SEO. So question anyone promising quick fixes and results for SEO related contracts or activities.

11. “We Have This Private Network of Websites We Can Put You On”

Back when Google rewarded the quantity of links, companies would setup their own link networks by buying hundreds of keyword rich domains and uploading simple place-holders or templates. These let them add a variety of anchor text links to the content and quickly point hundreds/thousands of links to a clients website. Nowadays this is a massive NO NO. Even if you were to see quick results from this technique you put your website at a huge risk of a penalty resulting in being de-indexed (removed) from the Google results permanently.

12. “We Can Take Down That Competitor For You”

Negative SEO is a new type of SEO that emerged at the time Google changed the game with major algorithm updates. Essentially it involves carrying out SEO activities that are against Google’s guidelines on a competitors website in order to get them demoted in the rankings or penalised and removed all together. An increasing number of sites have fallen victim to this and any digital marketing expert worth their salt will steer clear of such unethical practices.

13. “Great Content Will Promote Itself.”

With “Content Marketing” being the latest strategy to be added to the “gurus” arsenal, it is likely to come up in any potential pitch or discussion. There is a naive theory that great content will promote itself. In actual fact great content needs promoted just like poor content. I would expect a real ‘digital experts’ to consider promoting your content through owned, earned, and paid media platforms whilst closely tracking its success.

14. “Content Marketing Is The New Link Building.”

A bi-product of great content marketing properly can be links to your site. But no other lie has done so much damage to the state of online content than this one.  Firstly link building was cheap, fast, easy and incredibly scalable. Content marketing is non of those things.

15. “Duplicated Content Is Fine.”

Back in the day (god I sound old) you could hire teams in Asia to re-produce your one piece of content (article spinning) to make 1000’s of versions. These could then be submitted to tens of thousands of sites to create massive amounts of links quickly and cheaply. Then the big G found out, got angry and penalised sites promoting duplicated content. There is of course many natural exceptions to the rule but in general promoting duplicating content as an activity should raise alarm bells.

16. “You Need To Get On Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram And  Pinterest”

Source: mkhmarketing

Source: mkhmarketing

Worry when you here anyone using the scatter-gun approach to social media marketing. The truth is most businesses target audience isnt active across every social media platform. So it will be a waste of time and counter-productive to assume that you should be. Research your audience and match up their demographics with the most suitable social media platforms. Then go about forming a content strategy containing formats specific to each platform.


SUMMARY: Be Smart When Hiring A Digital Consultant

As well as the above, use these simple rules of thumb to help you weed out the “gurus” from the proficient experts:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Look for mentions of tracking, data, demographics, strategy and case studies.
  • Logic is the key to most SEO activity so if your expert’s suggestions lack it then consider avoiding.
  • Look into their pricing structure as this can tell you a lot about how they work. If its fixed prices this could be a hint that they outsource or automate a lot of the work.
  • Look at how they accept/take payment. If its solely via Paypal there maybe a tax evasion element to their operation which is illegal.
  • Ask Questions! This is the most important point. Do your research and probe their experience, knowledge, methods and results.
Title image credit: literacy20

I would love to hear your thoughts on the above and any other warning signs you may have encountered in your experience. Pop a comment below.

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On July 18, 2014