The risks of shonky SEO and AdWords agencies

The risks of shonky SEO and SEM (AdWords) agencies

The benefits of high quality SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and SEM (AdWords) are well recognised. There are untold examples of companies having enjoyed massive revenue and profitability improvements driven solely by their SEO and SEM strategies.

Yet there are also many horror stories of small and medium sized companies losing thousands of dollars and being misled by unscrupulous SEO and SEM operators. Just last week I became aware of another deceitful practice that made me embarrassed to be involved in the industry.

SEO is essentially the process of getting a website to rank as highly as possible in Google’s search results when a web user undertakes a search using words, topics or themes relevant to that website. SEM (AdWords) on the other hand involves paying Google a fee to present an ad in response to a relevant search term entered by a web user. If the user clicks on the ad they are taken to a related web page. 


SEO results are based on Google’s algorithm that considers literally hundreds of variables, the details of which Google does not generally share publicly. Because of this, and the ever increasing complexity of SEO, it’s very difficult for most business folk to get a good grasp on the subject. And that, together with the fact that it’s an unregulated industry, has allowed many unscrupulous operators to evolve.

Furthermore, when optimising a site, there are ethical (white-hat) and unethical (black-hat) techniques. Incorporating black-hat techniques could see your site ranking very highly, very quickly, however once Google’s systems recognise the site incorporates black-hat techniques, it is likely to be penalised and can drop down through the rankings very quickly. Worse still, it could be black-listed and not appear in the search results at all.

Be aware and take care if you experience any of the following when requiring support from an SEO company.

1. Long term locked in contracts (ie more than 6 months)

2. Promises of guaranteed page 1 results

3. Extremely low monthly management fees

4. Excessively high monthly management fees

5. Lack of transparency by the agency

6. Overly pushy salespeople 

SEM – AdWords

When it comes to AdWords, just this week I was astonished at what I saw. A business was advised by their SEM agency that their AdWords were achieving excellent conversions and performing impeccably well, ie the number of purchases made on the company’s website after a person clicked on their Google ad was extremely high. The company did not have the skills to verify this, and simply believed it. After all, the AdWords reports were indicating the high conversion numbers so it must have been true!!! 

We were reviewing the company’s AdWords account as part of an AdWords audit service and noticed the reported conversions were fake conversions. The conversion code (pixel) had been inserted onto a page on the client’s website that indicated a conversion when in fact a purchase had not been made. An AdWords account that is not correctly set up is likely to cost businesses many thousands of unnecessary dollars in both hard costs and lost revenue opportunities.

In relation to the audit mentioned above, we were prompted to offer this service as more and more clients were coming to us with similar experiences. The audit reviews a company’s AdWords account and reports on a number of important factors, specifically:

1. Account objectives

2. Top-line health check

3. Account structure

4. Account settings

5. Campaign structure

6. Ad copy 

7. Bids and budget

8. Keywords

9. Performance

10. Extensions

11. Product listings

12. Display


Choose wisely when selecting an SEO or SEM company. Be aware that the industry is unregulated and there are low barriers to entry. Drill down into the details and ask exactly what services will be delivered and how they will be delivered. Both SEO and SEM require a level of ongoing commitment and focus. You want an agency that is skilled, only uses white-hat techniques and will put the time and effort into your SEO and SEM. Choose an agency that is transparent and even happy to provide you with a level of training if desired. Remember, if it looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

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