Australian AO Says SEO ‘Horror Stories’ by ‘Dodgy Practitioners’ Need Regulation

Australia is set to become the first nation in the world to draft legislation which would protect consumers from digital marketing scams. The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s Kate Carnell announced her intention to take action against SEO consultants who intentionally mislead clients.

Carnell is asking Australian SMBs to come forward with what she’s calling their SEO “horror stories.” She intends to use the information to help spawn new SEO industry regulations. She described the current state of SEO scammery as “a minefield of dodgy practitioners.”

seo scam law kate carnell australia
Kate Carnell begins a push to regulate SEO scams. photo credit: asbfeo.gov.au

Carnell’s agenda is a landmark undertaking. No country to date regulates digital marketing scams.

Australia SEO Scam Agenda Could Prompt Global Change

In the United States, SEO scammers will often target small businesses. Dishonest SEO companies will go so far as to claim they have control over Google rankings.

Larger businesses have also fallen prey to nefarious SEO setups. Back in 2011, retail giant J.C. Penney participated in an SEO link scheme that was later exposed by the New York Times. J.C. Penney claimed no knowledge of the link building activity and fired their SEO agency shortly after the news broke.

For J.C. Penney, their global name brand helped to soften the blow. Google fixed their rankings rather than apply any penalties.

But that’s not typically the case for lesser-known businesses who partake in an ill-advised link building scam. Google often penalizes a domain, lowering or wiping out a company’s rankings. As a result, the agency hired to improve the penalized company’s SEO exits stage left (with checks in hand).

Small businesses often have little in the way of SEO scam recourse. That’s what Australia’s ASBFEO aims to fix with new legislation. While Australian businesses only reported roughly 100 SEO complaints, the ASBFEO believes many more exist.

At present, no formal regulations exist in the United States. In the past,  Google has taken some initiative to mitigate the prevalence of scammers.

In 2018, Google filed a lawsuit against Supreme Marketing Group for allegedly scamming businesses. Supreme Marketing Group is now out of business as a result of the litigation.

How To Avoid SEO Scams

australian seo scam law Kate CarnellDirect Online Marketing has dealt with many SEO penalized websites. In most cases, the penalized company was lured in by false, unrealistic marketing.

Here’s a handy short-list to use when vetting an SEO consultant or agency.

They Guarantee Rankings

If an SEO consultant assures they will rank you in the top spots for specific keywords, that’s a red flag. No SEO agency or consultant has inside information on Google’s algorithm. Because of this, they can’t promise top rankings. Meaning you should never trust anyone who makes such bold claims.

A legitimate SEO agency helps build a Google-optimized on-page environment. It complements that with the production of relevant, thoughtful content.

They Use a Bad Link Building Strategy

For SEO, backlinks remain a primary driver for improved rankings. But it isn’t the number of backlinks, rather, the quality of backlinks that fuels success.

Scammy SEO consultants sometimes utilize shady backlink building strategies. These unethical practices put your domain’s health at risk. While there are a variety of risky practices, backlink purchasing, and bot driven link building are the most notable.

These poor practices often result in an initial boost in traffic. But over time, Google snuffs out link building that violates its TOS. This can result in a Google penalty, something not easily fixed.

Additionally, some SEO agencies use complex link building strategies to keep the company hostage.

For example, a dishonest SEO consultant might build links using a blog network created for the sole purpose of nefarious link building. The company receives an initial boost to their SEO. However, when the company decides to leave, the SEO consultant pulls the links. This results in a rankings drop off. The company observes the rankings loss and runs back to the SEO consultant.

To prevent putting your domain at risk, always vet their approach to backlink strategies. If an SEO company is buying links, it may be best to continue your search. If the company is spamming your links on useless websites, run for the hills.

They Provide No References

A legitimate SEO company should provide you with a list of accomplishments for other clients. You should contact those website owners or executives and learn more about the SEO company. If they can’t provide references, consider looking elsewhere for digital marketing services.

In Conclusion

SEO scams run rampant in the digital age. Australia is taking steps to better protect businesses from falling prey. It may prompt not only change in Australia but change around the world.

However, there are steps that businesses can take to better protect themselves from being fleeced. It’s essential that you vet all potential digital marketing companies in the ways listed above. Otherwise, you expose yourself and your company to long-term risks.

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