Australian small business and family enterprise advocate is calling for SEO regulation targeting industry fraudsters. Ombudsman Kate Carnell said that SEO practitioners are giving businesses raw deals by over-promising and under-delivering their service offerings. She asked victims of these SEO rip-off schemes to step forward and share their horror stories. This is in a bid to convince the industry watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to take action against guileful conduct by the so-called SEO gurus. Reportedly, through its digital platforms inquiry, the ACCC is already monitoring advertising technologies at large but with no specific focus on SEO.

Ombudsman Kate Carnell in a past event

Ombudsman Kate Carnell in a past event

In an interview with SmartCompany, Kate Carnell cites lack of regulation as the main reason why dodgy practitioners and SEO fraudsters are flourishing. While there were about 100 SEO-related complaints filed last year, the ASBFEO’s office believes that most deceitful and exploitative engagements by unethical SEO companies go unreported. The ASBFEO can only investigate and advocate for better policies since it does not have a regulatory authority to independently create or enforce new regulations.

Search engine optimisation is undoubtedly one of the most vital aspects of marketing and running a business online. However, a number of fraudulent SEO and digital marketing firms are exploiting SMB’s in Australia without getting them any results. Carnell says that some SEO companies even take ownership of their client’s websites after securing a contract, only to close them permanently at the end of the contract.

SEO Trickery – Are we dealing with sophisticated crooks and liars?

SEO Trickery

Carnell says that trickery is becoming more prevalent in the e-commerce industry, to an extent that some of the biggest SEO agencies in the country have atrociously ruined their reputation. “It’s not just about the younger SEO firms, even some of the bigger operators are using questionable methodologies for SEO,” the Ombudsman adds.

Benn, a victim of SEO trickery, explains how she paid out hundreds of dollars as SEO fees when she started her business. This was after an SEO firm promised to deliver better exposure and more traffic to her business website. Adding to this, she says business owners need to understand what they’re looking for lest they fall prey of the increased SEO incompetence. It is so easy for SEO crooks to say they will work on your SEO only to end up doing absolutely nothing.

SEO has always given SME’s and startups an opportunity to compete with the bigger guys – but of course, if you do it well. The issue is that SEO is getting more complicated day-by-day, making it difficult for most practitioners to deliver tangible results. The result is that most business owners end up paying large sums of money for nothing.

Other issues raised by Australian business owners include allegations about misleading representations, wrongly accepting payments and deceptive conduct by SEO consultants. Carnell is also aware that digital marketing firms are preying on small business owners through unfair contracts with unreasonable clauses.

Nathalie Reiter, an e-commerce specialist and founder of Efficiency Hub says the Australian SEO industry requires a repressive crackdown. We all agree to his sentiments that it’s just too easy for SEO crooks to go out and brand themselves as marketing experts or SEO gurus. Reiter, who educates local and international entrepreneurs on do-it-yourself (DIY) marketing, adds that business owners who understand the basics of can spot dodgy operators. He tells the business community to be careful with SEO companies that use aggressive marketing services including the use of bots to spam business owners with promotional emails claiming to have identified valuable optimisation opportunities.

Another marketing consultant, Adam Jacobs describes the current SEO scene as a “pretty murky place” owing to the fact that most SEO companies have a couple of optimisation experts but dozens of marketers who aggressively pursue entrepreneurs. Jacob believes that if you invest money in SEO, you should get equivalent value in terms of results. He says that after a pro-bono audit on businesses that have enlisted the help of SEO agencies, you can conclude most of them are victims of major SEO rip-offs. It is sad that some businesses pay tens of thousands of dollars but have nothing done on their SEO.

Urging business owners to speak out so she can present enough evidence to the ACCC, ombudsman Kate Carnell is determined that regulatory authorities will bow to this pressure and come to the rescue of SMB’s.

Intervention by Google

Over the past decade, Google has been working to prevent SEO fraud, deception and abuse. Businesses who fall prey of dodgy operators posing as Google-affiliated consultants can report these claims to the complaint centre. Most of these gurus who assure you higher rankings use fraudulent tactics including black-hat SEO techniques, something that could potentially ruin your website status.

Intervention by Google

Although Google has made it possible for us to file complaints directly, the possibility of lawsuits on unethical SEO service providers is not enough. The ASBFEO is committed to educating business owners on how to spot SEO crooks. And since the latest search engine algorithm updates are designed to put website owners who use SEO hacks out of business, this could mean a double loss for entrepreneurs who enlist the services of fake professionals. This is exactly why every business owner should care – a money-losing trap that could see you punished for someone else’s incompetence.

Effective SEO for your Business

Despite the bad reputation stemming from consultants with unethical and deceptive practices, white hat SEO still matters. An SEO practitioner who focuses on your audience and optimises your website for better user experience while organising information in a search engine-friendly manner is what you should be looking for. Search engine optimisation operates in a fairly grey area; therefore avoid practitioners who still rely on keyword stuffing, hidden content, trading links, cloaking or any other above trickery to manipulate search engine results.

Time is changing and what worked two years ago will not work today. The bottom line here is that you should seek help from a genuine SEO specialist who focuses on delivering value to your customers first.