5 warning signs of a disreputable digital marketing agency

Finding a digital marketing agency that’s right for you and your business isn’t easy. In times of economic downturn particularly, how you invest your money is of the utmost concern. Unfortunately – and this is not something anyone likes to admit about their industry – digital marketing, like many sectors of industry, has its share of questionable characters. If you get caught out by one, your investment and business could be at risk.

Disreputable digital marketing agencies are companies that use unethical or deceptive tactics to promote products or services online. These agencies may engage in a variety of practices that can harm businesses or consumers, including spamming, misrepresentation, and the use of fake reviews or testimonials. In this article, we will explore five different tactics that disreputable digital marketing agencies might use, as well as the potential risks and consequences for businesses and consumers.


This involves making false or misleading claims about a product or service in order to entice consumers to buy it. For example, an agency might make false claims about the effectiveness of a product or the level of service provided by a company.  A common type of misrepresentation is promising to gain a large amount of web traffic or social media following in a very short space of time. Often these are bought via bot-farms.

Imagine you own a water-resistant hiking shoe brand. Your digital marketing agency runs an ad claiming that if you purchase a pair of these shoes, you will be able to walk through water and your feet will stay dry. Whilst the shoes might provide great protection from wet conditions due to being water-resistant, the claim that you can walk through water is a misrepresentation of the brand and is only creating unrealistic expectations for your customer base. If your customers believe this claim, purchase the shoes and then end up with wet feet, they will obviously be dissatisfied, and likely to leave negative reviews  of the product. Consider as well, the importance of honesty and integrity – particularly to the younger generation – and the full impact of this misrepresentation becomes clear; not only are you at risk of being outed as misleading on social media but you could alienate a whole section of your customer base, or even be subject to legal action.


Disreputable digital marketing agencies might also use fake reviews or testimonials to promote products or services. This involves creating or posting fake positive reviews or testimonials in an effort to make a product or service seem more attractive to potential customers. 

False reviews can have a significant impact on the credibility and perceived quality of a product or service. If a business receives a high number of false positive reviews, it can lead to overinflated ratings and unrealistic expectations for customers. This can result in disappointment and mistrust when customers realise that the product or service does not live up to the high ratings it has received. These false positive reviews can also lead to confusion and frustration for customers who are trying to make informed decisions about which products or services to purchase. This undermines the trust that is essential for businesses to build with customers and, as a result, can have a negative impact on their reputation and bottom line.


Keyword stuffing involves cramming as many keywords as possible into a website’s content, meta tags or other areas in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. This practice is considered to be spammy and unethical and yes, while it might make your website appear higher in search results, this is often not the case. Most search engines have algorithms in place to detect and penalise websites that engage in this practice, much like those that detect fake followers. As a result, a website that utilises keyword stuffing may actually see a significant drop in its search engine rankings. It is a poor SEO strategy that can ultimately harm a website’s performance and credibility, leading to decreased visibility and traffic, and consequently, reduced revenue. 

Another issue with keyword stuffing is that when a website is packed with irrelevant or repetitive keywords, it can make the content difficult to read and understand. This can lead to a high bounce rate (i.e. the percentage of visitors who leave the website after only viewing one page) and low levels of engagement. 


Another tactic that agencies might employ is the use of hidden fees or fine print in their contracts. These can easily be missed and can result in businesses or consumers paying more than they expected for products or services. It is common for them to advertise low upfront prices (the rule about it being too good to be true is generally accurate here!) They then charge additional fees for things like setup, account management or other services that are not clearly disclosed. 

Some agencies also bundle a range of services together and present them as a single package, without breaking down the costs of each individual service. Automated billing is another danger area; clients are often billed for products or services that are no longer being used, without their knowledge. These types of disreputable agencies often do not provide clear, itemised invoices, making it difficult for clients to understand exactly what they are being charged for, resulting in them paying for services they don’t need, or even want.


This involves buying large email or SMS lists and sending unsolicited messages to a large number of people in an effort to promote a product or service on behalf of a client.  If a digital marketing agency sends this type of email on behalf of your business, there can be undesirable consequences. At best, spamming can be annoying and disruptive to recipients, giving them an unfavourable impression of your brand. At worst, this damage to your reputation could mean you end up losing customers or being taken to court for data compliance issues.

How to avoid these pitfalls

We’ve talked about some of the methods employed by disreputable agencies, but how can you avoid getting caught out? 

  • First thing – if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Whilst it might be appealing to sign up with an agency offering rock bottom prices, this usually comes back to bite you, either through shoddy work, or add-on fees that end up costing you more than a proven reputable agency would have set you back in the first place. 
  • Research and vet potential agencies before signing anything. Check for reviews or testimonials from other businesses or consumers; ask for references, case studies and data to support their claims; review any contracts carefully to ensure that all fees and terms are fully stated.
  • Always review invoices carefully and ask for clarification if any charges are not clearly explained. If an agency is reluctant to discuss their pricing with you and is not open to questions about billing, this is something of a red flag.
  • Avoid any agency that uses aggressive sales tactics to gain your business; this is usually an indication that the agency is more interested in making a sale than in understanding your needs and developing a marketing plan that is right for you. 

If you’re in search of a trustworthy and effective digital marketing agency, with a proven history of successful campaigns, you are in luck. With Transparent Digital Services, you get exactly what it says on the tin: transparency. Trusted by some of the biggest names in retail and entertainment, we are all about honest communication and effective reporting. 

Interested in booking a call with us? Contact us here.

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