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How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist

(BUSINESS) When hiring a professional, did you know there are actual questions you can ask to spot a con-artist? Too often, we trust our guts and go with the gregarious person, but too much is on the line to keep doing that with your business.

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In this day and age the cult of positive thinking and “the law of attraction” are still very much alive and well in the business services industry. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask prospective business service providers to help you gauge if they are the real deal or just caught up in the fad of “say yes to everything,” or “outsource everything” being populated online by countless “thought leaders” and cult gurus.

Lots of people will ask, “What’s the harm of people trying to make something of themselves?”

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a huge harm in taking risks with a client’s money and manipulating people into trusting their “expertise” when they have none.

Business owners: Due diligence is more important than ever these days.

There are whole communities of people helping to prop each-other up as experts in fields they know nothing about while outsourcing their tasks with little or no oversight into the actual work being done on your behalf.

It is nearly impossible for you to tell if this is even going on. Don’t worry. I am here to help you avoid a con-artist.

How? By showing you how to weed out the bad actors by asking really simple questions.

This set of questions is perfect for people who need to distinguish if the expert they are talking is really just an expert in bullshit with a likeable personality.

Why do these questions work? Because people who are into this kind of stuff are rarely hesitant to talk about it when you ask them direct questions. They believe that what they are doing is a good thing and so they are more open to sharing this information with you because they think by you by asking that you are also into similar things.

It is a fun little trick I picked up while learning to do consumer polling and political surveying.

The Questions:

  • Who influences you professionally?
  • Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
  • What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
  • Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
  • How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
  • Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
  • Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
  • May we audit your process before buying your services?
  • May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
  • Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
  • Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
  • Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
  • How many clients have you had in the past?
  • How many clients do you have currently?
  • How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
  • How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
  • How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
  • Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
  • Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
  • Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
  • Fun. Right? Well, we aren’t done.

    It is not just enough to ask these questions… you have to pay attention to the answers, as well as the WAY they are answering questions.

    And you also have to RESEARCH the company after you get your answers to make sure they ring true.

    You cannot keep accepting people at face value, not when the risk is to your business, employees, and clients. There is little to no risk for a person who is being dishonest about their capabilities and skill sets. They will walk away with your money, ready to go find another target for a chance meeting that seems amazingly perfect.

    Do not leave your business decisions to chance encounters at networking events. Research before saying yes.

    No matter how likeable or appealing the person you are speaking with is.

    How do you research? Easy. THE INTERNET. Look at the website of the company you are considering working with.

    • Does it look professional? (do not use your website as a standard for professional unless you have had it done by a professional)
    • Can you see a list of their past clients?
    • Do they effectively tell their story as a company or are they just selling?
    • What do their social media profiles look like? Do they have many followers? Are they updated regularly?
    • Do they have any positive reviews on social sites? (Yelp, Facebook, Linkedin, etc)

    You can also do some simple things like running SEO Website Checkers on their websites. There are tons of these online for free and they will give you a pretty good indicator of if they are using best practices on their websites – you can even do this research on their clients’ websites.

    Also, if you know anything about SpyFu, you can run their website through that to see how they are doing their own online marketing (the same can be said for their clients if they are selling this service).

    Facebook also has a cool section that shows you ads that a Page is running. You can find this info connected to their business Page as well as the Pages they manage for their clients as well. None of these things automatically disqualify a potential service provider, but their answers the question of “why” things are the way there are might be very illuminating to you as a business owner.

    This may seem like a lot of work, and it can be if you do not do these things regularly and have them down to a system, but the cost of not doing these things is way too high. A con-artist is born every day, thanks to the internet.

    You have a right as a business owner considering services from a vendor to ask these questions.

    They also have the responsibility as a service provider to answer these questions in a professional manner. Sometimes the way in which they answer the questions is far more important than the actual answer.

    If all of this seems too overwhelming for you to handle, that is okay.

    • You can ask one of your staff in your company to take on this role and responsibility.
    • You can hire someone to come in and help you with these decisions (and you can ask them all the same questions as above before taking their services).
    • You can reach out to other business owners in your network to see if they have recommendations for someone who could help you with things.
    • Heck, you can even call up companies that look like they are doing as well as you want to be doing online and ask them who they are using for their services. Try successful companies in other industries as your competitor won’t likely be interested in sharing their secrets with you…

    What is important is that you are asking questions, researching, and ultimately making sure that you are doing as much as possible to ensure making the best decision for your company.

    Final thoughts:

    “But, Jay, what’s wrong with taking a risk on an up-and-comer?”

    The answer to that is NOTHING. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on someone. Someone being green doesn’t make them a con-artist.

    The issue I am raising is in the honest portrayal of businesses and their capabilities. It is about honesty.

    I am a huge fan of working with people who are new and passionate about an industry. But I only work with people who are honest with me about who they are, what they can do, and how their processes work.

    I have worked with tons of people who are still learning on the job. It can be quite educational for a business owner as well.

    Just make sure they are being honest about everything up front. You are no obligated to give anyone a chance when it comes to your businesses success, and it’s not right that someone might manipulate you into doing so.

Jay Matthew is the Founder of Business Rehab LLC., in Austin Texas. He has spent the last 11 years helping hundreds of businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals to identify the issues keeping them from being successful... and then helping to surmount those issues.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist - techinsiderinfo

  2. Pingback: How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider a con-artist – The American GeniusDave Hendricks Blog | Dave Hendricks Blog

  3. Lori Appleman

    May 10, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Nice article Jay. I agree people should do some research before hiring someone for these services. So many providers are mediocre at best.

    However, I’m confused or would like clarification of a few of your points.

    What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know? Should a firm be judged because they don’t like Expert A’s approach? What about the business owner who doesn’t understand the differences between Neal Patel, Marie Haynes or Brian Dean? What if you’re like us and, while you do use everything you’ve learned from both key influencers and experience, your techniques and applications of that learned from others are pretty darn unique?

    The CV’s of my team? Our owner CVS are visible on LinkedIn or upon request. Our team? That borders on confidential info though I have no problem with a customer asking to verify Google or other certifications. Ultimately they are under our supervision.

    Why does it matter if someone has ever been part of an MLM? I sold Tupperware (well) in the 80’s, how does that impact my current business? Seems like an odd question.

    and more –
    Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does? How does what services I sell to others impact my clients? In other words, how is this question relevant?

    I really like the question about how many of my competitors do you actively work with? Past experience in a market is helpful. Current competitors under contract creates a conflict of interest.

    May we audit your process before buying your services? Define audit. I am happy to discuss strategies and our processes but I am not letting you see customer data. I will offer up customers and past customers as references?

    May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality? Maybe. There are several reputable competitors I trust with that info, but in general? Probably not. I’m not interested in giving away our key differentiators.

    Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals? How do I know their credentials to make this assessment?

    Measure my website’s SEO and PPC? We actually do pretty well on SEO for our site but as a small company, our customer work takes precedence over our own website. I admit I personally won’t hire a web developer with an awful site, but this isn’t necessarily the best judge of skill for a smaller firm, unless the site is really bad. Plus I find that the overwhelming majority of store owners have no clue how to interpret those tools.

    I have heard so many horror stories, and have been personally burned (before starting the company) by people selling these services to me that did not even come close to delivering promised results. I agree people need to know what questions to ask to make a good pre-purchase assessment of any professional they hire for their business.

    I also agree that this area has no shortage of weak consultants and for SEO, completely dishonest ones, that caution is merited.

    Perhaps your questions are good but I’d love to know how you chose this list, and for clarification on some points above.

  4. Peter Christie

    May 13, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Hello Jay, I think these questions are empowering for the buyer. Even if they don’t understand all the answers, anyone going through this list will at least have learned a few things. A competent service provider has probably already answered these questions enough to have some scripts in their imagination, if not ready to go.

    The Questions:

    Who influences you professionally?
    For SEO Matt Cutts. For AdWords Pat East. For Conversion it’s got to be Brian Massey.

    Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
    My space doesn’t attract many coaches. Kim Tidwell is my co-conspirator.

    What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
    Lean and Agile. Lean because it helps me learn what’s working, it helps me find risky assumptions and test them. Agile because not everything is ready to go all the time and it helps me prioritize what the client wants.

    Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
    People don’t seem to have any problems with being paid to edit Wikipedia entries. I think editing Wikipedia for money goes beyond what makes the platform special and leads to less consistent content.

    How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
    Well my company does not do well with non-brand ads. But the ads I do run I prune them for negative keywords. Also my site has a complete Technical SEO setup that gives me the presence I need.

    Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
    For sure. Two of my people have been with me over a year, and the other four between 1 and 12 months.
    Instead of CV’s I offer to show their certifications.

    Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
    No, I’m not sure we ever have. Other people white label my company.

    May we audit your process before buying your services?
    My process is transparent. They are unique to the tactic, but really it starts with a good checklist to get your site to a serviceable level, then working on the items most likely to succeed.

    May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
    Fine with me!

    Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
    Fine with me!

    Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
    I can show 100 examples. I’ve been in digital for almost 20 years, and have at least 40 examples from the last year.

    Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
    I have 4. I would guess to stay up to date each year I spend 100 hours.

    How many clients have you had in the past?
    I just looked at the past 12 months 31.

    How many clients do you have currently?
    Right now I think 15 are paying for service.

    How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
    Probably 15, more than that I and I add staff.

    How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
    Your company Business Rehab. 3 or 4.

    How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
    We have a form for you so it’s as long as it takes you to complete it. 2 weeks is the goal.

    Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
    I’m going to look at your web analytics and your advertising spend. Either you are not getting accurate data or you are overspending.

    Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
    No, but I think it’s interesting.

    Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
    I sold cologne at the mall for a couple hours when I was 18.

  5. Andy

    August 14, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Insightful and candid article. Shines a light on the unscrupulous ‘thought leaders and cult gurus’ you mention, who hide behind mystical notions of the internet (that they themselves propagate) in pursuit of ill-gotten gains.

    Great read, thanks.

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Facebook hopes to get yeety fresh with a new meme maker

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook has a whole new team to create new apps to keep up with the likes of Tik-Tok and instagram, but who wants them to?

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The tea is Facebook, triggered by its basic label, is tired of Taking L’s and wants clout and is ready to be on fleek with some yeets from Gen Z.

What this means, is Facebook launched a new app called Whale, which lets users make and share memes in a super simple way. Right now, Whale is only available on the Canadian App Store.

Tik-Tok, a video-focused app, has quickly risen in interest and grabbed the attention of the younger set. In an effort to boost its market share with competition from Snapchat and Tik-Tok, among others, Facebook is using its New Product Experimentation (NPE) team to develop apps that will be of interest to users, The Verge shared. Whether it is able to find its way into their cold and possibly stunted hearts is yet to be seen.

A Pew research study, published earlier in 2019, shared that half of American teens use Facebook, which The Next Web pointed out is not its largest demographic of users. Instead, seven out of 10 adults use Facebook, with 75% visiting daily, according to the research study.

The app arrived on Nov. 15, 2019, according to App Annie. With one, five-star review to date, the app is said to be easy to use to create and share memes. But, not very unique in a market where making memes has become “lit”.

The app allows users to take or select from their camera roll or browse the apps’ stock images to create easy to share memes. Users can also insert text, use filters and effects, according to Tech Crunch. Users have the option to make their own stickers and even draw freehand.

As Facebook’s NPE team comes up with new apps, Tik-Tok, is on its way to 1.5 billion users. But, not without some controversy, since its Chinese-owned and U.S. lawmakers have become concerned about the security of user data.

As Tech Crunch explained, the Canadian launch allows Facebook to test out the app in a market similar to the U.S. but with a smaller user-base, in case it should take off and require it to scale quickly.

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Social media site by Wikipedia founder – lofty goals, limited functionality

(SOCIAL MEDIA)Wikipedia founder has created a news social networking site to help people escape from the shady practices of other sites, but is it all that good?

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Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced the launch of WT:Social last week, a social network sprung from the WikiTribune project. In addition to creating the global encyclopedia that your high school teacher won’t let you cite as a source, Wales is also behind the Wikimedia Foundation and the Jimmy Wales Foundation for Freedom of Expression.

WikiTribune is a volunteer-driven platform focused on delivering “neutral, factual, high-quality news.” (There’s a lot that could be said about the ethics and logistics of trying to “fix” news by paying reporters even less/nothing, but that’s another article.)

Springing a social network out of a news site means that WT:Social’s focus is largely going to be on fixing what’s wrong with Facebook’s news. They’ve drawn criticism over the last few years for their news policies.

Among other things, despite theoretically banning white nationalist content, their list of “trusted” news sources includes Breitbart, a site whose founder has called it a platform for the alt-right. (The alt-right itself is a self-avowed white nationalist movement, among other things) Zuckerberg has also (as we’ve pointed out) claimed that politicians have the right to lie in advertisements. Refusing to hold advertisers to any sort of standard of truth is deeply concerning, to say the least.

So WT:Social is out to improve the way that people consume and share news. But is that enough to make it succeed as a social network? After all, people looking for FB or Twitter alternatives aren’t just looking for news. They’re looking for a less toxic platform.

Facebook and Twitter have both received criticism for how they handle user experience and advertisements alike. Both have problems with bubbling extremist movements, and both have struggled with public perception in the wake of persistent allegations that their moderation systems are under-resourced, and tend to side with abusive users over the marginalized people those abusers were targeting. For their part, Twitter has overtly stated that people who violate their terms of service regarding harassment or threats will not be banned for it, so long as they are sufficiently newsworthy.

This might have something to do with the fact that they see some of those same TOS violators as enough of a draw to their platform to feature them in advertisements. And of course, Twitter kept conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars media company on the platform despite rules violations until he confronted CEO Jack Dorsey in person.

One theoretical point in WT:Social’s favor is that they’re planning on being donation-supported, rather than ad-supported. Which is fantastic from an end-user standpoint, but raises issues on buy-in from others. And that’s not the only potential stumbling block in WT:Social’s path.

As yet WT:Social hasn’t really stated a particular interest in competing with Facebook and Twitter on the social aspects of social media, and so far, that lack of interest comes through on the site. This writer signed up for the social network (looking, as ever, for a Facebook alternative) and was greeted by a number of baffling things.

First, my attempts to log in were greeted by a notification that I was “number 65538 on the waiting list,” and that I could send invitations to get earlier access to the site, to make posts.

WT waiting list contribute

Then, I made posts.

But now I can’t find them?

Beyond that, I’m not sure what the waiting list is actually for. On top of the mysterious queue, there’s a place where I can subscribe! But once again, I don’t quite know what I would be subscribing to, and $12.99/month is a lot to ask for a service that’s completely undefined. I suppose that I could track down other sources to explain this to me, but if the user experience is so confounding from the outset that I need to learn about it secondhand, do I really want to pursue the site further?

A friend and I, both eager for a Facebook alternative, started writing on each other’s walls to test the service out. But in lieu of any kind of notification system, we found ourselves writing on each other’s WT:Social profiles, and then returning to Facebook to let the other person know that we had done so.

It’s not an auspicious beginning.

But at the same time, something needs to happen. With Facebook’s reputation for promulgating fake news, Twitter’s notoriety for abuse, Reddit’s haze of toxicity, and content hubs like YouTube and Tumblr cracking down on adult content (and seemingly defining the existence of LGBT people as inherently “adult,”) people are looking for some kind of life raft. The person who creates a robust social network that commits to rooting out toxicity could have quite the business opportunity on their hands.

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Twitter’s crackdown on deepfakes could insure the company’s survival

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter is cracking down on manipulated and misleading content—will other social media platforms do the same?

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Twitter isn’t renowned for things that other social media platforms lay claim to—you know, setting trends, turning a profit, staying relevant—but the oft-forgotten site finally has something to brag about: cracking down on deepfakes.

Oh, and they also finally pulled out a profit this year, but that’s beside the point.

Deepfakes, for those who don’t know, are videos which have been manipulated to portray people—often celebrities or politicians—saying and doing things that they never actually said or did. The problem with deepfakes is that, unlike your average Photoshop job, they are extremely convincing; in some cases, their validity may even be impossible to determine.

Unfortunately, deepfakes have been used for a variety of unsavory purposes ranging from moderate humiliation to full-blown revenge porn; since ruling them out is difficult, the long-term implications of this type of video manipulation are pretty terrifying.

You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that all social media platforms should address deepfakes as a serious issue, but the fact remains that many platforms have taken decidedly lackadaisical approaches. Facebook, for example, continues to allow content from producers who have histories of video manipulation, the dissemination of misleading information, and flat-out false advertising—something that has been generally glossed over despite being heavily addressed by media.

This is where Twitter is actually ahead of the curve. Where other social media services have failed in the war against “fake news”, Twitter hopes to succeed by aggressively labelling and, in some cases, censoring media that has been determined to be manipulated or misleading. While the content itself will stay posted in most cases, a warning will appear near it to signify its lack of credibility.

Twitter will also remove manipulated content that is deemed harmful or malicious, but the real beauty of their move is that it allows people to witness first-hand a company or service purposefully misleading them. By keeping the problematic content available while making users aware of its flaws, Twitter is increasing awareness and skepticism about viral content.

Of course, there is room to criticize Twitter’s approach; for example, some will point to their act of leaving deepfakes posted as not doing enough, while others will probably address the tricky business of identifying deepfakes to begin with. Luckily, Twitter’s policy isn’t set in stone just yet—from now until November 27th, you can take a survey to leave feedback on how Twitter should address these issues going forward.

As Twitter’s policy develops and goes into place, it will be interesting to see which social media platforms follow suit.

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