Some marketing agencies are run by scumbags. Here’s how to identify and avoid the agencies that plan to treat you poorly. Scumbags are more interested in getting your money than they are in providing a valuable service.
1. Domain-Squatting Derek
This is the most classic scumbag move that digital marketing agencies use. If the agency owns your domain, they own you. It can be impossible to move away from them without going to court. And even then you might lose if you don’t already have own a trademark.
How to spot Derek:
If a marketing agency asks you to transfer your domain to their account or offers to buy your domain for you— run! It may seem like a “service” to get a free domain, but domains cost only $10-$15 a year. That is a small price to pay to know you can always leave if you are unhappy. If the agency owns your domain, they have no incentive to keep you happy because they know you can’t leave.
2. Proprietary CMS Preston
Other scumbag agencies lock in clients by using a proprietary Content Management System (CMS) that only they have access to. To move away from Preston you will have to build your website from scratch. The only good news is that unlike Derek, Preston lets you take your domain name with you. But that can be a cold comfort as you spend thousands of dollars rebuilding your website.
How to spot Preston:
These kinds of agencies tend to talk bad about industry standard Content Management Systems like WordPress and Drupal. Any agency that dismisses WordPress is likely pulling a fast one on you since more than half of all the websites on the internet run on WordPress. WordPress is the industry standard for websites that cost less than one million dollars to build.
This is not to say WordPress is for everyone. There are valid reasons to use a competing CMS like Drupal, especially for bigger, more expensive sites. But, there is no good reason to use an agency’s proprietary CMS.
3. Black Hat Blake
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization there are two kinds of firms, White Hat and Black Hat. White Hats follow Google’s guidelines to earn rankings for their clients. Black Hats try to outsmart Google.
Google has hired the top students at Stanford and Harvard for years. Some of the smartest people in the world work at Google. Blake is delusional if he thinks he can outsmart Google with his Black Hat tactics. The reality is that he gets short-term results, but in the long term, his clients get penalized by Google. These clients end up worse off than they were in the beginning.
How to spot Blake:
Blake is the pushiest of all the scumbags. Since he can provide only short-term results for his clients, he must continually look for new clients to replace his losses. All you have to do to find Blake is check your voicemail. Chances are he has called you, promising first page results on Google.
4. Lock-in Logan
Some agencies lock in clients with the oldest tool in the book, a contract. Long-term contracts force clients to work with agencies they are no longer happy with.
Another way Logan locks in clients is by retaining legal ownership of content even after it is paid for. This can be even worse than Preston’s Proprietary CMS because you are legally prohibited from moving to a new CMS even if you pay to build it from scratch. You will also have to replace all of the copyrighted assets and/or go through a lengthy court battle.
How to spot Logan:
Check the contract. The longer the commitment, the more likely the agency is a scumbag. Make sure that you retain ownership of your content.
Note: Many agencies retain ownership of work until the client has fully paid for it. This seems reasonable. No agency can stay in business doing work for free.
5. Vanishing Vladimir
Vladimir talks a big game, but at some point (typically after receiving a big check) he vanishes. Sometimes instead of vanishing, Vladimir will get slower and slower at responding to emails until he fades into the ether.
How to spot Vladimir
Of all of the scumbags on this list, Vladimir is the hardest to spot. Like any good vampire, Vladimir tries to look as much like a normal agency as possible.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Do you have an office or do you work out of your home?
- Home-based agencies come and go very quickly. If you want a long-term partner, you want someone with enough money to afford an office. Really.
- How many employees do you have?
- The larger the firm the safer you are. During tough financial times, big firms can let go of staff without having to go out of business. A financial wave that can swamp a small firm may merely scratch a bigger firm.
- How long have you been in business?
- Four out of five marketing agencies fail in the first five years. If you go with a young agency there is an 80% chance they will turn into Vanishing Vladimir.
6. Bait-and-Switch Steve
There are a lot of ways Steve can pull a fast one. The most common is to promise skilled American-based work and then secretly outsource to unskilled workers. Another way agencies do this is by secretly shoveling the work to unsupervised interns.
A lot of agencies outsource, and there is nothing necessarily wrong about that. However, the agencies who do outsourcing well are transparent about where their workforce is. These agencies have controls in place to ensure quality. They also have a US-based interface so you don’t have to deal with cultural and language differences.
How to Spot Steve:
Go to Steve’s website and see if he has the names and photos of his team on the about page. This scumbag tends to hide his true team behind a veneer of stock photo models. Agencies with a skilled team are eager to show them off on their website. If an agency is sketchy about who works in the company, you should run.
7. Lazy Larry
Sometimes the problem with a scumbag is not that they are doing the wrong thing, it is that they aren’t doing anything at all. Unlike Vladimir who disappears entirely, Larry is right there in front of you figuring out how little he can do without scaring you away.
How to Spot Larry:
Ask if the agency will give you a detailed breakdown of the work done every month. Lazy Larry likes to hide his inactivity in charts and graphs of website traffic. These graphs are helpful, but you want to see a report of specifically what he has been up to.
How Fahrenheit is Different
Our CEO has been in the industry for 18 years and he has seen it all. We understand that our relationship to our clients is good only when both parties are happy. So we do things a little differently here.
We insist that you own your domain.
We believe you should own your website. Not just the domain, but all the content and code too. Once you pay for your website, you have full ownership of your entire website.
We use industry standard content management systems.
We are active members of the WordPress community and have also built websites in Drupal, Mozu, and Meteor. If you are ever unhappy with us, you can easily find another agency who can pick up where we left off. The fact that you can leave ensures that we work hard to keep you happy every month. It’s a philosophy that gives us a great success rate and our clients love us for it.
We are strictly White Hat.
Fahrenheit does not need to break the rules to rank well on Google. Our White Hat approach is working out just fine. Rather than relying on thousands of worthless hits, we capitalize on being relevant to the people who matter most. Gaming the system is not our way of operation. Coca-Cola wasn’t built overnight and like other reputable marketers, we believe that a brand is not built overnight.
Our retainer contracts are month to month.
There is no long-term lock in here. At Fahrenheit, we think it is our job to earn your business every month. If we fail to earn your business, there is no reason for you to stay. The only thing we ask is that you provide us with a 30-day notice. Usually enough time to transition everything to you or your next vendor.
We are here to stay.
Fahrenheit Marketing has been in business since 2008, and we are still growing.
We are real people.
You can meet our team on our About page. We work hard to earn our clients’ business every month. Nothing keeps our clients with Fahrenheit other than the fact that they love the work that we do for them. The last thing we want to do is mess that up. We have found that some of our clients who left us for other agencies end up coming back. We have no reason to be jerks when a client wants to try another agency. We love them just the same when they return.
We give detailed reports of what we’ve been doing.
Our retainer clients get a report every month with a breakdown of what our team has been up to. Every hour has a task and a person who did that task. Tasks are commented and nothing is left to imagination concerning the work that was rendered. No nebulous concepts or industry jargon…just good work.
Interested? Schedule a free consultation to see if Fahrenheit is right for you.