15 Online Marketing Scams Companies Try to Pull on You

Online Marketing Scams

I’ve got a warped perspective on paying for marketing. I think online marketing should get results you can bank on! Don’t give me any of that nonsense about the number of impressions or views or branding.

I want any investment in medical marketing to translate directly into leads and revenue. I want to be able to track the marketing tactic, whether it’s review software, a website, SEO or PPC. Anything less is, to me, like throwing money into a black hole or a tornado.

Don’t you agree?

The same thing is true when I pay money for, well anything. If I invest in a grass-fed bison burger and all I get is a bun, I think it’s a rip-off. Which is what most online marketing is these days.

You might ask, “So what should you expect for your online marketing dollars?” Here’s my simple formula.

For each dollar you invest, you should expect to make at least $3 if not much more. For every dollar you spend on marketing, you want to make at least three dollars. Are you?

At a bare minimum, you want to make at least $1 for each $1 you spend to break even. Are you?

The truth is while there are a handful of legit online marketing companies out there, there are all too many that use high-pressure sales tactics to rip off small business owners and medical practices alike.

While you may operate your practice based on certain ethical standards, most marketing firms have none. These online marketing rip-off services charge unsuspecting businesses, and medical practices like yours, $3,000-8,000 a month and generate essentially zero results and no revenue.

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but if I owned a medical practice, I’d expect my online marketing partner to demonstrate the same level of professionalism and ethics that I hold in my practice. Do you?

When I started this post, I thought I’d include 3-5 common online marketing scams, but when I asked my team about the ones clients had told them about, the list kept growing…

It’s a lengthy read, but it’s worth it! I suggest you get the truth about each marketing ripoff if you want to avoid losing money and protect your practice from medical marketing scams. Read to the end to discover the most common online marketing scam.

15 Dumb Online Marketing Scams – read ‘em and weep…

1. The Long-Term Contract Scam

Steve, George, Martha, Megan, and dozens more have shared this scam with us. Unfortunately, this online marketing scam is the most prevalent and costly to medical practices and small business owners. Here’s how it works.

The aggressive marketing firm pitches you on their services and then when it comes time to sign up, the contract locks you into a 12-month contract.

Why do bogus marketing firms use these long-term contracts?

The answer is simple. When you discover 1-2 months out, that you’re not getting any new patient leads, you’re stuck paying them for another 10 months. That way your marketing dollars are locked up, and you can’t sign up with an ethical and results-driven lead generation firm.

These scam artists will sell you on the notion that your marketing needs to run for a few months to get traction, which in most cases is nonsense. The truth is either you have a website that converts traffic and interest into calls and contacts, or you got a dud.

With PPC, once your campaign is running it should start to generate leads or not within a few weeks. SEO may take a little longer, but usually, you should see an increase within 1-2 months. If nothing has happened by then, the marketing firm isn’t doing it right.

Here’s a straightforward test to tell if you’re getting scammed. If the marketing firm charges by the month, chances are they are legit. That’s because the service you signed up for needs to work, or you will stop paying.

If they require you to sign up for longer than a month at a time, it’s probably a scam, and you’d be wise to find someone else to work with who doesn’t require predatory pricing to make money.

Know anyone who got locked into a long-term contract for online marketing services?

2. The Double-Sell Digital Marketing Scam

This scam has happened to so many practice owners we’ve lost count! It’s the most common online marketing scam out there. We first heard about it from Sara in Maryland but have had dozens of other clients say the same thing happened to them. Here’s how it works…

You have a website; you’re paying for SEO (search engine optimization) and maybe even for Local Listings marketing and PPC when a salesperson calls to sell you online marketing services.

Sure you’re already doing SEO and PPC, but the sales rep tells you that you need to sign up for SEM (search engine marketing) also. What this means is that they sell you essentially the same services you are already paying for, and often at a higher price.

When Sara got double sold, she was paying $97 a month for Local Listing services to help her SEO and attract new patients. Then she got sold the exact same service again for $997 a month. Not to replace the current services, but in addition to what she already had. Which ended up having a negative impact on her site traffic.

We’ve heard from dozens of other practices owners who’ve been double sold too. If you have SEO and PPC, these crooked online marketers will sell you SEM on top of it when SEM is in reality just SEO and PPC. Don’t be fooled by name changes and be a victim of this SEO scam.

Watch out for terms that obscure what the services actually are, like Conversion Software, Marketing Automation, or Fast Social. When it comes to online marketing the services that work to attract new patients are pretty simple. They are a direct response website, expert content added to your blog, local listings, and PPC.

Not only is this double selling a total scam, but you also won’t get any benefit by doubling up on your Local Listings or SEO and PPC services. It will do more harm than good!

Doubling up on SEO / SEM services is not only costly and a total rip off, but it will do damage to your online reputation and could easily damage your existing online marketing. Before you sign up, make sure you know what you’re paying for and watch out for their “brand” name versions of services.

Get the marketing firm to explain what the names of each of their services mean. In many cases, they’re just calling what you already have something else. E.g., if you are doing social media marketing using Facebook posts, you don’t need another service to do the same thing again even if they call it Fast Social or whatever. Either way, if you are doing it already, you don’t need it.

Double selling is prevalent, and if you haven’t yet had someone try to double sell you, there is a good chance you will within the next few months, so be prepared for it and don’t get suckered.

Know anyone who got double sold?
Fish with shark mask on and Shark with fish mask on

3. The Missing Results Ripoff

This could also be called the awesome looking dashboard that shows everything but how many new patient leads you are getting. This is one our team has seen so many times we can’t count. Here’s how it works.

You’re considering marketing services with one of the big national marketing firms when the rep does a screen share, showing you something amazing. He or she shows you their digital dashboard which has all sorts of numbers on page views and impressions and gorgeous graphs. It looks like you’ll have access to loads of information about your marketing. Which in theory is a good idea…

The only problem with every one of these fancy dashboards we’ve seen is they provide all sorts of information that is of no use to the practice. They are missing the one piece of information you need to evaluate your marketing.

In truth you only need three pieces of information to evaluate your marketing, the rest is just fluff.

To evaluate your marketing, you need to know the total number of new patient phone calls and contacts your marketing generated. You need to know the cost of your marketing. And you need to know the value of these new patient leads to your practice. With just these three numbers you can calculate your cost per new patient lead and return on your investment in marketing.

Of course, if most online marketing firms actually gave you this information, total new patient leads compared to the cost of their marketing services you’d drop them like a stone. Which is why instead they give you gorgeously programmed dashboards that are essentially useless to you. Has this type of data dump dashboard been sold to you too?

Marketing companies that get real results share their success stories and will review your results with you monthly.

4. The Fake Magazine Interview Scam

Mark, a client of ours in Pennsylvania, didn’t fall for this one, but it’s so outrageous you should know about it. Mark’s office had gotten a call from one of the largest publishers of monthly magazines, calling to ask if they could interview him about his practice. The promise was that they’d interview him about his practice and print it in one of their magazines. It would be free PR. Which sounded great but it turns out it was just a scam.

When the “interviewers” arrived to talk to Mark, the conversation quickly segued into questions about his marketing. It evolved into a pitch to sell him online marketing services along with, yes, a long-term contract that would have locked Mark into paying over $2,000 a month for the next 12 months.

When Mark wisely told the “interviewer/salesman” he wasn’t interested, somehow the promise of a free article vanished too. When someone calls you from one of the largest publishers in the country to do an “interview” for a free PR piece, beware. It’s a scam they use to get in the door and try and lock you into a long-term contract for unproven and usually bogus marketing services. Have you gotten a similar call?

5. The More Websites Are Better Marketing Scam

Bob, a medical practice owner, had a great website that was bringing him in a steady stream of new patient leads. Then he got a call from an aggressive marketing firm that promotes itself as providing affordable website design.

The salesperson wanted to sell him a website. But duh, he already had one. So what did the salesperson do?

He told Bob if one website is good, more is better. Which if you know anything about online marketing is blatantly false. For medical practices with a focus in one specialty – the opposite is true. One website is all you need.

The key to getting traffic from Google is focusing all your search engine efforts on one website. Google caught on to people trying to commit marketing fraud with multiple sites years ago. It’s a dumb idea, and when Google sees businesses doing it, they dumb down their listings in the search engines. The only time it makes sense is if you have a second, totally different business, say selling chickens instead of providing medical services. Don’t fall for it.

If you’re looking for more patients, this is what you should try instead

6. The Clone Website Scam

John, a client of ours, got hit with a variation of the two website scam above by a firm that purports to help with local online marketing. They signed him up for PPC (pay-per-click advertising), which on the face of it could have been a good idea.

Usually, the way it works is, when you sign up for PPC the ads go to the homepage of your website or better yet to a landing page on your website. That way you can track the traffic and leads and calculate your ROI.

Here’s what this wretched local online marketing firm did instead. They didn’t want the client to be able to track results, so without the client’s knowledge they cloned his whole site, in violation of copyright law, and put in up on a server in the Cayman Islands. Seriously!

When Google noticed the cloned website, it penalized John’s primary website, killing the traffic he was getting from the search engines. Not to mention their PPC campaign did little to attract new patients. When we noticed it, we alerted John. He had no idea, and he was able to get the company to take down this illegal site. I hope this hasn’t happened to you too.

7. The PPC Spend Scam

Sue, a practice owner we work with, brought this one to our attention. When we asked her about using PPC, she told us she’d already signed up with another “local” marketing firm, and it wasn’t working. So, we asked her a few more questions to see if we could figure out why given PPC can be an easy way to generate new patient leads right away.

Sue told us she was paying $1,500 per month and not seeing any new patient leads, which mystified us. In our experience, the norm is to be able to generate a patient call for $50 with PPC, and a new patient leads for $150 – $250. Sue should have been getting at least 10 new patient leads per month for what she was paying.

We asked Sue, how much of the money she was paying for PPC was going towards the PPC campaign management fee, normally around 10-20%, and how much was actually going to Google for the ad spend. Sue’s answer amazed us.

She told us the marketing firm, wouldn’t tell her. When we found out the marketing firm was pocketing at least 60% of the total monthly budget, we understood why they weren’t telling her. They were deliberately hiding the fact they were virtually stealing from her. Yikes! While you can report the marketing agency, it’s understandable how this would sour you on PPC. Has this happened to you too?

8. The Do Nothing PPC Scam

Jane from Texas shared this marketing scam with our team. She was locked into a 12-month PPC contract for $1,700 a month but getting no new patient leads. She asked us to see if we could figure out why her marketing dollars weren’t producing leads.

When we searched on Google, we could see her ad campaign running. So naturally, her ads were live, but then when we took the liberty of clicking on one of Jane’s PPC ads we were stunned. We wanted to see where the ad was taking people, to see whether it was the landing page that was the problem or what.

What we discovered is that when we clicked on the ad, it went, well nowhere. It didn’t go to her website or a landing page or anywhere. It just showed a 404, “page not found” error.

Whoever had set up her PPC campaign hadn’t bothered to link the ads to anything. Which meant potential patients were burning thru her ad spend and still not finding her practice. The best part is that no one from the marketing firm had bothered to check. Otherwise, they would have seen the error.

The bottom line is she was paying for nothing. Well maybe to frustrate potential patients.

The good thing about this discovery was it enabled her to pull out of her long-term contract. Few marketing firms dare hold clients to these nutty long-term contracts when faced with evidence of fraud on their part.

Money with stethoscope and handcuffs

9. The Churn and Burn Scam

This is an alternative to the long-term contract scam but can be almost as costly. Mike altered us to this one frequently used by one of the largest ‘small business websites’ firms. Their sales staff are trained in pitching websites, SEO, and PPC packages that cost between $2,000 to $5,000 a month.

Once they’ve made the sale, the salespeople aren’t even allowed to talk to the client again. Ever. With no long-term investment in the client and sub-standard services, clients rarely stay for more than 3 months. Can you imagine signing up with a marketing firm that considered it a success if you stayed for 3 months? Nuts!

10. The Newspaper Bundle Scam

Cindy in Philly, shared this common marketing scam by at least one of the larger newspaper publishers. As you know, hardly anyone reads newspapers in print anymore. According to The Atlantic, Between 2000 and 2015, print newspaper advertising revenue fell from about $60 billion to about $20 billion, wiping out the gains of the previous 50 years. Print ads sales are diving.

That’s why these newspaper publishers started buying up online marketing firms and getting creative. Their solution to build their profits is to offer bundles of services. They’ll sell you a bundle that includes a website, print ads, and retargeting or follow ads.

These marketing bundles may sound like a great deal, but they’re outsourcing the website builds to India, to someone who has no clue what you do or how to market your practice. Then the print ads are essentially worthless given the drop in readership, and I’ve saved the best for last.

They include retargeting ads which, if you are a medical practice, are in essence illegal to run and could put the future of your practice at risk. Yes, marketing scammers will sell you something that violates HIPAA and could result in big fines and your website being delisted from Google. Know anyone who got suckered by this one?

11. The Branding Marketing Scam

If you know anything about branding, you know that large national companies, such as Coca-Cola and Nike, will put serious effort into national brand campaigns to raise awareness. But these campaigns only work if you’ve got MILLIONS of dollars to throw at them.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had that kind of money or had a medical practice that had a marketing budget in the hundreds of millions. Typically for my businesses and the medical practice owners, I work with – marketing budgets are less than $100,000 per year.

Not to say that $100,000 isn’t a good sum to spend, but if it were up to me for each dollar I spent, I’d want to see at least three dollars come in in revenue. With branding, you could spend 5 times that and get no return. This is why when a marketing firm talks to you about a brand-building campaign for your local practice, it’s a sure sign you’re feeding you the branding lie.

The best way to leverage your marketing dollars to attract more new patients to your local practice is using direct response marketing. That’s marketing that instead of building “brand awareness” actually gets the phone ringing. Isn’t that what you want?

12. The Big Name Scam

Have you heard this sales pitch? The salesperson calls and says they work for (fill in the name of some large magazine or newspaper publisher). As if being owned by a big company makes you legit.

Tell that to the millions of customers who’ve gotten ripped off by Wells Fargo, the biggest bank in America. Sure Wells Fargo is big, but over the last couple of years, it’s become clear they systematically encouraged their employees to commit fraud.

In marketing the size of the company (or in this case, the parent company) has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether you’ll get results. If they are worth their salt, they won’t be talking about size but instead about clients they’ve gotten amazing results for. Isn’t that what matters, results?

13. The How Short Is Your Memory Scam

Here’s how it works. You sign up with an online marketing firm for PPC or SEO and… a 12-month contract.

The first month it looks like it’s working. Then nothing, no reporting, no new patient leads, until… it comes time to renew. The final month, all of sudden you start getting new leads again. What gives?

Here’s what the scam firm is doing. They’re using your money the first and last month on PPC to get new patients calling, and then the remaining 10 months, just pocketing your fees. Again the easy way to spot these scam marketing firms is to check whether the contract is month to month or requires a long-term, 6-month, or 12-month commitment you can’t get out of.

14. The Exclusive Territory Marketing Scam

Imagine you had a magic wand and with a simple wave, you could become the only medical practice of your kind that patients found when they searched online.

Here’s how it would work. A prospective patient would go to Google and type in their medical question or concern, whether it was about their hearing, back pain or teeth. Then, when they hit search, the only medical practice that came up was yours. That way every patient in your market would be calling your practice and no one else, right? How great would that be?

That’s the fantasy that some online marketing firms are selling. We recently heard a medical marketing firm present this scam in Las Vegas. The pitch was they’d offer you an exclusive on your territory – with the implication that you’ll get the majority of potential patients in your market. For a price, in this case, four times the going rate, they claim to only take one medical practice per market.

Is that a good idea? Do these types of exclusive territory deals work?

Quick spoiler alert… “Exclusives” are a total scam designed to do one thing: Their goal is to get you to pay four times as much for marketing that may or not yield any results for your practice.

This Scam Perpetuates Two Lies

Lie #1 – Exclusive means your practice will benefit, and no one else.

Quick reality check. Ask yourself how many online marketing firms are out there you could sign up with? Thousands right?

Which means what? It means that if you sign up with a marketing firm that offers an “Exclusive” on your market, it’s true they are agreeing not to sign up your competition. Which sounds good, but in reality, what is your competition going to do? Are they going to give up and cry into their milk?

No. Your competitors are going to find another marketing firm at a quarter of the cost. All things being equal, dollar for dollar they’ll attract four times as many new patients. Not only does that not help your practice, in reality, but it also helps your competition.

While getting an “exclusive” on your market sounds good in theory, in reality, it’s just a scam designed to gouge the unsuspecting medical practice.

Lie #2 – It works to attract patients.

Actually, this is more of misdirection than a direct lie. The premise of the exclusive scam is that the online marketing firm won’t help anyone else, which implies that it will help you. But in reality, they are just feeding you a line to get you to sign up, not actually promising to get more patients calling or in your door. Just because a marketing firm agrees not to work with anyone else in your market doesn’t mean that they know what they are doing and can provide your practice with the steady stream of new patients you want.

The key to selecting a reputable online marketing firm starts with results, what they can do, not what they don’t do. For most medical practices that means providing your practice with more new patients.

15. The Unsolicited Google Phone Call Scam

This one actually happened to Kevin, my business partner. He was sitting at his desk in Austin after work, catching up on emails to clients when his phone rang with a local phone number. When Kevin answered the phone, it was a recording with the following message…

“Your Google listing is at risk and has expired, press 1 to fix this problem before your listing is gone forever.”

When Kevin pressed one, he got a person who immediately asked for his name, claiming to be from Google, and went into what it will cost to fix this problem…but really just wanted to sell a monthly service and get his credit card.

Kevin told the sales representative he already has someone to manage listings, so the salesperson just shifted to a downsell, offering it at a lower cost. For fun, Kevin asked for a number where he could call them back or a website where he could review the services, at which point the sales rep hung up.

In case you didn’t know it already, Google doesn’t call you. The only way you can get someone from Google on the phone is when you initiate the call through your Google my Business or Adwords account. Period. See the warnings on their website about this Google phone call scam. Know anyone who had this happen to them?

And this is just the start…
There are an infinite number of marketing scams and fake online marketing firms out there. So what can you do? Avoid them by following these 5 steps…

Woman vacuuming money out of a man's pocket

5 Steps to Avoid Online Medical Marketing Scams

1. Ask What the Company Does

If their answer is they build websites, provide SEO and PPC then stop there. That’s what they do. They sell marketing stuff.

That’s not to say they’re selling SEO scams and PPC fraud, but it doesn’t mean any of it will actually get more patients calling. Their primary goal is to sell you as much stuff as they can, not to build your profits.

What you want is a medical marketing lead generation firm, one that measures their success in terms of your profit growth. The big difference you’ll notice right away with a lead generation firm is they’ll talk in terms you understand, number of patient calls and contacts.

The type of company that is going to help your medical practice attract more patients is one that’s primary goal is to get more new patients calling and contacting you, not the one that focuses on selling online marketing services.

If you want a return on your marketing dollars, look for a marketing firm whose primary focus is results and new patient leads, not churning out websites and such.

2. Do Your Due Diligence

Before you give a marketing firm tens of thousands of dollars, check their online reputation. See if they have great reviews and check the complaint sites to see what others say.

Just go to the following and do a search for the company you are thinking of trusting with your hard-earned dollars and verify their reputation. Got to each and enter the name of the company in the search function and see if they’ve got a ton of complaints or not.

Search sites like:

3. Avoid Long-Term Contracts

If the “lead generation” firm you select is any good, the results will keep you coming back each month. They won’t need to lock you into a long-term contract and will just bill you month-to-month. If their services are dubious, they’ll force you into signing up for 6-12 months at a time. Don’t.

4. Avoid Confusing Bundles

If you don’t know what you are paying for, don’t sign up. Many online marketing firms bundle ineffective services together to increase the perceived value of the bundle. Don’t fall for this scam.

5. Pick a Specialist

Every medical practitioner knows that if you have hearing issues, you’d go to an audiologist, or if you had dental issues you’d go to an orthodontist, or if you needed heart surgery to a heart specialist, not to the local GP. The same follows for picking a lead generation firm to work with.

If you’re a medical practice, wouldn’t you want a lead generation firm that has a track record of attracting patients instead of just picking a generic marketing firm?

At our medical lead generation firm, we’ve spent over a decade perfecting our lead generation system for attracting patients and connecting them with practices. We’re experts, but no we couldn’t set up a marketing campaign to sell dog food to save our lives. The same is true for generic online marketing firms. Talk to us.