What to Do If You Have Been Taken Advantage of By a SEM Company

Anthony Kirlew March 10, 2011

No matter what the industry, the bad apples often get more publicity than the folks that do business by the book which can give any industry a bad name.  The search engine marketing industry is no different.  Over my 11 years in the business, I have encountered several unethical companies, often by means of getting their clients after they have tainted them.  My goal in these cases, is to not just get the job done correctly, but to restore the clients faith that the search marketing industry is not corrupt as a whole.

Recently, I was notified of a problem with a vendor that I had referred a client to. This was disturbing because to me if I make a recommendation, I feel a sense of obligation. Furthermore, I was concerned because I had been introduced to this vendor through another professional colleague (who I alerted via email of my concerns). The person said he was not getting anywhere and asked for my help in getting the issue resolved, and I was willing because in the end, I felt bad for making the recommendation.

Having been in business for most of my adult life, I have learned a thing or two about how to get problems resolved.  In fact, lawyers work really well, but often times the average business owner does not have the financial means to hire a lawyer which is why ethically challenged companies can get away with ripping people off many times. I am going to share a few places where you can file (or threaten to file) a complaint that will either get the business owners attention, or get results.

The Better Business Bureau. I have mixed feelings about the Better Business Bureau (BBB) because their business model might lead one to believe that they favor the companies that pay them for their listings. Nonetheless, if you lodge a complaint with the BBB, they will make note of it as well as the outcome of your case on the businesses BBB profile.

The Attorney General. The attorney general has lots of authority in a state, so a business owner does not want to be on their bad side. That being said, if you feel you were wronged by a company, you can always file a complaint with the Attorney General for the state in which they operate.

Google. Yes, you can complain to Google in some cases. Specifically, if you are working with a Google AdWords Certified Company, Google will hear your complaint.  All you have to do is find the company’s Partner Profile on Google and select the link at the bottom of the page that says “Report a complaint about this partner.” Often, a Google AdWords Certified Company will link directly to their profile. If they do not, that might give you reason to question whether or not they have a valid partner status. If they have lied to you, that’s just more fuel for your claim.

Take Them to Court.  I learned one thing years ago; in America you can sue anyone for anything. This is where documentation is key. The company may have an agreement where you agreed to pay them, but you also have documentation where they agreed to do work for you. If you can prove that it was not done, then you might have a strong case.

Google aside, these three options will help you in any kind of situation where you feel wronged by a vendor, not just with search engine marketing.

Earlier, I used the phrase “threaten to sue” because often if you write the company a letter (or email) and let them know your intentions, they will take you a bit more seriously. No company wants to be involved in a lawsuit or negative publicity, so even if they are unethical, they will want to fly under the radar.  I also say, never make an idle threat. If you tell them you are going to take action, give them a deadline, and then take action. It does not take that much time to write a letter to a consumer protection agency such as the ones I mentioned.

Lastly, don’t get “sue happy” just to make your point.  If you initiate a frivolous lawsuit against a company with a good lawyer, they could take you to the cleaners with a countersuit for the time and money you caused them to waste and make an example out of you. Integrity works both ways.

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This post is such a wealth of information that it's absolutely amazing and powerful

Anthony Kirlew
Anthony Kirlew

@ Coleman - Many people are content to sit back and play victim. I believe int educating people to empower them. Not sure if you have heard this saying "if you don't know your rights, you don't have any." Hopefully this will help someone out there who has been taken advantage of, so they can realize they do have some leverage. @ Bahadur - It is sad to see unethical companies exists, and even worse to see them in our industry. It really shows that the leadership does not understand how the online community works, especially with the advent of social networks. When I sent the above info to the company in questions, I asked the CEO directly if he wanted me to share my clients experience with him on my social media networks. I am not one given to threats, but I wanted the CEO to realize that he cannot just sit back and collect money because he has an agreement when his staff is not fulfilling their promises. Sadly, I feel this guy wanted to do the right thing, but grew too fast for his staff to be able to contact people. That another whole topic, but the bottom line is that if you do not do what you will say as a company you have breached your end of the contract, so you should bow out of the agreement, or be subject to whatever legal actions the clients takes. It's kind of a no brainer, if you set the expectation and do not meet it, you (as a business owner) have an obligation (in my mind), to make whatever changes are necessary to fulfill the expectations you set. Anything else lacks integrity. We all know things change in the industry, but as professionals, we are supposed to be able to adapt, and if a company does not want to that's ok, as long as they don't continue to charge their end clients. Sorry for the long reply, but as you can probably tell, I am passionate about seeing ethics upheld on our industry. My recent post 5 Ways to Help Google Find Your Blog Posts


As someone who used to work for certain SEO companies in the past, that did not always deliver what they claimed to do so and as well as not have enough knowledge or SEO expertise to even conduct the work, I know all too well what clients must feel when they are trapped in such an issue. For the most part, most clients are hopeless because these companies have used Jedi Mind Tricks to convince the clients to sign contracts that they can't get out of. I was in the learning stage, therefore I didn't know any better but I recently switched and am working with a lot more experienced company (Well known SEO services company in Toronto has been in the industry for more than a decade) and all of a sudden everything feels different. Everything is organized, has procedures, protocols, so on and so forth. If you stop paying then they will simply send collections after you and you can't do much about it because you've signed a contract - I guess a lot of companies come with false hopes as well thinking they'll get 1st page rankings over night. Most, if not all, companies have in fine print some where that they do not guarantee such rankings, so just like any other Marketing initiative, SEO is also an investment you make. You can either lose it or make twice the investment.


If someone takes advantage of you..then you should take actions.. "Black Seo Guy "Signing Off" My recent post EzineArticle New 400 Word Minimum – Goolge Panda Attacked

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