Avoid Spending Traps, Deceptive Tactics When Hiring A Digital Marketing Agency

ByAnnette ChotiPublished inBuyer's GuidesJune 9th, 2023

For a law firm, it is crucial to avoid spending traps and deceptive tactics when hiring a digital marketing agency. The consequences of falling for such schemes can be detrimental to your business growth, reputation, and bank account. To ensure a successful outcome, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls associated with selecting an agency and have clearly defined goals that identify your target audience and what you intend to accomplish.

This article will cover deceptive tactics in digital marketing, including bait-and-switch techniques and negative-option subscriptions. The process of vetting potential marketing agencies will also be covered, focusing on questions that ensure ethical and transparent practices as well as the importance of case studies or testimonials from similar industries. Furthermore, evaluating agency success metrics and reporting is essential – we'll examine aligning agency success metrics with client goals and the significance of regular progress reports.

Lastly, protecting yourself against unauthorized charges and hidden fees is vital. As such, it is important to understand credit card company guidelines on unauthorized charges and limitations. By understanding these critical factors involved in avoiding spending traps and deceptive tactics when hiring a digital marketing agency, you can confidently choose an effective partner to help you grow your law firm's online presence.

Recognizing Deceptive Tactics in Digital Marketing

First and foremost, your law firm is a business. The one thing that they never taught us in law school is how to run a business. Unfortunately, there are many digital marketing agencies out there ready to take advantage of lawyers. Law firms must be aware of common deceptive tactics used by digital marketing agencies, such as bait-and-switch scams or negative-option subscription plans. Familiarize yourself with these methods to protect your firm from unscrupulous providers.

Bait-and-Switch Tactics and Their Consequences

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a bait-and-switch tactic is a deceptive practice where an agency promises specific services at a low price but later pressures the client into purchasing more expensive services or packages. This can lead to increased costs for law firms and may not result in the desired outcomes.

  • Be cautious: If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Read the small print before making a binding agreement. For example, in some cases, a digital marketing agency will tell you that you own all the content on your website, and if you leave, you can take it with you. Read that carefully. You can take the "content" with you – but not the website. That means that you are held hostage to that digital marketing agency if you want to keep your website up and running. Your only alternative is to have another agency build one for you. Make sure that your website is built on a WordPress platform that you can take with you, and where you have the highest administrative permissions, if you decide to leave the marketing agency at a later time.

  • Evaluate communication: Pay attention to how transparently the agency communicates its pricing structure and service offerings during initial discussions. Make sure that you know exactly who you will be talking to and that you won't be "passed off" to some other representative who doesn't understand your law firm, the law, or how to ensure ethics compliance in your digital marketing content.

  • Gather multiple quotes: Comparing proposals from different agencies can help you identify potential bait-and-switch schemes based on inconsistencies among their offers.

Negative-Option Subscriptions and the FTC's Role

Negative-option subscriptions are another deceptive tactic that some digital marketing agencies employ. In this case, clients are automatically enrolled in ongoing services without explicit consent, often leading to unexpected charges on their accounts. The FTC has taken steps to combat companies using negative-option subscriptions, but businesses must still be cautious when entering into agreements with new partners.

  • Carefully review contracts: Ensure that any agreement you sign clearly outlines the terms of service, including billing and cancellation policies.
  • Monitor your accounts: Regularly check your credit card statements for unauthorized charges or unexpected fees related to digital marketing services.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the FTC's guidelines on negative-option subscriptions by visiting their official website.

In addition to being aware of these deceptive tactics, law firms should also focus on defining their marketing goals and vetting potential agencies before making a decision. This will help ensure a successful partnership with a reputable digital marketing agency that can deliver results aligned with your objectives. Make sure not to just go with the largest company, but the one that has the most reviews and recommendations from people you know and trust.

Defining Your Marketing Goals

Before hiring a digital marketing agency, law firms should ask themselves key questions regarding their marketing goals. Once you define your aims, it is simpler to communicate with the agency and make sure that they match up with what you want. Consider the target audience for your services and what specific outcomes you want to achieve through digital marketing efforts.

Identifying Your Target Audience

To create an effective digital marketing strategy, it's essential to identify the specific people you want to reach. This involves understanding not only demographics but also psychographics – such as interests, values, and behaviors – that influence decision-making. For law firms and lawyers, this may include potential clients in need of legal representation or businesses seeking legal counsel. Some factors to consider to identify your target audience include:

  • Demographics: Age range, gender identity, income level, education level.
  • Geographic Location: Local areas where potential clients reside or work; regional preferences if applicable.
  • Pain Points and Needs: Legal issues faced by prospective clients (e.g., personal injury claims) or business-related concerns requiring professional advice (e.g., contract disputes).

Establishing Measurable Objectives

In addition to identifying your target audience, it's essential to establish measurable objectives for evaluating the success of any digital marketing campaign undertaken by an agency on behalf of a law firm or lawyer. These goals should be specific, attainable, and quantifiable to ensure that both parties can accurately assess the effectiveness of marketing efforts. SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) are a popular framework for setting goals in digital marketing.

Examples of measurable objectives may include:

  • Increase website traffic by 25% within six months.
  • Generate at least 10 new client inquiries per month through online channels.
  • Achieve a conversion rate of 5% on paid search campaigns targeting personal injury cases within three months.

By defining your marketing goals and understanding your target audience, you will be better equipped to select an appropriate digital marketing agency capable of delivering results aligned with your firm's needs and expectations. This clarity also enables more effective communication between both parties throughout the partnership, ensuring ongoing success in achieving desired outcomes from digital marketing initiatives.

It's also important to understand that if you are working on your organic marketing, these numbers may not be so clear or easy to quantify. In these cases, make sure that your digital marketing agency is still providing you with a report and a monthly call to ensure that you understand exactly where your digital marketing dollars are going.

Vetting Potential Marketing Agencies

Thoroughly vet potential marketing agencies by asking specific questions about their strategies, ethical practices, success measurement, and progress reporting throughout the partnership. Also ask for specific case studies or testimonials from previous law firm clients. This will help you identify a reliable and trustworthy agency that can deliver results for your law firm.

Questions to Ensure Ethical and Transparent Practices

To ensure that the digital marketing agency you're considering follows ethical and transparent practices, ask these key questions:

  • What is your approach to SEO? Look for an agency that uses white-hat SEO (search engine optimization) techniques rather than black-hat tactics which may lead to penalties from search engines like Google. Learn more about SEO best practices here.

  • How do you handle client data privacy? With increasing concerns around data protection regulations such as GDPR, it's crucial to choose an agency with a clear understanding of how they protect client information. Read up on GDPR guidelines here.

  • Do you have any certifications or memberships with industry organizations? Certifications such as Google Ads Partner status or membership in professional associations such as the American Marketing Association (AMA) demonstrate credibility and commitment to ethical standards within the industry.

  • Do you have any legal experience? Many digital marketing agencies have absolutely no legal experience or understanding. They do not understand the basics of law practice or of the ethics requirements attorneys must follow. Make sure you ask specific questions regarding content and compliance with ethics guidelines.

  • Do you require a year-long contract? If someone requires a year-long contract, carefully consider whether this is the agency that you want to be married to for that long. Many digital marketing agencies will say that they need that much time to work on a comprehensive strategy, however, the truth is that if you are great at what you do, you don't need to hold anyone hostage for a year. You should expect to see results in 4-6 months without being held captive.

  • Do you have geographic exclusivity? If a digital marketing agency does not have any geographic cap on the number of clients they take within a certain geographic area, you have no idea if they are also working with your top three competitors. Make sure to find out how many clients they will take in each geographic location in your practice area.

The Importance of Case Studies or Testimonials from Similar Industries

A reputable digital marketing agency should be able to provide case studies or testimonials from past or current clients. This will help you gauge their experience and expertise in handling marketing campaigns for law firms. When reviewing case studies, pay attention to:

  • Client background - Ensure the clients featured are from the legal industry or have similar target audiences.
  • Marketing goals and objectives - Look for case studies that showcase how the agency helped clients achieve specific marketing goals relevant to your firm's needs.
  • Metric-driven results - Analyze the data provided in these testimonials to determine if they were able to deliver measurable improvements in areas like website traffic, lead generation, or conversion rates. Check out this guide on measuring digital marketing success.

Taking time to vet potential digital marketing agencies by asking critical questions about their practices and examining their past work with similar legal practice areas can save your law firm from falling prey to deceptive tactics while ensuring a successful partnership that delivers results.

Evaluating Agency Success Metrics and Reporting

When considering a digital marketing agency for your law firm, it is essential to ensure that their success metrics align with your goals. Additionally, transparency in reporting is crucial for maintaining trust between both parties during the course of your partnership.

Aligning Agency Success Metrics with Client Goals

To determine if an agency's success metrics are aligned with your objectives, start by asking them how they measure success and what key performance indicators (KPIs) they use. Ideally, these KPIs should be directly related to the specific outcomes you want to achieve through digital marketing efforts. For example:

  • If you aim to increase website traffic, ask about metrics like organic search rankings and click-through rates.
  • If lead generation is a priority, inquire about conversion rates and cost per lead.
  • If brand awareness is important, discuss social media engagement and reach statistics.

Setting realistic KPIs ensures that both parties have clear expectations from the outset of the partnership. This way, you can avoid misunderstandings or disappointments down the line due to misaligned goals or unclear communication regarding progress towards those goals.

The Importance of Regular Progress Reports

In addition to setting appropriate KPIs upfront, regular progress reports are vital for keeping everyone informed on project status and any adjustments needed along the way. These reports should include detailed information on campaign performance across various channels as well as insights into areas of improvement and recommendations for future strategies. Additionally, you should be receiving these reports every single month, and they should be reports that you can actually understand.

Ask potential agencies about their reporting frequency, format, and level of detail. Some questions to consider include:

  • How often will progress reports be provided (e.g., weekly, monthly)?
  • What specific metrics will be included in the reports?
  • Will the agency provide actionable insights based on the data presented?
  • Will I be able to meet with someone to go over these reports and have my questions answered every month?

Transparent reporting practices not only help you stay informed but also foster a strong working relationship with your digital marketing partner. By evaluating an agency's success metrics and commitment to transparent reporting, you can make an informed decision when selecting a provider that aligns with your law firm's goals.

Protecting Yourself Against Unauthorized Charges and Hidden Fees

By understanding credit card companies' merchant guidelines and acknowledging the limitations across jurisdictions, you can protect your business from these spending traps.

Credit Card Company Guidelines on Unauthorized Charges

Credit card companies have established guidelines for merchants aimed at protecting consumers from unauthorized charges. These guidelines require businesses to clearly disclose all fees associated with their services, as well as any recurring billing practices. Familiarizing yourself with these guidelines is essential to recognize any violations.

  • Clear disclosure: Ensure that the digital marketing agency provides clear information about pricing structures and potential additional costs before entering into a contract.
  • Billing authorization: Confirm that your explicit consent has been obtained for any recurring payments or subscriptions related to the service provided by the agency.
  • Easily accessible cancellation policy: The cancellation process should be straightforward and easily accessible in case you decide to terminate your agreement with the agency.

Limitations Due To Varying Jurisdiction Standards

In addition to credit card company guidelines, it's important to recognize that there may be jurisdiction-specific regulations governing how businesses handle unauthorized charges and hidden fees. As such, always research local laws in both your own jurisdiction and those of any prospective digital marketing agencies before entering into contracts. This will help ensure that you are protected from potential spending traps.

By being proactive about understanding guidelines and jurisdiction-specific laws related to unauthorized charges and hidden fees, law firms and lawyers can better protect themselves when hiring a digital marketing agency. Always ask questions about pricing structures, billing authorization, cancellation policies, and local regulations before entering into contracts to avoid falling victim to deceptive tactics or spending traps.

FAQ - How To Avoid Spending Traps and Deceptive Tactics When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

What are examples of deceptive marketing practices?

Deceptive marketing practices include bait-and-switch scams, false advertising, misleading pricing, hidden fees or terms, and negative-option subscriptions. These tactics can lead to consumer dissatisfaction and potential legal issues for businesses. To avoid such traps when hiring a digital marketing agency, thoroughly research their reputation and track record.

What is the FTC policy statement on deception?

The FTC Policy Statement on Deception outlines that an act or practice is considered deceptive if it involves a material representation or omission likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances. The statement emphasizes transparency in advertising and provides guidance for businesses to ensure they follow ethical marketing practices.

Are dark patterns illegal?

Dark patterns, which are manipulative design techniques used to deceive users into taking unintended actions online, may not be explicitly illegal but could violate consumer protection laws depending on the jurisdiction. It's crucial for law firms to partner with digital marketing agencies that prioritize ethical strategies over manipulative tactics.

What are the most common deceptive tactics digital marketing agencies use?

Some of the most common deceptive tactics digital marketing agencies use include purchasing illegitimate Google reviews for a client, holding a website hostage when a client makes a decision to move to terminate a contract, holding a client hostage for a year or more through a long-term agreement, failure to provide consistent and accurate information and reporting regarding a law firm's marketing strategy, failing to provide legally accurate and ethically compliant content, overcharging and underdelivering on promised services, or simply not truly partnering with a law firm to help them grow online.


It is crucial for law firms and lawyers to be aware of the deceptive tactics that some digital marketing agencies may use. To avoid falling into spending traps, it is important to define your marketing goals, vet potential agencies, evaluate success metrics and reporting, and protect yourself against unauthorized charges and hidden fees.

When choosing an agency, remember to ask questions about ethical practices and request case studies or testimonials from similar industries. It is also important to align agency success metrics with client goals and receive regular progress reports to ensure a successful partnership.

If you're looking for a trustworthy digital marketing agency that specializes in working with law firms, make sure to review testimonials and ask for recommendations from those you trust!

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