5 Common Web Design & SEO Scams To Avoid

There is no shortage of web design agencies and freelancers for businesses looking to hire for there next big online project.

Unfortunately many companies often fall victim to shady or inexperienced developers who might throw around tech jargon, have a great pitch but eventually fail to deliver.

As a result businesses end up with incomplete, poorly constructed or ineffective websites that do not justify their investment.

I’ve get countless clients ever year, who have dealt with some or all of the scenarios in this article, where hired web developers fail to deliver on promises or scammed their clients.

Often times, businesses don’t even know they’ve been bamboozled until I’ve performed a website audit.

1. Ineffective SEO Services

I get several emails per day regarding search engine optimization services, most of which land in my spam folder that typically make grandiose promises of getting websites ranked #1 in Google

To someone who isn’t web savvy these offers may seem enticing but to someone with knowledge in SEO, there are several red flags.

It’s hard to legitimize an SEO company that uses a gmail account for outreach, have poorly designed websites in broken English, poor search engine ranking and low domain authority.

It’s like a plumber offering repair services while their own house has leaky pipes.

This may not come off as politically correct, but most of the time the origin of these emails are typically from offshore companies such as India.

These companies deploy “black hat” SEO practices which are against search engine guidelines which can negatively impact a websites search ranking.

While business owners believe they are paying for a service that will improve their search engine ranking, it’s actually the opposite.

These companies look to charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for nothing more than a days work of building spammy links through blog comments, using article spinners to rewrite content on blogging websites and other deceptive tactics.

Since SEO is a taboo subject to most, it has opened the flood gates to charlatans offering services based on false promises and scamming businesses out of money.

My friend Paul Teitelman owns an SEO agency in Toronto which currently ranks #2 for the search term “SEO experts Toronto”.

Aside from the credibility of ranking above other SEO experts in the industry, it demonstrates that his agency understands what it takes to achieve optimal search engine ranking.

2. Not providing full ownership

Some web design agencies and freelancers often times make it look like they are doing their clients a favour by registering their domain name or by hosting their website.

Unfortunately, this so-called “favour” often times ends up biting business owners in the ass in a number of ways.

1. Marking up services – This is by far the most common. Web design companies will over charge clients for domains and web hosting. I’ve come across several cases where clients were charged $100 per year for domains (which typically costs $25/year on average), $100/month on a cheap or shared hosting packages that would otherwise cost $20/month.

2. Clients websites held hostage – I had a client once who realized that his web developer was over charging and requested to have a copy of the website to move to his own hosting company. As a result, the freelancer refused and shut down the website.

3. Freelancer went M.I.A – One of my clients had a freelancer who became completely unreachable and as a result had no access to their website. Luckily, things worked out for the better as the new website exponentially better and maintenance fees were only a fraction.

At NexToronto, we put domain and hosting control into our clients hands. As a result, they have full ownership, receiving 24-7 customer service for any hosting queries and save on yearly costs.

3. Cheap Web Design

Some people simply have no business running a web design business.

They have little to no technical understanding in web design or SEO and even worse, they don’t care that their actions have will no impact on their clients businesses.

Clients are left with websites that developed using poor web design standards, no on-page SEO and will never receive a return on their investment.

It’s no secret that premium WordPress themes can be purchased for an average of $50 from websites such as Theme Forest.

Contrary to what many believe, you can absolutely justify a $20K website built on premium theme based on the time invested, type of customization and overall quality & value of the end result.

But when web design companies put little effort, install a WordPress theme, replace “Lorem Ipsum” content and make minor aesthetic changes charge $20K – this is robbery.

4. Outsourcing

Through outsourcing websites such as Upwork and Fiver combined with modern day communication, businesses can now hire freelancers overseas who are willing to do work for a fraction of US and Canadian developers.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal right?

Sure, you have to deal with different time schedules and language barriers but as yourself this, why would I, the owner of a web development business not just outsource overseas and kick my feet up?

The answer is simple. Quality.

Outsourcing certainly has its advantages. When I do hire freelancers overseas its typically for tedious tasks or minor enhancements.

When freelancers submit their work for approval, my technical background allows me to audit their work properly to ensure it is developed through best practices and isn’t just a “hack”.

The allure of outsourcing for business owners is certainly understandable from a cost perspective, but if you’re looking to build a strong online presence and compete with others in your industry who have hired local web developers, it isn’t a sound investment.

Finding a reliable freelancer is like the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I’ve tested hundreds of freelancers over a decade and have had some positive experiences but also had the following scenarios happen:

1. Most common, freelancer submitted work for approval and provided poor quality, partially completed or “hack” work.
2. Freelancer got access to a website then threatened to delete it unless I paid them. Little did they know they were working on a copy of the site.
3. Freelancer injected malicious code into core file to compromise the sites password. Not sure what they were planning with that.
4. Very common. Freelancer pulled a bait and switch, by agreeing to work then once hired and getting access to the site asking for more money.

The list can go on.

Outsourcing is certainly a skill that comes with challenges and lessons.

Whether you’re a business owner looking to build a new website or looking to farm out entire projects, it’s generally a bad idea.

5. Overcharging for basic services

Overcharging for minimal work is a common scam from many freelancers and companies in the web design and SEO space.

Since the average client isn’t well versed in certain professions and usually have no idea how long things REALLY take to be completed, this opens the floodgates to shady digital marketing companies to overcharge.

I’ve heard companies charging $80 for setting up a 301 redirect which can be done in 1 minute. Personally, If something takes me 10 minutes for regular clients then I usually don’t bother charging them.

When it comes to the cost of web design or SEO its the wild west and unfortunately not all players are honest.


If you’re looking to avoid getting scammed when hiring for web design or SEO then I suggest doing your research, checking portfolios and asking questions about their experience, case studies and accomplishments.

If you’re unsure, you can always hire NexToronto for consulting or site audits to make sure that you’re hiring the best candidate to help your business build a strong online presence.