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Former Ombudsman: ‘Dodgy’ Australian SEO Practitioners Need Regulated (Updated 2022)

By DOM Team| 7 Min Read | January 28, 2022
australia seo scam kate carnell

In 2019, Australia was set to become the first nation in the world to draft legislation which would protect consumers from digital marketing scams. The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s Kate Carnell announced her intention to take action against consultants doing SEO in Australia who intentionally mislead clients.

Carnell is asking Australian SMBs to come forward with what she’s calling their SEO “horror stories.” She intends to use the information to help spawn new SEO industry regulations. She described the current state of SEO scammers as “a minefield of dodgy practitioners.”

Australia SEO Scam Agenda Could Prompt Global Change

In the United States, SEO scammers will often target small businesses. Dishonest SEO companies will go so far as to claim they have control over getting your content onto the first page of Google rankings.

Larger businesses have also fallen prey to nefarious SEO setups. Back in 2011, retail giant J.C. Penney participated in an SEO link scheme that was later exposed by the New York Times. J.C. Penney claimed no knowledge of the link building activity and fired their provider of SEO services shortly after the news broke.

For J.C. Penney, their global name brand helped to soften the blow. Google fixed their rankings rather than apply any penalties.

But that’s not typically the case for lesser-known businesses who partake in an ill-advised SEO campaign or link building scam. Google often penalizes a domain, lowering or wiping out a company’s rankings and online presence. As a result, the agency hired to improve the penalized company’s SEO exits stage left (with checks in hand).

Small businesses often have little in the way of SEO scam recourse. That’s what Australia’s ASBFEO aims to fix with the new legislation. While Australian businesses only reported roughly 100 SEO complaints, the ASBFEO believes many more exist.

At the current time, no formal regulations against SEO exist in the United States. Quick research doesn’t appear to indicate there is anything else comparable around the rest of the English-speaking world, either. That said, regulations around “surveillance advertising” have been proposed and adopted (think GDPR in Europe).

While privacy issues related to advertising appear to be a bigger priority for foreign governments, Google has taken some initiative to mitigate the prevalence of scammers in the past.

In 2018, Google filed a lawsuit against Supreme Marketing Group for allegedly scamming businesses. Supreme Marketing Group is now out of business as a result of the litigation.

Update 2019: More Reports and Research on Digital Marketing in Australia

Since Ombudsman Carnell issued these statements on SEO scams and dodgy practitioners in early 2019, no additional news or updates on the issues have been reported by the ASBFEO.

However, in July 2019, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a report after an 18-month investigation of search engines, social platforms, and content aggregators. Inside the report’s 600 pages, the ACCC’s research found that:

  • 98% of searches done within the country start on Google
  • $47 of every $100 spent on digital advertising in Australia is invested in Google Ads campaigns
  • $21 of every $100 spent on digital advertising in Australia is invested in social media marketing like Facebook campaigns

In addition to the in-depth research, the ACCC also provided 23 recommendations to the Australian government. By the end of 2019, a response was expected after three months of consultation.

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Update August 2021: New Laws, But Not For Australian SEO

If any of the above regulations happened, we can’t find any mention of them on the internet. But that doesn’t mean the Australian government took the recommendations from the ACCC seriously. In February of 2021, the Australian Parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media snd Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021 (Cth). This bill creates a “mandatory code of conduct that applies to news media businesses and digital platform corporations when bargaining in relation to news content made available by digital platform services.”

Boiled down to its main impact, this law requires news aggregators like Facebook and Google to pay local Australian news sources whenever they link to a story. The amount of this fee is up for determination by government representatives but will be negotiated by both the aggregators and the sources they use. The intention here is to help Australian journalism by making Facebook and Google pay them directly for linking to them.

If you are an international exporter looking to grow your business in Australia, or you want to leverage SEO strategies to expand your business outside of Australia, learning how to avoid SEO scams is important before starting your journey for global domain-ation!

How To Avoid Scams From Australian SEO Consultants (Or In Any Country, Really)

australian seo scam law Kate CarnellDirect Online Marketing has dealt with many SEO penalized websites. In most cases, the penalized company was lured in by false, unrealistic marketing.

Here’s a handy short-list to use when vetting an SEO consultant or agency.

They Guarantee Rankings

If an SEO consultant assures they will rank you in the top spots for specific keywords, that’s a red flag. No SEO agency or consultant has inside information on Google’s algorithm. Because of this, they can’t promise top search engine rankings. Meaning you should never trust anyone who makes such bold claims.

A legitimate SEO agency helps build a Google-optimized on-page environment. It complements that with the production of thoughtful keyword research, web design updates, and relevant content marketing.

They Use A Bad Link Building Strategy

For SEO, backlinks remain a primary driver for improved rankings. But it isn’t the number of backlinks, rather, the quality of backlinks that fuels success.

Scammy SEO consultants sometimes utilize shady backlink building strategies. These unethical practices put your domain’s health at risk. While there are a variety of risky practices, backlink purchasing, and bot-driven link building are the most notable.

These poor practices often result in an initial boost in organic traffic. But over time, Google snuffs out link building that violates its TOS. This can result in a Google penalty, something not easily fixed.

Additionally, some SEO agencies use complex link building strategies to keep the company hostage.

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For example, a dishonest SEO consultant might build links using a blog network created for the sole purpose of nefarious link building. The company receives an initial boost to their SEO. However, when the company decides to leave, the SEO consultant pulls the links. This results in a rankings drop off. The company observes the rankings loss and runs back to the SEO consultant.

To prevent putting your domain at risk, always vet their approach to backlink strategies. If an SEO company in Australia is buying links, it may be best to continue your search. If the company is spamming your links on useless websites, run for the hills.

They Provide No References

A legitimate SEO company should provide you with a list of accomplishments for other clients. You should contact those website owners or executives and learn more about the SEO company. If they can’t provide references, consider looking elsewhere for digital marketing services.

Final Thoughts On Australian SEO And Avoiding Scams

SEO scams run rampant in the digital age. Australia is taking steps to better protect businesses from falling prey. It may prompt not only change in Australia but change around the world.

However, there are steps that businesses can take to better protect themselves from being fleeced. It’s essential that you vet all potential digital marketing companies in the ways listed above. Otherwise, you expose yourself and your company to long-term risks.

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Want to learn more about international search engine optimisations (optimization here in the US) and international search engine marketing? Check out any one of these helpful resources written by our team below:


To get more information on this topic, contact us today for a free consultation or learn more about our status as a Google Partner Agency before you reach out.

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