The Case For A Royal Commission Into The Online Marketing Industry

Raphael Sebbag

I am not trying to be political, nor do I claim to be any sort of expert in politics, nor do I intend to go into politics, but, I think there is a case for a Royal Commission into the online marketing industry.  

This is not to say that Online Marketing Brands/Companies are completely at fault, but they do or should realise they do bear some of the responsibility to what goes on in the industry.

In fact, it is probably more of an issue of sales techniques that some of Online Marketing companies employ and many other companies in other industries I imagine too.

Sales techniques such as:

  • Planting seeds of doubt based on false or at best inaccurate information
  • Alleging to be associated with certain brands or authorities so as to demonstrate their unique clout
  • Creating false hopes for desperate business owners

Allow me to set the scene…

What I am about to share really happened, in our office just over a week ago (April 2018). The timing was impeccable.

One of our Google Ads clients (of over 18 months) was in for a performance review and catch up.

But, allow me to digress and set the background to the story.

The client had just started a new business having decided to go it alone in a service that he had specialised in for over a decade. The strategy was simple yet bold – drive the maximum amount of conversions so that he could build the business of his dreams and support his family, via:

  1. Design the site with best practice conversion optimisation techniques
  2. Write the content using direct response language to generate maximum impact
  3. Craft a Google Ads campaign to drive highly qualified traffic to the site

His 12-month forecast met within the first 6 months!

Fast-forward to today he now has another person working for him and is currently in the process of crafting a strategy to grow his business even further, possibly franchising.

Back to the recent meeting

The discussion mainly revolved around a unique strategy we trialed and launched at the start of the year (2018) with their Google Ads account. Until that point, the campaign had consistently been generating leads daily. But we were keen to try something new based on a recent insight we had.

The results were STAGGERING -way beyond what we and the client expected.

Here’s a snapshot of Jan-Apr 2018 compared to the same period the year before:

  • 101 more conversions, a 155% increase (12% of that increase included a new call tracking conversion we had implemented)
  • $19.35 decrease in cost per enquiry (down 56%)
  • Relatively minor change in his budget, the campaign spent 11% more
  • Same website with small cosmetic changes to landing pages

Google Analytics great results screenshot


OK, so you can imagine the client is feeling very happy at the moment as we near the end of the meeting.

Perfect Timing

Then his phone rings & he answers it.

“Hi this is Jane (not real name) from We Get You Traffic Inc (not real name), we’re a 100% Fully Accredited Premier Google Partner and I am calling to let you know we’re offering FREE audits and strategy consultations with one of our Google Google Ads experts because we noticed your ads are underperforming and possibly getting penalised by Google”

Virtually all in one breath with minimal pauses for punctuation – pretty good!

So he puts it on loud speaker and says he’s listening, but only has a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, a colleague and I are sitting there somewhat shocked at her brazenness but amused at the same time, with his campaign results on the screen in front of us.

She tries to say she can’t really say much but she can book him in with a specialist tomorrow for a  free consultation (aka sales pitch).

So he asks, simply, “How do you know that I am underperforming?” Whilst thinking to himself, “it’s not as if she has access to my Google Ads account or financial records”

“Oh, because I can see you’re on page three”

Page three of what or for what search term?

The Google Ads portal in front of us clearly shows the ads get near 95+% impression share, with 94% of impressions on average in top 2 positions above organic search results (not below) according to the Top vs Other segmentation report.

“So do you want me to book you in for a chat tomorrow?”

“No thanks, I am too busy”

“Oh, but don’t you want to improve your results?” she retorts condescendingly.

Cutting a long story short, the client told her that he wasn’t interested and let her go on her merry way to catch the next prey.

But clearly as you may be able to tell, her fast and well-rehearsed technique involved:

Planting seeds of doubt based on false or at best inaccurate information

  • Claiming that his site was on page three, without backing it up with anything tangible
  • Claiming that his Google Ads could be subject to a Google penalty. Google does not penalise Google Ads advertisers. They can either approve or disapprove ads or accounts based on a clear and rational advertising policies. I imagine that she was twisting what Quality Score really means, in Google’s own words, “Quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords and landing pages. Higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions” That ain’t no penalty!

Alleging to be uniquely associated with Google to engender authority

  • As Google Premier partner, all you need to do is pass a few free exams, have some campaigns/accounts to get you over the spend threshold. And because it’s open to anyone who so desires, no company can really portray they have a unique relationship with Google because of that.

Creating false hopes for desperate business owners

  • Claiming without any data whatsoever that their experts could help them improve results.

Parenthetically, just over a year ago, I had the pleasure to be the receiver of the same type of call but from a different company for a site I managed in the e-commerce space. I played dumb and let the lady speak. When my questions such as “Oh, I didn’t know that Google penalises ads, how so?” or “How do you know how I am performing if you can’t see my account?” got too hard for her to answer she put me onto her boss, who after analysing our ads from a normal google search, said “Oops, I am not sure how you got into our system”….

I rest my case, for now

I am not holding my breath for a Royal Commission into the Online Marketing space, nor do I think this industry is unique, just look at the current Royal Commission into the banking industry and possibly more to come.

It comes down to honesty, undiluted honesty, that’s what people want and that’s what people deserve!

Dishonest sales tactics have sadly probably been around since the start of any type of trade or commerce.

Sure, everyone’s entitled to make a living. Sales people no exception!

Yes, money is important and helpful to live the lives we want, but it’s not everything, as so many sales team motivation techniques embody.

At the end of our working life, it’s not all about the dollars (though nice to have some), it’s about the type of person we are, the choices we make, the meaning we inject into our lives and relationships.

Isn’t that, really, what business and trade is about?

We donate at least 10% of all our profits to various non-profits and charitable organisations locally and abroad aimed at improving lives for people and the the world in general.

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