Initially many clients contact us because they have a problem — oftentimes they are dissatisfied with the performance of their digital marketing campaigns and are looking for a second option, wondering if they are squandering their marketing budgets on ineffective strategies.
Digital marketing is a crucial consideration for any business with an online presence. Brand recognition, targeted traffic and qualified leads are all necessary for success, and in some cases, can make or break your business.
Digital marketing is a broad term that refers to various strategies and techniques deployed to reach customers via digital technologies. It includes a variety services and marketing tactics that use the Internet as its main promotional medium.
Digital marketing is often times used synonymously with the term “Internet Marketing”, but in actuality the processes differ in the fact that digital marketing is considered to be more targeted, measurable and interactive.
Internet marketing encompasses digital marketing services such as organic search engine optimization, local SEO, inbound marketing, social media, lead generation, content marketing and email marketing.
Effective online marketing is the result of strategic integration of multiple on-page and off-page strategies to enhance visibility, drive targeted traffic, engage website visitors and increase revenue.
One of the downsides of digital marketing is the fact that there are plenty of unscrupulous vendors that can deplete your budget with useless tactics, unneeded expenses and poorly executed strategies.
There are several sectors of digital marketing that are ripe for exploitation from third-party vendors. We are going to explore some of the “shadier” areas of the digital marketing industry and show how they can exhaust your budget if you’re not careful. We’ll also explore some of the more viable and cost-effective alternatives.
Avoiding Dangerous Digital Marketing Services
There’s a torrent of digital marketing products, services and resources available for businesses from a never-ending list of agencies, experts and gurus. There are also many pitfalls you must avoid and warnings you should heed. The online success or failure of your business can be determined by the company you keep, the vendors you engage and the strategies you use.
Risk Does Not Equal Danger
Before we continue, it’s important to understand that risk in marketing is not necessarily a bad thing. Just like any decision you make for your business, digital marketing comes with some amount of inherent risk. In digital marketing, the risk comes from the level of uncertainty regarding the return on investment generated from the particular strategies you utilize.
If you are a risk-averse business owner or low on capital, you’ll probably want to avoid these risky scenarios. On the other hand, if you’re business is well capitalized and comfortable with a certain level of risk, you have an opportunity to benefit from these types of strategies and take advantage of the long-term opportunities available.
Questionable Expenses in Digital Marketing
Taking risk out of the equation, we know that there are many digital marketing products and services currently available that will not be beneficial to your business and, oftentimes, can do more harm than good. This includes vendors trying to take advantage of you with outdated strategies, scams and cons, as well as legitimate products or services sold by well-meaning but inexperienced providers.
Things You Should Be Suspicious of – Buyer Beware
Below are some of the more common services promoted under the umbrella of “digital marketing” that requires some additional vigilance on your part. Before hiring a provider for any of these services, be sure to perform your due diligence and make sure you are working with a reliable partner that is dedicated to your firm’s success.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
We have been in the web development and search engine optimization field since the mid-1990s. Over the years the industry has changed dramatically. One thing that has really changed is the fact that more and more inexperienced individuals have entered the marketplace. The barriers to entry are low, little capital is required and they see an opportunity to make some quick money from unsuspecting business owners and entrepreneurs. Some of these individuals may evolve into decent service providers over time; however a vast majority of them are what we call “snake oil” salesmen. They talk a good game, but they are “all sizzle and no steak”.
Because of these indiscriminate providers, search engine optimization (SEO) is perceived by some business owners as mysterious at best and unscrupulous at worst. This is because the results of SEO are relatively simple to explain, but the methods are rather complicated, tactical and strategic in terms of execution. There is a right way to perform SEO and a wrong way. The wrong way involves the use of tactics that go against industry standards and oftentimes violate the terms of service of the search engines. And while these “black hat” techniques may provide short term rankings, they generally result in long-term problems for the business owners.
On the surface SEO involves a few basic elements: keyword research, content development, on-page optimization techniques and off-page strategies. The first three categories are fairly well-established and not subject to much abuse by SEO vendors. In general the last category when the problems arise – see “Shady link building services” is the list below.
Any discussion of SEO wouldn’t be complete without a few warnings. To help you guard against indiscriminate SEO agencies with unethical business practices, read and heed – be suspicious of the following promises:
- Guarantees. SEO firms generally can’t provide guarantees due to the constantly changing nature of the industry and search engine algorithms. If someone guarantees you page one ranking, put your hand on your wallet, turn around and run.
- Instant results. True, some SEO tactics can get instant results by “gaming the system”. But be warned that these “blackhat” tactics can hurt you in the long run. Instant results often involve SEO practices that are against webmaster guidelines put out by search engines. Invariably, Google seeks out these techniques and penalizes them, resulting in lost rankings that can take months or even years to recover from.
- #1 spot on Google. If an agency promises you the number one spot on Google, be very suspicious. While it may sound great, and hopefully you’ll be able to achieve page one ranking in due time with proper, ethical SEO, it’s not something that a firm can promise you. Again, if they promise you the #1 Spot on Google, read the “Guarantees” section above over and over again until you really understand the part about putting your hand on your wallet, turning around and running away. The cost of unethical SEO can be immediate, staggering and long term.
- Unbelievable deals. When it comes to SEO, you aren’t shopping for the lowest price; you’re seeking the best level of service within a budget. Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.” When it comes to ethical SEO, you get what you pay for and it’s not until you get burned a couple times that you realize the damage that can be done by implementing the wrong strategies.
- Shady link building services. Link building is one of the most crucial components of off-page SEO. You can’t have a consistently highly-ranked site without quality inbound links. But there’s a “dark side” of link building that many SEO agencies won’t tell you about, especially the ones that use these tactics. Beware: Software generated links or automated back-linking services can often do more harm than good. Before you enter into an arrangement with an SEO agency for link building services, ensure that their link building services are ethical, “white hat” services.
Website Development is a critical first step to maximizing online success, but where do you begin?
With so many options to consider, how do you know that you’re making the right choice that is going to establish the best online presence for your organization?
Online success starts with a great website and you should strive to find balance between creative design, site functionality, user experience and search engine optimization.
As part of the decision making process you will have to consider the budget that you can commit to develop a proper website for your organization. Web development pricing can vary greatly. More expensive does not always mean better, just as the least expensive bid is rarely the best option. We can also tell you that bigger is not always better and many “mega-providers” and “website factories” will try and convince you that their DIY or template-based solution is the best. Do your research and make your decision based on value, not price.
Once you’ve done your research you’ll undoubtedly notice that there’s no shortage of so-called “web designers” in the marketplace. And in most cases, the level of services offered varies greatly from company to company.
The provider you choose can have a substantial effect on how you are perceived online – choose wisely.
There are many different categories of website providers, including DIY website builders, freelancers, web designers and full service digital marketing agencies.
Depending on the long-term goals of your business, the decision should be fairly straight forward. You options include do-it-yourself website builders (Wix, GoDaddy, etc.), freelancer (Upwork, Fiverr, etc.), web designers and full-service digital marketing agencies.
DIY platforms are for small businesses with small budgets and low expectations. You will get what you pay for and you should be prepared to manage all of your own updated and edits.
If you’re a serious business owner, you will soon realize that you need to invest in a professional looking website. Once you decide to bite the bullet, you may run into some other potential issues to consider. Many low-priced or inexperienced designers will advertise their service on outsourcing boards. These are generally overseas service providers that submit low-ball bids in an effort to get the job. It may seem like they are giving you a great deal, but you may end up with a website that is not much better than what a DIY platform offers. This type of provider is called a Freelancer. Now, there are plenty of decent freelancers, and if you have the knowledge and experience to manage the project and keep them focused and on track, you may get a satisfactory result. So don’t immediately dismiss the idea. Just make sure they provide you references and that you have a strategy in place for updating and maintaining your website. When you need to add a new page or feature, update the contact form or change the graphics, will they still be around and will they have resources to make the changes in a timely manner?
The next category of provider is the Website Designer or Agency. You will want to look for a company that specializes in creating websites for businesses. Web design companies can be great at designing beautiful looking websites and integrating the latest technological features and functionalities. These companies are often perfect for business owners who want an attractive looking website, but have no intentions of marketing their business online.
The biggest thing to consider when you hire a company that only creates websites is the fact that many web design firms are founded or managed by graphic designers or developers and in 90% of the cases, designers are not developers, developers are not designers and neither of them have very much business or marketing experience. You need to ask them how the new website will help market your business online. Ask your web design company how and why each component is necessary. Don’t let them sell you features or add-ons that don’t help, or may even hurt, visitor conversion.
Simplicity and ease-of-use are two important things to consider. If your web designer is not business minded, you may need to take the lead with this part of the project. Or you may need to have an in-house marketing professional or marketing agency work with the web designer.
Most full service digital marketing agencies also develop websites for their clients. They generally have team members that specialize in web design and development. The benefit of hiring a marketing agency to build your website is the other skills and resources they bring to the table.
A digital marketing agency will consider how your SEO, content marketing or paid advertising strategies will integrate and enhance the performance of your new website. They will develop your website from a marketing perspective, which is very different than a purely esthetic viewpoint. They will be focused on creating a great website that will help brand your business while engaging visitors and enhancing new client lead generation. You should be able to ask them any questions you have about how and why they are adding certain features and functionality and how the website is being optimized for conversion. If they are unable to provide you with satisfactory answers, the premium you are paying for their services may not be worth it.
New Website + No Traffic = Waste of Time
Initially, many clients contact us to either design a new website or help market their company online. Somehow, they feel that the two are mutually exclusive from one another. For example, they will consider building a new website, but, at the same time, they’re not at all thinking about how that new website will generate traffic and leads. What seems to consistently be misunderstood is the fact that you really can’t separate Web Design from Web Marketing and expect to be successful online. Each needs to be built with the other in mind and work in sync to achieve your marketing goals. It doesn’t do much good to generate a bunch of traffic to a website if the messaging fails to convert the prospects into buyers, subscribers or leads.
By first creating an impressive online image and then generating traffic and leads through proven marketing strategies, you will not only increase revenues, but also build substantial long term brand loyalty.
Paid Online Ads – Pay-per-Click
We are going to tread lightly as we discuss the pros and cons of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Many business owners engage in PPC advertising because they have been talked into it by a slick salesperson that touted the “high visibility” and “massive benefits” of Google or Facebook Ads.
It’s not that PPC advertising doesn’t have its place, it certainly does, however you need to be extremely careful about the provider you choose, the budget you set and the strategies employed. If not, that loud sucking sound you hear will be your money going down the toilet at Google.
The first question to ask yourself with respect to PPC is – why are you doing it? The most common response from business owners is to increase visibility and generate website traffic. That’s what the salesperson told you when they sold you the service.
Let’s dive a little deeper into data and see if A; PPC is a good fit for your business or B; it’s just not worth the expense.
Ok, let’s begin with some of the pros of PPC if you don’t mind. I prefer giving you the good news first.
Pros of PPC
- Get seen immediately
- Real Time Ad Tracking
- Geographic Targeting
- Quick Results
- Full Budget Control
Cons of PPC
- Can be very expensive depending on keywords, competition and industry
- Keyword Bidding Wars
- Charged Per Click
- People Tend to Ignore Ads – up to 85% of people claim to ignore ads
- Choosing the wrong PPC company
- Every Single Visitor Costs $$
- Visibility/Impressions Do Not Equal Conversion
- Clicks Do Not Equal Conversion
- No Long Term Value – when you stop paying, your traffic stops too
These are just a few of the pros and cons of PPC advertising. There are also many strategical and tactical mistakes that are common among PPC providers also. Not to mention the management fees that your PPC provider is charging you each and every month.
What if we told you that you could potentially triple (3X) your lead generation by changing once small aspect of your paid advertising campaign? And 90% of PPC providers do not employ this strategy. Just imagine how much money you are leaving on the table.
We have worked with many business owners to help optimize the conversion of their online marketing campaigns. Whether its visitors from organic search, paid ads or social media – traffic is just traffic if you can’t convert it to a buyer, subscriber or lead. Conversion optimization is important – just do it.
Stop Squandering Your Online Marketing Budget
This is by no means a comprehensive resource of the dangers and pitfalls of online marketing. It is a brief overview of what to be aware of and how to proceed with caution when choosing a digital marketing provider.
However you decide to spend your marketing budget, make sure that you look at it as an investment in the success of your business and not purely an expense. Consider what the potential return could be on a successful campaign or strategy. And while not every campaign will be successful, business owners must also realize that doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing, can come at great expense.
Spending big money does not always bring big results. Always be mindful of where your money is going and do your best to track your ROI.
Be patient, think of SEO and digital marketing as a long-term investment. Aggressive campaigns and major pushes may have their place, but the most enduring results come from a long-term relationship. A recent Search Engine World article stated, “The real value of SEO efforts are, generally, not realized in the first several months of the effort.” It’s true, SEO is a process and agencies don’t wave a magic wand and get instant results. Instead, they perform extensive, detailed, tactical operations that produce results months down the road and these strategies are used long-term to sustain achieved rankings.
The most important things to look for in a digital marketing provider are honesty, transparency, knowledge and performance. If you have a trusted partner that provides you with the results you need and is focused on the success of your organization, you are well on your way to achieving your online marketing goals.