Shopping for an Internet Marketer? Buyer Beware!

Taming the Wild West

The Search Marketing industry is trying hard to outgrow its Wild West roots. In fact, Google is demanding it by making a concentrated effort to rid its index of low quality content. Google’s algorithms continually evolve to demote and eliminate websites that employ such tactics as: keyword stuffing, manipulated links, doorway pages, hidden text, micro site networks, and exact-match-domain names. These spammy, old-school tactics used to work like magic, but are now liabilities.

In the past, business owners / nonprofits / universities, etc. could put up a website and that, in and of itself, was the achievement. Today, websites require constant updating in keeping with best practices for Usability, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), graphic design, and security protocols. It is a lot to ask of business owners, to display expertise in their field (e.g. auto repair) as well as internet marketing. More and more, internet marketing is requiring not only general expertise, but specialists who focus on one aspect. Trained professionals go to conferences to keep current on skills, trends, and best practices, as well as provide thought leadership through writing, speaking, and presenting. Staying current is an important part of the job description. Unsuspecting business owners need to be wary of internet marketers who have not kept up with best practices for attaining and retaining good rankings in Google search.

Who You Don’t Want to Hire:

Unfortunately, there are quite a few unproven, inexperienced people and agencies calling themselves internet marketers, SEOs and link builders.

  • Some are scammers and spammers who have nothing more behind them than a website, a free email address, and some low-cost helpers who may or may not know what they are doing.
  • Others have good intentions, but do not have the knowledge or expertise to deliver on what they promise.  Sadly, this category includes some traditional marketing or advertising agencies, and newspaper or yellow pages-type outfits. Most of the time, their backgrounds are in paid advertising, rather than in Search, and they cannot seem to get out of that mindset.
  • Some are using other people’s websites to experiment on and try to learn the business. 
  • Sometimes people will even offer to create a website and/or market it for free, but free isn’t always good.

While I have sympathy for newbies trying to break into the market, I don’t want to trust my online business to them any more than I would want to be the first patient an intern does surgery on. Too many people are scrambling onto the internet marketing bandwagon, without first getting appropriate training or earning their chops. None of them will really do you, the business owner, much good in the long run. 

The skill sets needed for successful internet marketing are in huge demand now. Most of us didn’t experience any slow-down during the recession. Now that the economy is picking up, seasoned marketers are raising their prices out of the comfort level of many small, local businesses, because we cannot keep up with the demand for our services. This leaves an opening for new players and scammers. Small business owners are left wondering whom to turn to.

How to Find Quality Internet Marketers

It is not usual to interact with agencies or individuals that are experts at selling. How do you know if they are also good at delivering results? Here are some things to consider when you plan on hiring an individual or company to help you to promote your business online:

Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations. Find out who is delivering new customers to them via the internet, and ask for details. This is the best way to begin your search for someone to hire.

Search online for the name of the person or company, and examine what you find. Have they written articles on their area(s) of expertise? Do they get paid to train other people in what they do? Have they done any public speaking on their topic? Have they earned the respect of their peers, through awards or collegial collaboration? Do they have a detailed profile on Linkedin that shows their own training and experience? If the answer to any or all of these is yes, then they are more likely to be legitimate internet marketers than not. However, the lack of any of these may not be a solid indicator of skills and results – it might mean that they are not concerned with marketing themselves.

Look at reviews and testimonials. Search for reviews of “name here” and complaints “name here.” Take what you read with a grain of salt, but it will give you an overall impression of the company. Be wary of the testimonials published on the company’s website.  After all, no one is going to place bad comments about themselves on their own website. If the testimonials you find are anonymous or only use a first name, they are not as believable as those that display the person’s full name and/or the name of the business.

Ask for references and then communicate with them. I would be very wary of anyone unwilling or unable or to provide references. Some companies insist on non-disclosure, but there must be one or two clients that they’ve worked for who would take a few minutes to speak with you.  If someone has done a bang-up job for them, they should be happy to tell you about it. Don’t demand too much of their time, but do ask what the agency did for them and if they were happy with the results. If they want to tell you more, then listen carefully. What you hear may help you determine if they would be a good fit for you or not.
 
Experienced, proven internet marketers do not make cold calls or send out unsolicited emails fishing for new business. They get plenty of business without using these types of sales tactics. My best advice is to completely ignore any sales calls or emails you receive that you have not specifically requested. Some of these companies are so persistent that you may even need to block their phone numbers and email addresses.

Some of these cold-calling outfits mislead you into believing they are calling from Google or that they have some special arrangement with Google. Most of the time, that’s completely untrue. Please see this article if you want to know Is That Really Google Calling?

Ask them about their guarantees. This is a trick question! No one who really knows Search Marketing will guarantee anything in regards to rankings. There are just too many variables and too many continual and unpredictable changes in Google to make any guarantees. If you hear guarantees about ranking on the first page of Google, run!  Don’t walk, run away!  Those who make such promises are either selling you paid placement via advertising, or their flimsy guarantee will only cover a handful of obscure keyword terms that will not bring you many visitors even if you do rank for them.

Ask them what they plan to do for you and why.  Many marketers will fit you into a pre-determined package of services that depends on your budget and time frame for success. Packages make it easier for the agency, allowing them to provide these services at a lower cost than those who are willing to customize a marketing plan just for you.  Customizing plans requires a thorough examination or audit of your current internet presence, so that the best opportunities can be discovered for your particular business.  You can expect to be charged for this research and planning. Only you can decide what is best for you, your budget and your business, but don’t buy a low cost package and then expect to get more than you are paying for.

Ask them which aspects of internet marketing they specialize in. This is another trick question! Back in the day, all internet marketers were generalists who were able to do just about anything needed. Now, internet marketing has become so complex that it is extremely difficult for any one person to be an expert in every aspect, especially if they haven’t been at it for very long. Subcategories of internet marketing include:  SEO, Local SEO, Social Media Marketing, Conversion Optimization, Email Marketing, PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising, Mobile Marketing, Content Marketing, Analytics, and so on. If someone tells you they specialize in just one or two phases, then that’s great, if that is the area that you need. If you need a well-rounded approach to your online marketing, then look for an agency that has yeoman-like skills in most of the above areas for the best results.  I’d liken this to choosing a family physician over a specialist for your primary medical care. The family physician can take care of most of your needs, and can refer you to a specialist when needed.

If you’re shopping for an internet marketer or agency to help you grow your business online, don’t be dazzled by fast-talking sales people.  Instead, do your homework and find someone you feel confident and comfortable working with.