The Underbelly of Online Marketing

Yes, online marketing has a seedy underbelly. Much like the crass, dank and moral-less version of Gotham city portrayed in Batman Begins, the world of SEO is (for better or for worse) becoming swiftly overrun by greedy businessmen looking to pull one over on the next unassuming business-owner.

We’ve talked about the changes in SEO before; touching on the algorithmic changes to Google and the movement towards quality content as the driving force for any brand’s success plan. And until recently, I’ve been content to talk about what you should be doing as opposed to what you should be avoiding. But after a string of run-ins with the aforementioned SEO-mobsters, I thought it was high time we addressed how to avoid being scammed.

A Scam Artist’s Tell:

Online marketing has been a quick-evolving industry. From Google AdWords to Link-Building to SEO to Content Marketing, there are so many fast-paced changes and so much terminology that it’s easy for someone not familiar with the marketing industry at large to keep up. That’s precisely why business owners turn to outside experts to help share their brand’s story and generate new business online. The downside is online

marketing has become the equivalent of a Wild West frontier complete with all sorts of people eager to grab some land and dig for gold.

While this frontier is large enough to embrace all types of marketers, it’s important that you know the signs of when someone is out to take advantage of you or, worse, when they actually don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. So far in my experience, every ‘scam artist’ I’ve come across have key things in common. I’ve compiled a few quick tips & tricks to help you find out if someone is legit.

Call Their Bluff:

1. Ask Them What They Do: Most legitimate marketing companies will be able to provide you with a direct answer. The fastest way to know when someone is bluffing is when they dance around this question. If it becomes a long-winded, fast-paced pitch full of “industry” jargon–it’s time to walk away. A real marketer will speak with you, not at you.

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If you hear the same words repeated over and over, it’s probably because they don’t know what else to say or even how else to say it. And if a marketer can’t explain themselves with ease, how will they be able to convey your business’ story and practice to others?

2. Ask Them How They Do It: When it comes to SEO the only question you need to ask is HOW this company plans on executing your strategy. If they won’t reveal their tactics or if they can’t provide you with an easy, translatable answer (see #1), then they’re not doing it legitimately. Many SEO companies still use outdated tactics and even black-hat tactics, both of which can land your business a big red mark from Google. You know, the kind you can’t bounce back from. Your site could end up removed entirely from Google’s search results and no amount of money can bring you back from that.

3. Fad Terms are Just That: Stay away from anyone who says “Reputation Management.” I can’t emphasize this enough. Why does your reputation need to be managed? Unless you’ve pulled a Madoff-like stunt, your business’ reputation doesn’t need an entire company dedicated to its salvation. And if it does, go to a well-respected PR company–never a “Reputation Management” marketing company. The term alone makes my skin crawl. Most R.M. companies base their online marketing strategies around soliciting positive reviews from your client and pointing them towards online sources such as Yelp!. The thing is, that’s actually a big n0-no for those online sources and you’ll end up being worse off than you would be by not doing anything…ever. And to top that off, why would you want to pay a company to harass your clients? You’re better off just asking your clients in casual conversation if they’d be willing to provide a testimonial.

4. Do Your Homework: The internet exists for a reason. When you hire a team to handle your marketing, don’t you think they should look reputable themselves? Check their website–is it well-written? Is it decently designed? How do they showcase their services? Take a look at their portfolio and if they don’t have one online, ask for case studies and samples of their work. Check their reviews and see what they have going on via social media. Read their blog. Are they providing valuable information across these platforms or are they scattered and seemingly just posting for the sake of filling up space? While this may take an hour or two of your time, it’s worth it when it comes to your business.

5. “Consultants” Don’t Look Out For You: While consultants are a big help in many industries, when it comes to marketing–you really don’t need a consultant, you need a company who will go the extra mile and will be responsible for your brand’s success. A consultant-only marketing professional or company doesn’t have to answer for a bad idea or a failed strategy. In fact, they charge more money than most turn-key marketing companies and don’t lift a finger to do any of the work. Why bog yourself down with the hard labor? Instead, build a lasting, trust-based relationship with a company that has your best interests in mind because when you look good, they look good.

In the end, it’s really about education. Keep yourself well-informed and be aware that not everyone is an expert in this industry. Take your time and select the RIGHT fit for your brand.