To choose the right marketing agency to work with, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how the industry works. The internet is still young and constantly changing, and some older companies are a generation behind technology trends in favor of familiar methods of promotion, or slowly adapting to the potential of the internet. Because of this many businesses don’t know what is capable, what to expect and how to approach their online marketing strategy.
Online marketing is an extremely competitive game for firms looking to generate more business, much like any other market. Perfume Retailer A wants you to buy Smell X from their store and not from Perfume Retailer B.
Super Landscaping Inc wants the contract to upkeep Country Wide Nature Reserves over Mighty Landscaping Ltd. And We Do Online Marketing wants your company to pay them for SEO services instead of We Do Digital Promotion all the same.
The world of digital marketing and SEO is not only competitive on a simple business level, but in stranger ways than you’d expect to an outsider! Most fascinating about the online marketing world is its openness to sharing and community, which is rarely seen to such magnitude within other industries.
As anyone in the SEO trade will admit, they are constantly discovering, learning and developing within the profession as it evolves. The resources available online continues to grow in terms of helpfulness, as well as the shock that anyone would be willing to share such information rather than keep it to themselves.
There are two very important aspects of the online marketing industry which need looking into when assessing which agency your company wants to work with. As with any marketing campaign, the wrong message can be damaging to your brand and poor results can be financially crippling. Picking the right agency from the outset can be the difference between success and failure.
1. Who Has the Most Clout? Clout = Knowledge
As mentioned above, one thing most fascinating about the online marketing world is the openness to sharing and the community spirit.
Many businesses and industries keep the way they work and their methods under tight lockdown. Whilst I’m sure many online marketing agencies do have methods they are less public about, most are open to share tips with other people within the business to how they work, such as MOZ which is based on community content and help.
A big part of this is the nature of the industry; it’s based on online promotion. The more helpful you are, the more referrals you’ll get to your helpful articles, the more subscribers you’ll get, the more your profile/brand awareness grows, and in full circle the knock-on effect goes, the more business you will generate.
This is beneficial to any company in search of a digital marketing agency as a signal of quality and trust.
How do I Check This?
Enter the agency/employees into a search engine and have a snoop around. Are they offering helpful advice on their own site or other sites that are getting interactions or shares on other networks? Are people reading what they say, engaging and thanking them for their advice? Do they have a following on social networks and interaction there?
It is important to remember that some agencies are bigger than others and will have more time dedicated to their own profile. A company with their own team dedicated to promoting themselves may have found time to develop relationships, write content and share their knowledge on 50 of the best SEO information sources and communities online, whilst smaller agencies with team members juggling many client and in house projects at once may only contribute helpful comments or occasional articles.
What Should I Avoid?
Is the advice you find is on poor looking sites (IE. Splogs) and/or appears to be poorly written (IE. spun and rewritten for multiple sites). If you find a lot of this over quality resources it could point to black hat SEO tactics (see below).
2. No One Likes Spam. You Want People to Like Your Brand. Spam = Bad
One big aspect of the SEO discussion that continues to rage on within the community is White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO. White Hat vs. Black Hat is comparable to a moment in a Looney Toons cartoon where a character is having a moral conscience dilemma represented by an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
In short, White Hat is seen as the cream of the crop. It incorporates being helpful or interesting within your niche/targeted community, using an engaging strategy that encourages social sharing, supplying good content and giving search engines quality signs that you are a helpful site which users will benefit from being in search results. It is also regarded a safe method to achieve on-going results, although a longer route to achieve them.
Black Hat, on the other hand, is thought as underhanded and frowned upon. It uses mass spam methods, cloaking footprints and trickery of search engine algorithms to send fake quality signals. It does have some benefits as a quick method to rank in search results, although many methods burn and sites drop down the results once a foul play is discovered.
There is also a high risk of getting blacklisted from search engine results temporarily and even permanently, which could spell disaster for many companies.
Black Hat does have its uses, but implementing it comes down to what type of business you run. Trusted brands that are looking to build respect and trust should go down the white hat route, as sending spam and being blacklisted by the search engines would have quite the opposite effect.
Black hat is often seen effective for the sort of businesses you see in the popup windows on less trusted sites or in spam emails (I think without naming said seedy industries you could make a wild guess to what ones get up to this!).
Once one method or site gets burned by the search engines, the company set another site up with various IP addresses, hammer it with spam with multiple proxies, get burned again and repeat. Of course, most legitimate brands take the correct marketing strategy and go with white hat methods.
How Do I Check This?
White Hat marketing companies tend to be a lot more open and honest in their methods with clients. If they contacted you, was the outreach personal and did it seem they had researched YOUR website and niche?
Good SEO companies will usually give you realistic targets and timeframes too, and be slightly more open in their methods to achieve these results.
Don’t be afraid to ask for case studies and their approaches to previous projects either. They are competing for your custom after all. Go home and look for yourself to check their legitimacy of their claims. Is the promoted website of good quality? Search the mentioned target terms and see if it’s still ranking high for them now or if the site has dropped down the results pages. If so, you may be onto a winner.
What Should I Avoid?
A lot of Black Hat SEO companies use similar methods in their own marketing as they do for ranking their clients.
Did the agency use cold calling, spam email or spam comments to outreach to your site? Is their pitch vague and look like a universal template for outreach to any website or niche?
Are they promising results that seem too good to be true (Number one ranking on very competitive keywords within weeks or months)? Are they promising lots of links but no interaction or engagement? Are they vague or silent about their methods?
And can they give you case studies of their previous work that isn’t just verbal claim, and again do some searches and check they still rank high for said keywords in the search engine result pages.
If any of these signs ring alarm bells you might be better going elsewhere!