What is Digital Marketing and Why you Need It?
“Digital marketing, also called online marketing, is the promotion of brands to connect with potential customers using the internet and other forms of digital communication. This includes not only email, social media, and web-based advertising, but also text and multimedia messages as a marketing channel.”Mailchimp
You can learn digital marketing, you can hire a digital marketing employee, you can hire a local contractor or consultant, or you can sign a contract with a national/regional digital marketing agency. All can be beneficial and offer profitable results, but how do you know which firm to choose and what should you be aware of when deciding who is to manage your digital marketing?
Why the explosion of so many national brands of Digital Marketing Agencies?
There are over 5,500 digital marketing agencies in the U.S. (in 2021), with close to 15% growth each year in the past five years.(IBIS World)
Why? SEO and SEM are an enigma to most business owners. They want results but don’t have time to learn it, understand it and/or do it themselves. It’s so much easier to pay someone to handle it, rather than take the time to make sense of the noise, to decipher claims from reality, sales pitch from true life experiences (and real reviews). It’s a process to understand what Google (and other search engines) recommend for effective and white hat SEO and SEM strategies, so you understand the standards your marketing firm should adhere to.
So some firms may take advantage of the many business owners who are too busy to understand what SEO is and see a huge money-making opportunity with long contracts, high monthly fees, high-commission rates. Their trained sales staff have been trained well on how to say the things business owners want to hear so they can get them to sign .. and sign fast. (Or as one of my clients experienced, they will sign the contract for you with your name if they have a verbal agreement to do so, which of course is not legally binding. So be careful that its actually your signature on that contract).
From what I hear from my clients over the years, they are rather aggressive in their sales meetings, pushing the pen in the customer’s hand and rushing them into a decision, making several sales visits until they break down any resistance. They know the motive is to increase sales and they know if they say the right words without getting bogged down with details, these claims are easily believed and easily sold. (The salespeople visiting you actually do not do the marketing work, they just sell contracts to businesses in their region, and usually know very little on the details themselves.) So it may be advantageous to actually speak to the marketing manager who will be handing your account before you sign to ensure you have a professional rapport with them and so they understand your objectives.
What Claims do digital marketing agencies make to get you to sign that contract?
“If you think education is expensive, try estimating the cost of ignorance.”Derek Bok
If you don’t understand the process of digital marketing, you won’t understand the logical and consistent steps you need to take to build page ranking on the SERPs and brand recognition within your target audience. You won’t know how much time it will take or how much of a budget you need or how many man-hours you would need to spend or pay someone else for. That kind of ignorance can be expensive because many agencies use vague terms like we can:
- “optimize your website” or
- “increase hits to your site” or
- “increase phone calls to your business”
- “increase brand awareness with directory listings”
- “get your site listed at top of Google”.
These claims are misleading because the ways they accomplish the results. How so? Let’s examine each claim or value-add and dissect the process of how each are achieved.
“Optimize your Website”
They may do this with potentially black hat strategies (trying to cheat Google algorithms that eventually get you penalized) like keyword stuffing, cookie-cutter content that no one wants to read and that is being recycled for other clients in your industry. Because they know a true content marketing strategy because content takes time, talent and effort. They create websites that are poorly designed, poorly laid out with junk content that no human would ever read. The websites are made primarily designed to increase hits, without thought to unique branding, accuracy of information and building trust and credibility with your customer. But be aware a hit, or website visit, does not mean genuine traffic from your target audience. If you have a site that a national Digital Marketing agency designed, look it over … and ask yourself:
- Is the content readable? Does it sound like a computer-generated list of keywords stuffed into cookie-cutter content that does not really reflect your brand or the voice of your company?
- Is the content engaging, interesting, unique and truly represent what you do you, why you do it and what makes your products/services advantageous when compared to competitors?
- Is the design truly customized to your brand? Did you have a say on the look and style and layout of the pages?
- Do you have content management of your own site?
- Do you own the website and can you keep the site after you stop paying their monthly fees?
“Increase hits to your site and increase phone calls”
This can be accomplished by a large budget of search engine ads, often misleading and misdirected to customers that are often not in your target area, budget, or true interest in your services. I’ve often heard from clients the calls are often junk inquiries, meaning from people who are not or never will be a customer. So while yes the numbers of hits and phone calls may increase that does not mean that equates to conversions, or profits. The number one complaint from my clients who used these services is there was no Return on Investment. And the investment is very high … averaging from $750 to $2000 per month in our region.
And some firms take control of your brand and future results by creating a separate domain name and phone number for your business. They say they do this to track leads, but that is not true! You can track leads effectively without having to register a new domain name or create a new phone number. I create monthly, bimonthly or quarterly analytics reports for clients all the time without have to take their online identity hostage. And read the fine print, they own those ‘trackable’ domain name and they own the created phone number. And just so you know, the trackable domains and phone numbers they’ve been promoting both go away when you stop paying the exorbitant monthly fee, along with the poorly designed website they made for your company. I know this because I’ve had several clients go through this when they had enough of paying thousands of dollars per year with little or no benefit. So we had to start over in promoting their genuine phone number of the business and their genuine registered domain name.
And what is really unfair is that they will sell that trackable phone number (that many of your customers may have saved) and the trackable domain names (that many of your customers may have bookmarked) to your competitor once you end the contract. That is why the domain names are so generic like “commercialhvacinlexingtom.com” or “fencecompanyinky.com” because they can be used and reused by similar industries in your service area. And they will take advantage of the domain history of that domain that you used with your competitors.
*BE AWARE – DO NOT LET ANYONE TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR BRAND IDENTITY. Do not let anyone own your domain name or create an additional phone number or domain name that you do not own. Make sure you own and have full control of your intellectual property. Make sure you own your website and you have your hosting registered in your company name. Make sure that after you complete paying for the design of the site, whether charged in one lump sum or monthly payments, that you own it and can take control of it without being locked into an endless monthly contract.
“Increase brand awareness with directory listings”
It is an effective strategy to list your website and contact information on industry and local directory listing websites like Yelp, Bing, Foursquare, MerchantCircle, YellowPages, Alignable, Superpages, Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, Yahoo business listing, etc. But this is usually a one and done service, without the need to manage it month to month, unless there are changes in your contact information or location. Yet many of these firms charge monthly for this service, rather than the just the time used to add the listing. My question to one Agency was: “once you listed the business, why do you still charge $100+ a month for this service?” Their answer was: “we may need to go in there and update a phone number or office hours if it changes.” Is it really worth paying that much per month on the small chance you may need to change it in the future, a change that can take a few minutes to make? And once you end the contract, who has access to these directory listings? Do you have login information for each of these or have they retained that for themselves alone?
*BE AWARE – NEVER LET ANYONE OWN OR TAKE FULL CONTROL of your GMB Listing or any other listing for that matter. I’ve had clients lose control of all of their business directory listings because they ended their relationship with the digital marketing agency, and they refused to give it back to the client.
“Get your site listed to the top of Google”
No company can legitimately make this claim because climbing the search results pages takes time, hard work and an effective content marketing strategy. Yet with paid ads, you can achieve somewhat top page results in the ad section fairly quickly, as long as you are outbidding your competitors for the right set of keywords. Paid search has immediate results but with no long term SEO benefit – when you stop paying the ad stops displaying. On the other hand, with organic SEO, the results take longer with more effort, but are long-lasting and have residual effects. Not to mention 83% of us don’t click on the ads but go to the organic listings beneath because those websites, which have been vetted for authority, expertise, trust and credibility by Google to be placed there. You cannot pay for shortcuts but have to earn it, and that means more to the consumer than the brand willing to pay for a top spot in the ad section.
Vet your Digital Marketing Agency to Verify ROI
“Research is formalized curiosity. It’s the poking and prying with a purpose.”– Zora Neal Hurston
Google is very specific in how to build page ranking, how to write content with E.A.T. (expertise, authority and trustworthiness), how to increase traffic and how to build trust and credibility with White Hat Strategies. In the few hundred algorithms per year, their goal is to weed out those trying to trick the system, and find shortcuts to achieve the goal of increasing traffic hits to their website.
From experience, I’ve come to new clients who have been paying $1000’s each month for years and are not satisfied with the results. Over the past few years, new leads come to me to decipher what they are paying for and get a better understanding of what they are paying for. I have offered my time to meet with their Digital Media representative, which are typically salespeople, to decipher their estimates and determine the best decision for their marketing strategy.
After a review of their contract and estimate, I will submit a report on my findings in terms you can understand as well as meet with you to explain my findings and answer your questions. I have also done this for companies who have not yet signed the contract but want to vet them before they commit to a 6-month, 12-month or 18-month contract, that they are legally bound to pay.
If you want to vet them on your owner, ask good questions and listen carefully to their answers.
Questions you Need to Ask Before you Sign the Contract
“The ability to ask questions is the greatest resource in learning the truth.”Carl Jung
- Why the Exorbitant Prices? Ask them for a detailed breakdown of exactly what you are paying for and if these are monthly payments are for a one-time setup (of website, directory listing, optimization of your website) or for actual monthly work. If it’s monthly work, ask them what exactly do they do per month to substantiate that cost?
- Why the LOOOOOONNNGGG Contracts? Is the monthly fee to pay off initial costs and when will that cost be satisfied? Can the contract be shortened to a 3-month or 6-month term so you can determine ROI before committing to a year or more?
- What happens when I discontinue my contract? Do I retain control of my website, domain name, trackable domain and phone number, and directory listings if I terminate the contract after the agreed upon term? Will my site be deleted and my trackable domain/phone be resold to a competitor if I do not renew my contract?
- What is the ROI of what you do and how can you prove it? Do you provide reports of visits to my site including demographics of those visitors to ensure they are truly in my target audience? Do you provide reports of phone calls with a list of phone numbers so I can determine if the phone call was a junk lead over a true lead and potential conversion? Can you show me reports of engagement that reduce my site’s bounce rate and increase click-through-rate? Can you show me landing and exit page traffic so I can determine visitors pattern of behavior and ensure the content you are producing is attracting/engaging new traffic?
- Who owns my intellectual property? Once the term of the contract is met and I want to discontinue my contract, who owns my website, my domain names, my email marketing lists, my social media channels, my directory listings, my hosting and my past analytics reports?
- What is your strategy for content marketing? Who produces the content, and how do you know what you should write about? How much involvement do I have about content that is written for my business? Is the content unique and tailored to my brand personality, my voice, my unique business model and my services and products? Will content produced for my brand be resold to others in my industry?
- How much time do you and your team spend with me on a monthly or bimonthly or quarterly basis? Do you call me to check in, to ask my opinion on content produced, to determine if I am satisfied with results, to go over analytics, to go over changes and updates needed on website, social media, directory listing and email marketing content? How much am I involved in my SEO / SEM, which should be an ongoing and evolving strategy?
Hire an Advisor to Decipher their Contracts
“Stay committed in your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”Tony Robbins
We offer consulting services if you need an advocate when discussing new contracts or renewing contracts with your digital marketing firm. We can help decipher the industry language they use or drill down on vague descriptions on their estimates to determine what work is actually included in their pricing and how that work can benefit you. So if you decide to proceed, you are better informed of your decision and understand what to expect going forward.
“Ignoring online marketing is like opening a business but not telling anyone.”KB Agency
And when it comes to internet marketing services, we offer a unique approach that is customized, fits your budget, with no long commitments (we offer our services on a month-to-month basis). Feel free to contact us to learn more or schedule an initial phone/zoom meeting to discuss your needs.