Search Engine Marketing Mistakes: Common Decision Errors Business Owners Make

Most business owners who attend Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) seminars have similar questions related to promoting their business online. Related to their other online content, Social Media Marketing (SMM) also brings up many questions about what to expect, how it works, how much is needed, and so on. Complicating the topic, there is so much conflicting information “out there” in the public-at-large that business decision makers are often either intimidated, misguided, or both on the topics. Add common gimmicks, fraud, and hidden-agendas to the mix, and the stage is set for people to get duped in their attempts to modernize and promote their business on the web.

Many business owners over-expend with regards to market by signing into binding contracts with commissioned sales people who are more interested in money than relationships or performance. The telemarketing sales person can convincingly “talk the talk” from a scripted pitch standpoint, but they commonly portray a skewed and misrepresented perspective. Most guilty of this type of solicitations are the large, big-name phone book and phone service related companies which opted to get into the online marketing arena as a necessity in the wake of diminishing paper phone directory sales. Though these companies tend to be poor at delivering desired results and decent customer service, business owners tend to buy into the sales pitches because of legacy brand name recognition.

It’s not until later, after spending thousands (with little or nothing to show for it) that the business owner realizes that their money would have been better spent with a skilled marketing company that customizes campaigns rather than following one-size-fits-all, “cookie cutter” recipes. The big phone companies survive via this ongoing cycle of “disposable customers” simply by the law of gross tonnage: They own the phone book databases so they have an endless supply of prospects to approach, and they already have the staff of telemarketers on payroll to exploit the unsuspecting business owners. In other words, when the market changed from paper to paperless, the big phone companies didn’t have to retool as much as they had to retarget. Performance, however, still remains sub-par.

Time and money lost equates to business lost, so many of these business owners try to learn from their mistakes by following the old adage, “If you want it done right, do it yourself”. Unfortunately with SEO, SEM, and SMM, this is yet another compounding mistake with additional negative implications.

Business owners who try to take on SEO, SEM, and SMM themselves, attempting to save money, are later dismayed to realize that their further demise is likely a result of their own efforts. Too often, these folks go through the motions of blogging, article publication, press releases, etc., but they aren’t up-to-date on Google’s ever-changing “best practices” or how to perform effective market research on keywords and target audiences, so their efforts are almost entirely wasted by spinning their wheels doing “busy work”, or worse, even hindering/damaging their search engine placement. More time lost means more business lost. Most of these same folks attempt to use social media as a sales medium rather than a relationship builder, and consequently their Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, etc. efforts backfire on them.

Proper search engine marketing and social media marketing campaigns take consistent, ongoing time and effort, often dozens of hours per month. No one has that kind of time to waste, but it happens all the time. And the result of wasting the time by writing ineffective, non-optimized or improperly optimized content for the Web is that they yield to their competition while simultaneously creating a steep hill to recovery from the self-inflicted damage.

Then there is the “reputation management” crowd… smaller, but very distinct. These are business owners who really “torqued off” one or more customers, or who have a “problem customer” or two (we all know the customer who is unreasonable and demanding), and consequently have a highly visible-but very negative-internet presence from customer reviews and bad press. These folks have a really tough row to hoe, because they not only have to elevate their “good” face to the public, but they simultaneously have to bury the skeletons in their closet. (i.e., it doesn’t help XYZ Company to have their website found on Google’s page one for competitive keywords adjacent to an Angie’s List review that says “Avoid XYZ Company at all costs”. It becomes a multi-front war). Again, this scenario creates a sense of desperation for business owners who become low-hanging fruit to be exploited by unscrupulous companies and freelancers who take advantage of the situation by promising great results in unrealistically short-term (immediate) time periods at ridiculously low prices.

Keep in mind, the strategy and successful financial model of many profitable marketing companies is to undercut the competition with prices so low that a prospective customer’s judgment is clouded by the wishful thinking of massive cost savings, and the binding 12-month contract guarantees income to the marketing company by leveraging the threat of damage to the customer’s credit rating should the customer default. In this type of business model, volume of customers makes for high profits. Performance and producing a positive return on investment (ROI) for the customer becomes unimportant. Customers become “disposable” and have little to no recourse but to wait out the contract term and then try again with a different provider.

It’s ugly out there, folks. Your best defense is to develop a dialogue, rapport, trust, and confidence before signing a contract. Don’t make a decision based on the pitch or the price. Do your homework and research the company first. Search for complaints and customer reviews online. Check out portfolios. Spend the time up front before you commit the dollars (and lose the time) after-the-fact.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of “plain English” resources to reliably and impartially spell out what’s real, what’s myth, what’s involved, what it should cost, etc. On the flip side, there is an abundance of agenda-based sources with convincing and alluring marketing materials that persuasively target your money. Consequently, there are five major inhibitors to the business owner becoming an informed website marketing decision maker:

  • SEO, SEM, and SMM companies tend to be guarded in sharing the information because that’s what they get paid to do. On one hand they don’t want to turn business away by showing their customers how to fend for themselves, while on the other hand, reputable companies want to protect their customers from self-destruction. Showing a business owner how to do SEO/SEM/SMM themselves out of context from the “big picture” of their specific marketing scenario is like showing a four year old how a loaded gun works and then handing it to them and saying, “Be careful, it’s dangerous”… “Um, okay, Dad. {Bang}.”
  • Even if a marketing company shares the SEO/SEM/SMM information outright with a customer, the volume, depth, and frequency that the information changes makes it impossible for the business owner to do it themselves (effectively) without practical experience. (i.e., a passenger on an airliner can recognize a smooth landing, but it doesn’t mean they can land the plane. Even if the pilot demonstrates it once to the passenger, if the passenger tries it alone without direct supervision, someone’s going to get hurt.)
  • The nature of the information is technical, and many (most) business owners aren’t. Business owners are very good at running their business and providing products & services within the markets they work within, but just as they hire accountants to do their taxes and lawyers to handle legal affairs, they should work with Internet Marketing Specialists who are up-to-speed on the latest rules, best practices, techniques, etc.
  • There’s more than one way to accomplish the task of effective marketing, but creating an effective strategy and campaign requires a consistent approach. With all of the conflicting information available from credible, experienced providers, business owners become frustrated and befuddled, often feeling like they’re being lied to. It’s unwise and unproductive for a do-it-yourselfer to attempt to mix & match everything they hear in attempts to end up with an effective approach that works. To illustrate, there can be two ways to get from your house to the food store. The first way involves a helpful advisor who says, “Turn left out of your driveway, go straight for two blocks, turn right, then turn left at the next intersection and you’re there.” The second advisor says, “Go straight out of your driveway for three blocks, then turn left, go straight for a block, then make another left and you’re there.” Though both ways get you from point A to point B effectively (i.e., neither advisor lied), if you try navigating on your own and you decide to use only the “left turn” instructions from each of the advisors, you will never reach your destination. In fact, you might get very, very lost. Likewise, it isn’t such a good approach for a decision maker to apply solely the common things they hear from different experts to perform their own SEO/SEM. Too often, do-it-yourself customers try to “play it safe” by only performing the steps that they have heard from multiple sources, operating under the misconceptions that the “common ground” must be right and if they ignore the individual differences they’ll be safe. Though the individual strategies used by different providers might work great for each respective provider, and there may be some similar factors between the various sets of instructions, selectively choosing only the overlaps between them probably won’t produce desired results. Done properly and effectively, SEO, SEM, and SMM involve big picture strategies that must be examined in context.
  • Most business owners don’t have the time or the desire to do what it actually takes to market via the web on a consistent, ongoing basis. They’re too busy managing their business and they don’t want to become website marketing specialists in the spare time that they don’t have. Even modest campaigns take several hours each week to implement properly. Large campaigns often require teams of people working in collaboration simultaneously each week (dozens of hours) to effectively penetrate a market for a positive ROI.

It’s good advice to stay away from subscription-based companies that offer “bargain basement” pricing but can financially hold customers hostage for a year, after which any listings and content may be deleted upon termination of the service contract. Beware of companies that claim copyright to the content you provide to them. Ensure that your contract does not require you to sign over your content or prevent you from using content that they produce for you as a work-for-hire. Many customer complaints about website design and marketing companies stem from businesses who discover all-too-late that they paid for a website but must abandon it (or face copyright infringement) if services are discontinued.

Lastly but important, if a marketing company quotes a price to optimize your website and marketing before they evaluate your content and analyze your specific market, walk away. There is a huge difference in work between optimizing a seven page website and a 30-page website, or optimizing a brochure-style site versus an e-commerce site with 2,000 items in a shopping cart catalog. How then can a credible marketing company legitimately quote a flat rate price to optimize a website for search engines without taking your unique situation into consideration. Promoting the site to your target market is equally unique, so avoid anyone who offers a price without considering your unique goals, market conditions, etc. Every business and every market locality is different, and your business needs an individual consultation to assess what’s best for you. If you find yourself picking services based on a pre-defined pricing menu, you likely won’t be happy with what you are served.

Bottom line, it’s essential that business owners and decision makers take the time to do their due diligence researching a company in order to make an informed decision. Some may decide to try it themselves. Some may decide to hire a firm. Some may decide to reject the whole notion of Internet marketing. But forewarned is forearmed, and it’s essential to be comfortable in making an informed decision.