Digital Marketing: How Our Profession Earns Your Distrust

By in Online Marketing,

Politics, used cars, digital marketing. Hard to get lower on the rung.

Every year, the Gallup Poll measures how people perceive “the honesty and ethical standards” of professionals in different industries. Nurses typically lead the pack, doctors and pharmacists always rank highly, police officers and the clergy are a tier of their own, followed by bankers, lawyers and business executives. On the 100-point scale, “car salespeople,” who score an aggregate 8, are kept out of the cellar only by “members of Congress,” who score 7.

Advertising practitioners score 10.

“I am 10 percent trustworthy.” How’d you like to take that home with you every day? And the trend is even worse. In the 2014 survey, 42 percent of respondents rated trust in advertising practitioners as “low” or “very low.” That was up from 38 percent in 2013, 36 percent in 2012 and 34 percent in 2011.

Does digital marketing bear the brunt of that trend? Yes it does, because that’s where the money is flowing. Do we earn this distrust? Yes, we do. As an industry, we earn every bit of it. And we will continue to do so as long as we let ourselves be defined by those who place immediate transactional gain in greater importance than acting as a “professional.”

The Exception Proves the Rule

A big reason I like working for a full-service marketing agency is we don’t have to agree with your perceived need in order to be successful together. We can evaluate your situation and prescribe an approach fitting an appropriate level of investment with corresponding upside.

One of the first referrals I brought to Webolutions when I joined had been a consulting client of mine. Her principal reason for having us build her website is she wanted me to market it. We had an established relationship, we worked well together, she wanted me to lead the charge on helping her grow her business through scoring on page one of Google for keyword searches—a practice called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Learn more about our trustworthy SEO services.

In this particular case, our research clearly indicated two things: 1. We could get her scoring on Google page one for relevant terms, quickly, and without breaking the bank. 2. We could do this because there was little volume for those search terms. For this nuanced offering, given the narrow available market and her company’s already-established position within it, gaining top position rendered little to no upside for her.

Understand: This is an exception. The Internet is a component of almost every single purchase decision. With rare exception, best practice for lead generation and revenue growth is to score well for informational searches and transactional searches. A good SEO strategy will have your blogs showing up for searchers broadly contemplating how to approach a perceived need and your website scoring again when they decide they are going to make a purchase to remedy that need. Every business that has ever been or will be a Webolutions client will have its SEO potential evaluated, its opportunities documented, and its potential communicated. So yes, we pitch SEO. Every day.

But we don’t always pitch SEO. For this particular client, we suggested a number of other tactics to help reach her goals. It happens.

If SEO was all we had to sell, it might be a different story. For Internet marketing businesses that only offer SEO, when you ask, “Do I need SEO?” you might as well ask, “Does your lifestyle require the purchase of groceries?”

Thus why some digital marketing agencies camouflage or hold as priority their metrics formulations, equate clicks to leads (This life offers us but three inescapable truths: Death, taxes, and a click does not equal a lead) or just flatly misinform in order to pressure or frighten the prospect into a sale.

How to Sully the Reputation of an Entire Industry

I recently called an online directory researching advertising opportunities for a client. (In this case, it was a family law firm. They help people get divorced. Talk about an inherently zero-sum game, right? According to Gallup, they’re twice as trustworthy as I am.) This directory designs and hosts websites. The sales agent for the directory advised me that my website was not responsive and, therefore, subject to a Google penalty come April 21, so I better invest in a new site immediately. I replied that while the site was not responsive, it passed the Google mobile friendly test because it had a mobile version, and that while Google was preparing to adjust ranks, it was not a “penalty.” She pushed back, stating “Google requires a single site,” which isn’t true…yet…and continued in this vein until I clarified I was not a lawyer and in fact managed an SEO department at a marketing agency. Other than some backtracking, she had little left to say. So this directory’s sales reps are either poorly informed or creating urgency based on false pretense.

One of my first consulting clients was a small Denver audiovisual company who did incredible lighting designs for stage shows but had little experience in marketing, especially Internet marketing. While spending some time in the office, I noticed that, frequently, when the phone rang, the office manager/bookkeeper/receptionist/other answered and would say, “No, sorry, we don’t install commercial lighting.” Upon examining the online advertising program being run by a third-party vendor, I found they were listed and advertised under a commercial lighting category, and matched up the call records to ensure this was the source of the calls. I contacted the vendor and asked for my client to be removed from that category. The vendor initially refused, saying, “That’s where they get all their leads.” “Those aren’t leads,” I replied. “They are irrelevant interruptions to workflow, and our mutual client is paying for that privilege.” Subsequent comments confirmed the vendor knew the audiovisual company was mis-categorized but saw a volume opportunity from a busy, uneducated client and figured, because his compensation was based on lead count and every call, no matter how irrelevant, was counted as a lead, he’d ride it as long as he could.

A few years ago, a business connection of mine paid a handsome sum of money to an SEO outfit here in Colorado to get him to the top of Google page one for the keyword Denver copier. They did. Problem: Zero leads. Reason: He did not sell copiers. (Also: Bad website.) When this problem was presented to the SEO guy? “Hey, I said I’d get you there.” End of conversation. Thanks for the money.

Defining “Profession”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in a 1912 Brown University address, provided a definition of what it means to be a “professional” in business.

First. A profession is an occupation for which the necessary preliminary training is intellectual in character, involving knowledge and to some extent learning, as distinguished from mere skill.
Second. It is an occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one’s self.
Third. It is an occupation in which the amount of financial return is not the accepted measure of success.

Professionals would advise an entrepreneur who did not sell copiers that his investment would not be recovered for an irrelevant search; list a small business under categories only driving calls from potential clients; and represent expected Google algorithm changes transparently. Professionals will be willing to sacrifice a few bucks now to earn your confidence forever.

How to Use this Information

When choosing a digital marketing partner, do they have stories like this–where they’ve turned away business for the right reasons, or redirected clients or prospects to tactics holding better potential for positive return? Or do they just push what they need to sell?

Urgency is a rare occurrence in our profession, so pressure-driven sales should be a red flag.

Do they try to educate you? Do they offer deep details about the data they collect? Do they talk about return on investment? Are they focused on maximizing the deal on the table right now, or on maximizing your long-term success?

Listen carefully. Work with people who can earn your trust. Choose professionals. According to Gallup, you have a 1 in 10 chance…

At Webolutions, we would be happy to show your our professional service. Please call us at 303-300-2640 or contact us online to learn more about our process.

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About Mike Hanbery

A 26-year marketing industry veteran, Mike has assumed active leadership roles at Webolutions since 2010. Achievements include overseeing the digital marketing team and contributing to the marketing success of many of the more than 2,000 websites Webolutions has launched since 1994. Certifications include social media, inbound marketing and local search marketing. Mike’s mom thinks he is witty and insightful. Learn more about Mike Hanbery.

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