5 scary things digital marketing agencies do

4 years ago by Liz Estall

Regardless of what we think digital marketing is, and whatever sector it belongs to, one thing is for certain: it’s poorly policed.

Laissez faire regulation can sometimes be a blessing, because there’s quite nothing like masses of red tape to dampen creativity. Sadly, it also means that the market is overrun with cowboys - and it can be hard to tell who the good guys are.  

However, confusing as this may seem, there are things which serve as evidence of good, and likewise poor, quality service.  

So, as a Halloween special, here’s our terrifying round up of dodgy digital practices that are rife in our industry - and should be seen as red flags.  Let us know your experiences and we’ll add them at the bottom!

Black hat SEO

Black hat SEO tactics

Otherwise known as dodgy SEO. Our suspicion is that dodgy SEO is so commonplace that a lot people don’t even realise that there is a better way.

To understand the dodgy, you need to first understand the white hat (aka good) SEO. The basic idea of authentic SEO is that search engine rankings happen as a result of relevant content, internal links and quality links from other reputable (and relevant) websites.

As well as the very basic stuff then there are ways to optimise your website discreetly but honestly. Things like; meta tags, meta titles, keyword-specific landing pages and good usability.  

Then you get the stuff which constitutes black hat SEO. The names of some of these offences are pretty gruesome; techniques could include cloaking, doorway pages, bait-and-switch, mirror sites. This article explains them in more detail.

However tempted you might be to go to the dark side of SEO there is one Top Dog, in the world of search marketing, that no one wants to be messing with. And that’s Google. Google has the power ruin you for being naughty - and they’re not afraid to use it. They’ve even penalised themselves.

Even big brands have had their wrist slapped by Google. Big brands have the capacity to bounce back pretty quickly from a slapped wrist. For smaller companies it just isn’t worth the fallout.

Bottom line: avoid working with an agency that promises quick wins and then engages in icky SEO techniques - it gets messy.

Instead look for one that talks in terms like Search rather than SEO, and looks at search as part of the big picture of a digital marketing strategy.

Buying affection

Buying affection

If an agency is happy to buy likes from bots on across any of the social media platforms then that’s fine - for them. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to do this on your behalf.

‘Likes’ are about quality over quantity. Cliche as it may sound. One like, retweet, share, comment etc by an extremely influential, genuine person or brand is worth 100 spammy ones. On the face of it, it might look very impressive to have umpteen likes and a ream of comments, but that literally equates to nothing in terms of quantifiable results.

Think of all the engagement (e.g. likes, shares, comments) as an endorsement of products and services. It’s also way of getting those products and services in front of a wider audience.

If you’re sizing up a potential supplier, look up their clients. Look across their social media platforms and on their blog. Are they getting quality engagement? As in, the kind of engagement you’d want your brand to have?

“The Outsourcerers”

Outsourcing digital marketers

If you’re about to start working with a digital marketing agency, you should do your due diligence on who will be managing the different aspects of the mix.

There’s rarely one person that can handle an entire process from beginning to end. Web content, for example, should be written by experienced copywriters but also informed by an expert in Search.

A lot of agencies will send in their best people to win your work, then outsource the work.  The objective is to maintain better margins - and that often means poorly managed freelancers.  Or worse still, overseas suppliers where English isn’t their first language.  

We’ve seen blog content, ads and web content written by these sorts of agencies, and the results are ghastly.

To avoid a scare, have a tour of the agency’s offices.  If you’re thinking of spending tens of thousands on digital marketing, it must be worth the trip.

Bad things come in packages

Bad things come in packages

There is no package for digital marketing.  

You might want to start running AdWords campaigns and look for packages to suit that.  But if your website is a trainwreck and needs top to bottom re-writing then that will need to happen first.

Packaging up services sounds too much like attempting to do things on face value with questioning. You can absolutely never, in our opinion, offer a digital marketing, one size fits all ‘package’.

We have never offered the exact same mix of services to any two clients. If anyone starts mentioning bronze, silver and gold packages, run for your life.

A web of complexity

Web of complexity

Another sin of naughty agencies is making the simple complex, so clients feel in the dark and reliant on them.

The point of abbreviated terms and acronyms is to make life easier for people in the industry. The point should never to intimidate and bamboozle clients or people outside of digital.

If you had a medical diagnosis you would expect your doctor to explain things in a way you could understand so you would know how to help yourself. Digital marketing should be the same in our opinion.

A lot of agencies will use scare tactics and try and make digital marketing seem like all smoke and mirrors, cloaks and daggers.  But in actual fact, it’s all about doing simple things really well, following well thought-out processes and measuring the right things.

Anything to declare?

dont be shy

Don’t be shy. Share your scary marketing agency stories with us and we’ll embed them here!

But remember to play nice... We don’t want to name and shame!

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