Dear Online Marketers

Dear Online Marketers,

I know you’re trying your best to deliver the kind of work that puts your clients on the map, even if they don’t always realize it.

I understand that it can be difficult to balance expectations and perceived value when you’re dealing with people who don’t understand online marketing. I really do, because I deal with it every day myself.

No matter how many times you tell them that no search engine that exists today uses the keyword meta tag for anything, that stuffing their content with the same keywords over and over turns off human visitors while doing absolutely nothing to boost ranking, or that when it comes to links, quality matters, they still want to compare your prices for developing killer content that their visitors love and engage with against the prices of some guy on Fiverr who promises to give them a “Panda Certified 500 word SEO article” and a “Web 2.0 High-PR Penguin-safe dofollow link wheel” for five bucks.

I don’t need to tell you why it’s a horrible idea to buy Facebook likes, use services that tweet automated responses to people anytime they use certain keywords, or send tons of untargeted traffic to your website, but good luck trying to explain that to them. Sometimes, they just need to learn the hard way…

Buck's Pizza Tweet

While you want to focus on valid business metrics in context, like conversion rate or revenue, clients are often more interested in stand-alone vanity metrics like page views, number of links, or heaven forbid, their Google PR.

It’s frustrating, but they do it because it’s easy. Remember, the knowledge you take for granted seems like rocket science to most people.

It’s easy to post hundreds of shitty links on a dead blog or forum, guest post on a blog that will publish literally anything for a price, or to auto-submit to 5,000 directories for $50, and they can measure the work (the work, not the results) precisely, so they feel like they received value.

It’s a lot harder to quantify things like brand recognition or trust. It takes a lot of work to create content that an audience will engage with, in fact, most content receives very few, if any shares.

share distribution

But an engaged audience is far more valuable than any vanity metric because they know, like, and trust your company. That means they can be persuaded to buy what you’re selling.

You can churn out tons of content that no one is interested in, and it’s pretty easy to measure the quantity, but you don’t make money simply by hitting the publish button. If no one is engaging with your content (sharing, linking to, commenting on, talking about, etc.), what’s the point? You should be building content to get and keep your brand in front of your target audience. If your tactics don’t accomplish that, then they are worthless.

The uninitiated usually know just enough to be dangerous. They hear things like “content is king” or “Google loves links” and they take it at face value without understanding the deeper context. Unfortunately, many online marketers, afraid of missing out on new revenue, refuse to educate them or tell them no.

Guess what, sport…educating your clients is a vital part of your job.

mind blown

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, and to appease that client, you buy some links. 100 links for $5, “what’s the harm” you ask. They get what they want while I keep doing the things that build real value. “Once I can prove myself, I’ll stop with the outdated tactics,” you tell yourself.

It’s not sustainable for you. You’re doing twice the work and only half of it is capable of delivering positive results,

Low-quality links not only don’t help a website rank well, they can actually harm the ranking long-term. I’ve seen site owners spend years trying to recover from link penalties caused by some bargain SEO firm, and that’s if they recover at all. Even without the devastation of a penalty, you are devaluing yourself because they are going to associate any results with the thing they can identify—the links. Now you’re trapped in the cycle of doing poor work to keep uneducated and misinformed clients happy, which attracts more clients just like that one.

If you had just educated your client in the first place, they would either trust your knowledge and follow your advice or refuse it and look for someone on Fiverr to do what they want for peanuts, in which case, you don’t have to deal with the frustration of a cheap client who knows it all.

Either way, you win!

It’s not just the things they don’t know that can hurt them though. It’s also your job to educate them about which activities they should be focusing on and which are a waste of time. Don’t just roll with something because it’s profitable or easy if it’s not in the client’s best interest.

Ranking reports are a perfect example. Sure, everyone expects them and they can provide useful information in context of the bigger picture, but they don’t mean anything on their own. Most online marketers place a disproportionate level of reliance on them, and inept or slimy marketers can even use them to rip people off by showing top ranking for easy to rank keywords that have no search volume. (Thus, generate no traffic.) Never mind the fact that ranking is not absolute. Geography, personalized results, device, and a number of other factors all determine ranking at the time the search is conducted, so if you asked a dozen people to search using the exact same keyword, it’s likely that they would all get different results.

You’re probably thinking that none of this is your problem, but you’re wrong.

Educated clients mean better clients. When they have a general understanding of why things need to be done the right way, it’s easier to get them on board with your ideas and they approach budgets realistically. When they don’t understand, they can see no difference between your services and the guy from Fiverr offering to “do their SEO” or the company who offers to automatically tweet anyone who mentions certain keywords.

Think about it like this: you probably trust your doctor right? I doubt it’s just because of the fancy diploma hanging on her wall. It’s more likely because she took the time to learn about your unique situation and needs, offered her advice based on that, and then told you why you should do the things she told you to do.

It’s no different for you as an online marketer. By educating your prospects and clients, you are showing them why they should trust you. You are putting your knowledge and experience on display instead of empty promises, and you’re proving to them that their best interests are your priority.

You might lose some clients who think they can do what you do for themselves, but they won’t achieve the same results so most of them will be back before long.

Every time an online marketer sells some bullshit snake oil, they devalue the industry as a whole, and that hurts them, their client, other online marketers, and even other business owners who become skeptical of online marketing because of the horror stories they’ve heard.

We owe it to ourselves, colleagues in the industry, and clients to do what’s in the best interest of the people seeking our services.