Advice for a New Internet Marketer (or How to Spot Internet Marketing Snake Oil)
I met her during my freshman year of college, though she was two years my senior. We’d exchange greetings when we passed in the dormitory hallways. Nine years later, we met again when we were assigned to the same tables at a local luncheon. She told me she worked in Internet Marketing, which I was quite excited to hear given that there was no marketing discipline taught at all in our alma mater.
We started talking about the last few years and our dreams for the years ahead. We then got into the nitty gritty of business. With Internet Marketing, there are many ways to go, from affiliate marketing to SEO to social media to email marketing. What was she doing? Her answer surprised me. Essentially, her focus was SEO, and her daily grind consisted of keyword stuffing clients’ websites.
Anyone who knows a good search engine optimization expert knows that keyword stuffing is not an approved tactic. Perhaps this is a fact that her agency overlooked, so as a good friend, I told her that it would be in her best interest to learn about approved tactics through the many free blogs, to engage in acceptable and informative (though not free) SEO training, and to read the best SEO book/training program (aff). Even though there is a cost for entry for some of the best resources, the solutions were highly worthwhile, I explained.
Over the next few months, I received multiple invites to various groups on Facebook and messages imploring me to participate in activities in which I had no interest. All social media etiquette rules were not heeded to. Rather recently, she told me that she had enough and was going to quit.
I was excited at the prospect that there might be some freedom for someone who was forced to clearly break every rule that was in the ethical Internet Marketing handbook. I suggested the same blogs and training courses and told her that she could potentially go out on her own and do her own thing after she learned the basics and knew how to apply them. But first, I cautioned, “you must learn the material. Your work environment didn’t allow you to do so.”
My friend ended up going out to do her own thing, offering “Internet Marketing services” to anyone who would bite. The instruction I gave her and resources I provided, though, were ignored. I am not afraid that she’ll find this blog post and know that she’s the subject of the story because I know she won’t. I’m honestly worried for her clients who are being cheated out of money and time.
A few weeks ago, another person connected with me on Facebook who was referred to me by a social media buddy I never actually met. “I am a relatively new internet marketer trying to break into the industry,” he wrote. “What are good companies to target? Should I learn a specific skillset?” Overall, the questions were basic and I worried that the individual was looking to target companies for clients before actually understanding the nuances of the culture of Internet marketing as a whole.
While this person’s intentions were more pure — I later learned that he was looking for agencies to target, rather than clients, and that he was willing to endure pain (learning) for ultimate gain (clients which would lead to money) — I began to worry that there are others out there like this college colleague of mine. There are others who sell internet marketing services who are ultimately clueless about changes in the industry that could ultimately amount to them not seeing any increased rankings or improved traffic. At all.
There Are Different Specialties in Internet Marketing
“What do you do for a living?” he asks. ”I do Internet Marketing,” I say.
If you’re involved at all in Internet Marketing, “oh” is not a suggested response. Internet marketing is a vast field. There are different specialties to Internet Marketing. If you’re going to take “Internet Marketer” at face value, you’re being silly. In the study of medicine, doctors have different specialties; Internet Marketing is no different.
If you’re a brand new Internet Marketer, choose a discipline and a niche that you can tackle head on and be successful at. You can’t do everything at once. Sure, a basic understanding of different Internet Marketing elements is fine, but it’s not practical to be everything to everyone. Here are just some concentrations you can explore:
- Search Engine Optimization: Someone involved in search engine optimization is focused on building out websites in such a way to be understood by search engines (and by people). A search engine optimization expert is usually focused on changing URL structure, optimizing title tags, and making code tweaks to a website to make sure the search engines find the site and the pages contained therein.
- Link Building: Part of a search engine marketing strategy includes the process of building relevant links to your website. This often includes submissions to directories and contacting webmasters of related websites.
- Affiliate Marketing: Affiliates are individuals who market a particular product or service and who get paid commissions by a merchant when they make the sale.
- Pay Per Click Marketing: PPC is another search engine marketing strategy that utilizes contextual advertising; based on a search query or the content of a web page, ads will appear. PPC requires understanding of keywords, having appropriate landing pages, and other factors.
- Social Media Marketing: In social media marketing, you are tasked with leveraging the social space through its media to market your products.
- Email Marketing: Email marketing relates to the promotion of products and services through e-mail, such as an email blast.
- Content Marketing: Content marketing refers to writing relevant articles on your site (or having good site copy) that can bring awareness to your website property.
Most people that I know will excel in one discipline but have a working understanding of the others. If you know someone who is great at every single Internet Marketing discipline in the book, it’s likely too good to be true. If you’re studying Internet Marketing, learn everything you possibly can, but you’ll typically find an area you’re most comfortable in and end up going with it. For me, that’s social media marketing.
Get the Right Training Materials
Depending on the type of work you’re looking to do, your best bet is to learn everything you can on the subject matter. Some of the sites I recommend for educational materials include:
- Sphinn: Sphinn is an Internet Marketing social news site. Users submit timely news articles to Sphinn, and the community votes up the best stories to appear on the front page. Normally, the front page consists of high quality content, though even the upcoming queue has good stuff that doesn’t always get promoted.
- There are hundreds of blogs on each specialty’s subject matter. How do you find the signal through the noise, you ask? Find those who influence you, and then find out who they are engaging with. And read this post from Mat with some good suggestions.
- My top three forums include Cre8asite Forums, Webmaster World (which is mostly free but also has subscription-only discussions), and High Rankings Forum.
- SEO Book: SEO Book is the bible of search engine optimization. Aaron Wall nailed it when he released his extremely informative PDF about a decade ago. In the last few years, he moved his forever-changing content online in the format of members-only training guides and forums. He also offers high quality tools, many of which are free.
- SEOmoz PRO: SEOmoz PRO features a rich library of informative guides, a myriad of tools, and a strong active and close-knit community. If you’ve seen their free site and know what kind of great information is already provided, you can only imagine how much value is multiplied behind the pay wall.
- SEO Dojo: David Harry’s SEO program is the newest kid on the block, but it already has a very active group of members and engaging online discussions, in addition to easy-to-read training materials and video tutorials.
- PPC Training: Like its partner site, SEO Book, PPC Blog is an exhaustive resource of the best PPC offerings in the space, with audio and video tutorials to enhance your learning experience.
- Exploring Social Media: From beginner to advanced, Jason Falls, Nick Huhn, DJ Waldow, and I provide great modules for learning everything about social media marketing.
If you like books, you should also check out Winning Results with Google AdWords, Pay Per Click Marketing, The New Community Rules (which was authored by yours truly), The Art of SEO, Search Engine Optimization, and Search Engine Optimization for Dummies.
Find the Right Agency to Work With
Unless you’ve been doing it for years, it’s never a good idea to go into Internet Marketing without an educational foundation. And most people won’t follow sound advice, instead eying dollar signs as soon as formal education ends.
If you’re serious about this kind of thing, beyond online training guides and books, you need to apply those skills. Any educational experience in the work world, thus, will help bring you to the next level. Consider working at an agency, even in an internship capacity. Being able to work alongside the brightest minds in the industry can be extremely empowering. Having hands-on experience — the much-needed application of your learned skills — is incredible, especially when working alongside brilliant minds and analytical thinkers.
Every newbie should start working for someone before he embarks on the journey alone. Learning among the smartest in the industry is a sure-shot way to get ahead of most playing the same game.
Not All Agencies are Created Equal
As evidenced by the the story I provided in this article, not all agencies are competent. Keyword stuffing, for example, might have worked 5 years ago, but it’s not a successful tactic anymore. If you’re about to start working for an agency, study it out before you actually work for it, because if you don’t, you might end up finding out that you’ve wasted years of your life learning the wrong strategies.
One of the easiest steps you can take is to look at their website. The first thing I normally look at for “SEO” firms is to see if their canonical redirect is in place. It’s one of the smallest things that can be done, but so many “SEO” firms, including the one I mentioned earlier in this article, actually don’t do it at all. Also, check the website’s footer: are there keywords stuffed there? If so, it might be a good idea to turn your back away from the opportunity.
Another thing you should do is to talk to people in the industry that you know to see if they can tell you anything about the company’s officers or about the company itself. If the right people have never heard of the company, that could mean that the company itself consists of self-proclaimed marketing experts who likely get websites banned from search engines rather than ranked higher. It could also mean that the company is keeping a low profile, so use the website check to see if the company is up to shady tactics not worth your investment — even if the job offer is there. (You never want to work for a company who has a bad reputation, especially if you plan to remain in this industry. Word travels. If you’re already there, get out while you’re still ahead.)
It’s probably a good idea to step away from the agency if you find out that the tactics employed in the company don’t match what is taught in the training materials I recommended earlier. These materials are written and maintained by real experts who know their material cold. You can do better.
Going Off On Your Own
Only after you have spent at least 18 months to two years at a reputable company should you actually go at taking clients alone. Keep in mind that it’s not as easy as it seems. Doing the solo gig requires you to be the sales department, the financial and accounting department, the secretary, and the person you were hired to do: the marketer. You’re not only doing everything, but your salary is variable as you take and lose clients on a month-to-month basis.
If you’re choosing this path because you’re unhappy with your current company, look for another. If you’re doing it because your freshman college friend is able to do so successfully, focus on the food on your own plate, Miss. If you’re ready to take on more responsibility, by all means, go ahead and do it.
Just don’t be the girl who leaves a company that wasn’t challenging you anyway — and then starts your own thing without the right educational foundation or skill-set. Be the student who mastered the subject through learning and application, and who eventually graduated to be the teacher. And keep in mind that the best teachers never stop learning either.
Internet Marketing Snake Oil
The Internet is rife with “experts,” but not all self-proclaimed gurus can actually deliver. A lot can talk the talk, but they can’t walk the walk. They might sound great on the phone, but they might not be able to actually increase traffic to your website through search engine optimization. They might not have any clue how to effectively manage your Pay Per Click campaign to actually increase leads.
Unfortunately, not all “clients” will be so savvy enough to know the difference between someone who knows his stuff and someone who doesn’t. As such, when the marketing dollars they invested actually result in nothing, they call the entire practice a scam. There will always be a few rotten apples who ruin it for the rest of hard working decent folk who are truly looking out for the entire industry.
Buyer beware. If you or anyone you know is looking to engage in this practice, do yourself a favor and do due diligence before going with your expert. Interview prospects. Comparison shop. Don’t just look for the cheapest option; it might be the worst. (“You get what you pay for.”) Then again, the most expensive option might not be better. High costs don’t always translate to better quality.
Don’t Be that Guy
Every single profession has “snake oil” salesmen. There are doctors who don’t really know how to practice medicine and teachers who don’t know how to teach. If you’re an Internet Marketer who genuinely wants to sell your services, consider being well-educated and well-rounded. Consider focusing on a specialty where you can excel — and know your stuff cold. It’s hard enough that there are con-men and scammers who bring the industry to shame, but if you care about the future of the profession, don’t.
There’s probably not a single one of you reading this who is that guy. However, you might have encountered individuals who want to be just like you but might be looking for a silver bullet. Give them the full truth. Let them know that this profession is real work, just like any other type of profession. If they want to protect the integrity of this profession’s future, they should consider being well-read.
For me, Internet Marketing is not just a profession but it’s a passion. I read books and blog posts on the subject not only to further my career but because I love what I’m doing and I want to feel empowered personally and professionally. If you’re like me, you’re in the right place. You understand that this kind of work comes easy, and that you were meant to do it. But someone might approaches you for direction despite the fact that they don’t have gusto to do the work and to learn the ropes. They might just try to cash in simply because they see that some other people can do so successfully, even though those are the people who consider this more than just work: it’s a lifestyle, and they had to climb a ladder to be where they are right now.
Those of you involved in Internet Marketing for a long time might have faced this dilemma. Be up front. This is a discipline and it’s not a walk in the park. Knowing the tools doesn’t make you an expert. Ignoring the tactics makes you even less qualified. Ignoring the paid (and free) learning materials makes you a failure.
Everyone needs to work for success. As your role is now of a mentor, be the guiding light.