Originally posted on Real Time Email.

Stop your online marketing right now.

Tell me the truth: have you signed up to SEO, PPC, or social media services in the last few years, paid a couple of grand per month for visibility, and found that you were seeing slow uptake but no ROI?

You and maybe one hundred thousand other small businesses.


Yes, you, small business owner.

The problem with marketing today versus marketing in 2006 is volume. There’s volume everywhere. There are more websites today than there were 7 years ago. There are more SEO savvy folks, so you’re vying for eyes you may never get without investing a fortune. There are more social media marketing experts in the world than there may be doctors these days. Yeah, that’s a bit of a stretch, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Get a Twitter account, amass 50,000 followers by buying them through cheap online marketplaces, RSS port a bunch of popular marketing blogs to give off the appearance of knowledge, and you look like a guru.

Except you’re not a guru.

Yet you’re going to do the same thing to a client who is paying $5,000/month for you.

But they don’t want that. They want money. They want sales. They want conversions.

Does this sound familiar?

More and more businesses these days hop on the “omg, I can get start a business and Google/social media will help me right away!” Not exactly. SEO is a lengthy process that truly takes significant time and money that small businesses often can’t afford to lose since they need results fast or else that $4,000 they’re paying is going to waste — and even if they do rank #1, what next? What if they don’t get the sales they need to justify that huge expense?

Here’s another truth: those marketing firms that do this level of work also charge $150-250 an hour. That $2,500 you’re paying for a full month is less than one single workweek for them and likely managed by a junior employee, not the person who sold you the service to begin with. Who cares if you’re a small struggling business trying to get a foothold in the online space so you don’t have to take out a new mortgage on your house simply so that you can keep paying your employees? You don’t get a break. I don’t get a break either when conveying this to the US folks I have had to outsource much of my work to. It’s why I got out. I’m sorry to offend my industry colleagues, but it feels disgusting and dirty.

When you ask yourself how you’ve been able to hang on so far and how you’re getting new clients, what are you seeing? I’m betting for most of you, it’s all through word of mouth or referrals. Someone has tried you. Someone loves you. Someone wants their friend or family member to try you out too.

Customer service marketing is absolutely paramount. There’s no question that giving a customer the royal treatment will help boost your visibility. Give someone exactly what they want, make them feel happy, and they’ll tell everyone about you. Or if not everyone, they’ll tell the people who care.

I just moved to a new neighborhood and I’ve gone with every single recommendation for service providers given to me by my neighbors. Every single person who has stepped foot in my door has come through word of mouth. They trusted the service provider, so I know I will too.

If you service the online space and much of your support is based on email communications, Real Time Email can thrust you into a realm of visibility never previously considered possible.

Wouldn’t you like to see for yourself?

Image via Bigstock with a few edits done by yours truly.

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  1. says: Tinu Abayomi-Paul

    I don’t know why you thought someone would be offended at this: if you’re not getting results from marketing – whether or not you paid someone to help you – you absolutely should stop. And yeah, referrals and word of mouth is king. But what is social media but word of mouth facilitated by technology?

    As far as word of mouth — who spreads that first word? I’d never heard of you before today. I’m reading about you in Tamar’s blog — that’s marketing too. People should do what works for them, whether it costs $5 or $5000 – the time, effort or results have to be worth the input is all.

    Marketing doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars a month, especially if it’s not working. However, that initial spark HAS to come from somewhere.

    1. Yup. And nice to hear from you, Tinu. 🙂 btw, Real Time Email is my new venture, so that’s why you’re reading it here.

      Brand new businesses today need to be creative in their marketing. Spending $4,000/month on some digital marketing strategy with little capital wouldn’t be my recommended first step. That first spark might be better ignited using something where there is more signal and less noise.

      My fear of folks getting offended by this are simply that every single colleague of mine that has disclosed their rates to me (many of whom I outsourced to) charge a flat hourly rate without flexibility. Small businesses can’t afford those types of rates. They need to jump out. Every single small business that I’ve known of that has tried social media/SEO is no longer doing it, because they can’t afford to.

      If you are midsize with sizable revenues, on the other hand, it’s still a go. But any very small business is ill advised to do any digital marketing. They’ll be ripped off.

  2. says: Patrice

    I agree, some of the prices I’ve seen out here for social media management services are ridiculous! I don’t see how small businesses can afford it. That’s where I come in. I offer reasonably priced social media solutions for small businesses and entrepreneurs. I’m not trying to get rich, I want to earn a living helping others by doing what I enjoy doing. If you know of anyone that needs help, feel free to send them my way.

  3. says: Simran

    yep it seems that there are many seo liars in this world but they still get lot of projects and money due to guys like us. But i don’t go with your thoughts about stopping online marketing.

  4. says: William

    I thought your article was brave and honest. I agree 100% with your thoughts and convictions. As with all marketing, one thing that works for one business does not mean it will work for all. Excellent Insight!

  5. I agree that small business owners who are financially struggling can’t afford to pay $250/hr for social media marketing and if they’re smart business owners, they’ll know where it’s best to invest their hard earned cash. Whatever method provides the highest return should be their priority and should spend only what they can afford.

    The problem is that most don’t even understand why they’re doing social media marketing in the first place and they put all their eggs in the social media basket hoping for a quick solution. Social media marketing is not the answer to everything, only a small piece of the pie.

    There’s fraud and dishonest people in every industry, not just online so it’s up to the business owner to do their homework and get educated before they hire anyone.

    I’m not sure what happened to you to make you want to get out of the industry but the truth is you’ve built your name and reputation using the exact thing that you’re telling small business owners to stop doing. Additionally, you’re still using it to launch your new venture. Sorry, but you’re confusing me.

    1. Yup. This is exactly what happened to a client of mine. He kept emailing me, telling me he had to hire me. A few years after I said no to him, I said sure, I’m interested.

      His goals were “get more followers on Twitter, get more fans on FB…” the whole shebang. But I didn’t feel fulfilled, and I asked repeatedly that he clarify his goals so I can help him achieve exactly what he wanted. Was it thought leadership? New clients? He never said.

      I sat and waited for him to tell me exactly why he wanted those fans and followers.

      And I waited.

      Eventually, they told me that they weren’t interested in continuing, that social media marketing was a smokescreen for marketing.

      Believe it or not, I was hurt, because I did everything I could to make those guys succeed. I usually went to sleep trying to brainstorm ways to improve the client’s presence, but the guys gave me no direction.

      That became this post. And that job description is his job description.

      It makes me happy to see that he isn’t doing anything (as much) in the social space anymore. If you’re chasing a pot of gold behind the rainbow, you’ll never get there. You need to answer a lot more than the “what.”

      As far as what happened to me, Genevieve, I get it. It is confusing. Perhaps I will be more blunt: I am sick and tired of clients like the above and agencies who I’ve worked with who don’t deliver to clients entrusting me with their online presence. I’m sick of clients who don’t pay. I’m sick and bothered by people contacting me and asking me to do what my friends and professional peers in the space couldn’t do. I’m tired of noise because a brand new business with signal has too much to compete with, and it almost requires one to move mountains for that business to see success in this space. Maybe it’s burnout, but I think it’s a lot more that deals with ethics and exploitation.

      So yes, I did build my name and reputation in this industry and now I’m stepping away from it.

      My new venture touches upon a topic matter that is far more important than sitting there blindly tweeting messages that touch upon a possible client’s target audience. It’s far more important to do that than spend time posting silly updates to Facebook and hope everyone else follows.

      (Sadly, that’s what most social media experts do.)

      1. says: Genevieve

        Thanks for your honest reply Tamar. I totally understand your frustrations. Sadly those businesses trying to get in the social media space with that attitude and lack of understanding is far too common. I think we need more people like you who have authority on the subject to keep educating not only small business owners but social media consultants and “experts” as well. They have to realise that it’s not just about having a pretty Facebook Page and pushing their products on their social media channels.

        Those consultants taking advantage of others will always exist but they don’t represent the entire industry. Setting standards and the right expectations is not an easy task when there’s so much crap out there, I know!

        Your own principles and honesty is what makes you stand out from all the others. You can’t influence and satisfy everyone but there’s definitely a need for people like you. It’s unfortunate to hear that you want to give it up.

        I wish you all the best with your new business venture.

        1. I haven’t fully given up. I just know how hard it is for a brand new business to get visibility in this space. I don’t want to give them a false sense of hope that this is the answer. It’s one of many answers.

          The problem is that too many people think social media WILL be the answer no matter what. You can align expectations so many times, but people think that hiring folks like me will be different than any other person. Unfortunately, I’m not a magician.

          I realize I have that reputation, and that’s kind of why I need to distance myself from it. That story I shared was a tipping point for me.

  6. I agree some of the social media service is totally waste of money as well as time. But because of only this reason we should not stop marketing our business. Many free social media sites are there where we can market our business.

    1. Medma “Infomatix” (likely using that name for SEO benefit): Your comment gives a pretty clueless picture of the state of affairs.

      Using a free social media site, like Facebook or Twitter, still costs money. Time is money. An agency working on a Facebook or Twitter campaign still needs to spend significant time building up a client’s presence on that profile. That ain’t free, my friend.

  7. says: David Smith

    I fully understand what you’re saying, but I do not believe any business that relies on online marketing should fully stop. Sure there are some businesses that charge too much and provide too little value.

    But for any small business that is looking for SEO and marketing services to do a job they do not wish to engage in. Of course then they will struggle to see any benefit. But if they consider online marketing services as an add-on to their own efforts to promote their business. They will be in a much stronger position.

    The biggest problem with online marketing is there are too many salesmen and not enough practitioners. Agencies and especially the sales focused of them, are too quick to get contracts signed off without ever considering if the budget will see traction or is even right for the business owner.

    This more than anything has tarnished the industry, then all the scare mongering using the words ‘Google Penguin’ and ‘Google Panda’ to convince businesses that if they do not sign up there and then, they could end up sinking online…

    For me though, any business owner who does not take the time to learn the fundamentals and understand a little more about the hand that feeds them (Google). Then maybe they do not deserve to exist online if they believe they can continue to throw money at the problem and then moan when it isn’t working.

    1. David, a few weeks ago someone asked a mailing list of over 1000 local people for Internet Marketing help. Instead of taking the person as a client, which I could have, since we know each other, I told her to use I told her that someone else on the mailing list will reach out to her, and that she should try cheap methods first. Why? Because without a doubt, she will be ripped off by any SEO practitioner.

      Small businesses that have just a few thousand in capital cannot afford to hire SEOs at a few thousand a month. Yet, I see from having outsourced my SEO efforts and then waiting 6 months to be paid that these companies are struggling, even though they are seeing results!

      There’s a serious problem with SEOs thinking so highly of themselves that their work has to be $150/hour minimum. You can get just as good guidance using free software that costs $150/month.

      1. says: David Smith

        Hi Tamar,

        Fully appreciate what you’re saying but what I have found working with business owners and those charged with liaising with me is that quite often they do not have the time to learn about SEO, let alone spend the time doing any of it themselves.

        Most businesses when things were going well were happy to sit back and keep paying the invoices, but once things weren’t so rosy they have panicked and begun to question everything and worry that what we’re doing might be in some way harming their website.

        One of the biggest problems is that with so many ‘sales people’ in SEO guaranteeing things that are impossible on small budgets. Companies are drawn to the promises and when things go wrong, they assume that everyone in involved in SEO must be at fault and the industry is full of sharks!

        It’s strange that a lot of businesses micro-manage almost every process within the business, but when it comes to the Internet marketing and SEO, it’s often too technical for them and they maybe become too hands off for their own good.

        1. In a way, you’re right. After all, if I completely believed what I was preaching, I would be putting all of the SEOs out there out of a job.

          My mother is a funny case. I wrote a book on social media marketing, and she refuses to read it – she says it’s too “over her head,” though it’s written for the true beginner to read.

          If you start off with a closed mind, you will end off exactly where you started.

          Truthfully, I think all SEOs should be doing it in-house. Maybe you’re an exception to the rule, but I have NEVER seen any SEO (and I’ve outsourced to dozens) have the same level of passion as someone who is gainfully employed by a company.

          1. says: David Smith

            You get additional brownie points for this bit “Maybe you’re an exception to the rule”…

            I get what you’re saying about working in-house to outsourcing to agencies or even freelancers I guess. There is an element of control when doing it in-house and there is more accountability to everything that is being done.

            I work with lots of different clients through work and through freelancing. I’ve also done an in-house role too. So I have experience of all sides of the fence.

            What I found with working in-house was it was more mundane, but a lot easier as I knew my companies business inside out and had the time to do research and learn all there was to know about their products and services.

            Then in my SEO role, I have so many clients and so little time for each, that it’s a juggling act each month, although I often wonder if clients assume I’m working 9-5 on their campaign… It certainly means I don’t get bored, but at the same time the difference between hiring me for a few hours a month and in-house are vastly different.

            Lastly there are my own freelance clients. I don’t have all that many, but I guess I feel more mothering to them as they are under my wing as such. I spend far more time on their websites as I spend far too much of my spare time online anyway, so I figure it’s more productive this way.

            So in-house, I found that my ideas were implemented much quicker and easier as I could badger my boss until he agreed.

            SEO / freelance, I find it’s so much more difficult to get the clients to do anything with their own websites. Things like blogging, or using social media just aren’t a priority to them so regardless of how many emails I send or phone calls I make. They assume because they are paying for SEO, that is their charity box donation to the Church Google and they’ll go to heaven *whoops*, top of Google simply because their website is optimised and they have a batch of fresh links each month.

            Unfortunately as you well know, Google is moving more towards seeing businesses work for their rankings, blogging, being productive on social media. But for small businesses and even some larger businesses. They’ve had it too easy for too long. So suddenly being tasked with paying for additional services, they think we’re all crooks trying to add another line to the balance sheet…

  8. says: CINDY JAYSON

    Personally, I think that SEO is an essential aspect that it’s vital to the web. The visibility of the websites is a major issue to achieve a business success. The SEO agencies are providing some people professional services offer them the chance to have to have the perfect marketable website.

    1. I think you’re missing the point, though, Cindy. I am not saying SEO isn’t essential. I am saying that SEO companies rip off small businesses because “it’s the going rate.” Who cares if the small business is profiting $4k/month? $3,500 is going to the SEO and the business comes home with $500. If they did this for 12 months, they’d be making $6k. YAY!

      Something is wrong with that picture.

  9. says: Ryan Bailey

    Thought provoking article. I think one of the problems is that far too many people get sucked into marketing online as a fast way to make money. They buy one course after another, never making any money. They see everyone else supposedly making a lot of money and assume they’ll do the same as soon as they hit on the “right” method.

    It’s not just individuals doing this but many small businesses. I have seen this with clients. If only they pay $500 a month for SEO, instead of $150 THEN they’ll get those rankings. If only they get a “presence” on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, etc then they’ll get the traffic and sales.

    You point out to them that their site looks like it was designed in 1998, filling a page full of flash banners doesn’t look especially professional, and their content is full of spelling and grammatical errors. But oh no, the reason their site isn’t successful is lack of traffic. Sigh.

    The simple truth is many individuals and businesses are just not suited to online marketing, for whatever reason. They would be far better off concentrating on traditional offline marketing.

    1. Good call, Ryan. It’s better to focus on where you can excel rather than pour tens of thousands of dollars to compete with other sites that have the SEO advantage.

  10. says: Catherine

    I think the worst situation is when people pay unchecked cowboys to do seo for them. My friend’s company just got a fancy new website and the seo company completely failed to optimize their site for search engines because they knew her company didn’t know very much about it. The point is, word of mouth is crucial. Never hand over money to someone without understanding their track record and making sure your expectations and goals are clear and covered!

  11. says: Robert Black

    You know, this is a very brave article. Very much “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, you’re saying what a lot of us have been thinking.

    I don’t think anyone is really addressing the point you made in your opening lines:

    “The problem with marketing today versus marketing in 2006 is volume”

    7 years after 2006 there is still only one single Google #1 position. There is still only one Google Page One. Yet there are more and more sites and businesses chasing those top spots. Not everyone can be a winner. Paying for SEO is going to get more expensive, not cheaper.

    Peering into my crystal ball, I suspect 5 years from now most of us will be relying on organic search engine traffic far less than we are today.

    1. Thanks Robert, you’re spot on. The only thing I’d say, though, is that this isn’t limited to SEO. Social media is a huge challenge too. If you’re an unknown business and start doing social media today, you’re pretty much screwed, especially if you’re a company trying to serve a global audience.

  12. Hi Tamar, I have seen this happen a lot with small business. As I work in SEO I know to get good rankings costs money and I don’t mean $20 to buy 10k comment links. The problem for small business is they can’t afford to do SEO that’s why I don’t take them on. Yeah I could offer a low ball service but I wouldn’t feel right knowing that whilst we were building links in wouldn’t have much impact.
    What they have to realise is that online marketing is just marketing. It isn’t the holy grail. Therefore they need to understand their budget and spend money in the most effective manner.
    If they don’t have budget then they must utilise their existing clients as to market to someone who has already bought from you is a lot cheaper than getting someone new.

    1. Exactly, Andy. I hate taking on small clients, but on one hand, they have the money to spend (at first), and on the other, I also know the small clients are going to get burned if I tell them to go somewhere else.

      It’s a catch 22.

  13. Well done you! it’s about time somebody spoke their mind on this touchy subject. You are totally correct, why would you continue paying for a service in which you are receiving nothing in return, but it’s like you said SEO takes time and patience. SEO however is a much need marketing technique needed for any business, without it you won’t be receiving any traffic, so what’s the point in having the website to begin with, you cannot stop altogether. If it gets to the point where you aren’t receiving the results you imagined, and it’s been a lengthy timescale, its time to look elsewhere or take matters into your own hands.

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