With over 15 years of experience in the search marketing industry, one of the things that takes me by surprise is how often the term “expert” is thrown around.
Unlike a medical doctor who goes through years of studying and training to only eventually reach a level where they can admit that they “practice” medicine, search marketers seem to believe that they can reach their apex level of understanding and execution within the first two years of working at a start up company or an unknown agency.
Because the search industry is still the new kid on the block, as far as traditional marketing and media are concerned, this pronouncement of expertise is allowed to exist largely because of consumer ignorance and employer negligence. Simply put, most small business owners are too busy to invest time and energy in learning search marketing strategies and large Fortune 1000 brands are too big to really care about anything in their marketing budgets that is not broadcasted through a television screen.
So how do businesses and brands assess the credibility and capabilities of the search marketing consultant or agency they are working with?
What experience and attributes allow a search marketer to claim a particular level of expertise?
While I cannot offer a literal blue print for how businesses and brands can identify the perfect consultant to work with, I can certainly say that there are a number of great questions to ask in determining what type of ”expert” you are working with.
Here are three questions to ask to understand the level of expertise your search marketer brings to the table.
1. Have You Ever Worked in Traditional Media?
There is a reason why businesses invest money in television and other forms of offline media. It is because they successfully drive immediate traffic and sales.
A 2011 study conducted by Thinkbox showed that TV is more than twice as effective at creating sales uplift per equivalent exposure, than the next best performing marketing medium.
So when you are looking to grow your brand through digital media, it is important that you connect with someone who also has professional experience working with traditional marketing.
This type of background sets brands up for success when their organic search campaigns plateau, as this experience allows you to understand what offline factors can be implemented to propel a client’s search metrics from traffic and search interest to click-through-rate and conversions.
From a search perspective, being able to identify offline media channels that increase top-of-mind awareness and drive offline consumers to digital properties is one of the most effective ways for improving search visibility, online authority and immediate conversions.
Someone who understands what goes into an entire marketing wheel and how each element can be manipulated and used to benefit the client is precisely the type of ”expert” businesses should be working with.
2. Do You Read or Do You Write?
American particle physicist Frank Oppenheimer said, ”The best way to learn is to teach”. Those words could not be any truer in the world of digital marketing.
In search marketing, there are two types of ”experts”. Those who read blogs and regurgitate the tips and advice they repeatedly see (usually on a 101 level site like Moz) and those who write the articles being read.
For the trained eye or the experienced search consultant, it is easy to identify those who read blog articles and do not conduct tests to understand the validity of what they read.
They usually use a lot of industry jargon like ”maximize your opportunity” without going into the ”how” and ”why” a particular strategy will do this. They also like to tell their clients that they, ”need to add more content to your site in order to rank well” without ever identifying what specific forms of content work best per industry, audience and niche as far as capturing the most qualified, ready-to-buy online consumer.
But for businesses and brands who are not able to make the distinction between those who can speak the part and those who can execute, miscalculating the credibility of your search marketer can lead to a variety of poor results that range from mismanaging your brand’s customer service reputation through social media, or setting up the wrong filters in your robot.txt file and blocking search crawlers from indexing your entire e-commerce website.
So when deciding what SEO firm or consultant you are going to work with, make sure that you choose someone who is an active contributor to the industry’s thought process, someone who influences and directs the strategies of others…Not the person who is being directed.
3. Are They Company All-Stars by Default?
Another significant consideration for qualifying someone as an ”expert” is their level of experience working with a variety of search marketing companies and agencies.
The idea that ”you only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know” is completely true in digital marketing and unless the search consultant you are working with has had the opportunity to work for three of four different company’s, they are by default limited in knowledge and insight.
An ideal search-marketing manager is someone who has had the opportunity to approach digital marketing from a variety of angles. I personally began my career in sales, pitching local businesses geo-targeted search concepts and learning the pain points that most small business owners face on a daily basis, considering their marketing demands.
I then had the opportunity to manage content development for a start up company in Boston. Here I learned exactly what makes a particular form of content shareable and attractive enough to capture qualified online consumers, regardless of the type of industry or forms of services my clients were dedicated to.
After that, I was recruited to directly manage and guide all search strategies and development for Fortune 1000 brands, including Duracell, Febreze and Oral-B.
If I had not been able to experience organic search and digital marketing from these various perspectives, the value that I would be able to offer my clients would be extremely limited.
So when looking to hire a search marketing firm or a consultant to bring your digital efforts to the next level, make sure you are working with talent that is matched by diverse experience.
Knowledge Is Power In Life and In Search Marketing
Since the search marketing industry is still in its beginning stages considering how long traditional forms of media have existed, there remains an incomplete, fragmented set of values and principles that define what a true digital marketing ”expert” is.
While certainly, everyone has to go through various points of their career in order to gain true expertise, that does not mean that your company has to be anyone’s ”what can we learn from this failure” experience.
Understanding how diverse your search marketers are in their approach to general marketing and how in tune they are with industry best practices in theory and in action, will go a long way in ensuring that your company is able to consistently reach its online goals and maximize its opportunity for growth.