Marketing is a crucial expense for all businesses, but you need to ensure you are not wasting money on marketing. This is doubly true for digital marketing where plenty of unscrupulous vendors can run your budget dry with useless endeavors and other unneeded expenses.
One of the key aspects to prevent wasteful spending it to have a clear goal for your business. Once you have a clear goal, you’ll be able to more carefully decide if a given digital marketing idea has any potential to help your business achieve its goal.
Having a goal is not the end-all-be-all to avoiding wasteful digital marketing expenses either. There are several areas of digital marketing that are ripe for abuse from third-party vendors.
Let’s explore some of the more dangerous areas of digital marketing and how they can drain your business budget if you’re not careful. We’ll also explore more viable and cost-effective alternatives.
How to Avoid Dangerous Digital Marketing Offerings
There is a cornucopia of digital marketing products, services, and resources available online for small businesses. However, there are also many pitfalls you must avoid. Your small business can be made or go broke by spending on digital marketing. You need to avoid the expenses that are rip-offs or too risky.
Danger Does Not Mean Risk in Digital Marketing
Before we go any further, it’s important to know that high-risk situations are not inherently bad. In digital marketing, like business in general, risk is about the level of uncertainty regarding the return on an investment. You can have a high-risk, high-reward opportunity. In other words, this is a scenario with a very high expected payout that just happens infrequently.
If you are a risk-averse business owner or low on capital, you’ll likely want to avoid these situations. However, if you’re well capitalized and risk neutral, you can profit from these sorts of situations, because you have the money and the gumption to continually invest in these opportunities and take advantage of the profit that is available in the long run.
Listen and Learn on the Kickin’ it with Kapok Podcast
In the episode “Gotta Risk it to Get the Biscuit (When Starting a Business)” we explain how strategic risks in business are an absolute must. Learn how we managed to accept and manage risk here at Kapok Marketing.
Dangerous Expenses in Digital Marketing
Setting risk aside, there are also various digital marketing offerings that will not help your business and can often even hurt your business. These include people trying to take advantage of you with outdated strategies, scams, and cons. It can also include products or services sold by well-meaning but inexperienced marketers.
Here are some of the more common things for sale under the digital marketing umbrella that requires some extra caution. Before buying any of these things, make sure you do your research or are working with a partner you really trust to do the legwork on your behalf.
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The business of search engine optimization (SEO) is perceived by many business owners as mysterious at best and unscrupulous at worst. This is because SEO is relatively simple in terms of results, but rather complicated and often shady, in terms of execution.
SEO involves three basic elements: website/on-page optimization techniques, keyword and content research/strategy, and external link building. The first two categories are well established and no longer subject to much abuse by SEO vendors.
On-page Optimization of Your Website
Search engines now monitor for abuse of on-page optimization techniques, like keyword stuffing. Few search engine marketers still try to abuse these ranking factors. If they do, you’ll quickly learn that this is their strategy because it will fail immediately or very quickly.
This doesn’t mean you should totally ignore the potential for abuse in this area of SEO. If a vendor suggests on-page optimization techniques that have been dead for years, run away fast. For example, they may tell you they are going to rank you higher by adding a bunch of keywords that are buried beneath the footer. Or they may suggest adding hidden keywords that are not visible by making the font color the same as the background color.
Surprisingly, these are real techniques and they did work at one time. But that time has long since passed, and anyone suggesting these techniques now is totally out of their element. You should definitely not do business with anyone even mentioning these ideas as a viable solution. They have not worked for years, and will never work again.
External Links to Your Website
Conversely, external link building is still extremely vulnerable to abuse. There are a number of techniques to acquire external links to your website. The most popular sources for external links include directory listings, blog comments, private blog network (PBN) posts, guest posts, and other editorial outreach techniques.
Search engines technically disapprove of any external links that you pay to receive. This includes all PBN links, and possibly even some directory listings, guest posts, and editorial links. They also don’t appreciate website owners who spam blog comments on other websites. The problem is that many of these methods also often work, and they work really well in the short term.
This creates a perverse incentive for third-party SEO providers to sell you these links. They work really well now, but may only work for a very limited period of time. Furthermore, they may create problems for your website down the road.
As a business owner, you need to make sure you know exactly what you’re buying from an SEO company. You should run if they can’t explain to you exactly what they are doing, why it will work, what the potential risks are, and why the risks are worth it.
2. Website Design & Development
Having a great website is extremely important for any business. Your website is your presence in the online world. If you want to be successful with most other digital marketing, you’ll first want to have amazing marketing a great website. You also have to consider that website expenses can also be astronomical for a small business. On the flip side, a cheap or malfunctioning website can just as bad or worse than no website at all.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) Websites
This leads many small business owners to create a do-it-yourself (DIY) website using Wix or Squarespace. It also leads businesses to consider using an amateur like a family member they perceive as tech savvy.
The problem here is that tech-savvy does not imply any sort of competence in terms of marketing acumen. Creating a website that works is totally different than creating a website that is well designed and will attract potential clients to your business.
If you decide to go the DIY route, you should accept that you’re going the super value route. Given that, your best bet is usually to do it yourself or have one of your employees handle the project. The last thing you want to do it pay someone hundreds or thousands of dollars to create something you could probably do yourself.
Many business owners find a family member to create their DIY website for free instead of doing it in-house. This can turn into a huge problem because it’s really hard to get changes and updates completed. These business owners soon realize what should have been obvious from the start; someone who isn’t getting paid has very little incentive to respond to the business owner’s requests. It can also create tension and ruin family relationships if one or both parties are unhappy with the arrangement.
Freelancer Web Designers
If you’re a serious business owner, you will realize sooner or later that you should spend some money and be serious about having a professional looking website. Once you decide to spend some money, you run into some other potential problems. Many low-priced or inexperienced designers will give you a great deal, but you’ll end up with a website not much better than what you could do yourself or with your in-house team.
The most dangerous group of people in this category are freelancers. Now, there are plenty of amazing freelancers, so don’t immediately dismiss the idea. Just make sure they provide you references, and you have a strategy for updating and maintaining your website. If you need a new page or feature, will they still be around and will they have resources to make the changes in a timely manner?
Web Design & Development Agencies
What you want to look for is a company who specializes in creating websites for businesses. Web design companies can be great at designing beautiful looking websites and integrating the latest technological bells-and-whistles. These companies are often perfect for business owners who want a state of the art website.
The biggest thing to look out for with a company that only creates websites is asking about how your website will help market your business online. Ask your web design company how and why each component is necessary. Don’t let them sell you features or add-ons that don’t help, or can even hurt, marketing your business.
Simplicity and ease-of-use are often the two most important things to consider. If your web designer is not business minded, you may need to lead this aspect of the project. Or you may need to have an in-house marketing professional or marketing agency work with the web designer.
Digital, Full-service, or Integrated Marketing Agencies
Marketing agencies also often build websites for their clients. You want to look for a digital, full-service, or integrated agency. If they claim to be full-service or integrated make sure they have team members who specialize in web design and development. The benefit of hiring a marketing agency to build your website is the other skills and resources they can bring to the project.
A digital marketing agency will consider how your content marketing or paid advertising strategy might interact with your website. They will be building your website from a marketers perspective. And this should mean they are focused on making a great website that helps brand your business and attract and retain your clients or customers. You should be able to ask them any question about how your website and business will work together, and they should have a great answer for you. If they don’t have answers for you, the premium you are paying them may not be worth it.
3. Paid Online Ads
Another huge danger of online marketing is when business owners try to create online ads with platforms like Google Ads or Facebook. Google and Facebook provide extremely easy to use platforms for creating ads, but they don’t always explain the risks that prominently.
If you don’t understand all of their rules and targeting criteria, you may end up spending a lot of money on people who will never buy your products or services. For that reason, it is extremely important that you read all of their documentation or hire someone who is up-to-date on all of their features, policies, and procedures.
Tracking the Performance of Online Advertising
Hiring a third-party to manage your online ads bring on a new set of challenges. How do you track their performance? Before you can track if their efforts are working for your company, you need to establish what your online goals are for your business.
Are you trying to get more visitors or sales on your website? Are you trying to get certain types of qualified leads to fill out a form on your website? Are you trying to get more foot traffic into your store or something entirely different? All of these are reasonable goals. If you don’t know which is most important to your business, you will have a difficult time judging the people running your online ads.
Management Fees for Online Advertising
Another important topic is the management fee you pay to have someone manage your ads. You should be able to know exactly what fees or percentages of ad spend they are charging. It’s not enough to just know you are paying $1,000 per month in total for online advertising. Most of your money should be going directly to Facebook or Google to pay for your ads.
Never allow more than 50% of your total online advertising budget to go towards the management of your ads. And realistically, if you have a decent budget, you should be paying between 15% and 30% markup as a management fee. No matter how brilliant the company is or how fancy the algorithm or strategy they use is, they’d be hard-pressed to justify anything higher than that.
Online Advertising Data Transparency
One final big red flag is when the company or person managing your ads is withholding other data from you. They might tell you the management fee, but not be willing to tell you what your average cost-per-click (CPC) is or how many you spend to get someone to sign up for your newsletter. Lack of transparency is always a red flag, and it’s no different with paid ads.
If it’s an important metric for your business, they should be able to provide you the data or give you a good reason they can’t. Some metrics are harder to get than others. Just make sure you’re getting solid answers, and if it sounds fishy, it’s probably a good time to find someone else or at least get a second opinion from someone you trust.
Don’t Waste Money on Digital Marketing
However you decide to spend your marketing budget, just consider each purchase you make in digital marketing like an investment. Consider what is the potential return on your investment if the strategy or campaign is successful. And not every campaign will be successful, even if you using an amazing marketing agency.
The most important things to look for are honesty, transparency, and great ideas. If you have someone you can trust and who gives you the data and information you need, you are well on your way to success with digital marketing. Partners with great ideas can be hard to find. But luckily once you have honesty and transparency, it can be easy to identify ideas that are successful and have a great impact on your business.