Having a solid, productive working relationship with your web professional is incredibly important, and often overlooked. It requires communication, asking questions, being proactive and reactive, showing results, etc. A lot of online marketing firms shy away from doing that. If the emperor’s got no clothes, they sure aren’t going to flaunt it.

How to Feed and Care for Your Pet Web Marketer

Because of this, the one-size-fits-all cliche of SEO and web marketing has become extremely entrenched. Customers expect to write a check, wait a few weeks, and get a site that’ll immediately start bringing in a pile of leads and conversions (and money). But it doesn’t work that way.

If you were to take a look at my computer and comb through the emails I’ve exchanged with clients–I see you NSA–you’d see that there’s a phrase I say A LOT: “You’re the expert.” I don’t say that as an exercise in ego-stroking. I say it because it’s true.

Here’s the thing. If any web guy or gal claims that they can make a site that’ll sell any widget you can think of without actually having to research or understand that widget or the market in which it’s sold, then you know they’re full of it. It simply doesn’t work that way. A website is a means of delivering a pitch, and the pitch has to be tailored to the product. If it’s not tailored, it’ll fit about as well as any off-the-rack suit: not very well.

You are the expert. You know your market. Your customers. Your craft.

So when you hire us, the first thing we’ll do is bombard you with questions. We’ll ask what trends you’re seeing, what your typical customer demographic is, what you’re targeting, what products you want to push. Questions I’ve asked in the past couple months include:

  • For a product repair service: “Within this group of products, what are the most common problems that you have to address?”
  • For an attorney in a niche market: “What specific types of legal cases have you been seeing come through your door the last few months? What services do they need?”
  • For a medical equipment supplier: “What are the most common applications for this product?”
  • For a high end electronic equipment servicer: “What types of businesses and organizations use this product that you repair?”

When you hire a good developer or marketer, you should expect to have your brain thoroughly picked over. You’re going to get poked and prodded. Why? Because “you’re the expert.”

It’s not an easy process, but it’s a worthwhile–and potentially very lucrative–process. Here are a few more things you should keep in mind when you hire us, or one of our better-than-average competitors.

Be patient with your marketing strategies. Be consistent.

Don’t get nervous and abandon one strategy for another. Getting a solid lead in search rankings is not a fast process. You will see sudden jumps and rapid falls, and the latter freaks out a lot of clients. But it’s part of the process, especially when you’re disavowing bad backlinks or reworking the content of your landing pages. But developing an overall positive trend takes months. Stick with it. Search rankings behave more like a roller coaster than an escalator.

If you prematurely abandon an effort and take a different tack, you’re going to lose any progress that you’ve made, and it’ll take even more time to overcome the inertia of your previous actions (just like it takes time for a boat to tack in a different direction). You’ll be working against the problems you were facing when you first started, and you’ll be working against the effort you just abandoned.

This is by far one of the most common situations we run into with clients. Everyone wants results now. But you have to remember that quick and dirty approaches are inherently dirty. They make a mess that you’ll end up having to clean up.

Be sure you’re talking to the right person in the marketing firm.

You want to make sure that you’ve got the ear of the person who’s doing the work, not just a middleman or flunky. If it takes months to get simple changes done on your site, chances are that you’re playing a literal and figurative game of ‘telephone.’ If you remember that game from when you were a kid, you should remember what the outcome is of having to pass a message down a line of people: the message takes forever to deliver, and it ends up getting garbled, misunderstood, or it just never arrives at all.

That’s one of the big benefits of working with a small marketing company, and it’s what we enjoy about running Creative California. We don’t have to play ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ in order to know what’s going on where, or to get something done. If there’s a critical issue, we hear about it, investigate it, and remedy it, sometimes all in the space of minutes.

The bigger the marketing firm, the more likely they’re playing for both teams.

This is one of the oft-overlooked side effects of hiring big SEO and web firms. If you’ve hired a company that has hundreds of accounts in your area, odds are, one of your competitors has also hired them. So everything that your SEO firm does for you, they do for them. This may actually be a boon for the firm, because when you’re seeing improvements but you just can’t quite pass up the competition, it’s easy for your firm to offer you their Ultra Deluxe 1000-Keyword-SEO-Backlinks package. For a price. A hefty one.

And then they can turn around and do the same for your competitor.

Make sure your marketer or developer understands your business. If they don’t ask questions, then you know they don’t understand it at all.

For several years I worked at a high school. My specialty was math. I spent the majority of my time assisting students with everything from remedial math to Algebra 2 and Geometry. I worked with a population that was pretty rough. Teens who’d been through a lot and who avoided showing any hint of vulnerability or uncertainty. If they didn’t understand something, they wouldn’t bother making an attempt developing even a partial understanding of the material. Saying “I think this is how this works, but I’m not sure…” is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of curiosity, desire, and interest. Expressing any of those requires being vulnerable.

The first thing I had to teach them was this: you learn by asking questions. And you have to investigate what you’re trying to learn in order to formulate a question. I’d get a tsunami of students saying, “I need help,” but nothing more. That isn’t a question. It’s just a way of expressing apathy, of not engaging at all.

A question is an incredibly important bridge to understanding because it requires two elements: (1) some fraction of understanding of the problem at hand, and (2) recognition of a gap in your understanding that needs to be filled.

This is why I ask questions. A lot of them. Why? So I can understand our clients’ business. If I can understand it, then I can market it, write about it, sell it. If the folks you’ve hired aren’t asking you questions, then they don’t know enough about your business to be able to sell it. And chances are they don’t have the curiosity or drive necessary to understand it in the first place.

Can someone who has no interest in the nature of your business actually help your business?

Don’t get hung up on the numbers of web marketing and development.

Successful business owners are often occupied with numbers: conversions, grosses, nets, costs, etc. This is because those who don’t keep an eye on the numbers usually end up being ex-business owners. Doing business on the Internet can short circuit this preoccupation with numbers for two reasons: the Internet creates whole new sets of numbers to look at–search rankings, numbers of targeted keywords, load times, bounce rates, etc.–and it massively improves access to ALL of the numbers, all the time. You can run reports all day every day. And some business owners do just that.

Every web marketer on the planet can tell you stories about clients who turned into walking bundles of neuroses wielding reams of printouts littered with keyword search rankings and Google Analytics reports. Sometimes they develop particularly peculiar fixations–such as W3C markup errors (true story)–that they constantly obsess about with their web guys. When this happens, business usually grinds to a halt, because all other priorities go out the window.

At this point, you have to take a step back for a moment and decide whether your marketer knows what they’re doing. Have they demonstrated an understanding of your business (see the above about asking questions) that shows they’re competent? Are they someone who is doing the hands-on work of handling the online aspects of your business (see the above about talking to the right person). If you’re talking to the right person, and they have shown themselves to be competent in understanding your business–and their own–then you need to be able to trust their judgement and expertise (see the above about being patient with the process).

It’s perfectly normal to be disconcerted with some of the aspects of working online. It can be frustrating, or downright scary. But a good web marketer genuinely has your best interests at heart, if for no other reason than because if you succeed, they succeed.

If something deserves attention, we’ll attack it. If something isn’t an issue, we’ll focus our efforts where they are needed, but we’ll keep an eye on the other stuff to make sure the situation doesn’t change. We enjoy our jobs, and we really enjoy doing our jobs well.

Web marketers can be pretty tricky creatures to deal with, but if you keep the above in mind, then chances are that you and your pet web lacky will get along just fine… Though chances are that they’ll still insist they’re right all the time. Because they are. Usually.

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