Targeted online marketingWarning Sign #1:   They Have An Instant Answer For Everything, And It Conflicts With Published Webmaster Guidelines

In many professions, including the fields of law and medicine, there are published, accepted practices and standards of care doctors and lawyers must follow.  Search engines also have their own standard practices web masters are supposed to follow.  Problems can arise when “know-it-all” marketing professionals refuse to acknowledge the importance of adhering to those standards whenever possible.

It is true, however, that each website is unique and sometimes, it really is necessary to think outside the box to identify a problem — but that is not the same thing as trying out experimental SEO, SEM and web marketing to see if something sticks.

We create websites specifically to test out new ideas and approaches — and we try them on our own website before we apply new strategies to our client’s websites.  We test layouts, plugins, colors, and even images.  We need to mess around with stuff because it is necessary to conduct field experiments to stay cutting edge.

Here’s the thing.  You would not want your doctor experimenting on your body for a health reason unless it was your last resort.  With websites, there is no “last resort” even if your website was completely blacklisted it can be brought back from the dead by making it compliant and appealing to Google. This may require changing web hosts (if your business site rests on a server with shared hosting that allows spammers or porn, you may suffer for their own non-compliance), rewriting your content, disavowing links, etc., but unless you violated a law, or cause harm to an entity or individual, Google is going to forgive your mistakes if you own them, correct them, and make a compelling appeal.

The best place to start is with a Google webmasters account.  Google will tell you what they don’t like about your website and provide enough insights and information to help you get back on your web feet.

Search engines are constantly updating their algorithms and even if you have done everything to near perfection, new, or improved competing websites, also are constantly changing the game.

It is not enough to do everything Google tells you to do to have a killer website — you also have to do it better than your competition.  This requires research and a keen eye.  Studying the websites beating you in searches takes time, and anyone who has an answer for everything is probably working within the constraints of corporate think (“we do it this way because we do it this way”) and may not be staying up-to-date on social networking changes, search engine changes, and the dynamics of competing websites.

I am not afraid to say it:  I do not know everything, but I am constantly out there trying to increase my own knowledge base.  When someone calls me about my services, the first thing I do is check out their website and immediately after that, I check out competing websites.  Chances are pretty darn good when someone asks me to propose services I do not know enough about their business, their website, or the competition to make a reasonable offer of services without first taking time to check out their unique situation.

Warning Sign #2: All You Ever Get Are Excuses

We Don’t Control Google; It Takes Time; Your Competition Is Spending More Than You Are; It’s A Climate Change Thing, And The List Of Ridiculous Excuses Goes On And On ….

Well, no, we don’t control Google and it can take many months of hard work to turn a site around or see measurable gains so sometimes, you really do have to be patient.  But Google is pretty clear:  play by their rules and for the most part, all will go well in the long run.  If you don’t use blackhat SEO, buy links, or try to game the system in other forbidden ways (that admittedly, sometimes do offer short-term benefits) you can control the destiny of your own website but if after 3-6 months you are still hearing “be patient it takes time” and no other explanations, you may really be getting an excuse.

If Google has penalized you it is for something you have done (or, in some cases, have not done.)  Put on your big girl panties/boxers and own it.  We don’t control Google, but Google does have rules that are pretty darn clear that makes it a little easier to make the search engine giant happy.

Warning Sign #3:  They Talk Over Your Head And Won’t Listen To You

If you do not completely understand what your marketing company is talking about, move on.  You cannot make educated and informed decisions about something you do not understand.  If a marketer starts talking over your head, stop and ask him/her to explain things.  If you do not get a satisfactory explanation or are told that you are not a professional and, therefore, cannot learn / understand the mysterious world of SEO and such, then move on.

It is important to keep in mind that there really are no higher degrees in search engine optimization or in Google.  While doctors and lawyers can rightfully brag about having a Harvard / Yale / Ivy League degree, marketers do not have to go to school or pass a bad or obtain a medical license to practice their trade.

Internet marketing is complex because it encompasses many things, but it is not rocket science, and it is something most people, with instruction and practice, can learn to do on their own.  Period.

Warning Sign #4:  They Ignore Your Brand And Won’t Listen To Your Ideas

A good marketing company will tell you what they think and explain why they think something will or will not work.  In fact, part of any services you purchase should include a professional opinion about your brand, and you should consider what others have to say.  However, the bottom line is that it is your company and the face you put out there has to be one you are comfortable with and proud to stand by.  If a marketing company wants to put a spin on what you do in a way you are not comfortable with, find someone else who will listen to you and work with you.

A good marketing company will not be threatened by your ideas or dismiss every idea you bring to the table as nonsense.  As a marketer, I expect lay people to Google search for articles about marketing, search engine optimization, social networking and branding.  Sometimes, what clients say that have read is ludicrous, and not everything you read on the internet is true, but sometimes, clients who do their own research can and do bring fresh and wonderful ideas to the table that should be considered.

Marketing a brand should be a reciprocal process — you should listen to professional advice from someone who has more experience in the industry than you do, but a marketing company should also be willing to listen to you.  In fact, if they do not ask you questions about you, your business, and how you want people to perceive you company and just start telling you what to do … move on.

Warning Sign #5:  They Keep Trying To Sell You More Services

If the services you initially purchased  were not enough to get you the results you wanted to begin with, your company should have told you that upfront.  Sometimes, a company will tell you to try this or that for a lower fee to get you hooked and then try and upsell you when things don’t work out well.  For example, to be competitive, you really do need to be social networking but you also need to have a great website layout, engaging content, and to keep things fresh.  A company that sells you cheap social networking services but fails to tell you that you need to keep writing content on your own is doing you a disservice.  When you find social networking is not enough on its own, the company only then tells you that it is your fault because you have not been writing fresh content for them to social network … but for an additional fee they can write content for you to.

Ask why you need more services before you buy them (in some cases, you may really need to increase your marketing budget and efforts.)   If you do not get a straight answer about what those servers are, what they will do for your business, and a commitment for results if you pay for them, find another company.