Digital Marketing Strategist or SEO Snake Oil Salesperson?

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | September 2021


Brands and organizations who want to grow their audience and boost their search engine rankings understand the significance of digital marketing. It's not always clear, however, where to look for help and knowledge. Digital marketing moves at a breathtaking speed. Multiple factors influence the space, such as Google's latest policies and algorithms, social media trends, the popularity of new software and devices, and conditions in the wider society.  There are also many aspects to digital marketing which complicate it further. 

Branches of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing includes many categories, such as:

  • SEO — Search engine optimization includes techniques to help you boost your search engine ranking. This includes getting your website indexed by Google, targeting keywords relevant to your business, publishing good quality content, keeping your site free of errors and warnings, generating backlinks to your website, studying competitors' sites, internal linking, user navigation, providing a good user experience, and more. It's complicated. 
  • SEM — SEM describes the paid advertising appearing in search results and Google Display Network sites. This most commonly involves PPC (pay-per-click) advertising on platforms such as Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising. Paid ads are a fast way to generate targeted traffic.
  • Social Media Marketing — Includes both organic and paid strategies on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social sites. Marketing tactics include growing a Facebook page, starting groups, Facebook & IG Stories, social media videos, and more.
  • Content Marketing — Creating content to educate your audience and build your brand. Blogging, articles, ebooks, videos, podcasts, and webinars all fall into this category. Content is integral to effective SEO. 
  • Email Marketing — Building an email list helps you stay in touch with prospects and customers. You may publish a weekly newsletter or send out messages to promote your latest offers. Emails are also good for sending traffic to your website, social media pages, and other digital content. 
  • Influencer Marketing — Partnering with popular and influential celebrities and experts in your industry. You might interview an influencer or have them take over your Instagram or YouTube channel for a day.

These and other digital marketing techniques all contribute to your website traffic, engagement, and brand recognition. Many of these strategies are complementary and synergistic. For example, email marketing can drive traffic to all your content, which also helps SEO. Influencers raise your visibility and can boost all of your channels. 

Digital Marketing and SEO

As we have seen, digital marketing has many facets. However, SEO is fundamental to your digital presence. For this reason, many agencies specialize in SEO. They may incorporate content marketing, social media, and other tasks, but the main goal is to get featured on Google.

Why Does SEO Have a Bad Reputation?

SEO is often discussed with suspicion. Google itself has a very ambivalent attitude towards SEO techniques. This is understandable when you consider that Google is aiming to rank sites based on how helpful they are to search engine users. The goal of an SEO strategist, meanwhile, is to boost the rankings of a specific site or page. While these two perspectives don't have to be in conflict, some SEO tactics cross the line into unethical practices.

Unethical SEO Practices

SEOs tend to get results using different techniques. Some techniques are above board and ethical, while other techniques are unethical and tend to use tricks to get results. Some methods on the borderline.

Such questionable methods include:

  • Buying backlinks. When websites link to your site, this signals Google that you are relevant and providing value. It's especially helpful if large and authoritative sites link to you. However, you can also buy links. These are usually low-quality sites, often created specifically for this purpose. This is an attempt to game the system by making your site appear more popular than it really is. One way this is done is to spam other sites with comments that include links.
  • Keyword stuffing. This technique is very easy to spot. A page that contains the same phrase repeated many times seems unnatural and is a turnoff to readers. Often, the phrases are not grammatically correct, as in "Best dentist Omaha." Although  Google announced years ago that it penalizes such actions, you'll still find many sites using it.
  • Duplicate Content. Posting the same, or very similar content, on many platforms is a way to fool the search engines into thinking you're an authoritative content creator. A variation on this is to slightly change or "spin" articles and repost them.
  • Cloaking — Google defines cloaking as presenting different content to humans and search engines. This is an attempt to trick search engines into believing a site contains valuable content. The actual content could be very different, such as a page with nothing but a sales pitch.

These are some of the most popular black hat techniques, though there are many others. What they have in common is that the strategy is intended to deceive Google rather than provide genuinely valuable content.

A Brief History of SEO and Digital Marketing

Search engine optimization has been around for around 25 years and has gone through monumental changes. Here are some highlights, especially pertaining to how Google has responded to unethical SEO tactics.

1998: Google Launches — While there were search engines and primitive SEO tactics before this, the age of Google is when SEO as a science really began.

2003: Google releases its first major algorithm update, known as Florida, designed to crack down on unethical techniques such as spammy link building and keyword stuffing.

2011: Panda Update — The Google update known as Panda included a major crackdown on "content farms," sites with massive amounts of low-quality content created to attract visitors, boost SEO, and usually promote ads. The following year, Google continued this crusade with the Penguin update.

2013: Hummingbird – With this update, Google began to emphasize the value of local search. Since then, digital marketing agencies have worked hard to promote local businesses.

2014: Featured Snippets Introduced — This feature was a major development, creating the coveted "position zero" on page one of Google. Snippets are often lists and FAQs and are especially relevant to voice search.

2019: Mobile-First Indexing — Recognizing that many users search online using mobile devices, Google has increasingly rewarded sites that are mobile-friendly.

SEO is always evolving in response to advances in technology as well as economic and cultural trends. Anyone who works in this field has to stay current with the latest changes and develop strategies to help websites rank.

Did Your SEO Specialist Graduate From a One-Day Bootcamp?

When you see self-proclaimed "experts" advertising their services, some may have very little actual experience with SEO or digital marketing. For any skill or discipline, there are numerous quick, even one-day diplomas that certify one as an expert. SEO is no exception. When you have a field as multi-faceted and fast-changing as SEO, you don't want to rely on someone who has only spent a few hours studying the basics. Consider Malcolm Gladwell's famous 10,000-hour rule, which states that you need to practice a skill for at least 10,000 hours to master it. When it comes to a field as complex and fast-changing as SEO, it's especially important to work with someone with extensive training and experience.

Why a Digital Agency is the Best Choice

You can find many freelancers advertising their digital marketing services on various platforms. However, an agency with a proven track record is usually a more reliable solution for several reasons. For one thing, an agency will usually have a team of experienced digital marketers on board. There are benefits to working with a team made up of multiple specialists. If you hire a solitary freelancer, they may only have experience in one or two areas.

How to Vet an Agency

Here are some points to research when checking out digital marketing agencies.

  • Experience. How long have they been in business? What experience does the team bring to the table?
  • Do they practice ethical SEO? Does the company use only white hat or ethical SEO? Black hat and gray hat techniques may work in the short term, but they can get your site penalized. They also suggest that the company is looking for shortcuts.
  • Personalized service. You want an agency that tailors its campaigns to your unique needs.
  • Reviews and testimonials. Agencies often post testimonials or a list of clients on their websites. Independent online reviews are another valuable source of information.

ArcStone provides thoughtful brands and nonprofits with beautiful WordPress websites, SEO, SEM, storytelling, and other digital marketing services. To learn more, contact us.

Topics: Digital Marketing