The Internet is filled with information — but only some of it is accurate. The rest of it ranges from unsupported opinions masquerading as fact to outright “fake news” from fraudsters who claim to have expert advice with credible data. In some cases, these sources are obvious in their lack of credibility, but others are more challenging to identify, thanks to slick websites and “deepfake” visual technology. That’s just the issues consumers face trying to discern what they should and shouldn’t believe.
When entrepreneurs and business people seek advice about aspects of their business, such as online marketing, they might not know where to turn. With so many blogs, articles, ebooks and webinars from those claiming to be the most experienced digital marketers out there, how can you distinguish valuable information from worthless advice?
It can be confusing to know who to listen to and who to ignore. Here are some ways to tell if an online marketing “expert” deserves your attention or not.
Quality, not quantity
It’s important to let go of credibility factors such as the number of years in business and company size that don’t really convey skill. Many agencies have been able to stay in business by selling low-quality marketing services and recycled advice.
You will need to do a deeper dive into a company’s history to assess online marketing expertise.
Reviews, references and client testimonials
Don’t just look at their recommendations on LinkedIn. Look for reviews that span the digital marketing expert’s history. You can also ask directly for references and contact companies that are listed on the marketing firm’s website to learn more about their capabilities and results. Checking these real-world examples of expertise will yield a better picture of whether or not the marketing firm’s advice resulted in positive change for its clients.
Try to contact a few clients to see a pattern in the results, whether it be content marketing, social media marketing, search engine marketing, email marketing, Facebook marketing or any other strategy. There might be one or two dissatisfied clients who do not accurately reflect the online marketing expert’s expertise. The more companies you can check with, the better sense you can gain of the provider’s expertise and credibility.
Thought leadership delivery
If you have the opportunity to see the online marketing expert present at a conference, event or webinar, take the time to listen to their delivery and the meat of their message. Note whether they’ve been a keynote speaker, especially at a reputable summit or conference.
Additionally, look for their online content published in the form of blog posts, presentations, ebooks, podcasts or YouTube videos. Once you’ve read through or watched this content, evaluate it with the following questions:
Did you learn something new that you can put into action? Or did it sound recycled?
Was it full of research and data indicating a comprehensive study, or did it contain merely unsubstantiated information and generic opinions?
Did the strategist provide real-world examples and case studies or just vague, unproven concepts?
Hearing and reading what the online marketing expert has to say can help classify their real level of knowledge and ability.
Awards and accolades
Official recognition for expertise by one’s peers is often a good sign that you will be working with a credible resource. The problem is that so many of today’s awards are competitions with entry fees that are more PR vehicles and assessment of revenue growth than a legitimate sign of quality work and expertise.
Look for recent awards that recognize excellence in marketing work or recent campaigns that made a difference. Even listicle articles that contain examples of digital marketing strategy best practices featuring your potential candidate can be better indicators than some “fastest-growing” accolades.
Active industry association
A true online marketing expert will likely be involved in advancing the industry. This might mean they are members of a local interactive marketing association or national chapter or they have become involved in the larger association activity.
Look for active membership with the Digital Marketing Association, American Marketing Association and Search Marketing Association, just to name a few reputable professional groups. You should be able to look up a member or inquire with the association for confirmation of membership.
Many companies positioning themselves as online marketing experts target small business owners who need marketing assistance on a limited budget. Some of these agencies might offer monthly packages that promise the moon but deliver significantly less.
Having interviewed some of these small business owners, I learned that these internet marketing packages are supposed to help drive traffic and generate leads. In the end, however, these companies end up with telemarketing calls and junk emails selling them digital marketing services or discounted Google AdWords programs versus qualified leads.
These faux digital marketing agencies often create a low-quality website and reuse blog content. They may also re-sell client data to third-party companies. The work doesn’t show any real awareness or understanding of your industry, audience or niche. The results never appear, but the automatic monthly charge shows up consistently on the small business owner’s credit card bill.
Stay far away from marketing influencers that want to sell you a packaged program such as this. It’s like snake oil for the modern age. Although it’s often pitched to be the perfect solution for all, it’s really the solution for none.
We’ve all heard of “SEO experts,” “thought leaders” or “best-selling authors” who claim to have the perfect strategies to boost your bottom line. You should always conduct further research to ensure you are not working with a scam artist. Check intelligence conducted by companies that focus solely on uncovering scams. These include the Federal Trade Commission, the Attorney General’s office for both your state and the state in which the marketing firm is located, and the Better Business Bureau.
One of the best ways to check the credibility of a marketing professional is to ask a trusted colleague for a referral based on their own experiences. A company that is winning at online marketing may well be tapping the expertise of a powerhouse online marketing talent or agency.