Am I Getting F#*$ed by My Digital Marketing Company?! How to Spot the Fakers and Get Real Results

In 2020, running a business of any size means working online. Whether you’ve been a business owner for a month or two decades, if you don’t have a presence on the internet, you will struggle to keep up with your competitors. Unfortunately, there are more options than any busy business owner has time to master, and more marketing firms than any one person could ever sort through.

Making matters worse, many of the digital advertising “gurus” out there are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen, promising the world but delivering little (if anything) in return for your money.

Thankfully, there are time-tested ways to separate the good from the bad when it comes to online marketing. You just have to know what to look for. Read on to find out exactly what that is.


Great Digital Marketing Is Like a Great BBQ Recipe

Measure Success in Your Terms, Not Theirs

When you bite into a great BBQ sandwich, you can taste it instantly. And a great BBQ pit boss can explain exactly what makes it so tasty. They aren’t afraid to tell you their secrets, because they know it’s not just checking off tasks on a list. It takes hard work and practice to get the perfect piece of meat off that fire.

The same is true of digital marketing companies. They should be able to explain in clear, precise terms why their campaigns taste so good work so well. But many digital marketing firms have a tendency to want to show you how well they’re doing with your campaign. The real question is this: How is your company improving and growing through their online advertising efforts? One popular metric is Keyword Ranking. Through simple reporting, any digital marketing company can show you how well your keywords rank on search engines like Google, Yahoo!, or Bing.

For instance, if you own a plumbing business here in the Midlands, you might be interested to know how well your website ranks for “plumbers in South Carolina”. Here’s the thing… You might rank #1 on Google for relevant search terms, but that does not in any way guarantee actual business success. Think of the BBQ restaurant again: people walking in the door and reading the menu doesn’t keep the lights on. They need people to actually order their food, eat it, love it, and come back for more.

Put another way: keyword ranking does not pay the bills. In the end, paying customers and clients are the only thing that matters. If your keyword rank isn’t turning into profitable conversions, then it hardly matters whether you’re Google’s #1 or #100. Instead, set up a list of actionable metrics that matter to your business’s financial success – not the ones your digital marketing company tells you are important. Some examples might include:

  • Form submissions
  • Phone calls
  • Product orders
  • Service orders
  • In-person appointments

If the needle isn’t moving on the metrics that you set, or turning visitors into paying customers, then your digital marketing agency isn’t doing their job. Just like a great BBQ sandwich, it really is as simple as that.

Ask for Specific Deliverables on a Regular Basis


Whether it’s weekly or monthly, you should be receiving real deliverables from your advertising firm on a regular basis. Any digital marketer that can’t – or won’t – supply these is not worth your time or money. These should be based on actual, defined deliverables that you determine with them, on a set schedule, in order to build your brand online in the only ways that really matter, using conversions, cost-per-lead, impression counts, and other easily quantifiable measurements.

Anybody can claim to run your social media accounts or rank you on Google. But that’s not what a legitimate marketing company actually does.

This is why cookie-cutter “plans” will never work out. They aren’t specific enough to produce real-world results for any particular business. It would be like blindly pointing at a menu item and hoping you get something that tastes good. A digital marketing agency worth their pay will create a plan that is tailored to your company, and relevant to your specific industry. It will incorporate your specialities, target demographics, and geographical region.

For a quick example: If you own an HVAC company in Oregon, the content topics that are important to your customers are likely not the same as an HVAC company here in Columbia. Winter temperatures, and humidity differences have a huge impact on what issues potential customers are going to face with their HVAC units. When you start to think of it in terms of specifics, it becomes immediately and abundantly clear.

Get Real About Expectations and Outcomes

Truth #1: Here’s How Much It Costs to Rank #1 on Google

Everybody wants to be successful, and most people want it to happen yesterday. The ugly truth of the matter is that this is not going to happen. You simply cannot force your way to outrun your competitors. It must be done methodically, over time, working your business into the top spots with trial and error, great online content, and hard-won success.

For all those reasons, you should be incredibly wary of any company that promises you the moon – or any all-too-specific results, really. If an SEO company says that they can rank your HVAC repair company for $500 per month, we’ve got some very bad news for you: you’re almost certainly being ripped off, knowingly or not.

Here’s why… First, there are a lot of HVAC companies in any given area. The one that currently ranks #1 on Google in your particular city or town is most likely spending thousands of dollars every single month on digital marketing to gain and maintain that spot.

How much, exactly?

In our experience, the minimum spend is at least $2,000 a month on blogging, product pages, and landing pages (aka, SEO content), plus additional spend on Pay Per Click (or PPC) advertising. In other words, in competitive industries, your competition is already vastly outspending you and has probably been doing so for years.


You might wonder why it costs so much just to rank on Google. For one, high-quality writers are not cheap. Most copywriters charge on a per-word basis, and you’ll definitely need a lot of words to fill out your content pages. Keep in mind that this is only for ranking and search engine traffic. This doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get emails, filled-out forms, or calls!

Once you see the real-world numbers, you realize that there’s no possible way an SEO company is going to come in and rank you at the #1 spot on Google or any other search engine for $500/month. It’s just not going to happen, and that means any attempt to do so is – very literally – throwing away your money.

Truth #2: Here’s Why It’s So Hard to Rank #1 on Google

Well, if it costs so much to rank on the biggest search engine in the world, what about organic content on its own? Surely, there’s a way to get your pages onto the first page of Google without spending bankrupting your business in the process? If you’ve been reading along so far, you probably already know the answer to these questions already… Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies have one of the most difficult jobs in all of online marketing: ranking on Google. It’s a lot like trying to win a BBQ cooking contest. A chef knows it needs to taste great, but they don’t know the precise taste buds of all the judges. So, why is ranking on Google so hard? Two main reasons.

  1. There are billions of web pages trying to do the same thing (literally).
  2. Google never releases their algorithm for ranking content (not even close).

Because of this, any digital marketing or content company (including ours) is making a SWAG (or Sophisticated Wild Ass Guess). If someone tells you that they know the secret, then there’s only one response: run away, because they are lying to you. Of course, as an experienced digital marketing company, we have an incredible amount of data on how the algorithm works. We use this knowledge, in addition to Google’s own established best practices, to come up with the best strategy to rank your content.


Find out more about case studies here

Truth #3: Here’s How to Spot Genuine Digital Marketing Companies

If you are set on using digital marketing companies (and you should be, to fuel your company’s growth), then you need to have some sort of metric or tool to spot the good ones. In other words, which ones are genuine and which ones are, for lack of a better term, fake?

There’s really only one way to know for sure: Case Studies. What is a Case Study? A case study is a past experience the digital marketing company has had with creating conversions for another client or group of clients. Simply put, it’s proof that they know what they’re doing.

Not to overuse the analogy here, but it’s very much like sampling food from a restaurant. You know immediately whether it’s something you want more of. Some examples of case studies:

  • How much Return on Investment (ROI) does every $1 spent on PPC advertising return to a specific business?
  • How many new followers on social media convert to a paying customer or client in your industry?
  • What is the lifetime value of a client or customer acquired through paid social media advertising such as Facebook or Instagram?
  • How many impressions does it take to convert from top of funnel to paying customers on various platforms and channels?

As you can see, each one of these has a specific metric for the digital marketing agency that is attached to a specific outcome for your company.

In other words, case studies show how any particular digital marketing company achieves real-world success for their clients. If your digital agency does not have these available, our advice is to look elsewhere. For some excellent case study examples, check out ours.

If They Show Their Work, Then It Won’t Work Out

Remember third grade, when your teacher made you “show your work” on math tests? The same principle applies to digital marketing companies. They need to be able to tell you how they are achieving your conversion goals in specific and concrete terms that make.

Don’t let jargon get in the way. If you don’t understand something, make them explain it again. Make them show their work.

A Good Marketing Agency Understands Your Business Like You Do


The only goal of a digital marketing agency is to help you make more money. Think of it this way: You are spending money on a service that should be unique to you. If you look and sound exactly like everyone else how do you stand out from the crowd? Don’t spend money for leads that you do not want. Get calls from your perfect customer the majority of the time.

With a digital advertising company that treats every customer personally, you get original content and a lot more interaction with your marketing firm. You may spend more upfront, but you get a better return on your investment in the long run. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. That is absolutely true in marketing.

Any good digital marketing firm will be able to see things like average order value, average lead generation cost, and make adjustments accordingly. But a great firm understands exactly what your company does and why they do it, in order to optimize their digital campaigns in a way that aligns perfectly with you and your customer base.

Hold Digital Marketing Companies Accountable

There’s a few ways you can keep your digital marketing firm accountable. The first is to demand quantifiable deliverables. The second is to ask great questions and require excellent, tangible answers.


Some questions to ask before you hire an advertising agency:

  • How much will we be spending each week/month in order to achieve our goals?
  • Where exactly is our money going, and how does your agency make the most of my marketing spend?
  • When do you make changes to the campaign, and how do you know when to do that?
  • What is the specific, day-to-day workflow for my SEO and advertising campaigns?
  • Who will contact me to give specific explanations and reports each month on how the campaigns are going?

While the mechanics of these tasks is largely simple to an expert, the explanations ought to be understandable by anyone at your company that needs to know. And, truth be told, the real magic isn’t the technological knowhow, but in the precise execution of the tasks themselves in a way that directly converts for your company.

How to Avoid One-Trick Ponies

With the proliferation of social media, smartphones, and apps, anybody can claim to be a digital marketing expert or guru. But the proof, as we have seen, is in the pudding. Or, rather, in the BBQ sandwich.

To extend the food analogy a bit, think about restaurants for a moment. No restaurant on the planet serves only one dish. That would be a terrible business model. Even ice cream parlors sell different flavors, toppings, banana splits, and milkshakes. Pizza places often sell salads and sandwiches too.

The point is this: a digital marketing agency shouldn’t just be able to do one thing really well. They should be able to craft a well-rounded plan that includes all the tools in the digital marketing tool belt.

Here’s a list of the major core digital competencies:

  • SEO
  • Backlinks
  • Social media
  • Website Design
  • Local SEO
  • Content creation
  • Video generation (no page)
  • Organic Social Media
  • Paid Social Media
  • Google/Bing PPC
    • Fun fact: Bing usually converts at a lower Cost Per Click (CPC) than Google does.

Yes, this is a lot. No one digital marketing company will execute perfectly in all of them. Instead, they will often have a few that they excel in, and these are how you determine the best agency for your business.

For example, hiring an agency that specializes in e-commerce doesn’t make sense if you’re a plumbing company. It’s unlikely that they will understand the nuance of how things like Google My Business and citation building work in practice. By the same token, a digital marketing agency that specializes in local business marketing is not likely to fully understand how to compete against the juggernauts of Amazon and Wal-Mart.


By now, it should be clear that not all digital marketing companies are created equal. In fact, many of them are not invested in your success at all. All they care about is making a paycheck and moving on.

Yet, there are a lot of great marketing companies out there as well. So, don’t give up hope. To recap, it’s important to know your business so you can know what you want your marketing firm to do. Then ask questions and look for the details. The good firms have a few things in common:

  • Specific measurable goals and outcomes
  • Practical expectations and regular (monthly) deliverables
  • They can explain their process and “show their work”
  • Like good food, it’s effective and there’s a specific recipe
  • Excel in a few areas, competent in all areas
  • Honest about their abilities

Of course, there’s also one thing that good digital marketing companies don’t do, too. They do not overpromise. If you hear, “You’ll be #1 on Google in one month!”, then you should turn around and run in the opposite direction, so you don’t waste your money.

At Cut Throat Marketing, we work hard to maintain honesty, clarity, transparency, and measurable deliverables for all of our clients. At the end of the day, we don’t care if you choose us. We do care that you aren’t duped or conned. If you have any questions about choosing a digital marketing company, let us know. We are always here to help.

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