Since the first spammy backlink was placed on some poor unsuspecting forum about organic gardening and weight loss, SEO and marketing agencies have suffered a bad rap, and rightly so.
First from Bloggers, then from more traditional marketing outfits who were perhaps a wee bit jealous, followed by search engines who were made to look foolish and finally from an increasingly savvy online business world who can now spot a dodgy promise of search engine glory from 50 paces.
Seeing the writing on the wall, many advertising, SEO and marketing agencies attempted a total rebranding. In the USA, Moz moved from SEO to a tools, content and research niche and Media Vision in the UK re-branded itself from search optimisation to digital marketing.
There are still some, “old fashioned” SEO services out there, mooching for links and picking up the scraps that fall from the masters table. They still guarantee that a $90 package of this or a bag of that will get you poll position in Google.
However, in an increasingly smart online marketplace and an increasingly sophisticated search world, fewer and fewer people are taking any notice.
A recent report from Smart Insights shows that while spending on digital marketing has increased by 13.2% this year, the level of excellence in marketing has remained stagnant.
People are spending more on marketing, but marketing agencies are not keeping up with the technology and perhaps not adapting fast enough to take advantage of the trend.
So, what is an SEO or Marketing Agency to do? Should they rebrand and become more sophisticated? Have the days of selling a few backlink packages come to an end in favour of a more complete and expert marketing team? Should they be offering more service – or perhaps offering less, but being an expert and authority in a single niche?
Get Big or Get out – The Need to Offer More
Here is your first option as a digital marketing agency in the midst of a changing online landscape. You can build out your current SEO services to include a fully-fledged digital marketing agency.
You can continue selling snake oil by the bottle, but you really do risk being swamped by big pharma (Bet they didn’t see that coming). I suspect many smaller agencies feel the truth of that statement already, even if their marketing doesn’t admit it.
They know that the SEO that once was, no longer is, and is dying fast. It will probably be dead by the end of 2017.
Going big is hard work if you don’t truly have the expertise. Scaling up is also tough if you don’t have the resources. If you hope to survive, and expansion is your goal, then you are going to need both of these attributes.
That does not mean that you have to scale in all directions or even scale all at once. Going big is a long term venture. It may begin by offering a few additional digital tools, something that a lot of agencies are doing right now.
It may mean developing just one or two more marketing services as you develop your own expertise in new areas. If you have been running a pure link building and citation racket, maybe you could rebrand by mastering – and then delivering – some social media services.
If you have been spinning content like a dervish, maybe you could stop that (please), and start offering a wider range of legitimate content services including infographics, visual design and other rich media.
It may mean outsourcing to people who actually know how to write original content in English or outsourcing your video marketing.
Outsourcing is a great option for those who want to expand their services but don’t have all the expertise to compete straight away.
Get Focused or Get Lost – The Need to Find Your Angle
The other option moves in the opposite direction, but can be equally successful. Instead of offering your clients the world, you focus on one area of online marketing.
Rebranding here means ditching services that are no longer effective or viable.
Most of my clients today are other digital agencies who understand that to scale their own business up they needed to outsource the bits they either don’t like doing or don’t know how to do.
Since what I do best is write, research and network, I have reduced my major services to creating and placing linkable content for digital agencies on behalf of their clients.
No more staying up till 3am trying to configure someone’s Facebook account or entering mindless contact details on Yelp. Yay for me!
Scaling down may not necessarily mean scaling back services either. It may mean marketing to only one sector. Perhaps in means specialising in sport, or food, or ugg boots.
Scaling down seems counter-intuitive to many but it is worth the risk. If you can’t be bothered managing large teams (and I can’t), but you can master one form of marketing, you can still do well in online marketing and SEO.
You can survive the bubonic death currently gobbling up all those SEO agencies that refuse to change.
Whichever path you take, one thing seems pretty clear. If you are a small SEO outfit offering poor links and spun nonsense, your market share is set to decrease.
The forecast is clear and it’s only a matter of time before you either shape up or ship out.