Digital marketing mania: A word of caution while businesses are pivoting online during lockdowns

digital marketing

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Across the nation, various stages of lockdown have returned. This has had the same effect on digital marketers like myself as it did last time: there is a sudden surge in businesses looking to see if they can start generating revenue and leads online.

Some have been operating the same way for decades and forced to switch, others are a bit more digitally savvy but are looking to take it to the next level. Either way, the net effect is simple: there is far more competition online for things like advertising and far less knowledge among this pandemic-inspired wave of businesses on what it is they are actually buying and whether they are getting good value for their money.

I run a marketing agency, so you would probably think I’m overjoyed at this situation. I’m genuinely not. My concern is that so many of these businesses are going to have their fingers burned from their experience this next six months that it will impact our industry for years to come.

My goal here is to educate on what’s happening in the market, and what you can do to help get your business online and keep going despite one of the most challenging environments you will likely ever encounter.

The digital marketing game has changed

Far more competition means it costs more to get the same results now than it did this time last year, and more still than in 2019. Despite the digital world being infinite, ultimately there are only so many cost-effective ways of reaching an audience with an advertisement. That’s bad enough, but on top of this, big tech firms like Apple are making it more difficult through privacy changes.

Facebook is a great example of these two factors combining to great effect. It was a mainstay of SMB marketing, but the platform has become much more difficult to get results on now compared to pre-pandemic on everything from plumbing to florists to professional services. It’s not just that there are now, say, five more plumbing businesses in your area looking for business online, it’s also that marketers cannot directly target good potential customers (e.g. those that have recently used terms like ‘plunger’) as easily as before. So there’s more competition, and far more advertisements put in front of people who really don’t need a plumber right now. There won’t be a single marketing agency in the world who will not have noticed this impact in their campaign results. 

In short, the game has changed. If you’re looking for digital marketing staff, freelancers or agencies, make sure you ask them about this. If you’re presented a case study of similar work, find out when the work was done. 2021? Great! 2019? Different ball game.

The best thing to do is not commit

This doesn’t just go for digital marketing, but virtually all service providers right now — don’t lock yourself into a set number of months work in advance. It’s for the service provider to prove to you they can deliver results month in, month out. There are very few reasons why a small to medium sized business would benefit from locking themselves in with a single provider for more than a month at a time. 

Do your own research and start asking questions

Despite the fact you’re hiring experts for a reason (if you knew how to do it to their level, you’d do it yourself!), you’re going to need to know a bit about everything you’re looking to hire for

But what first? Digital marketing is big. If you’re starting from near-zero, look into what works when it comes to making websites convert first. This is one of those topics where there really are some common ‘right answers’ — for example, if you’re looking to build an existing business, a solid online presence with WordPress is going to go much further than Shopify. If it’s a side-hustle, WordPress might be a waste when Shopify would get the job done. Even armed with basic knowledge like this can then let you ask questions of people like me that will get useful answers you can then use to build your knowledge base further. 

You should also learn not how it’s done, but what each of the digital marketing disciplines mean. Again, here’s a practical example: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) — this is the art of getting your business onto the first page of search results on Google (organic search results), just below the ads. Given that advertising is getting more expensive, and Google themselves say that their ads get smaller clicks than organic search results, this is increasingly valuable, so you might think to search ‘SEO Australia’ or ‘SEO Provider’ into Google to get someone on the case immediately.

Now, a total novice would simply click on the first few ads they see. But now that you know SEO is different to ads, you can skip the ads entirely and go for the first few organic search results below the paid ad placements. This is because if your SEO provider paid to place their ads to get on the top of the first page of that search term, it’s not a great sign they’ll be able to get great SEO results for you. In this industry, the ‘proof is in the pudding’ and those providers that rank well in organic search usually know how to rank their clients well too. 

There are plenty of ‘new entrant’ traps in every industry. Digital marketing is no exception, and just a few hours of research can save months of pain. The world is going online, but that’s no reason to rush things — take your time to learn and get it right.

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