It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are a lot of unsavory characters in this business. Because let’s face it, we’ve all (including me) been the recipients of nonstop email and Robo-call campaigns to try to get us to buy these services.
But what has never ceased to surprise me are the business practices of so-called “legitimate” digital marketing companies. It is those I’d like to address here, as well as our philosophy of how to run a digital marketing agency ethically.
Websites, domains, hosting plans, and more
It is our opinion that when we build a website for someone, it is “work for hire,” and they own the website. This means that we set up hosting for our clients and upload the new website to that web host. The clients have full access to that account, and everything included.
Seems logical, right? Not so fast. There are a number of high profile companies that build websites for clients, and then hold the clients hostage should those clients want anyone else to work on the website. This includes not only the websites themselves, but also the domain names.
Again, our philosophy is that the client owns the domain name. Even if we end up purchasing and setting up the domain name for them — and we do this all the time — we register the domain in the client’s name.
I cannot count the number of times that a client has come to us to do work on their website, at which point we find out that:
- The company that built the original website “owns” the domain name.
- The company that built the original website has set up hosting on their server, to which the client has no access.
In many instances, that original company has tried to extort (and yes, I believe that is the correct word) money from the client in order to get access to their own website and/or domain name! It sounds ridiculous, but this happens more often than you might think.
SEO, and everything that goes along with it
When doing SEO, an agency is essentially amassing search engine placements for a specific domain (website address). In our experience, there is a technique that is used a disturbing amount of the time:
- An SEO company sets up a website on a domain separate from the client’s actual website and domain. Example: the client’s website is www.widgets.com; the agency sets up a separate website at www.thesewidgets.com.
- In this scenario, the SEO agency creates an entirely separate website. It is on THIS separate website that the agency puts content (blog posts and/or articles), and does “under-the-hood” meta-tagging.
- Finally, the SEO agency builds a network of inbound links that goes to this separate website.
After some period of time, the client decides they want to hire a new agency (us, for instance). But when we look at the situation, it turns out that the previous SEO company owns not only the website that has been “optimized,” but everything associated with it. If the client terminates their relationship with that marketing company, all of the search engine optimization work that has been done up to that time disappears.
This is especially egregious because it is the application of time, work, and resources over a long period that provides the benefit in SEO. Thus, in great part, the client is denied the enormous potential of the search engine equity that has been built up to this point.
As you can probably guess by now, we do NOT work this way. All of our SEO efforts are focused on the client’s website. Any content we add, any meta-tagging we do, and all inbound links are connected with the client’s website. Thus, whether or not the client continues to work with us in the future, they maintain the benefit of all the work we have done in the past.
The process of PPC / Pay-Per-Click / Google Ads marketing
First, we should explain why we conflate PPC marketing in general with Google Ads marketing specifically. For better or worse, Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the industry. Not based just on their size, but also due to the fact that their system is head and shoulders above any other PPC system around.
So, the process of building a PPC campaign involves setting up and managing a Google Ads account, including:
- Researching and building a list of key phrases
- Segregating the account into campaigns and ad groups
- Creating functions to track the metrics (cost, cost-per-click, conversions, etc.), and
- Building any text and/or graphic ads desired.
During the course of a campaign, not only are these things constantly tweaked, but the data gathered over time is especially valuable. You can probably see where this is going, by now!
Some PPC agencies feel that they own all of these materials. Should the client at any time decide to leave that original agency, they lose the benefit of not only the entire structure, but also the backlog of invaluable data.
Our approach is different. We believe that we are the caretakers of this information. When we set up a Google Ads account for a client, we set it up in their name. We merely assign ourselves as managers of the account. Thus, continuity is maintained, no matter who ends up managing the account.
Last, but certainly not least: Tracking platforms
In the world of online marketing, the old saying goes “Content is king.” This is definitely true. However, in the world of managing online marketing, “Data is dynamite.” The more data you have, the more effectively you can apply the resources of your marketing where they do the most good.
Thus, as we do with everything else, we set up all tracking platforms in the client’s name, and provide 24/7 access to all the accounts. This includes Google Analytics, Google Search Console, website hosting accounts, etc.
The only exceptions are third-party platforms, such as SEOMoz (a valuable position and tracking device), for which we pay and maintain a master account, then assign sub-accounts to our clients. In these specific instances, it would be cost-prohibitive for us to open up a separate account for every client. However, we provide reports for our clients whenever they request them.
Similar to everything else we do, our philosophy remains focused on our clients. They own the accounts, materials, and the data. We are more than happy to manage and maintain that information as long as they wish us to. But should they decide to go in a different direction, they own and have complete access to everything.
Why do all companies not operate the way we do?
It probably comes as no big surprise that the reason companies employ some of the objectionable tactics we have described above, is that they benefit financially. By owning their clients’ materials and data, they keep the clients tied to them for fear of losing all the benefits that have been accrued.
And as a final note, we should address our approach to contracts. Many, many agencies in the digital marketing field require their clients to sign contracts for some specified period of time. We do not. The reason?
It is our opinion that the client should stay with us because they appreciate the work we are doing, not because they are legally bound by a contract they have signed. That being said, it is never a good idea to go into a digital marketing program with the idea of bailing out after a short period. We are very clear upfront about this: while we allow our clients to leave at any time, we don’t recommend them beginning a relationship with us unless they are prepared to allow the process to work.
We are committed to the maximum benefit for our clients, and that means giving the process long enough to work properly.