Fairytale MarketingOnce upon a time, an emperor learned about a nightingale whose song was the most beautiful in the land. He moved heaven and earth to acquire the bird—only to be persuaded instead to substitute a mechanical bird that could perform with a superior technique. Or so he thought.

Of course, it was only when the mechanical bird broke that the emperor realized the nightingale’s true value.

What does this little tale have to do with choosing an online marketing company? Plenty, as it turns out.

If you own a small business, chances are that you’ve heard plenty of tunes from online marketing firms. Most of them sound great at first. But which ones are singing a melody that lasts? In other words—how can you be certain that you’re investing in a company whose strategies will generate new leads and keep your business living happily ever after?

Know Your Own Story

Before you can predict a wise choice and a happy ending for your small business, you need to know your own story. Here’s a basic outline to help you get started:

  1. Do your research. How much do you know about search engine optimization, or SEO? If you don’t understand the basics, you’ll be more vulnerable to scammers and disreputable online marketing companies.
  2. Develop your story’s plot. Do you want to generate a certain percentage of new leads every month? Are you aiming for a fixed number of sales within a year? Have a goal.
  3. Introduce new characters. What kinds of customers are you trying to attract? If you’re targeting the same customer base over and over, maybe you need to expand your products or services.

Know Their Story

Now we come to the tricky part—separating the good online marketers from the charlatans. Take a look at the following strategies to help you better discern who’s pretending and who’s telling the real story:


  • Don’t require basic information from you (administrative passwords to your site, lists of keywords used by potential customers, access to online tools and Google Analytics, etc.)
  • Offer no specific recommendations for how you can improve your online rankings
  • Disguise their process so you don’t ever really know what their strategies are
  • Never report back on their progress.

Put it this way: If you ask them to report on what they’re doing for your company and you hear statements like “our strategies are confidential,” “it’s complicated; we basically optimize your website for Google,” OR “our company isn’t allowed full disclosure,” these are all bad signs.

If your rankings and site traffic also take a precipitous nosedive, start asking questions immediately. Of course, you may find that an algorithm penalty is to blame—but you may also find you’ve been the unwitting victim of black hat SEO practices. It pays to know the difference.

Here’s what you should be looking for instead.

Truth tellers:

  • Are transparent (giving you easy access to deliverables like reports, site audits, new page content, etc.)
  • Give you recommendations (suggestions for site architecture, social media improvements, site maps, onsite optimizations, blog strategies, and other specifics)
  • Improve your rankings and visibility (keywords begin to rank, SERP listings move higher, etc.)
  • Help you long term (for example, your site is more focused on the right kinds of customers so you see a gradual climb in revenue instead of just more traffic)

Be a Realist

Sure, it’s fun to live in a fairytale now and then. But the realists are the ones who go beyond the bells and whistles by recognizing the real thing for what it is.

Narrow down potential online marketing companies to your top 5; then, you can start asking for customer references and case studies. Dig a little deeper until you get the answers you’re looking for.

So—how do you know you’ve chosen the right online marketing company for your small business? You’ll investigate. You’ll get the right answers to your questions. You’ll trust your instincts. While there’s no magic wand any SEO company can wave to make your business live happily ever after, if you’re patient, you’ll begin to see quantifiable results by following this path.

After all, aren’t proven results the best kind of happy ending?