Internet Marketing: Should you hire an SEO firm that does not also provide Social Media expertise?

by Jeremy Powers on February 12, 2012

Internet Marketing Cincinnati diagram by Winding Staircase LLC

The internet marketing questions never cease. This past week, fellow marketer Amy McTobin (@AmyMccTobin) asked an important question regarding what to look for in an SEO vendor. Here is a quick review of our Twitter dialogue:

AmyMccTobin on Twitter

Should an SEO also know Social?

SEO should know Social!

I am not an SEO specialist.

Now I don’t consider myself a top expert when it comes to search engine optimization. I am more of an internet marketing generalist than an SEO specialist. It could be that six months from now it is absolutely necessary that your SEO provider also be your Social Media expert. I would certainly like to believe Winding Staircase is a “one-stop internet marketing shop” for our clients, and I know we can provide the internet marketing expertise they need.

To provide the highest quality search optimization AND social media marketing expertise, however, your firm would need to be large and working with large budgets.¬†For local companies needing local search optimization, you don’t need to work with a large and expensive agency. A small and knowledgeable shop like mine will get you much more “bang for your buck.”

How much Social Media expertise should your SEO vendor have?

Any decent internet marketer knows that social media is increasingly affecting your search engine rankings. (That is why Amy had the forethought to ask the question.) If, therefore, your SEO provider says Facebook and Twitter do not have any influence on your rankings….FIRE HIM IMMEDIATELY!

At a minimum, your SEO expert should be able to talk intelligently about G+. He should know Google seems to be updating their algorithm to increase the importance of social media. He should also be able to identify niche platforms and forums that could help grow your credibility online.

Lastly, I would expect anyone you pay for search optimization to ask about your current social network usage and partners. Who manages your fanpage? Do you have a social media strategy? How dated is that strategy and are you following it? He shouldn’t be expected to correct the issues he sees, but he should be confident enough to tell you when he sees an error in your thinking.

What I would not expect a local SEO provider to know about Social Media

There are many things I would expect a “social media expert” to know that I would not expect a “local SEO guru” to know. For starters, there seem to be about a dozen new “big” social media or sharing platforms launched each month. Your common SEO expert is not going to be hip on the latest and greatest. As an example, even though internet marketing is my business, I have not yet begun to learn about Pinterest.

Second, an internet marketer that only provides help with your Google rankings should not be expected to help grow your Facebook fanpage audience. Asking him to get you your next 500 FB fans is like asking your butcher how to make a good pasta. He might have an answer, but you shouldn’t give his advice much weight.

Third, if you are working with a small SEO provider, such as a 1-3 person shop, you shouldn’t ask them how to invest the rest of your web marketing budget. Their answer will likely be either “more seo” or “we also provide pay-per-click marketing.”

Last, an SEO expert is likely to be more analytical than creative. Other than optimizing tags and copy, you shouldn’t take any web design recommendations from him. More to the point, he shouldn’t be so bold as to tell how to improve your color palette or what font you should be using.

Enter the “Small Firm” Internet Marketing Generalist

There is definitely a need for “seo only” experts. In general, however, most businesses are better served by trusting their internet marketing budgets to a generalist. A credible generalist will know when your needs are too large or specific for their staff, and more to the point, a true generalist will know who you should work with when you need a unique solution. That is, if one of my clients ever needs SEO help my team is unqualified to provide, I know exactly who I will recommend they call.

Each week I talk with several small web marketing companies from across the United States. Most of us provide general web marketing: website design, email marketing, social media, seo, and search marketing. We know our limitations, but we rarely exceed our skills.


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Amy McCloskey Tobin

Thank Jeremy for putting SO much into your answer. I’ve used a ‘local SEO’ guy for a few years who has done a great job, but can only handle so much. However, I need more fire power and went searching for a larger firm that can handle more work.

A friend of mine recently went to work for a larger SEO firm that has few huge contracts and is looking for smaller agencies to service. They do ZERO Social, and I mean for themselves. THAT threw me.

Thanks for your well thought out post.

Jeremy Powers

Here in Cincinnati, there are still a few SEO shops that don’t seem to have any social media offerings, but it is increasingly rare. I have never worked in any agency other than my own; I was always on the client/brand side.

I would expect the large SEO firm you mentioned will be looking for some social media talent soon. Internet marketing is not a mature industry, what is true today won’t necessarily be true 6 months from now.

Thanks for inspiring a new article!

Mila Araujo

Hey Jeremy, This was a great article. My favorite line: “A credible generalist will know when your needs are too large or specific for their staff, and more to the point, a true generalist will know who you should work with when you need a unique solution.”

When people turn to a firm for assistance, they should be able to expect expertise, the most important part of this is knowing when something exceeds your bounds. It is unfortunate that so many companies out there either don’t know their own limitations – or are too interested in making the sale , than to put their customers needs first.

I think a another good question to ask might be, “What are your strengths as a web marketing firm, and then where are your shortcomings or challenges? (Do you work with 3rd parties to ensure the best for your clients?) ” The answer will hopefully provide clues to the level of self awareness of the firm and how genuine they are by the form of their answer.

I think you do a wonderful overview here…thanks for putting all the facts out there!

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