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Should You Choose a Generalist or Specialist Marketing Agency?

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When you decide to hire an outside marketing agency – either because you want to outsource your marketing entirely or supplement your existing in-house team – you’ll have a lot of decisions to make.

And one of the biggest will be whether to hire a generalist or specialist agency.

Let’s start by defining our terms: a generalist marketing agency is one that handles all kinds of marketing. These may include (but not be limited to):

  • Content creation and strategy
  • Social media management
  • SEO
  • SEM
  • Email marketing
  • Analytics
  • Media buying
  • Affiliate marketing.

A specialist agency, in contrast, will focus on only one of those channels. So they will do only SEO or only email marketing, for example.

So which should you choose?

There’s no wrong or right answer.

But as you might have guessed, each choice has its pros and cons.

Perhaps this is why some businesses end up switching from one to the other and then back again. They’re never entirely happy because they’re never entirely clear on what they need.

For example, we just lost a client because they wanted to transition to a generalist agency. Ironically, we actually took on this client five years ago because they wanted to transition from a generalist to a specialist agency!

By taking a closer look at the pros and cons – and by answering a few questions – you can hopefully make a decision that you can stick with for the longer term.

Let’s walk through some of them.

Q1: Do You Need All Marketing Channels Offered? Or Only One or Two Predominantly?

Does your organization need all of the marketing channels listed above? Probably not. Affiliate marketing isn’t a great fit for B2B companies, for example.

If you lean heavily on one marketing discipline for most of your leads, then you might be better off with a specialist agency, or perhaps two specialist agencies.

For example, PPC drives 55-70% of leads for some of our clients, which makes them a great fit for a specialist agency.

If they decide to put more emphasis on a different marketing channel in the future, then they might want to hire a second agency that specializes in that area.

You might assume that with a big agency your account team will be made up of specialists who are experts in your preferred marketing channels.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

This point came home to us recently when we were interviewing to fill a position on my team.

The candidate was working for a generalist agency. We asked her specific questions about PPC management (an area she supported) and her answers revealed a lack of deep understanding.

Concerned, we asked if she had a Google Ads expert on her team she could go to if she had questions. She did not. Instead, she would have to call the Google helpline for assistance.

Given our recent poor experiences with the Google helpline, this was also not encouraging.

What’s more, she noted that her agency had moved into digital about five years ago and was working to get caught up. Gulp!

Thankfully, this isn’t always the case. Some generalist agencies are good about hiring and assigning real channel experts to account teams.

Even so, we still get a fair number of clients coming to us from generalist agencies with complaints about a lack of knowledge in the marketing channels they needed the most.

So when you’re considering hiring a generalist agency, ask questions to find out who will be on your account team.

  • What is their background and experience in your preferred marketing channels?
  • How much turnover can you expect?
  • Who can they turn to for advice, guidance, and training?

And if they say the Google helpline, run!

Q2: How Big Is Your Budget?

Say you’re a small manufacturing company, and you create a specific product for a specific type of audience.

Your total monthly marketing budget is $1,000 per month, which leaves a small monthly budget of about $300 for your Google Ads program.

It’s unlikely that a specialist PPC agency will be willing to take on that account. It’s simply too small.

However, you might find a generalist agency (or marketing person) that will be willing to manage it for you.

Q3: Are You New to the Game?

If you’re a startup, it’s often best to hire a generalist first.

You want someone who’s solid, trustworthy, and can figure out just about anything.

Then, as you grow, you can start hiring specialists, either in-house or as agencies.

The original generalist will continue to run the department as you grow. And they’ll do it well because everything will have already passed through their hands.

Q4: Do You Prioritize Performance or Convenience?

In some cases, convenience is the number one consideration.

You don’t have time to meet with your SEO consultant, then your social media consultant and then your content marketer. If that’s the case, then a generalist is the way to go.

However, in many cases, performance is the priority. And is well worth the time it takes to manage multiple specialists.

Q5: Do You Already Have an in House Team, but You’re Lacking in One Area?

Maybe you already have a solid in-house team, but you can’t seem to nail down the right specialist in one particular area.

I get it! Sometimes, it’s really hard to find the perfect fit.

In those cases, an option is to keep your in house team but then bring in a specialist agency to manage that one marketing stream for you.

We have done this for companies before. Sometimes it’s for a short term (while they’re trying to hire the right in house person) and sometimes it’s for a longer term (they give up on hiring the right person and keep us on).

Whatever You Do, Ask Questions

As you can see, the decision as to whether to go with a generalist or specialist will depend on your situation.

But regardless of the decision you make, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Who will be working on your account? What are their specialties? Who can they go to for support?

And if you’re not happy with the answers, keep on looking.

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Featured Image: Dreamstime.com



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TripAdvisor says it blocked or removed nearly 1.5 million fake reviews in 2018

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The majority of consumers (80% – 90%) routinely consult reviews before buying something, whether online or off. The powerful influence of reviews on purchase behavior has spawned a cottage industry of fake-reviews, a problem that is growing on major sites such as Amazon, Google and Yelp, among other places.

Just over 2% of reviews submitted were fake. TripAdvisor is one of those other places, where reviews form the core of the company’s content and the principle reason consumers visit. How much of the review activity on TripAdvisor is fraudulent? In its inaugural TripAdvisor Transparency Report the company says that 2.1% of all reviews submitted to the site in 2018 were fake. (A total of 4.7% of all review submissions were rejected or removed for violating TripAdvisor’s review guidelines, which extend beyond fraud.)

Source: TripAdvisor Review Transparency Report

73% blocked by machine detection. Given the volume of review submissions TripAdvisor receives – more than 66 million in 2018 – that translates into roughly 1.4 million fake reviews. TripAdvisor says that 73% of those fake reviews were blocked before being posted, while the remainder of fake reviews were later removed. The company also says that it has “stopped the activity of more than 75 websites that were caught trying to sell reviews” since 2015.

TripAdvisor defines “fake review” as one “written by someone who is trying to unfairly manipulate a business’ average rating or traveler ranking, such as a staff member or a business’ competitor. Reviews that give an account of a genuine customer’s experience, even if elements of that account are disputed by the business in question, are not categorized as fake.”

The company uses a mix of machine detection, human moderation and community flagging to catch fraudulent reviews. The bulk of inauthentic reviews (91%) are fake positive reviews TripAdvisor says.

Most of the fake reviews that are submitted to TripAdvisor (91%) are "biased positive reviews."
Source: TripAdvisor Review Transparency Report

TripAdvisor says that the review fraud problem is global, with fake reviews originating in most countries. However, it said there was a higher percentage than average of fake reviews “originating from Russia.” By contrast, China is the source of many fake reviews on Amazon.

Punishing fake reviews. TripAdvisor has a number of penalties and punishments for review fraud. In the first instance of a business being caught posting or buying fake reviews, TripAdvisor imposes a temporary ranking penalty.

Upon multiple infractions, the company will impose a content ban that prevents the individual or individuals in question from posting additional reviews and content on the site. It also prevents the involved parties from creating new accounts to circumvent the ban.

In the most extreme cases, the company will apply a badge of shame (penalty badge) that warns consumers the business has repeatedly attempted to defraud them. This is effectively a kiss of death for the business. Yelp does something similar.

Why we should care. Consumer trust is eroding online. It’s incumbent upon major consumer destinations sites to police their reviews aggressively and prevent unscrupulous merchants from deceiving consumers. Yelp has been widely criticized for its “review filter” but credit the company for its long-standing efforts to protect the integrity of its content.

Google and Amazon, in particular, need to do much more to combat review spam and fraud. Hopefully TripAdvisor’s effort and others like it will inspire them to.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.

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10 Key Checks for Assessing Crawl Hygiene

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When optimizing our websites for crawlability, our main goal is to make sure that search engines are spending their time on our most important pages so that they are regularly crawled and any new content can be found.

Each time Googlebot visits your website, it has a limited window in which to crawl and discover as many pages and links on your site as possible. When that limit is hit, it will stop.

The time it takes for your pages to be revisited depends on a number of different factors that play into how Google prioritizes URLs for crawling, including:

  • PageRank.
  • XML sitemap inclusion.
  • Position within the site’s architecture.
  • How frequently the page changes.
  • And more.

The bottom line is: your site only gets Googlebot’s attention for a finite amount of time with each crawl, which could be infrequent. Make sure that time is spent wisely.

It can be hard to know where to start when analyzing how well-optimized your site is for search engine crawlers, especially when you work on a large site with a lot of URLs to analyze, or work in a large company with a lot of competing priorities and outstanding SEO fixes to prioritize.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of top-level checks for assessing crawl hygiene to give you a starting point for your analysis.

1. How Many Pages Are Being Indexed vs. How Many Indexable Pages Are There on the Site?

Why This Is Important

This shows you how many pages on your site are available for Google to index, and how many of those pages Google was actually able to find and how many it determined were important enough to be indexed.

An indexability pie chart in DeepCrawlBar chart showing indexed pages in Google Search Console

2. How Many Pages Are Being Crawled Overall?

Why This Is Important

Comparing Googlebot’s crawl activity against the number of pages you have on your site can give you insights into how many pages Google either can’t access, or has determined aren’t enough of a priority to schedule to be crawled regularly.

Crawl stats line graph in Google Search ConsoleBar chart showing Googlebot crawling in Logz.io

3. How Many Pages Aren’t Indexable?

Why This Is Important

Spending time crawling non-indexable pages isn’t the best use of Google’s crawl budget. Check how many of these pages are being crawled, and whether or not any of them should be made available for indexing.

Bar chart showing non-indexable pages in DeepCrawl

4. How Many URLs Are Being Disallowed from Being Crawled?

Why This Is Important

This will show you how many pages you are preventing search engines from accessing on your site. It’s important to make sure that these pages aren’t important for indexing or for discovering further pages for crawling.

Bar chart showing pages blocked by the robots.txt in Google Search Console

5. How Many Low-Value Pages Are Being Indexed?

Why This Is Important

Looking at which pages Google has already indexed on your site gives an indication into the areas of the site that the crawler has been able to access.

For example, these might be pages that you haven’t included in your sitemaps as they are low-quality, but have been found and indexed anyway.

Bar chart showing pages indexed but not submitted in a sitemap in Google Search Console

6. How Many 4xx Error Pages Are Being Crawled?

Why This Is Important

It’s important to make sure that crawl budget isn’t being used up on error pages instead of pages that you want to have indexed.

Googlebot will periodically try to crawl 404 error pages to see whether the page is live again, so make sure you use 410 status codes correctly to show that pages are gone and don’t need to be recrawled.

A line graph showing broken pages in DeepCrawl

7. How Many Internal Redirects Are Being Crawled?

Why This Is Important

Each request that Googlebot makes on a site uses up crawl budget, and this includes any additional requests within each of the steps in a redirect chain.

Help Google crawl more efficiently and conserve crawl budget by making sure only pages with 200 status codes are linked to within your site, and reduce the number of requests being made to pages that aren’t final destination URLs.

Redirect chain report in DeepCrawl

8. How Many Canonical Pages Are There vs. Canonicalized Pages?

Why This Is Important

The number of canonicalized pages on your site gives an indication into how much duplication there is on your site. While canonical tags consolidate link equity between sets of duplicate pages, they don’t help crawl budget.

Google will choose to index one page out of a set of canonicalized pages, but to be able to decide which is the primary page, it will first have to crawl all of them.

Pie chart showing canonical pages in DeepCrawl

9. How Many Paginated or Faceted Pages Are Being Crawled?

Why This Is Important

Google only needs to crawl pages that include otherwise undiscovered content or unlinked URLs.

Pagination and facets are usually a source of duplicate URLs and crawler traps, so make sure that these pages that don’t include any unique content or links aren’t being crawled unnecessarily.

As rel=next and rel=prev are no longer supported by Google, ensure your internal linking is optimized to reduce reliance on pagination for page discovery.

Pie chart showing pagination breakdown in DeepCrawl

10. Are There Mismatches in Page Discovery Across Crawl Sources?

Why This Is Important

If you’re seeing pages being accessed by users through your analytics data that aren’t being crawled by search engines within your log file data, it could be because these pages aren’t as discoverable for search engines as they are for users.

By integrating different data sources with your crawl data, you can spot gaps where pages can’t be easily found by search engines.

Google’s two main sources of URL discovery are external links and XML sitemaps, so if you’re having trouble getting Google to crawl your pages, make sure they are included in your sitemap if they’re not yet being linked to from any other sites that Google already knows about and crawls regularly.

Bar chart showing crawl source gaps in DeepCrawl

To Sum Up

By running through these 10 checks for your websites that you manage, you should be able to get a better understanding of the crawlability and overall technical health of a site.

Once you identify areas of crawl waste, you can instruct Google to crawl less of those pages by using methods like disallowing them in robots.txt.

You can then start influencing it to crawl more of your important pages by optimizing your site’s architecture and internal linking to make them more prominent and discoverable.

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, September 2019



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Google explains why syndicators may outrank original publishers

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Last week we reported that Google has updated its algorithms to give original reporting preferred ranking in Google search. So when John Shehata, VP of Audience Growth at Condé Nast, a major publishing company, posted on Twitter that Yahoo is outranking the original source of the article, Google took notice.

The complaint. Shehata posted on Twitter, “Recently I see a lot of instances where Google Top Stories ranking syndicated content from Yahoo above or instead of original content. This is disturbing especially for publishers. Yahoo has no canonicals back to original content but sometimes they link back.”

As you can see, he provided screen shots of this happening as evidence.

No canonical. John also mentioned that Yahoo, who is legally syndicating the content on behalf of Conde Nast, is not using a canonical tag to point back to the original source. Google’s recommendation for those allowing others to syndicate content is to have a clause requiring syndicators must use the canonical tag to point back to the source the site is syndicating from. Using this canonical tag indicate to Google which article page is the original source.

The issue. Sometimes those who license content, the syndicators, post the content before or at the same time as the source they are syndicating it from. That makes it hard for Google or other search engines to know which is the original source. That is why Google wrote, “Publishers that allow others to republish content can help ensure that their original versions perform better in Google News by asking those republishing to block or make use of canonical. Google News also encourages those that republish material to consider proactively blocking such content or making use of the canonical, so that we can better identify the original content and credit it appropriately.”

Google’s response. Google Search Liason Danny Sullivan responded on Twitter: “If people deliberately chose to syndicate their content, it makes it difficult to identify the originating source. That’s why we recommend the use of canonical or blocking. The publishers syndicating can require this.”

This affects both web and News results, Sullivan said. In fact, th original reporting algorithm update has not yet rolled out to Google News, it is just for web search currently:

Solution. If you allow people to syndicate your content, you should require them to use the canonical tag or make them block Google from indexing that content. Otherwise, do not always expect Google to be able to figure out where the article originated from, espesially when your syndication partners publish the story before or at the same time that you publish your story.

Why we care. While the original reporting change is interesting in this case, it is somewhat unrelated. If the same article is published on two different sites at the same time, both sites can appear to the search engines as the original source. If these sites are syndicating your content legally, review or update your contracts to require syndicators to either use canonical tags or block their syndicated content from indexing altogether. If syndicators are stealing your content and outranking you, Google should be better at dealing with that algorithmically, otherwise, you can file a DMCA takedown request with Google.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.

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