With five and a half years of experience in the search marketing industry, one of the things that takes me by surprise is how often the term “expert” is thrown around.

Unlike a medical doctor who goes through years of studying and training to only eventually reach a level where they can admit that they “practice” medicine, search marketers seem to believe that they can reach their apex level of understanding and execution within the first two years of working at a start up company or an unknown agency.

Because the search industry is still the new kid on the block, as far as traditional marketing and media are concerned, this pronouncement of expertise is allowed to exist largely because of consumer ignorance and employer negligence. Simply put, most small business owners are too busy to invest time and energy in learning search marketing strategies and large Fortune 1000 brands are too big to really care about anything in their marketing budgets that is not broadcasted through a television screen.

So how do businesses and brands assess the credibility and capabilities of the search marketing consultant or agency they are working with?

What experience and attributes allow a search marketer to claim a particular level of expertise?

While I cannot offer a literal blue print for how businesses and brands can identify the perfect consultant to work with, I can certainly say that there are a number of great questions to ask in determining what type of ”expert” you are working with.

Here are three questions to ask to understand the level of expertise your search marketer brings to the table.

1. Have You Ever Worked in Traditional Media?

There is a reason why businesses invest money in television and other forms of offline media. It is because they successfully drive immediate traffic and sales.

A study conducted by Thinkbox showed that TV is more than twice as effective at creating sales uplift per equivalent exposure, than the next best performing marketing medium.

So when you are looking to grow your brand through digital media, it is important that you connect with someone who also has professional experience working with traditional marketing.

This type of background sets brands up for success when their organic search campaigns plateau, as this experience allows you to understand what offline factors can be implemented to propel a client’s search metrics from traffic and search interest to click-through-rate and conversions.

From a search perspective, being able to identify offline media channels that increase top-of-mind awareness and drive offline consumers to digital properties is one of the most effective ways for improving search visibility, online authority and immediate conversions.

Someone who understands what goes into an entire marketing wheel and how each element can be manipulated and used to benefit the client is precisely the type of ”expert” businesses should be working with.

2. Do You Read or Do You Write?

American particle physicist Frank Oppenheimer said, ”The best way to learn is to teach”. Those words could not be any truer in the world of digital marketing.


In search marketing, there are two types of ”experts”. Those who read blogs and regurgitate the tips and advice they repeatedly see (usually on a 101 level site like Moz) and those who write the articles being read.

For the trained eye or the experienced search consultant, it is easy to identify those who read blog articles and do not conduct tests to understand the validity of what they read.

They usually use a lot of industry jargon like ”maximize your opportunity” without going into the ”how” and ”why” a particular strategy will do this. They also like to tell their clients that they, ”need to add more content to your site in order to rank well” without ever identifying what specific forms of content work best per industry, audience and niche as far as capturing the most qualified, ready-to-buy online consumer.

But for businesses and brands who are not able to make the distinction between those who can speak the part and those who can execute, miscalculating the credibility of your search marketer can lead to a variety of poor results that range from mismanaging your brand’s customer service reputation through social media, or setting up the wrong filters in your robot.txt file and blocking search crawlers from indexing your entire e-commerce website.

So when deciding what SEO firm or consultant you are going to work with, make sure that you choose someone who is an active contributor to the industry’s thought process, someone who influences and directs the strategies of others…Not the person who is being directed.

3. Are They Company All-Stars by Default?

Another significant consideration for qualifying someone as an ”expert” is their level of experience working with a variety of search marketing companies and agencies.

The idea that ”you only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know” is completely true in digital marketing and unless the search consultant you are working with has had the opportunity to work for three of four different company’s, they are by default limited in knowledge and insight.


An ideal search-marketing manager is someone who has had the opportunity to approach digital marketing from a variety of angles. I personally began my career in sales, pitching local businesses geo-targeted search concepts and learning the pain points that most small business owners face on a daily basis, considering their marketing demands.

I then had the opportunity to manage content development for a start up company in Boston. Here I learned exactly what makes a particular form of content shareable and attractive enough to capture qualified online consumers, regardless of the type of industry or forms of services my clients were dedicated to.

After that, I was recruited to directly manage and guide all search strategies and development for Fortune 1000 brands, including Duracell, Febreze and Oral-B.

If I had not been able to experience organic search and digital marketing from these various perspectives, the value that I would be able to offer my clients would be extremely limited.

So when looking to hire a search marketing firm or a consultant to bring your digital efforts to the next level, make sure you are working with talent that is matched by diverse experience.

Knowledge Is Power In Life and In Search Marketing

Since the search marketing industry is still in its beginning stages considering how long traditional forms of media have existed, there remains an incomplete, fragmented set of values and principles that define what a true digital marketing ”expert” is.

While certainly, everyone has to go through various points of their career in order to gain true expertise, that does not mean that your company has to be anyone’s ”what can we learn from this failure” experience.

Understanding how diverse your search marketers are in their approach to general marketing and how in tune they are with industry best practices in theory and in action, will go a long way in ensuring that your company is able to consistently reach its online goals and maximize its opportunity for growth.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

  1. This has been one of pet hates for many years now too. Most of the people that I know whom I consider to be experts, would NEVER EVER refer to themselves as one!

    “Someone who understands what goes into an entire marketing wheel and how each element can be manipulated and used to benefit the client is precisely the type of ”expert” businesses should be working with.” +1

    1. Hello Martin,

      Thank you for your comment and I agree that in general, people who reach a particular level of success do not need to outwardly qualify themselves as an “expert.”

      The issue here is not that we shouldn’t be considerate of the fact that the industry is relatively young and therefore most people developing careers in SEM are going to be young or inexperienced when it comes to diversity of workload and processes.

      The issue is that when brands reach out to SEM companies looking for high-quality support, they are often vulnerable because they usually don’t have an internal SEO manager who can thoroughly vet jargon from actionable dialogue.

      Therefore, the loose reference to “expert” indirectly diminishes the credibility of our industry as a whole. When I worked in TV, no one called themselves “expert media consultants” regardless of how many clients they had, how long they had been in the business for or how much money they were bringing in.

      So it’s odd that one specific industry is so focused and to a point, allowed to be so careless with terms that are traditionally reserved for a handful of people.

  2. Outstanding, Jason! As Martin said, those that may deserve the designation never brand themselves as expert, guru or ninja.
    Even more amazing than the fact that someone with a year or so experience would consider himself an expert in ANY aspect of digital marketing – how on earth does someone claim to be “expert” in ALL aspects of SEO/digital marketing? It has expanded to include so many facets that I think a modicum of competence is about the best that an individual can hope to attain in them all.

    1. Hello Doc,

      Thank you for your comment and you make an excellent point about how anyone, regardless of what industry they work within, can make such an powerful claim with just a year or two under their belt.

      Even more true when you consider the fact that as you said, there are so many different components that go into “SEO” that it’s ridiculous to believe that someone with two years of experience is a beast at development, social, content, e-mail, PPC and everything else, all at once.

  3. To be honest I think that a lot of the times SEOs try to label themselves as “experts” because it is easier to rank for “City SEO Expert”. It makes them look more “official” to the layperson that doesn’t know any better. Ranking for just “City SEO” is typically harder with more competition. I think if you are looking for a true expert, you want someone who can rank their own site number one for multiple KWs in the niche. So while an SEO may rank for “City SEO expert”…where do they rank for all the other KWs in the SEO niche? If they are number 1 across the board in your city for all of them, there’s a good chance they are legit. That’s my opinion! Thanks for the article! Good stuff!

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