Overcoming Short-term Thinking in the Digital Industry

My single biggest gripe I have about the digital marketing industry is the pervasiveness of short-term thinking in clients.

Too many corporate leaders seem to think that digital marketing has a magic bullet, a secret button that can be pressed and voilà  tens of thousands of website visitors come rolling out eager to give their hard-earned money to the company.

Of course we know that it’s a ludicrous idea. This stuff is hard. It takes time and effort and patience.

I can understand where the ‘quick fix’ mentality comes from, though. Because there actually is one digital marketing channel that delivers instantaneous and measurable results. That channel is, of course, Pay Per Click advertising.

PPC advertising advertising provides immediate results. You spend money and visitors arrive. Its basic principles are very straightforward and easy to understand for business leaders. And because it provides that instant gratification, it’s addictive.

Which is why I find myself having to justify small monthly SEO retainers to a client who already spends ten times as much every month on Google AdWords. Almost every single time it’ll be this conversation: “Why aren’t we getting more traffic from SEO?” “Because it takes time, and this is just the third month of our one-year retainer.” “But I’m already getting thousands of hits from AdWords.”

It’s painful and it’s frustrating and I can’t seem to find a way around them. Every time before we engage a client on SEO, we make it abundantly clear that this is a long-term effort and that the results will materialise towards the latter half of the one-year retainer.

And almost every time after a few months – even if the graphs are already pointing upwards – the client starts complaining about a lack of significant results. Even if they don’t invest in PPC, there is an entirely unrealistic expectation of immediate results.

In those rare cases when a client does show a commitment to long term results, inevitably we manage to meet and exceed expectations. Unfortunately those types of clients are few and far between.

I suspect this is a pretty pervasive phenomenon – there are companies across the world that are inflicted by short-term thinking.

It’s hard to fault business leaders, because our governments are packed with politicians suffering from the same narrow focus. For example, yesterday’s announcement of a £200m investment in Northern Ireland’s economy was probably greeted with cheers from many local business leaders.

I wasn’t cheering though, because that £200m will go almost entirely to farming, industry, and construction. This despite the fact that the vast bulk of Northern Ireland’s recent economic development originates from the digital sector.

Ironically some of this investment will go towards science & technology education. So we’ll have more IT graduates, but I suspect there’ll be no jobs for them as the government doesn’t deem that sector worthy of further investment.

Build conference
Build conference

The digital sector in Northern Ireland has such tremendous potential. There are great educational programmes in place that churn out high quality graduates (the University of Ulster especially leads the way there) and there’s a boom in digital companies – both among established agencies and fresh startups – that are doing amazing work.

We also have some superb technology events here in Northern Ireland, from the world-class Build conference to the CultureTech festival and many more.

There’s a genuine buzz about the place when it comes to the digital industry, but at the same time it’s a hard struggle to drag the country’s established businesses and entrenched politicians kicking & screaming in to the 21st century.

I suppose it’s a fight that every modern industry wages. The moment you have to stop convincing people is the moment you’ve reached your peak.

[Featured image Future And Vision Signs source]

About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Short-term Thinking in the Digital Industry

  1. Great post Barry!

    I completely agree with your points, particularly on the way that budgets are broken down and the general contrast in allocation for PPC (and almost any other form of advertising) and SEO.

    I think the same problem applies for CRO, too many people overlook it because it’s not necessarily an ‘easy win’, despite the value and ROI that is there for the taking in the medium-term future.


  2. Thanks for the peak into Ireland’s digital industry! Too bad the government still has blinders on.. Don’t realize where the real investment opportunities lie.

  3. Its definitely not easy to get business owners to buy into the idea of online branding. I think it’s very important for anyone in the search engine marketing industry to do whatever they can to improve their PPC skills. If you can run a successful PPC campaign you’ll never have to worry about getting clients. If all you can offer is Organic SEO, Google is your #1 enemy right now with their aggressive push to maximize profits through ads. Don’t make Google your enemy!

  4. I agree. (Even though I only do PPC (and its hard enough getting some people to spend money on PPC never mind SEO)).
    Maybe all us tech people should get together and start our own company? (Just a thought).

    By the way, I’ll be damned if I can get your Cookie policy widget to go away on my browser…

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