SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media: Beware of Internet Marketing Snake Oil

internet marketing snake oilInternet marketing miracle! Drives traffic to your website! Gets likes, shares, retweets, and pins! Goes viral! Generates leads and generates conversions! Increases revenues! Mows the lawn, washes the car, changes the baby and predicts the weather!

What am I talkin’ ’bout?  SEO!

Let’s say it again: Content Marketing!

One more time: Social Media!

OK.  I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek, and here I will go on record as saying that I am both a fervent believer in and avid practitioner of content, social media and SEO.  Nothing that I’ll say in this article is intended to slander or impugn the qualities of these upstanding citizens of the internet marketing community.  

But, let’s get real. There’s no small amount of internet marketing snake oil being peddled, and a lot of it is aimed at small businesses. The prevailing flavors of this snake oil are SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Marketing. So, let’s break it down.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

The Backstory: For years, an array of SEO tactics and techniques worked like a charm.  If you implemented such tactics, chances were good that your site could rise to the top of search results very rapidly.  But, because these tactics were so mechanical (for lack of a better way of putting it) they came to be rampantly abused by spammers.  So Google and the other search engines started cracking down on such tactics, rendering them not only ineffective, but also potentially harmful to your rankings. Examples of such tactics are keyword stuffing, getting links to your site from link farms, paid links, etc.

The Snake Oil: There are still plenty of folks in SEO promising overnight ranking. Very likely, these people are still implementing tactics that are now actually penalized by Google and Bing. And, as is so often the case, these people often approach small businesses with their promises of overnight success.

The Truth: The wild west days of SEO are over, but SEO is not dead (as some have claimed). SEO remains a valid component of internet marketing, but it has evolved. It is no longer simply an array of techniques and tactics, and needs to be considered part of a larger marketing strategy.

The Bottom Line: If an SEO claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


The Backstory: Web content has always been important, both for marketing and for SEO.  And web content writing has long been keyword-driven. But as SEO has changed in response to the evolution of the search engines, the approach to content marketing has evolved. Gone forever are the days of keyword stuffing, content scraping, thin content, etc. The rise of social media has also contributed to changes in content production, expanding the definition of content.

The Snake Oil: There are plenty of folks claiming SEO to be dead, and that content is the new king – implement good content and, as if by magic, you’ll win. Some content marketers will say things like, “publish a white paper and you’ll get traffic,” or “start blogging with the right keywords and your search rankings will soar!”

The Truth: Content is a very important part of an internet marketing strategy. On the SEO side, the major search engines are scrutinizing your content more closely than ever, trying to separate genuine content from spam, and trying to distinguish high quality from low quality content. On the marketing side, content is a key component in attraction marketing or inbound marketing, using white papers, blog posts, etc. to gain the attention of people searching for information, gain their trust, and establish you or your company as an authority. And, as with SEO, your content strategy should be part of a larger internet marketing strategy aimed ultimately at generating leads and conversions.

The Bottom Line: If a content marketing claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


The Backstory: Facebook took internet marketing by surprise, and then took it by storm. Then there was LinkedIn, Twitter, and an ever growing array of platforms and tools.  The promise of social media has always been that the platform is free, posting is free, and that if you post engaging content you can “go viral” and reach new people.  Simultaneously, social media became a way of fostering communities around a brand, fans who could be called on to evangelize on behalf of the brand and its products or services.

The Snake Oil: For years, two main claims have been made by social media cheerleaders: “It’s Free!” and “It’s Easy!”  And, these claims are often made to small business owners, for whom cost and ease-of-use are important.  On top of those two claims comes the third: You Can Go Viral!

The Truth: Social media can be a very effective channel for outreach, awareness-building, PR, branding, engagement, and even lead generation. However, contrary to the claims of the cheerleaders, it is neither free nor easy. It takes a considerable investment of time, time invested both daily and over the long-haul.  And, going viral?  Yes, it can happen, but don’t count it.  Virality first requires strong content that is the result of research into your customers, determining what they will find engaging. But then there is a second element of hitting the right people at the right time with the right post.  One should strive for virality, for quality content that interests and engages.  But if you depend on going viral, you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment.  And, as with both SEO and content, your social media marketing should be part of a broader integrated marketing strategy.

The Bottom Line: If a social media claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

You may have noticed a common thread running through all of the above: that SEO, content marketing and social media are valid and effective aspects of internet marketing, and all play a role within the larger scope of a marketing strategy designed to guide customers through their decision-making process. Each plays a part in gaining attention, generating interest and engagement, and ultimately in driving action.

But, back to the snake oil. There have always been snake oil salesmen, and there probably always will be. You just need to ask yourself, “Does that sound too good to be true?”

by Brian Tibbs