"It's all about computers"
But what I've found is that those misconceptions are amazingly pervasive and stubborn. One of the big ones is this idea that social media and SEO are about computers; that they are primarily technical processes. So you need to be a bit of a geek to use and benefit from them. But in reality they are both much more about human behaviour.
Many of the calls I get are from people asking me to teach them technical things, or do technical tasks for them. When I explain that's not what I do they don't quite understand. They just can't get their heads around it.
It's a strange situation to be in because in one sense these are exactly the people I'm trying to reach (so that I can disabuse them of their misconceptions, which could end up saving them a lot of time and money) but they don't want to buy what I'm selling. They want something else. So it's a "Catch 22".
The best way to describe it is this: I want to teach them what they need to know. They don't know they need to know it, however. They only know what they want to know. And often this aim is based on a misconception.
"Build it and they will come"
As well as this idea that online marketing is all technical, geeky stuff, there are other, related misconceptions. For example, some people think that the moment they publish a website, people will start visiting it in their hundreds. This is the "build it and they will come" fallacy.
Here's an example: A woman called me asking how to get the look of her Weebly website just right and was frustrated by the customization process.
After a few minutes talking on the phone I realized that she wasn't actually publishing the changes she was making to it. So I said she should do that first. She told me that she didn't want to press publish because she didn't want people to see it while it was under construction. I politely explained that unless she already had some PPC advertising program in place (which she hadn't) no one would see her site. In fact it would take months of work before anyone other than herself and her friends would even know it existed.
"It's all too complicated and time consuming to do myself"
There's another firmly entrenched but equally inaccurate belief on the opposite extreme: People think that drawing targeted traffic to their website is going to take amazing expertise and countless hours of work by hordes of bespectacled web ninjas .
Yes, it take some time. And you have to comprehend a few central concepts and keep applying them. But if you make some good decisions and chip away at it, it's not that big a job. For example, there's no reason you can't have an engaged Twitter network of over a thousand targeted followers within a few months if you put ten minutes a day on average into it.
Similarly, if you've done some keyword selection and built clear, unique and relevant pages, you could well be getting a few search engine hits a week within a couple of months. Now that sounds like next to nothing. But considering how much people trust Google that modest sum can still bring in sales. And you can build on this success from then on. (This is particularly true when it comes to local businesses. This is because it's still quite easy to rank for many local terms.)
If people do have this particular misconception and they're running a business their most likely conclusion is: "I'm too busy to do this myself. I'll just pay someone to do it." That's fine but the problem with that approach is that you may just be throwing money down the drain, and lots of it.
My attitude is: Get your head around the key concepts. Learn what things you can do to move forward, however slowly. Keep chipping away at them and you'll really start to get into it. If you get to that stage you'll almost certainly do a better job than some company that is simultaneously promoting hundreds of websites including yours.