10 Online Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Everyone makes online marketing mistakes, but I’m going to help you avoid some of the biggest ones so you can achieve better results more quickly.

I first started marketing online in 1999—long before it was a standard part of business. Back then, we learned what worked and what didn’t by trial and error. It was a slow, expensive, and frustrating process.

Today, it doesn’t have to be any of those things because you can learn from our mistakes, saving yourself time, frustration, and money. Here are 10 online marketing mistakes I’ve made over the years:

Relying on one marketing channel

When you’re killing it with any single source of traffic, it’s easy to to get complacent and overlook the others, but what happens if it goes away? There are dozens of ways any marketing channel could be decimated. An algorithm change, or worse yet, a manual penalty, could completely eliminate organic traffic overnight—and what Google considers completely acceptable today can easily become a violation of their guidelines tomorrow.

I wrote about the stupidity of relying on one revenue stream, and that same logic applies equally to relying on one marketing channel.

I experienced this first hand a few years ago on a website I owned where I had used some link building tactics that Google decided they no longer approved of. In 24 hours that site went from ranking in positions #1-3 for dozens of extremely competitive, high-traffic keywords to literally disappearing from Google. With no other traffic sources, that website became a wasteland with no revenue.

Facebook’s erosion of organic reach for business pages is another example. For years, they encouraged admins of pages to spend money building up their audience with Facebook ads, then they incrementally reduced their organic reach until it settled around 2.6% in 2015, rendering a lot of the hard work and investment in paid advertising to build that audience virtually worthless.

These marketers had invested their time and money to build an audience on Facebook—some with hundreds of thousands followers, then had their efforts tossed aside because an algorithm change only allowed them to reach a tiny fraction of their audience.

A steady and reliable traffic source could lose effectiveness, or even disappear entirely with no warning, and no amount of stomping your feet crying “it’s not fair” will change anything.

The only protection is to diversify your marketing channels. Sure, focus on your preferred channel, but make sure you have a solid foundation in at least two other channels too. You don’t want to have to scramble when a marketing channel loses effectiveness or disappears entirely.

Some online marketing channels might include:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media
  • PPC
  • Display advertising
  • Sponsored posts
  • Blogging
  • Content marketing
  • Email *
  • Webinars
  • Podcasting
  • Online video
  • Expired domain traffic
  • Pop under traffic

* Email marketing can include marketing to your own list and/or paying someone else to be included in an email they send to their list. This does not include spamming people who have not opted in to receive email from the sender! That is both ineffective and illegal.

Not setting goals

Goals are critical because they help you track your performance and make smart business decisions. Without them, it’s easy to waste time and money, never really knowing if you’re making any real progress.

Think of your goals as a filter for all of your decisions.

If you were on a boat with the necessary navigation equipment and you knew where your destination was, you could easily weigh each decision based on whether it brought you closer to, or drove you further from your destination.

It works the same way with your online marketing goals. Every decision either brings you closer or drives you further from your goals.

You need to identify your strategic goals first, and then working backwards from there, map out the smaller tactical goals necessary to accomplish them.

It’s important to set goals that matter rather than vanity goals that simply fluff your ego.

Goals that matter might include generating a certain amount of revenue or number of leads because they have a direct impact on business success. Vanity goals, on the other hand, don’t mean much on their own, and may include things like page views, downloads, or the number of fans on social media.

Vanity metrics aren’t completely useless, but be careful not to give them more weight than they deserve. There are ways to get meaning from vanity metrics. Fred Wilson, a seasoned venture capitalist, explains his 30/10/10 rule: 30 percent of downloads or registered users are active once a month, 10 percent are active once a day, and 10 percent of the daily users will be the maximum number of concurrent users.

Poor keyword choices

Before you produce a single piece of content, whether it’s a blog post, video, or podcast episode, you need to invest some time in keyword research.

It may seem trivial, especially if you’ve been marketing online for a while, but skipping this step can mean missed opportunities. Sometimes, huge missed opportunities.

Even the most experienced marketers can make wildly inaccurate estimations about how much traffic a keyword will deliver or how realistic it is within the budget that’s available.

Keywords that seem like they should have a high-volume traffic often have very little, while some of the most ridiculous keywords have a tremendous search volume. This research helps you identify which keywords to target, both in terms of search volume and competitiveness. It also helps to dig up those hidden gems; high-volume, low-competition keywords that your less-diligent competitors overlooked.

Some great tools for keyword research include:

Don’t just look at monthly search volume, though. You also need to consider competition for keywords. Sure, the term “real estate” has the potential to drive an astronomical volume of traffic, but you have literally zero chance of ranking for it. Weigh monthly search volume and competition against your budget and timeline.

Building your presence on 3rd party websites

Third party websites play a valuable role in every online marketing campaign, but they should never form the foundation. That role should always be filled by your own website.

When social media started to gather mainstream acceptance about a decade ago, a lot of people predicted that websites would die off and businesses would just set up a pages on social networks. On the surface, it sounded great; no more web design costs, easy maintenance, and a built-in audience, but as online marketing professionals predicted, it didn’t pan out.

Building your presence on a 3rd party website leaves you vulnerable to losing everything if that website shuts down, or if their demographics, terms of service, or business model change. It also limits your marketing options because you don’t have much control over design, and can’t implement important features like web analytics, ecommerce, or email subscription, not to mention, customized functionality.

You should definitely take advantage of 3rd party websites, but they should be used as additional channels to drive traffic to your own website.

Not consistently producing valuable content

Content, in the form of blog and social media posts, podcast episodes, and video, can perform any combination of educating, informing, entertaining, and persuading your visitors. It gives them a sense of who you are while displaying your expertise.

This content needs to be valuable to your visitors, not just another rehashed “10 Reasons Why We’re The Best” post that they’re already tired of seeing.

Teach them how to do something. Offer a unique perspective on a topic. Share data that isn’t available anywhere else. Make them feel an emotion. Remember, while you’re ultimately trying to persuade them to part with their hard-earned money, they way to do that is by providing value long before you ask for money.

It needs to be an ongoing effort though. This matters both to search engines and to human visitors.

Before people will trust you, they need to see enough evidence that they can. You accomplish that be producing a library of content that your audience finds valuable. This consistency also helps to show them that you are dependable and will be here for them, long-term.

Taking shitty shortcuts

Those “search engine optimization” gigs on Fiverr cost less than your lunch for a reason. They don’t work.

The same goes for buying fans on social media, using proprietary website builders, automating social media engagement, reposting content from other websites, and any other shortcut that doesn’t add real value.

If something seems like a really easy and cheap way to market your business, it’s probably a really bad idea.

Not tracking performance

It’s critical to track the activity on your website, but you need to go a lot deeper than just tracking the number of visitors you get. Fortunately, it’s easy and free to track everything that takes place on your website with Google Analytics.

Some of the data you need to track, at a bare minimum, is:

  • which channels are driving traffic
  • which channels are generating conversions
  • keywords that drove traffic to your website
  • referrals from other websites
  • which pages visitors are engaging with
  • which pages visitors are leaving from
  • your bounce rate
  • visitors’ paths through your website

Every business is in a unique situation with different goals, so the data each should track will vary. In fact, the same metrics may mean very different things from one business to another. For example, a lead generation website will typically have a much shorter average time on site than a membership site will.

You also need to track the performance of your email marketing. Aweber automatically tracks open, bounce, and click-through rates of emails sent through their service, and if you use a URL builder, you can track an individually identifiable visitor who arrived from your email throughout their entire visit. (And possibly, return visits.)

Don’t forget to track your performance on social media too. We use Edgar to manage social media for our own accounts as well as for our clients, and one of the features I love about their service is that you can link your Bit.ly account, giving you the ability to precisely track clicks. In a perfect world, you should also use the URL builder to tag your links for more precise data.

Automated marketing

Automated marketing services, like the ones that tweet automated responses to people, are a horrible idea because they make your company appear thoughtless and out of touch.

Buck's Pizza social fail

Look at it from a potential customer’s perspective. If you don’t value them enough to engage for real, what else are you willing to cut corners on? Automated marketing rarely works because they lack context. The money you “save” by not paying a real person isn’t really saved at all because it doesn’t produce any results.

Not building an email list

Your email list is the only marketing channel that you have complete control over. An algorithm update can wipe out your organic search traffic, a social network can close down, but you will always own your email list.

You should start building your list as soon as you launch your website, and begin using it immediately. If you wait too long before emailing your subscribers, they are likely to forget they subscribed in the first place so they’ll unsubscribe when you finally do email them.

Giving up

If I had to pick the single most important online marketing mistake to avoid, it would have to be giving up.

My time in the Marine Corps pounded into my brain the fact that most people have a lot more fight in them than they ever realize. Most are just never pushed far enough to realize it. Anytime I thought I had reached my breaking point, I was “encouraged” to find out just how much worse things could really get.

Most people jump into online marketing thinking it’s going to be easy.

It’s not.

There are over a billion websites online today. More than 320 million users on Twitter, 400 million on Instagram, and 1.5 billion on Facebook! That’s a lot of noise and it’s exactly why it’s so hard to get results.

Some people expect to publish a few posts and rocket to online stardom. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Online marketing takes time and consistent hard work.

You need to consistently produce and share valuable and engaging content, build trust, and engage with your audience for a considerable amount of time before you’ll start to see any traction. I’m not talking days or weeks, I’m talking months. Throughout this process, you’re be up against companies who are doing the same things to reach the same customers.

When quality and volume of content are comparable, it comes down to who is more determined. The ones who keep working at it are the ones who eventually succeed. The people who give up, well, no one ever hears about them.

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