Online Marketing Lessons

Posted on July 4, 2013


I have made a lot of mistakes in my career. In my first start-up, I made nearly every mistake you could make with an online marketing plan and wasted a lot of money in the process, which was a big contributor to our failure. This is not to say that I don’t continue to make mistakes, because I do. I make mistakes every day, but they are low-cost and short-lived because I understand how to measure and analyze online marketing activity.

In training fresh recruits for RingLead, it’s forced me to recall some of these tough lessons. The new guys can benefit from my past mistakes. But unfortunately there are still countless small businesses and start-ups that will be faced with some of the problems that will, in the best-case scenario, waste some money, or in the worst-case scenario, put you out of business.

Since I sporadically get cold calls and Postini-evading spam emails from salesmen touting fishy-sounding online marketing services, I think of it as my civic duty to put these lessons out there.

1. Don’t Hire Someone (or a Team) that Tries to Sell You “SEO Services”

If you only take away one thought from this whole post, please remember this:

Paying for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services will result in a complete waste of money.

This is not an exaggeration. Anyone who calls you and, in their initial pitch, tries to sell you Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services to “get your website to rank on the first page of Google” is stuck in 2008. The strategy of building links from blogs, social media, etc. back to your site does still result in improving your organic (unpaid) Google rank. But the tactics that many of these companies use – especially the ones that are cold-calling you – no longer yield instant results, as they did in the late 2000s. The requirements of an internet marketing package that actually yield results is no longer economically feasible at $500 per month.

A Brief History of B.S. Online Marketing Services

Up until about 2009-2011, black-hat marketing tricks could quickly manipulate Google pagerank. For a few hundred dollars a month, an agency would find a few blogs, write some garbage comments on a page or two, and include links back to your site. A similar strategy would be the placement of poorly-written blog posts about your products on content publishing networks that churn out B.S. content which is completely unrelated to your business. (ie. They would post 1-2 paragraphs about how great your company is on a website that has nothing to do with your industry.) Google’s algorithm is built to downgrade or ignore links that don’t make sense, so links from a software company’s blog to a sneaker retailer would not contribute to the sneaker retailer’s organic ranking.

Back when Google’s pagerank was more easily gamed, this worked. Small businesses would rocket onto the first page of Google’s search engine results employing these tricks. This didn’t affect SMB’s only. In what became a PR nightmare, JC Penny’s black hat SEO tricks backfired in a humiliating fiasco which resulted in them losing their first-page rankings.

I know that there are still businesses out there who continue to employ these B.S. services because the RingLead website and this site continue to get bombarded with garbage comments promoting e-commerce sites and discount male enhancement pills.

There are no shortcuts to good organic rankings. You’ll need to spend money with a proven internet marketing consultant, or a full-service online marketing firm, that can put together a complete online marketing package that includes strategy, content creation, possibly paid advertising management and social media marketing. Another viable option (which we employ at RingLead) is building a team of recent graduates (or highly motivated individuals looking for a career change) and investing in their continued education through affordable online marketing courses on Udemy, Skillshare or Market Motive.

2. Be Extremely Skeptical when Hiring Consultants

Learning all of the skills and techniques to promote your business online might not be the best way for you to spend your time. So it’s logical that you’d look for a reputable agency or skilled individual to help you out.

The most dangerous thing you can do as someone who is just getting started in building out an online marketing strategy is to bring in an individual or a team who call themselves experts but who do not have the track record to back it up. Yes, this sounds obvious, but often enough the person making the decision does not understand what success actually means in terms of online marketing.

Here is how a well-trained skeptic should be thinking when speaking with an individual or a marketing agency:

  • Did they generate a ton of bogus traffic that didn’t convert to leads or sales?
  • Did they get 1,000,000 Twitter followers that generate $0 in business per year?
  • Did they generate a huge increase in leads that didn’t convert to sales (1)
  • Did they build up a huge affiliate marketing channel that put one of their former clients out of business? (2)

Also, pre-2011 success doesn’t count. Bring in someone who can show you documented performance within the past couple of years. Anything before 2011 has an asterisk next to it.

3. Take the Time to Understand Web Analytics

You absolutely have to be able to sniff out the B.S. with anyone who is managing your online marketing plan and execution. What allows you to sniff out B.S. in online marketing is your ability to understand, at a high level, your web analytics – the activity on your site and how that is converting to leads or sales.

SEO consultants (back in 2008) would show you how you have the top #1 organic ranking for a particular keyword – let’s use the example of “coolest data quality software”. Some of the really evil consultants might even fake traffic to the site so that you see some web traffic show up. But if that traffic is not converting to sales, it is a waste to focus on it.

How many people actually search for “coolest data quality software”? Having the #1 ranking for a search phrase that no one really searches for is not helpful.

  • Do enough people search for a keyword or phrase such that it warrants spending time and energy to create content around it?
  • Does the traffic that this search phrase is generating actually convert to leads or sales? If not, maybe you should tweak your keyword strategy a bit.

If you’re confident that you have a solid keyword strategy, you’re driving quality traffic to your site, and it’s still not converting to leads or sales, then it might make sense to invest in a more professional website that is designed for ease of conversion.

You only have 6 seconds to convey what you do and get someone to either submit their information (if this is for lead generation), purchase your product/service, or make the decision to stick around a little longer to investigate your products or services.

If you’re still having issues and need some objective feedback on why your online marketing efforts are underperforming, reach out to me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d be happy to help.


(1) This could be related to your post-Lead-gen follow-up processes, which can be remedied by a solid marketing automation and/or manual lead qualification strategy. Or this can be a result of a product that just doesn’t hold up to the competition.

(2) I’ve seen this at other companies and experienced it, to a lesser degree, at my first start-up. Individual affiliates will place fake orders of your product or services, collect their commission through the affiliate platform, and then cancel or return the order at a later date. You don’t hear of this often on the big affiliate platforms like Commission Junction (although that’s not to say it doesn’t happen)