The 6 most common internet marketing pitfalls

Oh, how I want to host one of those TV makeover shows. To be paid to nab total strangers in the mall and rid them of their pleated, high-waisted jeans…. to separate men from their unibrows…. Heaven! I guess I just love telling folks what to do helping people make the most of what God gave them.

The Style Channel hasn’t been returning my calls, but when people find out what I do for a living I find myself offering free advice. About the Internets. Not about hair and makeup. Sadly. So here it is, the free advice:

The six mistakes most small business owners make when going online:

1. Bad DIY: The online equivalent of Mom Jeans. It’s possible to build a site in a few minutes, but if most of your competitors are doing cheap and easy websites, imagine the advantage you would gain if you took it up a notch. A good consultant won’t try to steer you into a Neiman Marcus solution with a Target budget — she will help you get 110% out of what you have. And this means not…

2. Having Cousin Elmer give you a home perm. I meet people all the time who say, “My cousin is supposed to be working on our website but it’s not done… the web guy won’t return my calls…” I don’t want to pry but is Cousin Elmer doing this job for free or nearly free as a favor? Did Web Guy neglect to provide a schedule before the job began? Some friends may do good work, but to protect the relationship, put everyone’s expectations on the table even if it’s just a timeline and payment schedule scribbled on a napkin. And hire someone with enough business experience to steer clear of …

3. Giving a busy medical student a platinum blonde pixie cut. I met a woman who hired a developer to build her online store from scratch (even though a customized off-the shelf platform would have done the job and cost thousands less). She wasn’t even able to add new products to her site herself. Did this guy ask the client any questions about her post-launch world? She needed to be updating or adding products almost daily to stay current. A regularly updated site presents a successful image and helps with the search engines. Hey – did someone mention The Google? Our next pitfall is …

4. Treating Search like a crash diet instead of a lifestyle change. Anyone who promises they can get your site on the first page of Google overnight is lying (exception: paid ads). Trying to game the system can hurt your ranking or even get your site banned. Gaming the system includes: Indiscriminate link exchanges, paid links and keyword stuffing. But, there are simple (and free) things that can help your search profile. And if there is one thing that is hyped up even more than search, it’s social media, which has folks….

5. Wearing a tux to go turkey hunting. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs, etc.) can help grow your business when it suits the audience. Small business owners cannot put a price on their time or reputation, so handle social media with care. Hang around some venues for a while before diving in. Although mis-using social media is a recent phenomenon, for at least a decade well-meaning people have been…

6. Taking a bath in the e-mail marketing cologne. This is one of only two areas where I get cranky (the other: Fonts): 1) Keep e-mail addresses private. I am surprised by how many e-mails I receive from businesses in which my e-mail address is pasted into the TO line along with 100 others. 2) Only e-mail customers with permission.  3) Allow customers to easily get off the list (ideally, with one click). Several inexpensive tools are available to automate these tasks and comply with SPAM laws. Research shows that overdoing e-mail reduces customer retention, so utilize the reporting tools to assess which messages your customers like and dislike.

The rules are fuzzy and changing constantly, so everyone — myself included — learns by making mistakes. Maybe it’s just because I am a nerd, but I think that website work should be fun – certainly not a chore like taxes and taking inventory. Yet, even though free and easy tools are available online, internet marketing requires the same due diligence as signs, uniforms and anything else that reflects your brand. Like a quality haircut and outfit, the right web presence can boost your self-esteem and open doors.

If I can answer any nagging questions you may have, please feel free to contact me.

Here are some of my favorite resources on this subject:

Practical eCommerce
Internet Retailer Magazine