The world's worst digital marketing advice

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Learning what to ignore

Over the years, I've gotten a lot of bad advice about a lot of different things. Sometimes I was wise enough to ignore this advice, and other times I've spent considerable effort digging out from the aftermath of bad advice I've followed. I don't want that to happen to you.

While I can't help you avoid bad advice about what car to buy, whether or not seafood is fresh, or what the best salons are in Paris, I can help you with digital marketing. I'm hoping this article will allow you to avoid some of the worst marketing advice that I've seen spread around at conferences, in blog posts, and spewed at various meetings. By no means is this an exhaustive list, so you'll have to stay on your toes to avoid all the bad advice out there, but this should help you steer clear of some of worst.

The basics

You've probably heard these next few pieces of bad advice before, as they are the most common bits of awful digital marketing advice I've come across. So, let's start here. If you can avoid these, you're well on your way.

"We just have to make a really cool site, and it'll bring in the traffic."

Ah, the old "If you build it, they will come" philosophy. I've heard this one a lot before. The simplest reason why this is bad advice is because, well, it's not true. In fact, most likely no one is going to come to your site. There are billions of sites out there, so why would they come to yours? Even if the site is "really cool," how will anyone know it exists? If you don't do some work (or spend some money) to get people to make that first visit to your site, you don't have a website, but rather an expensive billboard in the middle of the woods.



Blaine Mathieu
Blaine Mathieu December 8, 2010 at 12:39 PM

This is right on but I can think of #10: Don't forget about perfecting online marketing 1.0 while working on marketing 2.0. A simple example: while many marketers are working hard on perfecting their twitter and facebook strategies, they aren't even doing basic email marketing best practices such as good list segmentation, A/B testing of all emails, and using dynamic/personalized content. In many cases, doing basic best practices like this will make a real and measurable impact to the bottom line more quickly than building twitter followers.

Having said that, the best approach of all is what I call a Compound Marketing approach. It's about using multiple channels simultaneously in a powerful way. More about compound marketing here:

Michael Vasquez
Michael Vasquez October 6, 2010 at 8:41 PM

Love the article! Especially enjoyed the "seagull " analogy! We have so many clients who are always looking for the shiny new buzz!!! So frustrating when you're trying to discuss strategy!

David Greene
David Greene October 6, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Here's the permalink of the email:

It arrived to my inbox with the subject heading "9 social-media tips you should ignore at all costs." But to find your article in the email requires some real investigation.

Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman October 6, 2010 at 8:26 AM

@David. I didn't see the IAB email. Can you send it to me (or a link). You can contact me by clicking on my name in this contact. If it's too much of a pain, no problem. Alternatively, if there's a "view in your browser" link in the email, you can just send that. Thanks.

David Greene
David Greene October 5, 2010 at 8:04 PM

I hate that too, but it's exactly how this article was promoted in today's IAB Smartbrief daily email. I was starting to think it must be ok since IAB does it, even though it bugs the heck outta me.

Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman October 5, 2010 at 5:02 PM

@shawn Great add. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Beautiful design and bad SEO isn't going to work well either. I usually see this more than the opposite (which you described): good SEO and bad design. I think the reason is that good SEO and bad design is a tough sell. Most clients would rather buy based on the design and we then have to "sell" SEO (of course, the basics should be included in any design and programming).

@Andy Hmmm...I guess my sign off did sound overly conceited if that's what you were implying. By no means do I know it all (who does?). So, if you've got advice, I'll take it and I'll keep the snarky to a minimum.

@David I hate that, but it's very common. I'd add that one into my "10 sneaky marketing tactics you need to avoid" article from a past edition of iMedia Connection ( Check out number 9.

David Greene
David Greene October 5, 2010 at 3:20 PM

How do you feel about opt-in emails where the subject line promotes a juicy topic that i want to know more about, but i have to search past a bunch of other topics and ads, down to the bottom of the email to find what the email subject line was promoting? Genius strategy or annoying practice to avoid?

Andy Merrett
Andy Merrett October 5, 2010 at 2:22 PM

"You can follow him on Twitter at @jonmrich, but please keep your advice to yourself."

OK, I will, seeing as you so obviously know it all already.

Shawn Yujuico
Shawn Yujuico October 5, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Love, love, love this article. You can add this one to it, "Don't worry about the design of your site, SEO is all that matters." I have two clients that have fallen victim to a website design absent a strategy other than SEO. The result? A poorly designed site that, if found via the miraculous SEO efforts, will be promptly ignored.

Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman October 4, 2010 at 4:51 PM

Of course now I'm disappointed that I didn't think of that analogy for the article, but at least it's captured here in the comments. Thanks Janet.

Janet Carlson
Janet Carlson October 4, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Wow - well done! Thank God I can say (with a straight face) that we've never peddled any of that advice - it's pretty scary what is out there! Although - it is kinda like watching someone else get their ass kicked - not terribly enjoyable to watch, but you're glad it's not you (this time!)

Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman October 4, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Nice one...well played.

Sorry, I'm just a solo act now.

Bob Sacco
Bob Sacco October 4, 2010 at 9:16 AM

Great headline.

BTW...Are you still touring with the Modern Lovers?

Bob Sacco
Bob Sacco October 4, 2010 at 9:16 AM

Great headline.

BTW...Are you still touring with the Modern Lovers?