In September 2010, I wrote an article about obsolete digital marketing strategies. iMedia suggested I revisit the idea for 2013, and I was happy to oblige.
While a majority of the seven obsolete digital marketing strategies that I outlined in 2012 are still in practice today, they are indeed on the "outs" in terms of best practices. These include renting email lists, black-hat SEO tactics, and others (see a quick recap here).
Since then, other strategies have fallen in and out of favor, and I'd like to touch on a few of the more recent obsolete strategies of 2012. Here are the line items you might want to nix from your 2013 marketing game plan.
Relying heavily on QR codes
All the rage in 2010 and 2011, QR codes took a hit in 2012. Many mobile and marketing industry pundits believe the technology is flawed for a variety of reasons. Based on my experience, I agree. QR codes require too many steps and rarely solve a problem uniquely.
Newer technologies like near-field communications (NFC) and other apps are rending the QR code obsolete. Saturation of QR codes at events and in print media has created a jaded consumer who is more likely to ignore than ever. Without unified standards, competing solutions like Microsoft Tag create confusion and annoyance as they might require download of additional apps. The bottom line: Be cautious when using QR codes; make sure they solve a problem better than newer, more intuitive technologies.
Keyword-based search engine optimization
When I first optimized websites in 1996, we spent a good deal of effort embedding target keywords throughout website copy and code and then measured effectiveness based on rankings for said terms in search results. Times have changed, and as Google gets smarter, the algorithm relies less on keyword placement and more on context.
The other troubling trend exasperating the old-school SEO pros is that Google is now hiding search terms from your referring search engine traffic logs. When searchers are logged into Google Search, Firefox search bar, and Chrome address bar, all searches are encrypted with HTTPS, causing an increase in "(not provided)" results in your keyword data (up 171 percent since its introduction). As "not provided" data become a bigger part of our analytics reporting (now estimated at 30-50 percent of Google traffic), marketers are forced to spend more time and effort on content and contextual analysis. The good news is that organic search results still drive a good deal of qualified traffic, and evaluating rankings or visibility is not as important as the ability of that traffic to convert.
Creating content for content's sake
"Content marketing" is a newer term for an age-old challenge related to creating visibility online. The recent changes to the Google algorithm, combined with increased consumption of socially distributed content, have created headaches (and opportunities) for marketers.
Unfortunately, creating compelling content (think Red Bull) can be expensive and daunting for many organizations. As such, these companies tend to rely on cheap solutions including outsourcing blog and article creation to unsophisticated writers who are paid by the word or article and not based on quality or user value. These companies might also outsource social media management, which often results in a flurry of meaningless and often automated status updates.
Even more sophisticated marketers are falling short with advanced content strategies around audio, video, and images by creating useless or boring podcasts, presentations, and infographics. If you can't create compelling, unique, or remarkable content that provides value to your target end user, you might be hurting your brand more than helping it.
Retargeting (aka, remarketing) is an advanced technique that effectively targets visitors to your website via advertising on third-party websites. Unfortunately, too many marketers have failed to customize the ad creative based on segment or goal. Consumers can be easily annoyed by brands that overtly follow them around the web with seemingly irrelevant offers or, more importantly, with very targeted messaging, but long after they've purchased.
To avoid this costly oversight, consider segmenting audiences, create personalized ads, and use frequency capping. Additionally, trying to maximize reach by using multiple retargeting vendors can also make efforts ineffective as each retargeting vendor will be bidding against each other for impressions, thus driving up cost and further annoying your target audience.
Avoiding landing page testing
Not maximizing conversions through a consistent testing program is quickly dying out as a trend. Increasingly, companies are leveraging intuitive and affordable landing page and conversion optimization platforms like LiveBall to refine page design, messaging, and offers to maximize conversions. More advanced marketers are actually incorporating lifetime customer value (LCV) into the equation, particularly for paid search and social ad campaigns. Learn more about landing page and website conversion optimization in this article, "Turn Website Visitors into Customers via Conversion Optimization."
Ignoring personalization and behavioral targeting
Using the same website content or messaging as a one-size-fits-all solution for a diverse audience has become an ineffective strategy. Beyond segmenting email lists and messaging, using behavioral targeting to personalize recommendations or offers has shown to dramatically increase retention and conversion rates.
While expensive and complicated personalization platforms were the rage more than a decade ago, newer, simpler solutions now provide marketers with the ability to target website visitors in real-time with personalized messaging or offers based on behavior and demographic data. Companies ignoring or avoiding the latest technology solutions will do so at their own peril.
Underestimating the power of video (and audio) marketing
In my article "The ultimate guide to video marketing on YouTube," I outline reasons to create a comprehensive video marketing campaign centered around YouTube (the world's second largest search engine). Video is the most compelling story-telling medium, has higher recall than other forms of media, and can be repurposed as audio, images and text from a single HD recording.
Research shows internet users are conducting informational searches in YouTube, so content should be created for all stages of the buying cycle. These same principles can be applied to an audio strategy for iTunes and other audio-centric platforms. If you aren't in the game in 2013, you could likely be out of the game completely soon after.
Gaming reviews and buying followers
While generating fake reviews or buying real reviews have been effective historically (e.g., using Mechanical Turk for building Twitter or Facebook followers), review sites and consumers are getting smarter. A great deal is at stake, as research has indicated customer reviews are the No. 1 influencer for purchase, but cheating or "gaming" the system might result in costly penalties.
Consumers are getting smarter about sniffing out fake or paid reviews; overall ratings might seem unnaturally high, and comments might seem over-the-top or inauthentic and actually repel prospects. Review sites are also wising up, improving algorithms to identify and remove fake reviews. Minimally, cheaters will waste precious time and money securing reviews that ultimately get removed or simply ignored. I've outlined other ways to waste time and money and injure your brand in this article: "9 ways to lose friends and alienate people in social media."
Making decisions based on the wrong social metrics
Data analysis is the core of any successful marketing campaign. Leveraging analytics platforms to gain insight into user behavior and preferences is essential across media channels.
Social media marketing has gained tremendous momentum within organizations, yet it is relatively immature, particularly from a measurement perspective. The most common mistake marketers make in regard to social media measurement is relying on absolute numbers instead of relative ratios. Many companies measure social success based on the net increase of "likes," followers, and fans. Mainstream media is known to measure Klout or velocity of status updates as a key metric, or sentiment. All have their issues.
The most important metrics are relative: engagement or conversions as a percentage of total "likes," followers, or fans. Maintaining or improving the ratio is more difficult than it might seem, but doing so will result in a more informed social strategy. For more insights, read my article "The 9 dumbest ways to measure social media."
Obsolete digital marketing strategies 2010-2011
In addition to these latest obsolete strategies, it's worth reviewing those from years past as well. When compiling trends for the 2010 article, I talked with my team and industry peers and conducted a good deal of research. Filtering my findings against my own digital experience dating back to 1996, I defined seven strategies no longer relevant to future success. Below is a brief recap:
Building a digital marketing team. In today's world, marketing teams should be media agnostic and develop integrated marketing campaigns by leveraging the expertise of traditional and digital-native professionals. While many marketing teams are still somewhat segmented, true media and discipline integration is increasingly popular.
Designing a website via internal stakeholder committee. The enemy of good design is groupthink. The larger the organization, the more likely the corporate website will lack creativity, consistency, and clear messaging. Google's latest algorithm updates now reward exceptionally designed websites that provide an optimal user experience. Google's algorithm is now the new stakeholder, which will reward well-designed sites with high rankings.
Managing e-marketing campaigns to impressions, clicks, or budget forecasts. A significant number of marketing campaigns are now managed based on conversions, thanks to advances in analytics and paranoia from the VPs and CMOs. Additionally, marketers now understand the importance of relative metrics, particularly for social media. The remaining marketers that still rely on outdated metrics will soon be relics of the past.
Paying third-party vendors to represent your brand in social media. Thank goodness this trend is finally taking a turn in the right direction. Many brands are taking social media management in-house, after agencies and consultants have fallen woefully short. Effectively managed in-house social media does require new thinking and evangelism. Remaining social media agencies must rethink their approach in order to stay relevant.
Doing black-hat SEO. I wrote this article before Panda and Penguin updates took hold. Those updates meaningfully affected rankings for companies failing to follow best practices for content creation, site design, and link development. Finally, the intersection of good search engine optimization, marketing, and website design is here, and this trend is very real.
Renting email lists. As far as I can tell, the idea that you can rent an email list and expect to generate tons of qualified leads is a long-dead concept, thanks to CAN-SPAM compliance and savvier consumers. Now, more than ever, marketers are relying on search engine and social media marketing and other strategies to generate leads rather than relying on ineffective email list rentals.
Sending unsegmented or untargeted emails. The rapid adoption of sales and marketing automation platforms has led to a much higher level of list segmentation and generation of highly targeted emails. Gone are the days of blanket emails to a large database, at least for truly successful organizations.
The digital marketing landscape is dynamic. In order to stay on top of the latest trends, you must have the discipline to continually test, learn, and network. Two additional helpful resources for looking forward include these articles: "2013 Search Engine & Social Media Marketing Predictions You Can't Ignore" and "5 digital trends you need to embrace."
Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, Ore.
On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Illustration with spider web" and "computer designed grunge border" images via Shutterstock.
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