UPDATED OCTOBER 28, 2023
Digital marketing don’ts
This post is dedicated to bad digital marketing. The kind that screws over your company, your customers, and your competitors — and damages your brand and reputation. And the post has grown exponentially since I first wrote it!
If you’re guilty of any of these sins, take heed — because they could come back to bite you!
Pride is associated with vanity and egotism. These sins are examples of self-serving behaviour, a self-important attitude, and self-centred marketing that doesn’t serve the needs of your customers.
Making it all about you
Your communications are all about you: Your beliefs, your services, your achievements, your successes. And your audience — the people who you’re actually communicating to — don’t factor into it at all.
If you want your audience to read what you’ve written, it needs to be written to them and it should show them how you can solve their problem. You can learn how to do this in my article: How to write more customer-focused copy >>
Sending unsolicited marketing emails
You’ve decided to start an email list, but you can’t wait for people to sign up of their own volition. So you scour all the businesses and social profiles you can find for email addresses and start spamming them.
I can’t tell you how many email lists I’ve been subscribed to without my consent — even since GDPR came in. From people and companies I’ve never heard of, and for products and services I’ll never ever buy.
Because if a company starts spamming you out of nowhere, it never feels legitimate and the trust is broken before it’s even been built.
Not giving an email opt-out
You think your emails are so fantastic that no one would ever want to opt out. So you don’t give them the option.
Except you don’t have the right to force-feed anyone your content. GDPR rules state that you have to include an unsubscribe button and that unsubscribing should be easy, ideally with one click.
Mailing list sign-up pop-ups
You’re confident people will want to sign up for whatever you’re offering, before they’ve even had a chance to read a word. So, three seconds after they arrive on your website, your pop-up appears to collect their email address for your mailing list.
For you, it feels like you’re seizing an opportunity. But for your website visitors it feels more like you’re marching up to someone you’ve never met before and demanding a date. There’s no conversation and no chance for them to get to know you or see what you’re about.
You’ll learn to create better pop-ups in my article: How to improve the pop-ups on your website >>
You think everything you do is perfect. So when a customer gives you negative feedback online, it must be their problem and it can’t possibly be yours. And you choose not to respond.
The problem is, the majority of customers will read your online reviews before choosing you. And if there are bad reviews that haven’t been acknowledged or countered, that will start alarm bells ringing.
When negative reviews happen, it’s important to respond positively — whether that’s by acknowledging the problem and making an improvement or setting the record straight.
You can learn how in my article: How to deal with bad reviews >>
Failing to engage
You’re far too important to respond to the people who reach out to you on social media. So, you leave their questions unanswered and you don’t acknowledge them or reply to their comments.
To someone who’s taken the time to leave a comment — and to anyone who’d have liked to see you reply to that comment — this can make you seem aloof and unapproachable.
Unless the commenter is a troll, it’s always a good idea to reward them with a response. People will be much more likely to want to work with you if you show you’re interested in others and you care what they have to say.
Envy is having the idea that your competitors are doing better than you and ‘stealing’ business that should be yours. These sins are about coveting what your competitor has and trying to sneak a piece of it for yourself.
Plagiarising competitor content
Your competitor is producing the kind of content you wish you could write. So rather than rival it, you decide to go ahead and steal it. You copy their article and paste it into your blog.
This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it’s plagiarism to steal someone else’s work. Second, Google will flag your version as duplicate content, so it won’t show your version of the article on its results page.
You’ll find advice on how to do it right in my article: How to write better content >>
Promoting yourself on a competitor’s social media post
A competitor with a large following has written a social media post. It’s a good post and it’s getting a lot of engagement. You know if you comment on it, lots of people will be notified. So you write a comment underneath it, promoting your own services with a link to your website.
If you’re ever thinking of doing this, just stop for a second and consider how you’ll come across to all those people. Will it make you look like someone they would want to do business with? Or will it make you look desperate, attention-seeking and not very trustworthy?
Spoiler alert: it’s the second one.
Publicly putting your competitors down
You think the best way to compete for business is to drag your competitors down and make them look bad.
You might think this makes you look victorious and superior — or creative, like Burger King’s ongoing rivalry with McDonald’s. But it actually makes you look hollow and petty. Like the political parties who have no decent policies of their own and can only score a win by pulling their rivals’ policies to pieces.
Rather than crushing your competition, you should be focusing on your own business.
Overspending on paid ads to compete
You’re fixated on beating your competitors by any means necessary, so you’re continually overspending on your paid advertising just to outdo them.
Spending your whole advertising budget on paid ads isn’t the wisest move. First, because continual overspending is a constant strain on your resources. Second, it’s like putting all your advertising eggs in one basket. And finally, if you ever need to stop paying for the ads, you’ll have nothing to show for it.
A better strategy would be to invest some of your budget in content writing. This will create a useful resource (blog) on your website and will attract new leads organically.
You can read more about content writing in my article: How does blogging work for your business >>
DM’ing your competitors’ followers
You follow your competitors on social media so you can track them, see what they’re posting, and look for ways to steal business from them. When your competitors’ followers express an interest in something they’re offering, you slide into their DMs and say you can do it better.
A rival business did this to me. When I wrote a LinkedIn post asking my audience if they’d like me to create an on-page SEO checklist, a few of my connections had commented and said they would.
Several of those connections then told me they’d been DM’d by a woman they’d never encountered before. The woman told them my SEO checklist would be worthless and that they should work with her instead. Nice, huh?
Doing things like this doesn’t endear you to people, it just comes across as desperate and makes it seem like you can’t get an audience of your own.
Focusing on rivalry rather than originality
Being better than your competitors is what drives you. You invest your time and money in petty rivalry, trying to outdo them, put them down, and lure their customers away.
But while you’re doing this, you’re overlooking everything that could make your business special, original, and different. And you’re not positioning your own brand properly, so it can succeed in its own right.
You can read more on how to do this in my article: A simple guide to brand positioning >>
Gluttony is all about excess and over-indulgence. These sins are about wanting everything for your own gain with no regard for the needs of your prospects or customers.
Adding every contact to your email list
You like to brag about how many email subscribers you have. But you’ve grown your list by adding every new contact you make. These contacts aren’t your ideal customers, they’re not an engaged audience, and most of them haven’t even agreed to join your list.
Not everyone you meet is a potential customer. And if you automatically add everyone to your mailing list, many of them won’t thank you for it.
It’s fine to give people the option of joining your list and tell them what benefits they’ll get as a subscriber. But it should always be their choice.
Asking for too much data from your leads
You see every form on your website as a potential opportunity to convert a new lead into a customer. So you’re asking for full names, email addresses, website URLs, telephone numbers… and anything else you think you can use.
But collecting lots of data you don’t need is a bad idea. It goes against GDPR recommendations and requiring more data/effort will deter people from completing the form.
If you’re signing people up for your email list, the most you should need is a first name and email address. And for your contact form, a name, company name and email address or phone number should be sufficient.
Overloading your blog with content
You’re using cheap writers and/or AI to publish five or more SEO articles a day to your blog.
I came across a company that was doing just this. They wanted five articles a day for a rock-bottom price. They wanted me to use an AI-writer to write them, then tidy them up and send them in. I told them to go away and think about what they were doing.
There are so many problems with this it’s hard, to even know where to start. But here are some of my main issues:
- Anything written by AI will need more than just ‘tidying up’
- Asking talented content writers to play second fiddle to AI is insulting
- Targeting SEO keywords alone is not a strategy
- For an SME, publishing that amount of content every day is excessive and unsustainable
- The quality of your content is more important than the quantity — and that’s advice from Google.
You can read more about AI and all the things it can’t do in my article: 16 Reasons NOT to rely on AI writers for your business copywriting >>
Any content you create should be targeted for the audience you want to attract — not the search engines. Google is not going to look up your content and it’s not going to buy from you.
It’s not possible to create that amount of content every day, using AI, and maintain any kind of quality standards.
In summary, this is a terrible idea — so please don’t do it.
Sending out too many marketing emails
You’re constantly and indiscriminately spamming your list with marketing emails — just hoping something sticks.
But sending too many emails that are repetitive, irrelevant or not targeted to the right segments of your audience is risky. And it can result in email fatigue and unsubscribes.
It’s much better to have a proper strategy that focuses on sending relevant emails to the right people.
Not targeting your Facebook ads
You purposely keep your social media ad targeting as wide as possible, to reach as many people as possible. Because brand awareness is great and everyone needs to know about what you’re selling.
Do they, though?
Because what’s really happening is that Facebook users have a deluge of irrelevant advertising taking over their feeds and ruining their user experience.
I once read that, when GDPR came in, a guy asked Facebook for all the personal data they had on him. And when he printed it all out, there was a stack of papers as tall as he was.
Facebook has lots of data on its users, so why not use it to your advantage? Target the right kinds of people who’ll be genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
Greed is probably the most self-explanatory sin. These sins are about putting money-making over and above everything else.
Paywalling your content
A visitor arrives on your site for the first time to read a piece of content. But your content is too special to be free. So the first thing you do is ask them for money.
This wouldn’t be quite so objectionable if you were prepared to give them a free sample or trial. But with nothing to go on, visitors can’t see if what you have is worth reading — let alone worth paying for. So why are they going to hand over their credit card details?
Making money from third-party advertising
You have third party advertising on your content — and the ads are intruding all over your content and ruining the user experience.
Autoplay video ads your visitors can’t close down until they’ve finished. Huge pop-up adverts that take over the screen and are difficult to move or close. Timed advert interruptions to your content… the list goes on.
For many users, intrusive advertising like this is a huge frustration and makes your content virtually unusable to them. If they can’t get a simple answer to their question without sitting through multiple adverts, they’ll probably go elsewhere.
Prioritising new customers
Your focus is on getting more and more customers And this leads you to prioritise onboarding new customers, while neglecting the loyal customers you already have.
This is why brands typically reserve their best offers for new customers. But that can be a false economy. Because it’s 5–6 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain or reactivate an existing one.
If you can, it makes more economic sense to focus on nurturing and rewarding the customers you already have. This will result in more recommendations and will help you build a solid reputation. In time these things will introduce new customers more organically.
Focusing on short-term gains
You’re fixated on short-term gains and love the instant gratification of seeing money in the bank.
But this is a short-sighted approach.
Focusing on longer-term strategies — like brand-building, nurturing existing customers — and organic SEO content, will help you build loyalty and enable more sustainable growth.
Using unethical methods
You’ll do anything to make more money, more quickly — even if your methods might seem devious.
Unethical methods aren’t illegal, but they’re not likely to win you any fans either.
Examples might include:
- Using deceptive visuals that misrepresent your product
- Raising the price of essential items during a crisis
- Sneaking in extra charges/clauses
- Fake scarcity — when your countdown clock miraculously resets itself or your limited time offer doesn’t end
- Manipulating customers’ emotions, fears and insecurities to sell
- Making exaggerated claims about a product’s effectiveness, health benefits or environmental credentials.
Unethical methods like these might help you make a quick buck, but they’re never going to win you customer loyalty or glowing recommendations.
More likely, they’ll annoy your customers, destroy your credibility, and decimate your reputation.
Lust is an insatiable desire for power, influence and status — and the pleasures those things bring. But these digital marketing sins won’t help you — and they could make things worse instead of better.
Focusing on vanity metrics rather than results
You have thousands of social media followers and your posts get a ton of likes, comments and shares. But the engagement has gone to your head, giving you a distorted perception of your success. And you think you’re doing amazingly, even though you haven’t had a single enquiry or made a single sale.
The truth is, if your engagement isn’t leading to enquiries or sales, all it’s doing is stroking your ego.
You need to go back to the drawing board and think about why you’re doing this and what you want it to achieve. Because pouring money into social media that isn’t converting is like pouring money down the drain.
Buying social media followers
You’re just starting out on social media, but you don’t have any followers yet and you’re worried people won’t take you seriously. So you decide to buy some.
But buying social media followers doesn’t make you an influencer overnight. And although these followers can be bought, they’re not your ideal audience, so they’re not likely to engage with your content.
If people see you have a large number of followers and no engagement, they’ll either correctly presume you bought your followers — which is never a good look — or they’ll assume your content isn’t worth engaging with.
Joining an engagement pod
Your brand is new to social media and you want to grow a following quickly, so you join an engagement pod.
In an engagement pod, members like and comment on each others’ posts to boost reach and encourage more engagement.
But the truth is, it’s all fake. The people in your pod will probably have no genuine interest in your brand, so their likes and comments won’t be insightful or meaningful.
Overspending on branding and image
You’re all about your brand and your image. You care a lot about how you look and sound — and you think that’s enough to attract the right kind of prospects.
The problem is, you can’t build a brand in isolation. To draw the right kinds of people, you need to know who your prospects are and create content that will benefit them and help them relate to you. Otherwise you’ll be pouring money into expensive branding campaigns that won’t result in sales or a return on your investment.
Over-promising and under-delivering
You make bold and ambitious promises that are more in line with the brand image you’ve created than reality.
In other words, you make promises to your prospects, but you don’t have the goods to back them up. Maybe you’re short on skills or experience or maybe your products don’t live up to the hype.
Whatever’s lacking means you’re constantly over-promising and under-delivering. And this will only lead to disappointment and a lack of trust in your brand.
Rather than making these bold promises, be real and let your actual results and reviews speak for you.
Using dubious SEO techniques
The time it takes for a new website to rank with organic SEO is around 6 months. So if an SEO company makes bold claims about getting your website to page one in a much shorter time, that might seem tempting.
But to get you those results, they’ll have to use unethical practices to rig your website’s ranking by playing the search engine’s algorithms.
The problem is, while these techniques might get you results more quickly, those results won’t last. If they go against the search engines’ terms and guidelines, your website will eventually be hit with a penalty, which could harm your ranking potential in the future. And that’s really not worth the risk.
Buying backlinks for your website
Backlinks are links to your website that come from other websites. They show the search engines that other people rate your content and find it worthy of sharing.
Having a lot of good quality backlinks will improve your page authority and signal to Google that your site is worthy of a higher ranking. So, essentially, backlinks are important and valuable — unless you buy them.
Buying backlinks goes against Google’s terms of service. And if you’re caught doing it, the consequences could be severe. A penalty from Google can stop your site ranking immediately.
You can learn more about backlinks and how to get them legitimately in my blog post: A beginner’s guide to backlinks and link-building >>
Sloth is laziness. And it applies to you if you’re practising digital marketing that requires the least amount of effort.
Relying on AI for everything
You think you’ll try this AI thing everybody’s been banging on about. And you find it’s quick, it’s free, and it sounds better than anything you could write. So why wouldn’t you use it to write this post… this email… this comment… this pitch?
Before you know it, you’re using AI to write everything and you don’t even think about creating anything original anymore.
But while you’re thinking it’s great, you’re audience is thinking you don’t sound like you anymore. You sound generic and your posts aren’t original, interesting or engaging anymore. Your posts blend into the background noise. And they slowly start to tune out… until you lose them completely.
Copying and pasting your pitches
This applies to any cold email or DM pitch that’s just copied, pasted and sent to a long list of recipients.
Most of the time the sender doesn’t bother to personalise the message — or do any research to find out whether what they’re offering is right for who they’re sending it to.
Not only is this incredibly lazy, it will never get you good clients.
Pitching to your competitors
If you’re sending cold pitches to just anyone, you’re probably pitching to your competitors as well.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had emails and DMs from people wanting to sell me SEO content writing services.
But why would I ever want that when it’s what I do myself?
If you’re doing this, it’s a complete waste of everyone’s time. And if you’re doing it to other writers, be prepared to get a few pitches back, too!
Not auditing or updating your content
Your blog has a huge bank of content and your content creators just keep adding to it. But it’s become overwhelming and the thought of going through it is something you can’t even contemplate.
The problem is that content can date quickly, needing updates or becoming obsolete. Leaving it on your blog or social channels isn’t doing you any favours.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you need to call someone in to do it for you and make a plan for continuous updates moving forward.
Automated phone calls
You interrupt your lead’s busy day with a phone call, but you can’t be bothered to call in person. Instead you have someone record your message and play the recording to whoever answers the phone.
Sometimes they even ask your lead questions and give pauses for them to answer — like it’s a real conversation. Clever.
Except it’s not clever, is it? Because eventually your lead realises there’s not a real person on the other end of the phone — and they feel foolish, deceived and hang up.
DM’ing to say “Hi”
I accept your social media connection request and get a DM saying “Hi”.
That’s it. That’s the message. One word.
What’s the point of this and why will anyone be likely to respond?
If you can’t be bothered to write a meaningful message, why bother at all?
Wrath relates to uncontrolled feelings of anger. Some business people take out their anger in their communications with others. On public platforms, where everyone can see them.
Giving hostile responses to negative feedback
Someone has left a negative review of your business online. How very dare they?!
You could take some time to investigate the problem and write a measured and thoughtful response. But, instead, you fly off the handle and write a hostile and confrontational response.
You do realise other prospects are going to read that, don’t you? And they’ll probably decide not to choose you because you seem irrational and aggressive.
Someone’s written a social media post that, for whatever reason, has really wound you up. And you see red.
You could scroll on and ignore it, but no. Instead you choose to tackle the OP in the comments. Not politely pointing out your different point of view, but angrily and abusively.
Maybe you swear like a trooper. Or resort to name calling and petty squabbling. Maybe you can’t let it lie and keep coming back to land another verbal punch. Or your mask slips to reveal an ugly prejudice.
All this while your argument plays out in front of fellow commenters and onlookers — who will probably be moved to block you rather than ever wanting to work with you.
The original poster might get a whole new post out of the incident — and a whole new audience to look up your original exchange.
An outburst like this could be damaging for your reputation and your future working relationships.
You think it’s okay to abuse others in private, by targeting them with a direct message. Whatever the tone of the message, the intent is to harass, intimidate and upset them.
If you do this, don’t bank on your message staying private.
To counter this behaviour, more people are sharing screenshots of these conversations — and they’re not always hiding the sender’s identity.
You have been warned.
About the author
I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter and advocate of intelligent, respectful digital marketing that works. The kind that actually benefits your audience and their user experience.
If this is something you support too, we could be a great match!
To find out more about me and how I help businesses succeed with effective, targeted communications — on and offline — please visit my main website.