Halloween horror stories: monstrous marketing mistakes

It’s no secret that, at Pure Visibility, we love the Halloween season (as anyone who’s looked at our Google photos can plainly see!) With the most haunted of holidays fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to gather around the campfire with flashlights upturned, and share some digital marketing horror stories. From website redesigns that have been Frankensteined together, to marketers being held hostage by their own website provider, these aren’t just urban legends, but true tales from the dark side of digital marketing.

Read on at your own risk! These six malevolent marketing mistakes can be creepingly costly and terrifyingly time-consuming to fix. Whether it’s subduing the angry monster that’s been brought to life or performing an exorcism on a ghost website, these stories will send a chill down any marketer’s spine…

The Frankenstein website

We know that failing to preserve SEO during a website redesign can come back to haunt you, but what if you create a whole new monster trying to fix it?

Too often marketers attempt to fix an ineffective website by cobbling together a series of ugly solutions. Although well-intentioned, these quick fixes often end up bringing a whole new set of problems to life. For example, you may delete content you see as dead weight, not realizing it is ranking for keywords and bringing in a good amount of traffic—this results in a number of broken backlinks and 404 errors. Or, you may try to patch a content gap by writing new pages, but optimize them so poorly that they are overlooked by search engines, defeating the point in the first place.

To avoid creating a Frankenstein website, be sure to  approach your next redesign with caution and run a thorough SEO audit, first. If you’ve already flipped the switch and brought a monster to life, don’t panic! Your best bet is to use our post—website redesign SEO checklist to identify what’s really going wrong before you try to fix anything. This way you can prioritize issues and develop a strategy to tackle each one, all while avoiding any more unintentional Frankensteining.

Lost in the woods

Most marketers know that content is king, yet one of the biggest marketing mistakes we see is not having a content strategy. And trying to drive traffic to your website without a content strategy is like wandering through the dark woods without a flashlight—you’re not going to get very far, and it’s probably going to get pretty scary.

If you want to avoid wandering aimlessly (and creating content that has no impact) you need to shed some light on what’s working and what’s not in your current approach. Some of the most common marketing blunders we’ve seen include:

  • Creating content that is too promotional and/or not useful to the reader
  • Not targeting the right personas
  • Not optimizing content
  • Creating content around terms with no search volume
  • Not creating content at all

To get an idea of where you stand, it’s helpful to look through your analytics to see which content pieces are driving the most traffic and the topics that resonate with your audience. Using a tool like Ahrefs to see which keywords you’re ranking for can also be helpful in creating a strategy. (Hint: If you’re not ranking for high-volume, non-branded keywords, it’s time to seriously ramp up your content strategy).

Once you’ve gotten an idea of the topics and personas you need to target, you can create a content strategy to light the way forward for your marketing team.

The villagers are coming!

An angry mob has gathered with pitchforks and torches…and they’re leaving bad reviews!

It’s easy to get defensive when you feel like you’re being attacked, but this is a major marketing mistake: snarky, passive aggressive or insincere responses to bad reviews will only fuel the fire. Your current customers will feel like you don’t care about their problems (and likely take their business elsewhere), while prospective customers reading reviews will be deterred by your less-than-professional tone.

To avoid inciting a riot, we recommend having some standard responses on hand that invite the person complaining to contact you directly (offline) about the problem. If there was a genuine misunderstanding on the customer’s part that you can explain nicely, go for it, but never be dismissive or sarcastic. Address the problem, give a solution, and provide them the information for a person they can contact offline.

If you think a review crosses the line, you can try flagging it on the platform it was left on, but you’ll need reasonable evidence the review violated the platform’s guidelines to get it removed. (Google, for example, has a list of prohibited and restricted content). Remember,  it’s unlikely you’ll get a review removed just because you don’t like it. At the end of the day, the best way to ward off an angry mob is by being proactive and providing the best customer service possible!

Multiplying zombie content

Hiring the wrong vendor can be a horror show waiting to happen, and we’ve seen many clients get tangled up with so-called SEO companies that prey on unsuspecting marketers. Often promising quick, first-page results at a low cost, these bogeymen use shady tactics to give the illusion they’re doing work, or to artificially inflate results in the short term.

Unfortunately, when you have dead, ineffective content it can take a while to correct, especially if there’s a lot of it. For this client, we had no choice but to do a mostly manual review of each page, although using SEO tools like the Screaming Frog crawler make it significantly easier to identify suspiciously-similar sounding pages. Google also gives some guidance on how to address duplicate content, so you can pick the solution that works best for you and your team’s capacity.

Held hostage by your website provider

Not all web providers are created equal. Ideally, every company would own its domain name and be able to access and update its own website, or have a web developer on staff to make changes. Scarily, there are some web providers who essentially lock out their clients by maintaining total control of their website through custom solutions only the provider can change. Whether intentional or not, it can make it disturbingly difficult to get things done.

One of our clients was virtually held hostage when their web developer gave them the runaround any time a change needed to be made. This provider also owned the domain name to their website, making it nearly impossible for the client to take ownership.

To avoid this type of nightmare scenario, it’s important to have a basic understanding of your technological options, before signing a contract with a web developer.

  1. From the ground up, with custom code. By hiring developers to build exactly what you want, you can retain complete ownership of your website. The downside is custom code is more difficult and costly to build with and maintain. You’ll need an expert, not just in website design, but in your particular website design. And more often than not, when you redesign, the entire site will be thrown out if you go with new developers. This type of development does make sense if you are building something completely new, but even then it’s a good idea to leverage available frameworks to ensure your site is built efficiently, securely, and is standards-compliant.
  2. Using widely-available content management systems (CMS). A CMS comes with many benefits: websites can be built more quickly, with complex functionality, and with fewer worries about technology updates, security issues, and usability and compliance. Not to mention, non-technical people can easily make content updates. Another benefit is the ready pool of developers who work with any given system. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of your CMS, since it’s ideal to pick one you’ll be using for years to come. Even so, more systems are becoming migration-friendly, allowing users to switch platforms without losing their valuable content. We highly recommend going with an open-source CMS, such as WordPress, since they are maintained by a community of developers, so not at risk of being outright discontinued.
  3. On completely proprietary, purpose-built systems. This is often seen in business segments with a unique technological need, such as real estate and accessing MLS. A developer creates a stock solution that’s easily replicated, achieving great economy of scale for the development company. Such systems start with an affordable, one-size-fits-all website and offer upgrades and packages to meet expanded needs. Customization is usually limited; even the ability to login and edit your website can vary. Digital marketing services may be included, yet again, these may also be stock solutions with little attention to your ROI. You are essentially leasing a website, and may be unable to take your content with you, if you decide to leave. While those who prefer a hands-off website, have a captive audience, and aren’t concerned with search engine traffic, may find such systems sufficient, we advise against them because they greatly limit your ability to optimize your content.

No matter the solution you choose, make certain you always own your domain name, have administrative access to important accounts, such Google Ads and your DNS record, and retain the rights of any content and images you place on your site.

The ghost website

Imagine a website that you can see and click on, but it is essentially invisible to the rest of the world. Strange but true, these ghost websites are a reality of the digital realm.

Often the aberration makes itself known after a website relaunch, when a new website becomes trapped between worlds. Inbound traffic will plummet, leaving marketers in a state of panic, ready to perform a seance. Is it witchcraft or voodoo? Or something far more sinister?

The truth is disappointedly mundane: the developer forgot to remove the noindex tag before going live with the new site.

It’s best practice to use a noindex tag when a website is in development—this prevents your unfinished site from competing with your live one in search. But failing to remove it after relaunch will prevent Google from indexing the new website, causing it to all but disappear from search results. Your ghost website—technically there, but unseen by searchers—will cause your organic traffic to plummet, wreaking havoc that could take months to correct.

To prevent burying your own website alive, stay in communication with your web developers and have a website launch plan in place to make sure things go off without a hitch.

The moral of the story…

We hope you’ve learned some valuable lessons from our tales of terror. When digital marketing disaster strikes, the damage can seem frightening. Be aware of the dangers, so you can avoid the fate of these six marketers, and know that if the unthinkable does happen, there are digital marketing experts who can help you recover.