I’ve ended up working in marketing because I’ve made some really bad marketing mistakes.
Like all entrepreneurs I want my products to succeed yesterday. And as I’ve never run a brick and mortar business, that meant succeeding with online marketing.
Since I quit working in television in 2011 I’ve run a media training business, started a cabaret, launched an e-learning product and even had a spell as a professional eulogy writer.
In my haste to promote all of those enterprises I almost killed off every single one. My digital marketing naivety meant I thought it would be possible to game the system and get away with it.
I was wrong.
As a result of making those mistakes I learned the hard way what works. So now I tell other people about it. But more of that later. First the cock ups.
SEO snake oil
The first, and biggest, mistake I made was with SEO (or search engine optimisation – the much hyped practice of getting your website as high up google as possible) and not getting myself up to speed on Google’s rules before I hired a search engine optimisation agency.
A firm approached me saying they could get my fledgling media training business much more web traffic. They seemed legitimate and had some compelling case studies. After consulting an entrepreneurial friend who had boosted his business significantly with similar tactics, I took the plunge. Sure enough a couple of months later my company was in the top 5 for the most competitive terms in the media training niche and enquiries were starting to come in with pleasing regularity.
Then one day the phone stopped ringing. As it was during the summer I put the lack of interest down to everyone being away on holiday. But when summer turned to autumn and still nothing happened, I started to check our search positions more closely. We weren’t in the top 5. Nor were we in the top 10, nor the top 100. In fact we weren’t anywhere. My company website had been completely wiped from google. Even searching for the name of the company didn’t bring any results whatsoever.
It took two long years just to get listed again
It transpired that the SEO agency I’d used had badly contravened Google’s policies, submitting badly written, keyword stuffed articles to thousands of dodgy websites. In order to repair the damage I had to hire a second company to remove each one of those links or prove to Google that my business didn’t want to be associated with them.
It took two long years just to get listed again. The lesson is clear – if you produce a website full of genuinely useful content Google will ultimately reward you. If you try and game the system ultimately you will be punished. Or in more prosaic terms, don’t try and beat one of the world’s biggest companies at their own game. If I’d created good, regular and relevant content on my site it would have taken six months to a year to make an impact in search rankings. In the end it took about six times as long, and a bunch of money I barely had, to get my business to where I was when I started.
MARKETING OVER PRODUCT
The second mistake I made was pumping money into marketing a product that was never going to sell. In 2014 I created an e-learning product which I’d convinced myself there was an audience for. It turns out there wasn’t. But I only discovered this after chucking thousands of pounds at Facebook and google ads. The good news is I got really good at making online ads. I also taught myself how to create a proper sales funnel and the value of tripwire products. But the better I got at marketing, the more obvious it became that the product was not going to sell. Having created a product that I was genuinely proud of I was too attached to it. I blamed everything but the product itself.
The lesson here is don’t spend a penny or a second of your time on marketing before you know that you’ve got a market for your product. No amount of brilliant marketing is going to make a success out of a crummy product.
THOU SHALT NOT BOT
The third mistake is actually a whole load of mistakes rolled into one. It can be summed up in one word: bots. I’ve bought hundreds of instant twitter followers, thousands of youtube views and comments and a stack of myspace friends (remember them) for $20 here and $30 there. Now even the naive 2011 version of me didn’t think these views, followers and friends were real. I knew they were artificial products of a cheeky programmer somewhere who had worked out how to create thousands of fake profiles on social networks. But I did think the improved stats would make me seem more attractive to other ‘real’ people online. I reasoned to myself that a video with 50,000 views would acquire 1000 extra views quicker than a video with no views.
It didn’t work. Not even a bit. All you’re left with, in the case of buying youtube stuff, is a bunch of spammy looking comments on your videos, or tons of views and no comments. Either way it doesn’t stack up to a real user. Plus youtube will always know what you’re doing and down-rank the video in organic search results.
Even worse once again I had a clean up job to do in order to get rid of all the artificial followers on my social accounts, so I knew whom I could have actual conversations with.
WHERE ALL THIS HAS LED
Making so many mistakes has taught me the hard way that creating really useful content and putting it out into the world will lead you to be successful. Just one blog post on my media training business’ site ranks at the top of all the keywords I paid that SEO agency to rank me for and brings in about three-quarters of my leads. It took me an afternoon to write it. The difference with that post was I played by Google’s rules and put the post out there with no expectations or desperation for it to succeed overnight. It took about a year for it to really start to get traction. But it was worth every second of the wait.
The overall moral of the story is it takes time and perseverance to promote yourself online. That’s why I set up my most recent venture: BuzzRamp. Buzzramp is a web app that acts like a sat nav for marketing. It gives businesses an automatic plan for marketing that, if they follow it, will guide them to where they want to be. If you’ve got a decent product, as long as you play by the rules and put in the effort with marketing, in time your business