5 Stupid Mistakes I Made In Online Marketing

Recently I was thinking back to 2004, when I was still a newbie Internet marketer. I had been online for almost ten years and knew the basics of building Websites but I had yet to learn the ins and outs of making money online. I was a tech guy, not a marketer. Read on and this will become increasingly apparent.

In those days, learning resources were not nearly as plentiful then as they are now. There were info-products even back then but it was nothing like the smorgasbord available today. My education was largely of the trial-and-error type, with a heavy emphasis on the error part.

One of my first attempts at a profitable Website was a travel information resource called AllFourCorners.com (a currently undeveloped domain I still own).  I compiled hundreds of phone numbers and links for airlines, car rental agencies, cruise lines, hotel chains, and other travel-related companies. Basically, my goal was to create an exhaustive online travel Rolodex.

Yikes... the project that wasted a lot of my time in 2004. It looked like crap and made almost nothing.

I had affiliate accounts with every major booking site (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) so I could display banner ads. If there was a company that was on my list that had an affiliate program, I was linking to them with an affiliate link. How could I lose?

Stupid Mistake #1 – Having a Flawed Monetization Plan

I was in such a rush to get my site up and running that I didn’t put too much thought into my monetization plan. I knew I was going to use affiliate banners and links, but I didn’t think about how effectively it would relate to the content I was providing. Since my content consisted primarily of hard data like phone numbers and Website links, most of my visitors were looking for specific information. They weren’t in the mood to browse around and click on banners so my bounce rate sucked.

I began using Google Adwords to drive traffic to the site (it was still relatively cheap back then), but I was far too optimistic about the commissions that would be generated. In short, my “Adwords arbitrage” plan was inherently flawed and I wasted hundreds of dollars on traffic that didn’t convert.

What I should have done is looked to the long term and tried to establish my site’s position in the organic search results to get free, highly-targeted traffic. I wasn’t making nearly enough per visitor to even consider paying for traffic, especially pay-per-click ads.

Stupid Mistake #2 – Not Testing the Waters First

I spent hours and hours compiling the data for my site before I went “live.” I should have implemented a single section of the site first to see if that was profitable. If the test was successful I could have added on more sections one by one; if the test failed I could have corrected my plan or, in the worst case, cut my losses early.

I had it in my head that there was no point in releasing a “skinny” site with only a few pages of content. I wasted my time trying to create a huge site before testing and perfecting my plan. Time spent testing is seldom wasted.  If I had tested the waters first it would have given me an early indication that changes needed to be made to my plan.

Stupid Mistake #3 – Buying Junk Traffic

The way I figured, the more traffic I could drive to my site the more I stood to make. Under normal circumstances that is fairly sound logic, but it depends entirely on the kind of visitors you’re getting. Are they people who were looking specifically for the information you provide or are they visiting your site because of some incentive?

I paid a traffic service good money to have thousands of visitors come to my site, but I might as well have just flushed my cash down the toilet. I wish I still knew exactly how much I paid and how much I made, but I can tell you that the former was at least ten times greater than the latter.

I also spent a fair amount of time working “traffic exchanges,” where you earn credits for viewing other people’s Websites. You can then use those credits to have people view your Website. What a waste of time!

It was all junk traffic. The people who were visiting my site could care less about what it had to offer — all they cared about what was in it for them. Of course, I now realize that most of the hits I was getting weren’t even from humans at all but more likely from automated bots.

Stupid Mistake #4 – Using Untargeted Ads

A few of the banner ads I was showing on my site had nothing to do with travel. At one point, my most prominent ad was for financial investments or something like that. Why did I choose something so outside of my niche? Greed and stupidity. I saw on Commission Junction that the EPC (Earnings Per Click) for this particular offer was significantly higher than the typical offers in the travel niche, so I went for the money.

Guess what? Most people looking for travel information couldn’t give one whit about financial investments. My featured ad got few clicks and zero conversions. If you aren’t targeting your ads to your site’s niche and demographic, you’ll probably suffer the same fate.

Stupid Mistake #5 – Giving Up Too Easily

While I don’t think the general concept behind my travel site was entirely bad, I obviously made a lot of mistakes in its implementation. But perhaps my biggest mistake was not to keep working on it and trying different things. Because the site was not an instant moneymaker, I quickly lost interest and abandoned the whole project. Who knows… if I had continued to grow that site seven years ago, it might be a top travel resource today.

No matter how ambitious your project may be, give it a fair chance to succeed. Plan to stay in it for the long haul because it often takes time for an idea to start gaining traction and achieving the level of success that you desire. Don’t give up as easily as I did.

The One Thing I Did Right

The information my site provided (company phone numbers and links) was static so it seldom had to be updated, but eventually I would have had to add more dynamic content (and a major redesign). That would have been okay with me because I have a passion for travel and wouldn’t easily lose interest of the topic. I believe that if you’re planning on building a site of any significance, you had better pick a niche that you are passionate about or you’ll eventually get bored with it.

So don’t make the same mistakes I did. My advice is to:

  • Know ahead of time exactly how your site will make money.
  • Test your concept on a small scale before committing too much time.
  • Make sure your traffic is targeted and is looking specifically for the information you provide.
  • Target your ads to your niche.
  • Don’t abandon your ideas before they have time to take hold.
It all seems so obvious now, but back then I had a lot of lessons to learn. I’m a lot smarter these days, but I’m still learning.
Did you make as many mistakes as I did with your first online ventures? If so, drop me a note… I’d love to hear about them!


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