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20 Bonehead Marketing Mistakes You Must Avoid

Did you know that marketing your company doesn’t have to be hard or expensive? In fact, with a little creativity you can generate some serious interest in your company that can lead to more traffic, more customers and more money.

While a lot of business owners think those results would be awesome, especially on a beer budget, they often make some pretty silly mistakes when it comes to marketing—mistakes that are easily avoidable.

Let me share with you 20 of these mistakes and how you can avoid them, with examples of companies who’ve successfully employed these marketing tactics.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #1: Avoiding Self-Promotion

The number one mistake you can make when it comes to marketing is not doing it. The reasons why you might not do it are numerous.

For example, you might think you have a great product, and that over time people will learn about it. A lot of people have blown up that theory like Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz. People aren’t going to learn about your great product unless you tell them.

Other companies may avoid marketing because the CEO or the founders don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves. That’s a shame, especially if you have a great product. This is one of the reasons why I recommend all startups should have two founders—if one doesn’t like talking crap, the other one should.

In the early days of my first company ACS (we provided marketing services), I used to write blog posts about companies who were messing up their internet marketing. I did this with back in 2006. Shortly after I published the post, the CEO called me and hired our company. Since this strategy worked so well, I tried it with other big name companies like Yahoo and closed on about half of those contacts.

So, don’t be afraid to talk crap and promote yourself.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #2: Hold Secrets Close To The Vest

Google is probably the king of holding secrets close to the vest, but they’re big and can afford to. The rest of us need to reach out and give away the farm.

For example, at my first company I used to email companies and tell them in a systematic, step-by-step process how to fix their website problems and generate more traffic.

Not many of the companies I emailed responded, but Tech Crunch did.

tech crunch neil patel

That led to a contract with Tech Crunch to do all of their online marketing (growing their traffic by 30% in 60 days), which I was then able to use their name to hook onto other big name companies like Viacom.

Don’t be afraid to email companies and potential customers that you think you can help. What’s the worst thing that they can do… ignore your email?

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #3: Closing In The Garden

While some big companies like the New York Times can get away with a pay wall, that can lead to disastrous results for you. It may not ruin your chances of success, but it can sure slow down the adoption of your product by willing customers.

Readability didn’t get the traction they needed until they pulled down their pay wall. And just because you are making the sign up free doesn’t mean you can’t ask the user for something.

Simply Measured, for example, used to let you sign up for free—only if you tweet about them. Naturally, that will generate more sign ups and tweets as more and more people are exposed to their message.

But Simply Measured doesn’t stop there. They upsell you into a paid plan once you are hooked on their products.

DropBox does the same thing by giving a limited edition of their product away. They encourage people to invite other users. People usually exceed their storage limits and upgrade to a paid plan because they love DropBox.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #4: Ignoring SEO

Startups and small businesses are in a great position to leverage SEO, but so many push this strategy to the back burner.

That’s unfortunate because a high ranking on Google can lead to more visitors to your website. I understand why a lot of companies don’t invest in SEO—it can be very expensive to hire a marketing firm.

The nice thing about SEO these days is that there is so much information about it you can easily do it yourself. You can read a Beginner’s Guide to SEO to get the basics and then over time learn about advanced techniques like attracting high-authority back links or as in the case of …

Code Academy, which is a startup that leverages SEO, particularly the effective use of keywords:

codecademy keywords

From the title, to the title tag, to the description you’ll find a powerful use of keywords that put them on the top of search rankings. Now that’s really pretty simple!

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #5: Don’t Think You Need A Blog

I don’t care what kind of business you are in—whether a very narrow niche or a huge mass appeal—you can benefit from blogging.

Fortune 500 companies like Marriot Hotels and Coca Cola have very effective blogs that bring in visitors, generate interaction and retain customers.

Our blog at Kissmetrics generates over 70% of our monthly traffic. That traffic generates leads for our sales team who then close on customers.

To do a blog correctly, though, you need to the following:

  • Host the blog on your site (
  • Write high-quality content that is 90% useful to your readers. The other 10% can be used for promotions.
  • Respond to each blog comment. This will create trust and a community.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #6: Not Getting Local Search

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, search on Google has gotten hyper-personal. For instance, your results are tailored to your location.

How can you leverage local search? One way I did this was to claim that Hyatt Hotel in Seattle where I live, as the location of my business.

This has led my business to appear when you search under that keyword: “Hyatt Hotel in Seattle.” I landed one enterprise customer worth $120,000 for my company.

Not too shabby for a little tweak I made with local search.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #7: Snubbing Social Networks

Most people who are not in marketing will think that social media is just a waste of time. They think it’s a never-ending cocktail party where work never gets done.

That’s unfortunate, because building up a profile on the popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can lead to a good source of traffic, new opportunities and ultimately customers.

Over at Kissmetrics we have built up all of our profiles on social media, and that effort sends us about 30% of our traffic. And other than the time we spend keeping up with these networks, there is no cost to us.

You can build up your profiles quickly by sharing good content you create and find online. It may take about six to twelve months before your profiles become popular, so be patient.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #8: Avoiding Guest Author Opportunities

One of the easiest, most popular and most proven methods to getting exposure, traffic and leads is to write guest posts for other blogs. That’s why it just doesn’t make sense that more people don’t do this.

There is plenty of opportunity out there. Sites like Huffington Post, Problogger and Lifehacker are always looking for new and fresh content.

Another simple way to find a guest blogging opportunity is to simply search “guest blogging opportunities [enter your industry].” Once you find a few sites that could use your guest posts, you should check out their guidelines.

Not only will guest blogging get you exposure and traffic to your site, you’ll also get links to your site that will boost your SEO efforts.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #9: Misusing Happy Customers

Too many companies create happy customers and then fail to leverage their happiness. That is truly missing an awesome opportunity to turn those customers into advocates.

Contact a few of your happy customers and ask them if you can do a case study for them. This is essentially how MarketingSherpa built their business.

When a successful campaign occurred, they would then flip them into a case study. As they generated interest in their company more and more companies started signing up. Eventually big companies came calling after seeing all the success they were having.

But you don’t have to do a formal case study to leverage happy customers. Testimonials are also powerful tools. Satisfied customers are eager to share their excitement about your company, so make sure you capture and promote that excitement.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #10: Ignoring Beginners

Some companies have an elite attitude that ignores beginners, thinking that going after the experts will make them exclusive, elite and big time players. This will usually backfire since you insult the beginners and have to focus on a smaller market.

Instead, treat beginners like royalty and you can then cultivate them into being loyal customers. The trick to doing this is creating “beginner guides.” Don’t let the name fool you. These guides could be short or long, but one thing they all share in common is how detailed they are.

Once you create a high-quality guide, give it away. This will generate exposure, traffic and lots of link to your site.

SEOmoz wrote a great beginner’s guide on SEO. This book ranks high in the search engines:

beginners guide to seo

Click through and you get to their landing page where you can read the guide or download it. Of course SEOmoz included a call to action to join their PRO service for free on the same page:

seomoz pro example

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #11: Afraid Of Speaking At Conferences

We got over 80% of our new clients through my speaking at conferences with my first company, in turn convincing many companies to hire us.

On any given year our company could spend $100,000 on flights and hotels. That might sound like a lot, but some of these companies that we acquired were paying us 1.2 million dollars a year.  For the most part, that $100,000 was our marketing budget since speaking at conferences generated us so much business.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend that much money to make conferences work for you. Just search for some speaking opportunities in your city. But often times it’s not the money that will stop people from speaking at conferences, but its fear of speaking in public.

To be honest, everyone starts off being scared of talking to an audience of strangers, but after a while you get used to it.  However, if you can’t get over that fear, encourage someone else in your company to do it. It will pay off big!

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #12: Not Tapping Into Affiliates

Affiliate programs are great for start ups and small businesses that don’t have a budget. For a cut of the profit, these partners will promote and sell your product. That cut of the profit motivates these sellers, so in a lot of ways affiliate marketing is performance-based marketing.

Penny stock trader super star Timothy Sykes uses affiliate programs to generate about $13,000 a month from affiliates.

This is also how Groupon was able to market their service, and grow their company. In fact, it was when they turned on their affiliate marketing program that they were able to grow like mad from 2009 to 2010.

alexa bonehead marketing mistakes

Affiliate marketing is perfect for cash-strapped companies because it doesn’t cost anything to run these programs.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #13: Failing To Network

Let’s say you can’t speak at a conference. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend one. These events are going on all the time throughout the year, and they are excellent opportunities to meet new people, build relationships and close business.

Not everyone you meet will lead to business, but for every person you meet you suddenly know everyone they know. In other words, they might not be able to help you, but somebody they know could. You just need to ask them, but you need the relationship first.

One time I attended a conference in Santa Monica where I met a guy named Francisco Dao. After spending time together we realized it would be a good idea to collaborate. I hired him to run a conference company I co-owned. He made the company several hundred thousands of dollars, and eventually started his own company.

Don’t neglect to attend a ton of conferences every year. Get your name out there. You’ll never know what kind of connection you can make, if you don’t get out there.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #14: Refusing To Comment On Blogs

I meet a lot of people who think that commenting on blogs is a waste of time. It’s time consuming they say, and they have a hard time figuring out how it adds to the bottom line.

That’s when I name drop a long list of successful companies like Mashable that made blog commenting a huge marketing strategy. Pete Cashmore made Mashable popular because he would leave detailed and insightful comments on other blogs like TechCrunch. Over time he left hundreds of comments. People would see his comments and then follow him over to his blog.

This is a simple and inexpensive tactic that helps to generate traffic to your website. Pencil in about 30 minutes a day to leave comments on other blogs.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #15: Missing Out On Message Boards

People need help. And they go online all the time to look for that help. Some people just use Google, that’s why SEO is so important. Other people head over to their favorite message board or Q+A site like Quora to get answers to their problems.

This means there is a huge opportunity to find potential customers. If you devoted a half hour a day to answering questions related to your product and how it can solve people’s problems, you’d be amazed at the business you could generate.

The SEO marketing firm Single Grain is doing this effectively. Each day they answer ten companies on a marketing message board, which has lead to about a 3% conversion rate for their consultation work. When one job equals five figures a year, that’s a pretty good return on minimal effort.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #16: Refusing Referrals

Think about it: if you can get your business to run off of referrals, then you don’t have to do any marketing. All your clients come from recommendations from satisfied customers.

Now how’s that for an inexpensive way to generate business? Thing is, not a lot of companies have effective referral programs in place. Or they don’t have programs at all.

That’s leaving a lot of money on the table.

It’s really quite simple. Just email them after you’ve completed a project they are happy with and ask them for a referral. Or follow them on LinkedIn, see who they are connected to, and ask for an introduction.

Digital Telepathy is a company that does a great job of asking for referrals. They re-designed one of my company’s websites. I loved what they did so naturally I gave them about six recommendations when they asked.

And that’s the key: they asked.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #17: Forgetting About YouTube

The kind of traction you can get on YouTube is huge. Just look at a company like Blendtec. They’ve been using videos to build a great company and it all pretty much started when they dropped an iPhone into one of their blenders.

Of course they were grinding up bricks and stuff before that, showing off how powerful their product was. Some of those videos got 3 million views. But it was the iPhone that went viral and got a lot of attention. That led to appearances on Jay Leno and other talk shows.

But going viral isn’t the only great thing about YouTube. Videos are an obvious option for companies who sell products where you have to demonstrate how to use it. But videos are also great for SEO purposes too. You can actually generate top rankings with a properly optimized video.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #18: Never Slashing Prices

Offering a steep discount might cut into your profit margins, but think about the exposure you can get if bring in a ton of new customers. That’s your opportunity to turn those new visitors into loyal patrons.

This is where tapping a service like Groupon or Living Social can give you a major boost in leads.

Not long ago a friend of mine created an event called Tomato Battle. His strategy was to get 2,000 people to sign up. He charged $59 for a ticket, but with Groupon and Living Social he slashed prices 50%.

He sold over 1,000 tickets in a few short days. The Groupon deal closed, and so word spread that people could buy tickets at his website. He sold about a 1,000 more at the regular price. He’s never had to do another discount because his event is so popular.

Positioning your product with a great offer is guaranteed to not only get you sales, but also generate tons of exposure for you. People love to share great deals with their friends, families and social networks.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #19: Overlooking Exceptional Customer Service

Lots of companies focus on creating the killer product. What they fail to do is support that product adequately on the back end, after the sale. That leads to poor customer service, which leads to unsatisfied customers and bad word of mouth.

That’s too bad, because you can improve the lifetime value of your customers by giving them extraordinary customer service. Zappos is a famous example of a company with great customer service. Their customer service reps are trained not to ask question when someone wants to return a product. And often they’ll automatically upgrade your shipping to next day air for free.

Great customer service is a critical component in a successful marketing plan. It can create happy customers who can then become an advocate and a raving fan — which doesn’t cost you a dime!

So invest in giving your customers the best possible experience ever.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #20: Lazy About Getting Press

Startups can be guilty of being obsessed with making their products better and assume that the press will come knocking at their door as a result. For anybody who’s been in that position knows, that just never happens. You have to get off your butt and go after the press.

The cool thing about getting press is that these companies are looking for news. They want to hear about your great company. You just have to pitch them your idea.

Naturally, when you get press, that will drive traffic to your website.

But don’t just focus on the big players. Look to bloggers too, who can really be a stepping stone to getting the attention of big media. Email them and ask if they’ll interview you. Not everyone will do that, but eventually someone will say yes.

One time I emailed Search Engine Journal to see if they wanted to interview me. They said yes, published the interview, which in turn drove traffic to our Kissmetrics blog. From that traffic we picked up several customers.

Don’t be afraid to make yourself available for interviews. The worse someone could do is ignore your email.


Marketing doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. It really only requires you to be creative. I hope that my sample of companies in this blog post who’ve been successful in using these techniques have helped you to see that you should avoid simple marketing mistakes—and just jump in!

The time you invest will be worth it!

Do you know of any other boneheaded marketing mistakes to avoid?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

  1. First rule is a must. Self-promotion is a huge impact on whether or not your business survives. One must take care as to not come off as arrogant, though, unless you’re prepared to carry the image.

  2. This is great! It’s like a short, quick guide to marketing in a way.

    Social sites, specifically Twitter is great. I don’t know why I waited so long to connect on all the social networking sites. I usually just tweet about SEO/marketing and I don’t use it to generate traffic to my site, but I’ve gotten appointments and leads with a lot of businesses that way through our tweets and DM. It’s a great way to network without having to suit up and attend a conference haha


  3. Sholto Macpherson Jul 18, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Great post, Neil. Favorite points were looking after beginners, referrals and commenting on blogs! Examples were invaluable.
    I’ve been looking through how-to marketing guides and the strategy sections only seem to have big budget channels like advertising, sponsorship, etc.
    This was well written, practical and useful advice. Thanks a million.

  4. Good list Neil, the thing I like about this list is that it applies to just about everyone regardless of whether they are a beginner or an expert. :)

  5. Just making sure I don’t fall into trap #14 ;-) Really useful post Neil thanks!

  6. David Gadarian Jul 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Great post Neil (as usual). Self promotion is a big pain point for many (myself included) and it has taken me some time to turn that corner – love that you list this point first.

    I’ve also seen some nice success with the idea of “going deep” rather than wide – probably in the vein not hiding secrets. My deeper blog posts have done much better and it also happens that they represent my business much more effectively.

  7. Looks like I’m not the only one with this urge to comment on this blog (#14). I’m just starting with a new business and I can’t say I’m not aware of all these marketing ideas but this is just a great list at the right time. Saves me time and I didn’t miss one. Really appreciate it. Now it’s time to go through it and promote my business. I hate it, though.

  8. This article is perfect. I think if there is anything I would add to this list, it would be to never sacrifice quality when creating content. Thank you for posting this great article!

  9. Rachel French Jul 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Yeah, a lot of us hate it (I feel your pain, Adrian!), and I’d like to comment on that (#14). One thing that has helped me tremendously is having an accountability partner. She is also a small business owner, and we talk weekly about our business goals. This relationship provides value on so many levels. I get objective feedback from someone who is not nearly as concerned with my feelings as she is with my business success. I get access to a person who knows some things that I don’t. Most importantly, I get accountability. We hold each other to the goals we set. No one wants to report back to a partner about having not done something we know we NEED to do. Of course, in the interest of practically-shameless self-promotion, I should mention that coaches are professional accountability partners, and I am really good at that (#1). My networking efforts (#13) have resulted in my getting clients who hire me almost exclusively to give them feedback on their business-building goals and then hold them accountable to those goals. It’s gratifying work to be able to help someone else succeed. Everyone needs a coach. (Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Fortune magazine the best advice he ever got was to hire a coach. If it’s good enough for Schmidt….)

  10. That’s a simply fantastic list there, I was nodding my head to each one.
    I Giggled at #7 about snubbing social media as I once had a client who said those exact words “social media is just a waste of time”.
    And #10 just helped me rethink a project I’m working on with a fresh angle. Thanks Neil :)

  11. Steven Neubarth Jul 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

    While it is time consuming these are all great tips and must be completed. We try to set aside at least one hour a day to implement many of these same tactics. Traffic will grow consistently with each…

  12. You live in a hotel?

    What are your local search suggestions for sole proprietors and freelancers with home offices who don’t want to the world to know their home addresses?

  13. Ralph Quintero Jul 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the great tips Neil! I learned some new things that I haven’t employed yet, but will get to ASAP. Especially #15….

  14. You just pulled off not making mistake #2 (and a couple of others here) in a BIG way. As someone who has been bringing up kids or working in a position that has no online presence for many years, I am totally new to most of this. That said, I’m looking at starting up my own business, and this article has just been bookmarked! So much relevant info here. Thank you. While searching for info, I came across another company (Brandvocates) that does a lot of these things for companies. While I’m not in the position yet to make use of companies like this, I was surprised to see them say that this type of marketing, can cost 10% of what conventional marketing like TV commercials, etc, costs and with as great a reach (by what I’ve gathered from your article). Seems like it would make sense if you didn’t have the time to carry out this list, to employ a group of trained people like these “brandvocates”?
    Thanks again for the most intensive and practical advice I’ve come across thus far wrt marketing my new business! :)

  15. Thanks for sharing this. I like the ignoring SEO mistake because many companies do just that. They usually think just building a website is good enough, but a good design is just half the battle.

  16. What a good read! It’s easy as a marketer to become guilty of these mistakes because it’s difficult to see the return from social media upkeep, blogging, maintaining SEO and local search engines least it can be difficult to see the return automatically. However, making connections with people and businesses through networking (even those that are not prospects which can be difficult to explain to a sales team) and spreading the word about your company whether it be online or the old-fashioned way will always be a positive marketing move. Like you state in #13, “they might not be able to help you, but somebody they know could.”
    As a marketer I have to constantly remind myself that my time is not “wasted” and that the return will be there, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but constant self-promotion and networking will pay off in time. Thanks for the wonderful advice!

  17. Great post!! I’ve been looking through how-to marketing guides and the strategy sections only seem to have big budget channels like advertising, sponsorship, etc.

  18. Companies that do the best job at marketing, in my opinion, actually spend less than the competition. As this articles describes, their are many ways companies can broaden their brand with little financial investment required.

  19. Many useful tips here, thanks so much! I’m really tired of being a “bonehead”, and these great suggestions should help a lot!

  20. We all Know that Marketing is not a rocket science. But we must not shy away from using some of our Brain Cells.
    This is a very great post that covered all the good aspects of Marketing. A very good Marketing Tactic Must have the following ingridients:
    – Market only to Target Your Ideal Customer
    -Marketing strategy must also cover how to keep in touch with the existing customer base and keeping your relations solid.

    I used these same tactics to consult my clients and wrote a few to tell their importance.
    My recent post is

  21. I like your freshness and creativity. It always leads to success. I would add PPC to your bonehead list, because when planned and used well it gives you instant and laser-targeted traffic. It mustn’t be expensive.

  22. You mentioned very important mistakes which is happen with beginner in marketing.

  23. Great tips.

    One of the first things I did with my blog was write a beginners guide to SEO:

    I think these types of guides are useful for new comers as there are more and more people interested in internet marketing. Tapping into the beginner audience is important, and there will always be more beginners than pros.

    I am glad to see myself doing most of these things already. I think conference speaking will probably be the most difficult if I ever decide to do it.

    Thanks for this post. It’s reaffirmed a lot of the things I’ve been doing and given me some new ideas.

  24. Marketing is an art that should not be defined in “Forced to purchase” but the overall goal of marketing is to create positive impact on sale. One of the finest point that you mentioned above is people don’t give their opinion on conference that really big mistake and the main agenda of meeting remain false. Even the all point has their importance but it influences me too much. Thanks

  25. Jasmine Reese Sep 04, 2014 at 5:56 am

    I feel like I’ve learned so much just reading the first paragraph.

  26. Zequek Estrada Feb 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

    It’s true that social networks hold great marketing opportunities. This girl I use to have class with dropped out of college because someone had connected her through a social media account, saw her designs, and asked if she wanted a job. Last I heard was that she was making good money.

  27. We all know that Marketing is not a rocket science. But we must not shy away from using some of our Brain Cells.

    This is a very great post that covered all the good aspects of Marketing. A very good Marketing Tactic Must have the following ingredients:

    #1. Market only to Target Your Ideal Customer.

    #2. Marketing strategy must also cover how to keep in touch with the existing customer base and keeping your relations solid.

    I used these same tactics to consult my clients and wrote a few of them to tell their importance. I’m glad that I visited to this amazing article. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  28. 6 years on these comments still apply, perhaps even more so – many of them can be even more succinctly summarised as a) don’t treat ideas or marketing channels with contempt before trying them out and b) marketing is now also a lot about adapting, being open minded and stepping out of traditional roles and comfort zones.

    the above perhaps apply more in my sector, law, than most others, because egos and old fashioned attitudes are still prevalent!


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