Digital marketing is such a minefield of misinformation that even the biggest brands (like the BBC and BMW) make mistakes. Don’t do what these six companies did!
Nowadays traditional marketing techniques aren’t working as well as they used to. And the online landscape can be difficult to figure out… even for huge, well-known brands like BMW, Mozilla, and the BBC.
For small businesses, it’s even harder. When you check out your competitors, it seems like they’re all killing it online. You search for your products and services in Google and it’s their stuff that pops up.
Clearly, you need to get your act together.
You’ve got to create a digital marketing plan. And it has to include everything from email marketing to search engine optimization (SEO).
And you’ve got to do it fast.
So you hire the first company that promises great results and they get to work. Everything seems to go well at first. Your website starts moving up in the search engines and you get a decent flow of traffic.
Everything grinds to a halt. You check your keywords and you’re no longer appearing. Your visitor count drops and your website feels like no-man’s land.
I’m willing to bet that your digital marketing company made some major errors. And those mistakes have hit you hard.
The simple fact is that the field of online marketing is a minefield of misinformation. That means there’s a huge chance you could make mistakes that tank your results… if you work with the wrong company.
Even some of the biggest brands in the world aren’t immune to the pitfalls of bad digital marketing. Here are six case studies that highlight some of the big mistakes you need to avoid.
Some digital marketing activities that are fraught with danger… And link building is one of those. You need good links coming into your site and great links coming out of it.
Furthermore, those inbound links need to come naturally. In other words, any page that links to your website needs to do so because it finds value in your content. If you’re paying for links, that isn’t natural and isn’t showing valuable content. If you’re inserting your link onto any page that isn’t a quality and industry-relevant directory, that’s unnatural too.
Now, we’re not quite sure how the BBC managed to get an unnatural links penalty. It’s one of the biggest news organizations in the world. But back in 2013, Google punished one of its articles for unnatural links.
As Google’s John Mueller put it at the time:
“Looking into the details here, what happened was that we found unnatural links to an individual article, and took a granular action based on that. This is not negatively affecting the rest of [the] website on a whole.”
The BBC is such a huge organization that a small link penalty like this didn’t affect it much. But your website doesn’t have the same power as the BBC. If you get caught doing this, you’re going to feel some pain.
At worst, Google can give you a manual penalty and pull your website from the rankings. And what follows after that is weeks, or even months, of link cleanup just to get back into Google’s good graces.
The lesson here is simple: don’t build unnatural links. Instead, create awesome content that people can’t resist linking to.
Trolling Motors thought everything was going great with their digital marketing plan. They had an agency in place that did all of the work for them. Plus, they managed to secure the agency’s services for a very low price.
And just like that, Trolling Motors disappeared from Google. The update hit them hard because their cheap SEO agency had used black hat techniques to get results.
Spammy links, crappy content, artificial posts, and too many keywords combined to almost kill the company’s website.
These are all tactics that cheap SEO agencies use to get a short-term boost without worrying about long-term consequences.
This one’s a story that’s as old as online marketing.
Marketing departments know that they need SEO, even if they don’t have the skills to do it themselves. They also have budgets to stick to, which means they look for the cheapest option available.
So they snap up the first agency that says the right things about building brand awareness online. Then they take a hands-off approach and let the agency get to work. Soon enough, all of those marketing efforts end up wasted, along with the money that paid for them.
Don’t cheap out when it comes to digital marketing. It’s a complicated process that requires an appropriate investment. Trust me, you’ll reap the rewards in the end if you avoid this huge mistake.
Now, I’m going to dig into the technical stuff.
Every online marketing agency tells you about great content, quality links, and all of that good stuff. What they don’t focus on as much is the code behind the pages that your website serves up.
If you mess up the code, you screw up your search results.
That’s what iFly discovered when they watched their traffic drop massively in the space of a couple of days. Within a few weeks, they’d lost tens of thousands of visitors.
It all came down to a single line of poor code.
That one line of code told all the major search engines to ignore the page it was placed on. And it was on almost every single page of the iFly website.
The code itself was a relatively quick fix. What wasn’t quick was how long it took iFly to climb back up the rankings after its own code got it booted out of results.
The lesson here is that any agency you work with has to know about the technical side of things. They can talk a great game about the customer journey and all that good stuff.
But if they screw up the code, your website goes down.
It’s as simple as that. Get people who know how to code pages that search engines want to index and promote.
BMW is one of the biggest car manufacturers on the planet. Surely they’re not going to get caught up in crappy digital marketing strategies!
For this case study, we’re going to take you all the way back to 2006. The website BMW.de was at the top of the rankings for a huge number of important terms, such as “used cars.”
But in the space of a couple of days, their results dropped like a stone.
The reason is that BMW’s online marketers had used doorway pages to boost the company’s results.
It’s basically a fake webpage that exists solely to redirect traffic to a single website. For example, BMW might have had a doorway page at usedBMWs.de that redirected to BMW.de.
That’s a huge no-no for Google. It’s blatant manipulation of search results, and these doorway pages don’t give people the results they’re expecting when they click.
Yet even today, over 13 years later, some websites still try to use them to game the search rankings.
Don’t be one of them. The penalty for getting caught using doorway pages is pretty severe, as BMW found out. Plus, you end up having to deal with a complex web of fake pages just to try to convince Google that it can trust you again.
Leveraging user-generated content is a great way to get search engines to take notice of you. That’s why you see comment sections on blogs and forums on websites.
But if that user-generated content isn’t any good, it’s going to get you in trouble.
That’s what Mozilla found out when they received a manual penalty from Google. That penalty was directed at a specific page that contained a ton of spammy content.
And all of that content came from comments made by supposed “users.”
The problem here was that Mozilla didn’t properly manage the content that users had posted on their sites. That mismanagement had left them open to spammy attempts at link building, as well as comments from bots.
The penalty was a big wakeup call for the company and they soon cleaned up their act.
Now, let it be a wakeup call for you. You have to moderate any areas of your website that allow users to post their own content. If you don’t, you’re giving control of your site over to its visitors.
In Mozilla’s case, that led to comment sections full of links with anchor text like “Michigan Wedding Fireworks.” Not exactly the most relevant keywords or links for a web browser, are they?
I talked about the dangers of unnatural links at the beginning of this article. Simply put, if you’re actively building links, Google will spank you eventually.
Now, soliciting these unnatural links is one thing. Actively paying for them is something else entirely. And that’s exactly what Google caught Overstock.com doing.
The funny thing here is that the people behind this strategy obviously felt like they were being clever. They didn’t pay other website owners directly for a backlink. Instead, they went to colleges and universities with an offer…
Place our link on your website and your students and faculty will get discounts on our merchandise.
The reason they hit colleges and universities is that .edu links are super powerful. If you have them in your link profile naturally, you’re onto a good thing.
If you do what Overstock.com did, you’re trying to manipulate the rankings.
The company got hit with a huge search engine penalty.
How hard did it hit them?
They got caught in 2011. In the same year, Overstock.com’s revenue figures dropped by $1.05 billion. That’s no coincidence.
Money doesn’t have to change hands directly for you to pay for a link. If you offer anything, from cash to discounts to links in return, you’re basically paying for links. If your marketing agency brings up any scheme that sounds like that, run a million miles in the opposite direction.
Mozilla, the BBC, and BMW are all huge brands that have felt the pain of a Google penalty. That’s because they made stupid mistakes with their digital marketing activities.
When you go for cheap digital marketing, you set yourself up for failure. When you try to use schemes to manipulate results, you will get penalized. It may not happen today. It may not even happen this year.
But it will happen eventually, as these businesses all found out.
There are two things you need to do to avoid these digital marketing mistakes: