I recently tweeted about my sadness over two separate clients who had been taken advantage of by marketing vendors to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. (Yes, I actually do get emotional about this kind of stuff.) These business owners could have been any Inc. readers, running their up-and-coming companies. But in their enthusiasm and --and ignorance--they made poor online marketing decisions. This happens pretty frequently. Here's how can you avoid it.

Everything's Great...Until It Isn't

You probably won't know that something's awry with your website or online marketing until a real problem manifests. It could start out small--like orders decreasing--or it could be major: Your website is hacked, and you have no recovery or back-up plan. The businesses that fall prey to these problems are often those that can least afford it: They're small, and they chose their service providers for the wrong reasons--a friend's relative, the one with the splashiest advertising, or the one who gave the cheapest quote.

Generally these relationships start out fine. Everyone's happy, especially if sales are coming in. That may mask problems: As long as leads or sales roll in, the business owner doesn't even think there could be something wrong. Then little cracks start to show.

Common Problems and Pain

If most online problems were obvious, business owners wouldn't need outside help. Unfortunately, many problems are imperceptible, undetectable, or too technical for a typical business owner to confront. Here are a few mistakes you may be making:

  • Attributing website traffic and leads to a paid search campaign (like Google AdWords) when they're really coming from organic search rankings (this leads to big waste of money).
  • Inaccurately thinking the website was been optimized for search engines when it was built...and that a one-time SEO effort was enough.
  • Assuming that having links on your website to other sites, or that having lots of inbound links to your website, helps your SEO.
  • Presuming that generating more content and doing so more frequently will automatically have a positive impact on your traffic.
  • Incorrectly concluding that leads are decreasing over time when leads are actually being under-counted due to missing tracking code on a new landing page.
  • Assuming marketing campaigns aren't working because leads and sales aren't happening when the problem is really lack of conversions. That might happen because of your user experience is poor; there's no clear path to conversion; you have poor marketing messaging and missing calls to action; you're asking for too much information; or, your site suffers form broken links or other disruptions.
  • Mistakenly crediting campaign success only to on site actions, when most leads or sales come in through phone calls. And those calls aren't being tracked.
  • Improperly attributing too much success to a certain tactic just because you have recently introduced that tactic into your marketing mix. Or spending too much time and money on the latest and greatest new marketing tactic without first mastering the tried and true ones.
  • Dangerously thinking that log-in access to your website's content management system is all the information you really need to have to protect your website and its content.

You Know What They Say About Assumptions

As I said earlier, a lot of these problems aren't even evident until they start causing pain. The business owner has made too many positive assumptions or attributes successes incorrectly. But how are they to know better? Who was really looking out for them in this process?  Unless the company has an inkling that something is amiss and engages a third party to do an assessment or audit, it's often only by accident or real pain that these problems become apparent.

I urge you to look for signs of inconsistent results, anomalies in your web analytics, or suspicions in your gut. Review the list of common pains above and be honest with yourself if you're experiencing any of them. Please don't wait until it's too late and you've lost more money than you can afford.