Internet Marketing - Potential Pitfalls
The internet is a growing medium that provides a rich opportunity for businesses to promote themselves. Yet, there are lessons to be learned from the dot-com bust. The internet is not a magic bullet and marketing channels need to be analyzed with the same scrutiny that would be applied to other mediums. While internet marketing can offer tremendous value over traditional marketing avenues, there is considerably more risk for the unaware.
During the dot-com bubble, many internet businesses were basing their revenue model on selling banner advertising space. But banner advertising never lived up to its promise and the dot-com bubble burst. Now new advertising paradigms are emerging:
- SEO/SEM (Search Engine Optimization / Search Engine Marketing)
- PFI (Pay For Inclusion)
- CTA (Content Targeted Advertising)
- PPC (Pay Per Click Advertising)
While any of these internet marketing methods can be quite rewarding (with a measurable ROI), businesses need to be aware of the potential risks inherent in all of them.
SEO/SEM is a growing industry. Consultants worldwide offer their services to help your web pages appear at the top of search engine results for targeted keywords / keyphrases. However, there is no regulation of this industry. Consultants who do not abide by the search engine's guidelines can put your website at risk of being penalized or banned. There are only a handful of search engines driving most of the (web searching) traffic on the internet. Being banned from one of these engines can seriously damage your on-line presence. Another possible consequence of of risky SEO practices is a reluctance from other webmasters to link to your site (so you could lose even more opportunities for publicity/traffic apart from the search engines).
Some risky search engine optimization techniques that should be avoided:
- hidden text
- hidden links
- punctuation links (uses punctuation as the anchor text)
- deceptive / off-topic keyword stuffing
- doorway pages
- cloaked pages
- mirror sites
- link farms
When evaluating an SEO/SEM consultant, find out if they employ any of those techniques or you may be placing your internet presence at serious risk. Please read our SEO consultants article for more information on evaluating SEO consultants.
PFI is becoming a popular revenue model for themed portals and directories. You pay a fee to be included in the web site much like a membership at a club. These opportunities may or may not provide a ROI or branding exposure sufficient to warrant consideration, but there is little risk of negative consequences. When engaging a portal (as opposed to a search engine) you would do well to ensure that they do not engage in risky SEO techniques or you may find your investment wasted if they get banned from search engines themselves (and fail to meet their traffic projections).
PPC advertising is a growing industry with Google AdWords and Yahoo/Overture leading the industry. There is a wide disparity of quality in the PPC arena and significant risk for the unwary including fraud and partnerships with undesirable distribution channels.
Fraud occurs on many possible levels. Click fraud can occur when end users click on a competitor's ads in order to drive up their advertising costs. It can also occur when PPC providers syndicate their ads to affiliate search engines that receive commissions on click-throughs. These affiliates may then drive tons of traffic through your ad with no conversions (or ROI). You should investigate what steps your potential PPC ad provider has taken to prevent click fraud. You should always track your conversions using one of the many systems that are available.
Most PPC providers do not fully disclose, or allow you to choose from among, all of their syndication partners. If you engage them, your ad is distributed to their entire network. At this time, Yahoo/Overture includes among its syndication partners a company called Claria (formerly Gator). This company promotes a spyware application called the GAIN adserver.
The GAIN adserver is distributed by several methods:
- Drive-by downloads.
- Installing any of Claria/Gator's "ad supported" software from their web site.
- Installing any of Claria/Gator's "ad supported" software piggybacked with an affiliate application.
While Claria maintains that all installations require the user's permission, most people who find the GAIN adserver on their computers do not remember installing it or reading the licensing agreement. When people browse the internet with Claria/Gator's software on their computers, it "phones home" and monitors their browsing. They display advertising in pop-up and/or pop-under windows as users surf the web.
Most surfers these days despise pop-up ads. There is an entire industry of pop-up ad blocking software developing to combat the problem. So what does this have to do with Overture? Well, Overture PPC ads appear in GAIN adserver pop-unders as sponsored listings! Businesses that advertise through pop-ups/unders (and/or scumware channels) are at risk of alienating potential customers. Beware if this does not fit with your corporate branding strategy. The Overture - Gator partnership is just one example of a potential liability in PPC syndication. PPC advertisers should demand full disclosure of (or choice among) the syndication partners from PPC providers to ensure that all the advertising channels are desirable.
Content targeted advertising (also called contextual advertising) is a relatively new area. PPC ads are displayed on partner sites when the material on the site is related to the subject of the PPC ad. In theory, this puts your ad in front of a targeted audience. In practice, this model may be less effective than true PPC because CTA targets passive interest, while true PPC ads target active interest. Until providers offer CTA as a completely separate service, CTA may dilute a search engine based PPC campaign's effectiveness.
Internet marketing can offer tremendous value, just be sure that you investigate the opportunites with a critical eye to avoid the potential pitfalls.