Internet marketing provides a way for companies to reach markets. It lets entrepreneurs build small businesses even from home. It’s a valuable opportunity that generates billions of dollars for people who use it. And it’s a marketplace filled with hype, potholes and inflated claims. There’s a lot wrong with the way that commerce is done online. Here are 31 of its biggest problems.
1. It’s a Battle of SEO Against Content
Content is supposed to be king but any glance at Google’s search results shows that the kings of the SERPs aren’t the best articles on the best sites but the sites with the best SEO practitioners. Often that means pages filled with carefully selected keywords but short of solid content. Instead of focusing on digging up great stories, doing the research and adding real value, Internet publishers tend to find that much of their time is taken up by link-building, keyword-targeting and article syndication.
2. Content Has to Be Constantly Updated
It’s not just Google’s algorithm’s that determine the nature of Internet publishing. It’s also the priority decisions the company takes. When sites that update frequently (however poor the content) are weighted above sites that update occasionally (even if they produce better content), Internet marketers are under pressure to keep performing. Instead of being free to work at their own pace, they have Google as a whipcracking boss.
3. The Web Changes All the Time
And just when you think you’ve finally cracked it, when you have a routine that works and a business that brings in cash, Google goes and changes the algorithm, sending you to the bottom of the SERPs and crashing your business plan. It happened to WiseGeek.
4. It’s Not Free
Although anyone can set themselves up as an Internet entrepreneur, it’s not something that anyone can do without any money. Domain registration is only a few bucks but a good domain costs a lot more. Hosting costs a few dollars but reliable hosting that keeps your site up, fast and gives it space to grow, costs more too. And then there are the expenses involved in designing and building the site, marketing it and creating content. Getting started with Internet marketing can be free but building an Internet marketing business will cost money — like any business.
5. The Numbers Are Complex
When you’re counting the money out, you need to be able to predict the money coming in. That’s not easy to do. You have to figure out clickthrough rates, CPMs, eCPMs, views, unique views, impressions and users. You need to understand the effect that half a percentage decrease in a clickthrough rate can have on eCPM, and which impression sources are more important than others. The number-crunching is complex stuff, less interesting than producing content — and it has to be done.
6. Adwords Has a Monopoly
There are lots of places where a website can advertise online but the only service that really matters is AdWords. With about a million sites on Google’s content network and a total dominance in paid search results, online advertisers have to figure out how tweak their ads, track their stats and play with their keywords. It’s painful, difficult and surprisingly expensive. And sadly, it’s also necessary.
7. AdSense’s Limited Control
Just as AdWords dominates advertising inventory so AdSense is the best way to earn from advertising on a site. And Google wields the kind of tight control over it that would embarrass even Apple. Publishers have limited control over the ads they show, how they appear and how much they earn from them. Once you’ve chosen AdSense, you’re stuck with whatever amounts Google decides to pay you — minus the company’s own 32 percent commission.
8. Amazon Has a Miserable “Associates Program”
Choose to skip Google’s pay-per-click program and opt for affiliate commissions instead (or in addition) and you’ll find that Amazon sets the standard. And those standards are low. Amazon’s rates start at just 4 percent and rarely reach the 15 percent the company advertises. To make more money with Amazon’s Associates Program than an “associate” at Walmart, you’ll need plenty of traffic and a site focused on products.
9. There Are Too Many Big Affiliate Networks and They’re Too Hard to Work With
Amazon may be the most obvious place to look when you’re selling affiliate products but it’s not the only place. The Web has dozens of affiliate networks offering a range of different items and available to different kinds of publishers. Just choosing the right affiliate site will be a chore (although directories can be helpful, once you’ve decided which directory to use) and you’ll still have to choose the right products. That means assessing promotions, payment thresholds, stats and a whole host of other factors that can have a strong influence on your revenues. If you’re not using Amazon and you want something more physical than Clickbank, affiliate selling can get hard.
10. The FTC Makes You Tell Everyone You’re an Affiliate
The guidelines provided by the Federal Trade Commission now require marketers to tell readers when they have a commercial relationship with a company they’re promoting. In principle, it’s not a bad idea. In practice, it means that every time you tell your blog readers about a book you enjoyed or a store you like, and include an affiliate link, you have to spill the beans, even when you’re not doing it for the money. It’s not a huge deal but it can affect the relationship you have with your readers.
11. Can-Spam Laws Can Emails, Not Spam
The Can-Spam Act of 2003 should have made the junk folder in your email program obsolete. It hasn’t though, has it? Instead, it’s made you include an unsubscribe link in your email marketing, tell readers where they signed up, jump through hoops to use some email programs, pay attention to your headers and from address, and cost you readers. Spammers, despite the odd arrest, have barely noticed the difference.
12. Privacy Policies Are Meaningless
13. Content Is Too Easily Stolen
Copyright rules prohibit content from being republished without the creator’s permission. And yet there’s still a general belief that what’s on the Web is fair game (sometimes with serious consequences.) Even publishers who understand copyright rules though get around them. Freelance sites are filled with requests for article spinners and rewriters who can do just enough to avoid accusations of plagiarism while not costing enough to produce new content.
14. Long Form Sales Letters Are Obnoxious
Sales letters have been around for almost as long as the mail service has been pushing envelopes through mailboxes. In print form, they were narrative, readable and even appealing. Move them on to the Web and they’ve become loud, highlighted and painful to look at. They’ve also become unavoidable for selling just about any digital product.
15. You Have to Build Landing Pages
That’s even true when you’re reselling digital products. Whether you actually need a landing page to collect email addresses is debatable. But when you’re buying traffic for the chance of selling products, the argument for sending that traffic to a page that allows you to hit them again in the future is hard to beat. You might not like sales letters, but if you’re making affiliate sales, you’re probably going to have to build some version of them.
16. False Scarcity is Truly Insulting
One of the characteristics that makes sales letters so obnoxious is the use of false scarcity. Readers are told that a product will only be available for a limited time or in a limited run, even though there’s no reason that they couldn’t keep selling it forever. It’s a strategy that’s intended to prompt leads to buy now instead of putting off a purchase that they might never come back to. And often, we know it’s false — especially when we hit F5 and see the countdown on the sales page starting again.
17. The Claims Are Outrageous
No one ever reads an information product sold online for the pleasure of the read. They do it for the results. So marketers inflate the results by talking about how their strategies have earned them millions of dollars. Nobody believes that someone who has made that much money (usually by following a strategy wheedled reluctantly out of someone in a bar) is going to be selling information products online. Nor do they expect to make that amount of money. They’d just like to know how much they can reasonably expect to make in their first year and when they can quit the day job. That’s a lot less hype-y but a lot more honest.
18. Confusing Cancel Pop-Ups
Worse even than being hurried into making a buying decision is being unable to get away from making that decision. Too many sales letter don’t just use obnoxious highlights, false scarcity and outrageous claims they also require you to click a button when you try to surf away. It might be the cancel button or the other one — it’s never really clear — but it’s always hugely irritating and about as welcome as a sales assistant grabbing your arm as you leave the store. And about as effective.
19. Testimonials are Incredible and Hard to Gather
Personal recommendations are an essential element in a sales pitch. But collecting them presents a Catch-22: you can’t gather testimonials until you’ve made sales but you can’t makes sales until you have testimonials. It’s no surprise then that so many marketers are believed to cut corners by making them up. It’s impossible to know how many actually do but the belief is widespread enough for readers to treat testimonials with caution — however important they are.
20. There Are Too Many Bad Products
One result of the difficulty of trusting testimonials is that it’s impossible for a buyer to know whether a product is good until after they’ve bought it. Sellers have to rely on cast-iron return guarantees, and affiliates have to look at return rates as a way of assessing quality. Neither of those though prevents new products from reaching the market that are just plain poor. Print publishing has several layers of filters to increase the chances that a book will recoup the investment made in it. The relatively lower costs involved in creating digital products mean that anyone can get their information product out, however poor it might be.
21. Good Products Are Given Away
And when a good product does come out, marketers sometimes give it away for nothing. The idea is to build a up a list of email addresses that’s more valuable than the product itself. That may be good for the publisher in the long run but it also makes it harder for everyone else to sell useful information. Once users have grown used to getting books for free, it’s hard to persuade them to buy.
22. Clickbank’s Gravity Score is Deceptive
Digital product store Clickbank uses its own “gravity” score to indicate the success rates of the products it offers. But those scores reveal less than they appear. They only count the number of affiliates who have made sales, not the number of sales they’ve made. The result is that new affiliates rush to follow other sellers who might have made only one sale, leaving items with better conversion rates on the shelf.
23. YouTube Dominates Online Video
As video marketing starts to take over from the long form sales letter as the dominant form of online pitching, Internet business builders are finding that they’re running up against the power and popularity of YouTube. Seven hundred billion playbacks in 2010 represents a great opportunity — until you realize that your video will be competing with the 35 hours of video uploaded every minute.
24. Viral Memes Promise Much, Deliver Little Without Lots of Work
One apparently easy way to get views to a video pitch is to make an ad that goes viral. Get that right and the viewers do the marketing for you. But it’s much harder to get right than it looks. Not only does the content have to be viral but the marketing has to be persistent until the ad picks up enough critical mass to generate its own steam. The concept of viral marketing is as much powered by hype as the ads it tries to promote.
25. It’s Not As Passive As It Looks
The big dream of most Internet marketers is to create a site, set up the traffic streams then relax as users come in, convert and leave money behind. Usually, it doesn’t quite work like that. Produce a product and most of the revenue will come in during the launch. Income will then start to fall until you update at the end of a year. Online marketing is more cyclical than steady and more continually active than passive.
26. Twitter Doesn’t Deliver Instant Revenue
For all the hype about Twitter’s marketing power, it’s not really a sales channel. There are a few services that allow important influencers to earn from advertising, and plenty of accounts that broadcast coupon codes but the real value of Twitter is in customer service and relationship building. Those things take time and deliver benefits that are hard to measure.
27. Gurus Are Full of It
GuruDaq lists 60 “gurus” in its Internet marketing index, and that’s just a partial list of the people who claim that they’ve cracked the secret to online marketing. There’s plenty more, offering expertise on everything from Facebook promotions to Ebay selling. Some, no doubt, have plenty of valuable experience to provide. Others, equally doubtless, have nothing more valuable to say beyond “offer a good product, promote it well and take the highest price.” All are primarily interested in selling their information.
28. You Still Have to Pay Taxes
Buy a product from Amazon and because the company has no retail stores, it doesn’t have to charge sales tax. That tax-free atmosphere can lead small business owners, the type who make a few bucks from affiliate sales and site ads, to feel that they don’t have to declare their taxes either. They do. Just because you’re selling everywhere, all the time, in virtual space, doesn’t mean your earnings are tax-free.
29. It Takes Time
Despite all of the get-rich-quick information products sold on the Web, Internet marketing takes time. It takes time to create products. It takes time to create content. It takes time to build an audience and an email list. And it takes time build a relationship with that list that converts into sales. And there are no shortcuts. Start an online business and you can’t really expect to give up your day job for at least a year.
30. It Takes Work
That inability to give up your day job is a shame because creating an Internet business also takes time. Content sites will need to upload at least three times a week in addition to marketing the site, tweaking ads and negotiating with advertisers. Products have to be planned and created. Starting an Internet business can feel like having two jobs at the same time.
31. It’s Still Too Tempting
Despite all these problems though, despite the cost, the time, the difficulty and the endless hype, Internet marketing still feels too much like an open opportunity — a chance to be your own boss without the risks involved in creating a bricks and mortar business — to ignore it. That may be the biggest downside.
Learn more about the hype and myths of Internet marketing — and how to beat them — in our new book Internet Marketing Hype: 40 Online Money Making Myths That Kill Success (and How to Beat Them).