5 Digital Marketing Practices To Avoid

Five Digital Marketing Practices To Avoid

I deal with a lot of digital marketing issues daily. Unfortunately, within the last week there’s been lots of examples of bad practices I’ve seen.   Sadly this is quite common, and they could be killing your online presence.

Some of the things I deal with I bang my head against the desk as things have been implemented incorrectly, either through lack of knowledge, or more often than not, lack of attention to detail, or someone implementing a solution they weren’t qualified to.

The biggest thing with digital marketing is it’s actually one of the best, and most efficient ways to reach your customers and grow your business, yet a lot of business owners think it’s just this little thing that needs ticked off a list.  It’s the equivalent of asking your builder to throw up a house for a weekend, on no budget.  Many folk like to pretend they ‘do digital’ but in reality there’s a lot who don’t, and can just throw enough buzzwords around to confuse you and sound like an expert.

One of the biggest reasons this happens, particularly locally, is job roles that have 1001 different responsibilities.  Giving your team (or individual!) such big roles simply means there’s just not enough time to be across everything, and learn everything in enough detail to do it well.

With this in mind, here’s a few sad scenarios I encountered in digital marketing within the last week.

Two Booking Engine Takes 8 Months To Sort Out Tracking Issues

Your booking engine could be killing your business.  Particularly if you want to take digital marketing seriously.  Your booking engine will likely tell you how many direct and indirect bookings you get, but what you should really want to know is where did all those bookings come from, especially the direct ones.

The problem is many booking engines just don’t support fundamental digital marketing reporting and tracking, even as basic as sending your revenue to Google Analytics correctly.  If they do, some of them make it extremely complex to implement, or don’t implement the code to do it correctly.

You wouldn’t believe how much time this costs me and my clients to resolve.

It would be great to think there are some nice help documents available but usually, the support people just say “Yes, we support Google Analytics” which is just the tip of the iceberg.

You should want to know exactly where your bookings come from a referral from a tourism organisation, a ‘social media influencer’ (you are measuring the return on investment from them aren’t you?), or did you actually get any bookings from that expensive listing you keep renewing on a third party website?  Or did they even come from the free articles on Tourism New Zealand’s website (or the equivalent in your country) that only cost a bit of time to write?

The problem with booking engines is they book rooms, but many don’t support your digital marketing.

The problem with booking engines is they book rooms, but many don't support digital marketing.Click To Tweet

You bought them to book rooms or activities, and their developers get pressure to enhance that capability for understandable reasons.  They don’t understand the importance they should have for your digital marketing.  You should be relying on them so support :

  • eCommerce Tracking via Google Analytics
  • Facebook Pixel and custom conversions
  • Google AdWords conversion tracking pixel
  • Enhanced ecommerce would be a bonus to find out your users drop off rates
  • Google Tag Manager support

As an added bonus :

  • It would be great if you could put in tracking code at each step of the booking process (THANK YOU SYNXIS – I salute you and your team!)
    This allows you to remarket at different steps with different messages, and if you get all fancy pants you can add it into some heat map tracking software so you can watch user journeys for people who have dropped out).
  • It would be super nice if agent bookings and end user bookings followed different paths and web addresses.
    This allows you to set up nice funnel visualisations to see the drop off rates.
  • It would be really neat if they didn’t use the same web addresses for every step of the booking
    Some do use the same address…again I salute you Synxis – very clear and helpful on this.

Instead I have to deal with issues such as these :

  • Wrong data sent to Analytics for months
    (resulting in an average booking value of over a million dollars for a $169 product!  They sent the transaction ID instead of the booking value!)
  • Transactions sent to Google Analytics using code incorrectly
  • Code implemented in the wrong location on their page
  • Errors when sending conversion data to Google AdWords
    (meaning it’s impossible to report on return on investment accurately)

It would also be nice if they use nice web addresses instead of the same one for each booking step (which some do) so each step can easily be differentiated inside Analytics.  One booking engine used parts of the same process for both individuals booking, and the same for agents, meaning it was impossible to track each one individually.

This is where the pretenders in digital marketing come in.  They’ll build a website, they’ll talk about ‘this amazing remarketing you can do with the new Facebook Pixel, you just stick it on your site and away you go’, and they’ll implement your site in such a way that makes it almost impossible to track just because it looks a bit better (embedded iFrames anyone!?!)

I’ve sat in a room listening to stuff like this, knowing around 70% of the audiences were on booking engines that wouldn’t support what they were talking about.  This is the kind of generalisation that really pains me in digital marketing.  80 business owners write it down, then wander why it’s so hard, just because someone regurgitated what they read in a blog post without realising the real world implementation issues.

I’ve just come out of two almost 8 month periods working with two awesome clients who had the perseverance to continue with resolving issues with their digital tracking.  It’s taken that long to get proper tracking in place from two of the biggest booking engines used by hotels in NZ (and one of them is used globally).  One of them even took 7 months to admit they didn’t support sending the booking revenue to Google Analytics, despite us being told differently 7 months earlier.  Fair play to them, once we got to speak to the right people in their team, they went above and beyond to help us out.

I still have a handful of booking engines to try and sort out, but I love it when I persevere, find a developer on their end, and they take the time to ask me what I would like them to support.  I’ve helped several booking engines sort their own shit out.

Many agencies would have given up months earlier saying “it should work”, or almost worse, not realised the significance.  This does highlight the difference between developers and marketers.The only reason I got one of these issues resolved is I cared enough to stalk one of their developers via LinkedIn, then eventually got in touch with the right person. Developers have enough on their plate dealing with browsers, databases, different devices, coding standards a whole lot more to understand this type of stuff.

Worst of all, this stuff never makes it into any website brief, whether it’s a $3k web build, or a $100k project.  Remember that when you see the next pretty looking website.

Another Business Owner Spends All Their Budget On A Website That Doesn’t Work

I was approached by a brand new business that was nowhere to be found in search for their key search terms.  Their business is the classic type that relies on impulse and being found when it matters.  They also are the type of business that can capitalise on some of their supplier’s shortfalls when it comes to digital marketing.

We discussed several options to rectify this from search engine optimisation to Google AdWords advertising.

Unfortunately, they had already spent all their budget on a website that didn’t work.  Their website didn’t have the most basic on site search engine optimisation.

This highlights the need to get the right advice at the right time.  This is a very common scenario where a business ‘needs a website’ when they really require a good online presence to be found in the moments that matter.  Diving into a new site often means you’ll spend your budget on that, without thinking about search engine optimisation (which is best discussed at your briefing and scoping stage), online advertising, or even basic free business listings.

For some businesses, you may get a lot more out of automated email marketing with a smaller budget rather than a costly website revamp.

If you’re starting a new business and thinking about online, or want to know about what makes up your online presence over and above just your website, including the basics of on site search engine optimision, you should check out our “Fundamentals of Your Online Presence and Search Engine Optimisation course”

Time Is Precious, As Is Money – Use Yours Wisely

Time is a finite resource, both yours and mine (or your agencies).  There are too many roles that have been given lots and lots of responsibilities, including tacking on digital marketing to an already jam packed list of responsibilities.

It’s really important to recognise the amount of  time and skill that goes into each part of your role and others, whether you’re making coffee (and been asked to be a ‘social media superstar’), or a Sales & Marketing Manager (and have been asked to manage your own AdWords account).  There’s also the scenario where marketing gets lumped onto someone who doesn’t really have an interest in it, and a whole new growth channel suffers as a result.

No-one would consider being able to perform surgery on themselves and replace their doctor, or negotiate the intricacies of property law after a few hours training, yet many consider this to be a perfectly viable option when it comes to digital marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love training and educating people and bringing as much as possible in house so you can external agencies or consultants like us to learn about the latest and greatest techniques, but you have to be aware this knowledge doesn’t come easy, or cheap.  It comes with investing tens of thousands of dollars in training (like I’ve done every year since starting), plus numerous hours of continual learning, and implementation across hundreds of AdWords or Analytics accounts.  Oh, and having over 20 years of experience in software development including leading some major online banking projects.

It’s impossible to be an expert with a few hours training.

Sometimes it’s best to realise the limitations of time and spend your time where it’s best utilised.  It can be far more cost effective to get an expert to implement for you.  This doesn’t mean you lose control, and it often doesn’t mean it will cost more (as you’ll generally get better returns for your investment).  Paying for outside help can save you both time, money wasted on inefficient implementations, and you can get more done.

Do it once do it well.

Often it’s not worth paying for the training to bring it in house only to realise you don’t have the capacity to do things well, and end up outsourcing it anyway.

Five Websites For The Price Of One (and how it could kill your search rankings)

This is another common scenario overlooked by many a developer who is focusing on pretty looking websites.

This week I did some work for a client then realised there was a bit more to deal with (which is often the case!).

When you have a website, content should be accessible by one web address, and one only.  If it’s accessible by more than one address, you’re at risk of having duplicate content and diluting backlinks to your website.  If this is the case, Google has probably indexed pages from the different web address.

As an example if your preferred website address is www.website.com you do not want your content indexed under :

  • website.com (yes, having no WWW does make a difference!)
  • website.co.nz
  • www.website.co.nz
  • www.mylongerwebsitedomainweregistered.com

If you have a secure website using https, this is also treated as a different version.

I also accidently discovered another client’s development website was fully indexed, which would be conflicting with their main website.  This is very easily done by a simple mistake (as easy as not checking a box within WordPress), but could have big consequences.

If you have this scenario, all the alternatives should be permanently redirected to the main location, and your properties updated in Google Search Console updated to match.  If you don’t have Google Search Console set up, get it set up now, it’s free and often overlooked.

To make matters worse, if your website has this scenario and you really want to look at your Google Analytics, you’ll have duplicate rows for the same content meaning it’s much harder to analyse.  If someone blindly followed a guide to remove spam referrals (dodgy analytics data) without realising what they were doing, there’s a risk they may be excluding valid traffic from your stats.

This is another big reason it’s worth having a good Google Analytics configuration rather than the bog standard code implementation most developers do.

Another Big Agency Underestimates Digital

I get several approaches from agencies to work with them as they start to realise the importance of digital marketing.  All too often they want to tack on a bit for search engine optimisation so they can tick a box for a client.  More often than not, they think it’s just a case of ticking a few boxes on the website, and something that can be tacked on at the end if the client chooses it.

Things like Search Engine Optimisation are much better dealt with during the briefing stage of your online presence.  The structure of your content affects it, the on page optimisation affects it, the web address structure affects it, the website speed affects it, and please don’t end up with the other common scenario where your designer turned developer uses search optimisation elements for design instead.

If you just want ‘a bit of SEO‘, it’s going to be way more expensive to fix this if you tack it on at the end rather than implementing it early as part of your scope.

Yes, there are the agencies that build most of your websites.  And this is why there’s a misconception that the look of your website is the most important element.

You wouldn’t want a general practitioner giving you a hip replacement so don’t rely on your web developer to know everything about digital marketing.

My rule of thumb is you should spend 30% on your website build, and the rest getting your brief right, your analytics setup and allocating enough of your budget to actually get found in the moments that matter, and be able to track what’s working and what’s not.  That’s far more valuable than a pretty website that can’t be found.

I help many clients through the creation or improvement of their online presence, working alongside web developers.  Get in touch if you’d like help.


Invest time to learn about your online presence and what matters, or ensure you are working with the right range of specialists to ensure you get answers to the questions you didn’t realise you had to ask.

Nothing pleases me more than working with a client at a kick off meeting where there’s business people, designers, developers and marketers chipping in to get the right solution.

If you’d like to learn more, check out some of our digital marketing training courses.

Darren Craig

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Natasha - March 7, 2017 Reply

Totally agree with you. Its quite frustrating to see agencies promoting services they barely even know how to do just so they can over a ‘full-service’ and retain as much of clients’ business as possible while providing mediocre solution which leaves client losing trust in the product itself.

Darren Craig - June 15, 2017 Reply

Sorry a very late reply to this comment but absolutely agree. I see too many designers turned web developers, or tradesmen turned web developers and everything inbetween. They put up a website, but it just doesn’t deliver on a functional basis, it just looks good. This happens with way too many big agencies as well. Sometimes it is due to lack of budget at the client side, but it leads the client into a false sense of security – going for the easy sale, rather than the difficult conversation (sometimes the web builders don’t know the information to have that difficult conversation either though!).

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