7 Most Common Digital Marketing Mistakes People Make

April 29, 2017

Josh Li

Digital Marketer at Institute of Code

If I could draw a picture of how the digital media landscape looks like, I’d draw a neo-Tokyo type rendition of a sprawling city, filled with neon lights all clamouring for your attention, and captivating, omniscient skyscrapers owned by a few corporations that seem to never stop growing. On street-level, you’ll only start navigating the streets comfortably after spending some time learning the shortcuts, learning to avoid dodgy people in dark corners trying to sell you the neo-version of snake-oil.

Alas, I cannot draw to save my life, so the best I can do is write about the common mistakes people new to this new foreign city make. These mistakes are often common because they often go against what we’ve been traditionally taught to believe, or our natural instincts.

The digital marketing is one of the fastest moving, exciting places to work in

If I could draw a picture of how the digital media landscape looks like, I’d draw a neo-Tokyo type rendition of a sprawling city, filled with neon lights all clamouring for your attention, and captivating, omniscient skyscrapers owned by a few corporations that seem to never stop growing. On street-level, you’ll only start navigating the streets comfortably after spending some time learning the shortcuts, learning to avoid dodgy people in dark corners trying to sell you the neo-version of snake-oil.

Alas, I cannot draw to save my life, so the best I can do is write about the common mistakes people new to this new foreign city make. These mistakes are often common because they often go against what we’ve been traditionally taught to believe, or our natural instincts.

So to help you navigate these streets, here are 7 of the most common digital marketing mistakes people make.

1. Using default settings or ‘express’ tools

To make things easier, companies will often set up default settings so new users can hit the ground running. Sometimes, if you’re new, platforms will even get you onto an easier-to-use, striped down version of the full software. Examples include Google Adwords Express and the Facebook Boost button. They’re designed so if you’re new, you don’t get overwhelmed by all the variables, settings, buttons and switches.

But this ease-of-use comes at a price. Many of these tools will run campaigns on less-than-optimal settings, and while it won’t be immediately obvious to you, it can end up costing you a lot more money than if you were to get hands-on yourself.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like these companies are out to just get a quick buck from you. It’s just like buying a one-size-fits-all t-shirt. Sure, it’s convenient just buying the one shirt, and for some people, it’ll fit OK, but it’ll always leave a lot to be desired.

I’ve met a lot of people who have tried Adwords Express for example, experience sub-par results, and then start proclaiming loudly ‘Digital marketing doesn’t work!’. Default settings and express tools themselves make a bunch of very common mistakes professionals usually avoid, so if you can, it’s always worth learning how to use the full experience.

2. Not testing, and thinking we know what the audience likes

On a technical level, one of the most common mistakes people make is not testing. Because a lot of time is often spent on brainstorming the perfect copy or creating the perfect image, they only ever publish the one set, without thinking to test different variations.

Often we make assumptions about what we think people might like, but it’s a mistake to always base everything on these assumptions. We won’t know until we actually test things in ‘the real world’, in a methodical, strategic and scientific way, and get concrete data back on what works and what doesn’t.

You can test everything, from high-level things, such as the digital marketing channels you work with, to a micro level, such as audiences, copy and creatives.

Just remember: testing is an ongoing process. You don’t stop after one test, and say, ‘well that’s the picture we’ll use for the rest of our lives!’ After you’ve run one test, you move onto the next area and figure out how to improve it. It’s a cycle of continual learning and development.

3. Not Focusing

Testing everything doesn’t mean you become scatter-brained distracted. Lacking focus and developing shiny-object syndrome has damaged the potential of many digital marketing campaigns.

Because of the sheer amount of information, tools and strategies out there, it’s easy to try too many things at the same time, or to only half test something out before growing disheartened and trying something else out.

All strategies and channels take time before you fully see its potential. That means you should make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve when you’re looking trying something new, and what ‘success’ looks like in cold, hard numbers. Then you should timebox an experiment, focus on it, and only after the allotted time has elapsed, before making a judgement on whether the experiment was a success or not. If it was, then keep doing what you were doing! If not, then move on to the next.

4. Not thinking about where everything fits in the funnel

Every customer goes through a journey before they buy something from you. Heck, even shoppers who consider themselves to have made a ‘compulsive’ purchase decision would most likely have come across your brand in some form or another. That’s why you need to tailor your message to match where customers are in their journey.

A customer experiences their purchasing decision journey by going through your sales funnel. At the top of your funnel are people who are not aware of your brand yet. As they journey through your funnel, you’ll naturally lose more and more people, but the ones who stay will become more familiar with your brand, and become closer to purchasing your product.

At each stage of the funnel, you’ll have different interactions with the customer (or ‘touchpoints’). At each touchpoint, you’ll need to talk to potential customer differently; after all, you don’t keep banging on about your ‘great prices’ if your customer is already familiar with your pricing.

Therefore, It’s a good idea to find out where people go at each particular stage in their journey. For example, people might go to your blog after they start hearing about your brand. Therefore, your blog should be to educate people about your product, your industry, and establish trust. Try to match your touchpoints to meet your customer’s expectations.

5. Religiously sticking to best practices

A common mistake that even professionals make, is firmly sticking to best practices. Although best practices are great starting points, you have to remember they’re similar to using express tools and default settings - they’re one-size-fits-all, sweeping conclusions. Your company is unique, and therefore you should always use best practices, and then move beyond them.

Best practices are usually gathered from large pieces of research, involving many different campaigns, companies and tests. They might often also include all kinds of different industries, which might be radically different from yours.

We recommend using industry best practices as a starting point, especially if you’re starting a new campaign. You can’t go wrong there! But it’s always worth testing new things, using best practices as a control. The best results come when you push boundaries.

6. Relying too heavily on vanity metrics

Vanity metrics are metrics that look great on paper, but actually, are very far removed from your business goals. Changes in these metrics won’t have much of a direct effect on your bottom line at all.

Examples of the vanity metrics include the number of followers and Likes - I would even argue overall website visitors and sessions would be vanity metrics.

The reason why we call them vanity metrics is because you can only boast about them. Most of these metrics only trend upwards due to their accumulative nature, so you’ll only see them going higher. Placing too many resources behind trying to improve them will only hurt your business in the long run.

You need to look at metrics which have a direct impact on how much money you’re making. Metrics like cost-per-conversion, customer lifetime value and customer throughput are some examples. Good metrics give you a clear idea about what to do and are usually ratio or percentage based, making them easy to compare.

7. Trying to always sell

Trying to always direct sell to someone is so 1990s. If you’re taking every opportunity you can to tell people how good you are, and why they should buy from you, then you’re going to annoy people very quickly.

Think of yourself as being at a party, surrounded by dinner guests. You don’t want to be the obnoxious person constantly talking about yourself. You’ll quickly find yourself talking to yourself. To be a stellar party guest, you’d want to hold high-quality conversations, talking to people about what they’re interested in. Only once you bring value to other people’s lives, will they care about you.

This is a basic premise for life - to be interesting, be interested. The same can be applied to marketing. Only with marketing, if people find you boring, or worse, annoying, digital algorithms can gradually tune out your voice. Digital platforms like social media, all want their users to have a good time, so you’ll have a hard time find your way back.


These are 7 common mistakes people make when it comes to their digital marketing. Do you have any common mistakes you’ve learnt from? Let us know!


Written by: Josh Li

Digital Marketer at Institute of Code