The 15 Most Painfully Questionable Marketing Tactics to Avoid at All Cost

We’ve all seen it: the many tactics that some marketers employ to gain the upperhand – only to see penalties and problems with what they did. These most questionable marketing tactics won’t get you the advantage you seek. Instead, they’ll give your audience reason not to trust you and even complain publicly about you. 

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The 15 tactics included in this article revolve around three main areas: content marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing. Each item explains the reasons why they’re frowned upon and what you could consider doing instead. It’s time we stop these tactics for good.

6 Questionable Content Marketing Tactics

Not doing your research

First and foremost, why are you creating your content? If you don’t know who you’re writing it for, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re going to waste a lot of time and effort by publishing without a target. This is why you need reader personas for your blog and other content types. The key is to have established personas that are highly researched, analyzed, and tested. If you’re looking for assistance with this, CoSchedule has a handy article listing some great tools for creating your personas.

Next, how are you going to know that your topic will resonate? Choosing a content topic requires researching both your readership’s needs as well as the keywords that they’re searching for in search engines (and on social media). One of the most highly-recommended keyword research tools is SEMrush. You can find the best keyword with that tool and then use a headline crafter to see what you can create out of your selected keyword.

Misplaced focus on self-serving content

Yes, you want to create content that ultimately brings in business, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus when designing and creating blog articles and other resources for your audience. Instead of being overly self-promotional and sales-oriented, your content should educate and help your readers. Its readability, usefulness, and relevance will then lead them to click on your call-to-action and convert on your offer.

Writing content for the heck of it whenever you feel like it

One of your biggest mistakes in blogging may be that you don’t maintain a proper strategy. You shouldn’t follow the heading here as a plan: writing content for the heck of it whenever you feel like it. You need to know what you’re creating, why, how, when and more. Your strategy development process may require time and effort that you would normally spend on your content creation, but there are so many benefits. For example: you’ll see what’s working and what’s not. Your strategy will help you plan ahead to avoid last-minute stress. It will help you coordinate as a team when needed. A strategy is a must for your content marketing.

Focusing more on SEO than reader quality

To create content that helps you achieve your end goal, which is likely lead generation, you should be focusing on the right priorities. You’ll benefit from being found in search results, absolutely, but don’t let that affect your content’s readability. As an example, keywords will help your content’s SEO, but avoid keyword stuffing or using your keywords unnaturally within your content. Focus on readability first, SEO second. Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin is very helpful with this because it offers both an SEO and readability score. The first score that matters is readability, then SEO. Google is smart enough to tell whether your content is reader-focused or if you’re trying too hard to rank.

Not linking out to other credible sources

Sometimes, when a business is creating content for their blog, they focus entirely on internal linking. This means only including links to other pages on their own website. They don’t want to link out for whatever reason. However, if you truly want to optimize your blog content for reader value and even SEO, you should be including outbound links to other sources. Make sure your links lead to another resource that’s credible and valuable to your readers. While you want to avoid adding links to your competitors or low-value sites, you’re not without websites to choose from. Find industry influencers and their blogs. Along with reader benefits, linking to influential sources will help your site’s authority and also give you an opportunity to build relationships with those site owners.

Expecting immediate results

Content marketing is one piece of the Inbound Marketing process, so it falls under a similar timeline. It’s not going to bring you immediate conversions and sales, especially if your activity is brand new. Content marketing takes patience and commitment. Take a look at this timeline to see what you can expect and when. Give your content marketing time. When you commit to creating high-value content on a regular, dependable basis, you’ll see qualified leads start pouring in.

3 Questionable Email Marketing Tactics

Buying lists or otherwise adding contacts without their permission

When you’re just starting out with email marketing and don’t have a subscriber list yet, what do you do? Too many times, businesses use their sales list or even buy a list to get the ball rolling right away. What they may not realize is: that’s only going to hurt their business. If you don’t grow an organic email list, you’re taking serious and unnecessary risks.

Your unsubscribe rate will be high. Your engagement rate will be low. Anyone who does engage will likely be doing so to report your email as spam. On a similar front, if you add contacts manually from a search engine or contact information collection tool, you have the same risks. Your contacts must absolutely opt-in to receive emails from you. It’s with only that way that it’ll bring you real, positive results.

Sending one generic email to everyone

Email list segmentation is key to any email marketing program. This applies no matter how big or small your list is at the time. When you send one generic email to your entire list, you hurt your email campaign’s engagement potential. On the other hand, when you create segmented lists, you’re able to send more relevant, personalized emails to your recipients. This will then improve your engagement rate. People will be more likely to open your email. They’ll click-through on your email’s call-to-action, and they more than likely will follow-through on its purpose.

Sending irrelevant emails they didn’t sign up to receive

If a subscriber signs up for your blog newsletter, they’re expecting emails relating to your blog content. They expect to see new content announcements, not emails about other departments in your business, especially sales. You need to nurture your contacts with emails that they want to see. When they’re ready to learn more about your offerings, they’ll tell you by filling out a related landing page form.

If you have plans on sending emails about topics that go beyond your blog’s scope, tell your subscribers upfront. Even better, give them a way to choose what email types they want to receive. This will lower your unsubscribe rate and complaints considerably because your recipients will receive what they want.

6 Questionable Social Media Marketing Tactics

Buying followers

If someone visits your Twitter profile and sees that you started your account less than a year ago and have less than 1,000 tweets but over 20,000 followers, they’ll know you bought those followers. You may think that matching your following to your followers will help convince people. However, there’s no way you can build an audience that quickly unless you cheated.

Instead of taking the unethical, quick-and-easy approach to Twitter followers, do what you can to build your audience with time, effort, engagement, and value. It’s only through natural effort that you’ll see the return on investment you’re seeking out of social media. You want engagement to get people to get interested in your business and even convert on your website. If your following is full of fake accounts, you won’t see this necessary engagement.

No real-time engagement

Social media has engagement in its own name: social. Are you using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other platform without engaging with your community in real-time? You’re not using social media how it is meant to be used. It’s not a broadcasting platform, such as what you’d see in public relations. You need to reserve time and resources to engage with your audience if you want to achieve your social media purpose and goals.

You have options for how to make the most of real-time engagement. On Twitter, participate in the real-time chats where your target audience may be active. On Facebook and Instagram, host a contest for your audience to participate in. Are you worried about getting your large-scale following to engage, or whether you can keep up? Use these best practices to help you manage your engagement. Regardless of your audience size or the status of your accounts, you need to have room for real-time engagement to see your social media marketing lead anywhere.

Sending spam and automated direct messages

On social media platforms, especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, you have the option to communicate with another account privately. The problem with this is that some people abuse this feature. They send sales pitches as soon as you follow them or even out of nowhere. You’ll get automated messages sent from tools like Crowdfire where the message is often generic, useless, and irrelevant.

The purpose of direct messaging is meant as an opportunity for people to build relationships with the other user. It can also be a huge customer service feature. When you use private messages to resolve customer issues, you prevent the potential virality of any public complaint. Use this feature wisely by skipping the automation and sales pitches. Instead, be human and communicate with genuine interest and value through private communications.

No live customer service offering

Many businesses still don’t see why they need to offer customer support on social media. They don’t want to spare the resources, or they don’t see the benefits of it. Some businesses have adopted chatbots to automate their customer service, but they ignore the need for human interactions. They don’t monitor mentions or respond naturally to either praise or criticism. This is a big mistake.

While services such as chatbots can be helpful after hours, you still need to have people responding to mentions for social customer service purposes. If you ignore or improperly handle complaints, you can make the problem worse. It’s imperative that a trained customer support specialist responds promptly to these users to help calm the situation and prevent virality.

To make the most of customer service on social, you might want to maintain dialogue in the public space. It’ll show other users that you’re paying attention. If you take all conversations to a private messaging feature, your other users might think you’re ignoring people. Regardless of how and where you engage, be sure you are there for your prospects and customers in real-time.

Too salesy

While it’s okay and even recommended that you promote your offerings on social media, there’s a difference between social selling and sales pitching. When you want to get people’s attention on your products and services, remember the 80/20 rule.

80% of your activity on social media should revolve around providing value to your audience. This can come in the form of blog content and downloadable resources. It can be your own content or curated content. This is the time for real-time engagement, such as in Twitter chats, where you have conversations with other users.

It’s that 20% where you can be more promotional of your offerings. This can include outreach to specific users who might be asking for help – mentioning a selected keyword you’re monitoring. This can be posts talking about your product’s features. It can be a sale or discount announcement. The one thing to keep in mind is that your posts should always be focused on expressing how your offering can help your audience. Otherwise, why would they want to click through?

Trying too hard to go viral

You’ve seen it before. Brands post content that ultimately gets shared and talked about to the point where it’s trending and viral. Yes, this is often a sound strategy, but it has strong drawbacks. Forcing virality can cause the opposite effect of what you intended, especially if your message is controversial or misunderstood.

Another key reason why you shouldn’t seek virality is: you want to focus your efforts on reaching users who might be interested in your offerings – users who are more likely to convert. If your efforts are directed at too broad an audience, you’ll waste a lot of time and effort. You’ll miss opportunities to create custom, personalized posts for the users who’ll buy from you. If you want to create brand advocates (loyalists), always provide value that they can appreciate and share. Don’t focus on viral content but rather put your resources toward a targeted audience.

How many of these questionable marketing tactics are you guilty of using? Some of them are clearly wrong and unethical, but others may be lesser known. Now that you’re aware of them, it’s time for you to prevent them from being a part of your marketing activity.

What other marketing tactics should be on this list? If you have any input on marketing best practices, leave a comment! Share your knowledge and experience so that others can learn from your mistakes and successes!