There’s no shortage of information telling online marketers what they should be doing. After all, everyone wants to be at the top of their game and best practice stuff really helps – but I rarely ever see a list of some of the DON’Ts.

So I made one. It should hopefully help you continue to steer clear of the online marketing taboos... If you are doing any of this, then shame on you.

1. More stuffing than Christmas

Keyword stuffing of URLs and page content is something that Econsultancy has covered time and time again, yet some people still insist on doing it. It’s pretty unethical, and also carries quite heavy penalties if you get caught. (And it’s likely you will).

On top of this, stuffing is ridiculously dated and adds little, if no value, to rankings today. 

2. Spam, spam, spam

Not all spam comes from the expected stereotypical senders and not all of it is through email. People sometimes seem to forget this. The very definition of spam is that of “a disruptive commercial message”. (Interestingly, ISOC claims that the term comes from the canned-meat counterpart and a Monty Python sketch).

I never cease to be surprised by the sheer amount of disruptive messages that companies insist on sending me. Email, Twitter, IM services and SMS have all fallen victim to poorly targeted, badly-thought-out advertising efforts.

Just think before you start blindly throwing marketing messages around – it’s bloody annoying for the recipient on the other end.

3. Efforts to link-build

I always find it incredibly irritating when people post comments of little value on blogs and in forums. You see it everywhere - and despite the fact that there’s very little value being added to a discussion, it’s clear that people are engaging in this as some half-baked effort to link-build.

Yes, outbound links help SEO, but it’s not going to help you very much when no-follow is in place, as it is across Econsultancy’s site.

Having said that, I’m sometimes darkly amused when so-called “SEO-professionals” (they’re really not) are the ones pulling this kind of stunt. Even if you are able to create live links, then comments of little value, or blatant sales-pitches where they’re not needed are annoying. Stop it, dammit. 

4. Paying to fail

Paid search has been around for a while and although you can do some fancy stuff, the fundamental basics have pretty much stayed the same for quite a few years. So why do people insist on making such a mess of it?

If you’re not the user, then this can sometimes be pretty funny. Your PPC Sucks has some great examples, but even with supposed safeguards such as Quality Score, you can still wind up landing on a totally irrelevant page or being shown an ad that isn’t particularly helpful to your search query.

I suppose that any advertisers doing this literally do pay for their slackness, as any clicks made will pretty much be dead money, so it’s not exactly great tactics. 

5. The grass is always greener

I think it’s hilarious when people get caught out astroturfing, no matter what the medium. However, no matter how amusing the backlash when those doing it get rumbled, from a marketing perspective – especially if it’s a commercial organisation doing it – it’s technically lying to customers, which definitely isn’t a laughing matter.

In a time where social media is enjoying a massive uptake, the need for honesty and transparency from companies is all the greater, as the repercussions can be extremely damaging. 

6. Pop-ups be damned

Intrusive advertising is just plain annoying. I doubt there’s a user out there who actually likes it, yet it still seems to be plaguing the internet.

This obviously means some advertisers somewhere still think they're a good idea. They're not. Pop-ups, pop-unders, floating ads, whatever... they annoy the hell out of users and grating potential customers isn’t really an ideal thing to be doing in marketing.

7. Bunny-boiling 

Scaring potential customers through bad messaging is definitely not the way to make a sale. For example, I get a little freaked out if I abandon a checkout and instantly have some kind of passive-aggressive marketing message appear on my screen or inbox asking why I decided not to buy anything.

Use nice words, not obsessive, aggressive or stalker-like language. This doesn’t necessarily just apply to websites and it seems to be a major sticking point for a great number of organisations operating online. 

8. Did you not see Pinocchio?

Just please, don’t lie. It gives marketers a bad name. I’ve genuinely seen online marketing material that’s bordering between misleading and being a downright porky-pie, and I’d say that this pretty much falls into the lying category too.

Not only are you going to upset customers and give yourself a bad name, in some instances, it’s likely to be breaking any number of trading laws and it’ll probably come back at you.

9. "Hold on lads, I've got an idea"

Innovation and inspiration is great in digital marketing. Hell, it’s great across any marketing. But when an organisation dives into something without the proper planning or strategy, this will generally result in chaos, mess and massive failings. 

Citing the usual social-media case studies is easy enough, but it applies across all digital channels, from mobile through to email. Slow down, think it through and put in the proper time. There’s enough bad examples to encourage people to at least try to get things right. 

What did I miss? What terrible tactics have you seen and what poor methods would you advise digital marketers to avoid? Comments below, please!

[Image via Anastacia Haddon]
Jake Hird

Published 23 March, 2010 by Jake Hird

Jake Hird is Econsultancy Australia's Director of Research and Education. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn or see what he's keeping an eye on via diigo

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Comments (11)

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All valid points and good article but would it not be more useful to focus on what we SHOULD be doing.

over 8 years ago


Dave Huffman

This kind of falls under 1, 2, and/or 5 - but tag spam is absolutely horrible and almost worse, to me, than a spammy message.

I logged onto Facebook the other day to see a notification that so and so business had tagged me in a photo.

I thought "Wow, that's cool..."

Clicked on the tag - BOOM - promotional flyer for an event.

Bait and Switch Tag - not sure what to call it.  Basically, it's just spam.



over 8 years ago

Jake Hird

Jake Hird, Director of Research and Education at Econsultancy

@Drummond - Econsultancy is all about best-practice. Pretty much every other article on the blog focuses on what marketers should be doing... 

@Dave Huffman - Agreed. Like you say, tags are great example as to how annoying spammers (I'm loathed to actually call them marketers) are upping their game and utilising shifts in the digital space. I'm not entirely sure what the proper name is either - Let's stick with spam... It's a pretty universal term :-)

over 8 years ago



Hey Jake, thanks for writing this. Very funny, I really like posts like this. While it might be good to write some 'best practices' every now and then, I personally get sick of seeing 'Best Practices for....". People can read a best practice article and think they are doing the right thing, but they also need to read something similar to what you've written and thats how to fail. I'm gonna tweet this thing up!

over 8 years ago

alex avery

alex avery, Inbound Marketing Consultant at Alex Avery Inc

Firstly, I just want to clarify I am white hat all the way. ALL THE WAY BABY!!! Having said that, I wanted to pay homage to #1(alex avery, inbound marketing, seo, ppc, analytics) and #3. Oh, and BTW, "no follow" doesn't do much these days. Don't you listen to Matt Cutts? Stuffing and blog comments work. Period. The trick is not to offend the consumer. You're not a consumer, so if thine eye offends thee. Pluck it out. As for the rest. Fair enough. Flame away. Let's all look forward to Caffeine and a whole new world of link spamming techniques evolve.

over 8 years ago


veiko herne

I have very concrete proof that NOFOLLOW has no effect getting link indexed by Google and Keywords from that link!!!

Why you guys are bullshitting rumors rather than testing it out at first place?

Besides, Google has implemented personal search so everyone's SERP's are different, so how you guys now measure the success of your SEO efforts?

over 8 years ago


Birk Oidram

I would add for PPC, if the paid keywords are targeted correclty, from 100 people who search on that keyword, 35 actually clicks on the paid result. I would say, it's pretty okay %.

over 8 years ago



Ahh, #3... It can be very entertaining at times, such as the case of a recent Econsultancy blog post on the subject of spam, where you guys had a picture of a tin of spam, a commenter - whose link's anchor text was keyword stuffed and pointing to some dodgy-looking site - said "mmm, that food looks delicious" in reference to the tinned spam, and that was it! A spammer talking about spam on a blog post about spam... The irony...

over 8 years ago


Stephanie Peay

Okay... I'm new to this stuff and I just read this article but most of it sounded like Greek to me. Like what does no follow and astroturfing mean? Are there any good articles someone would suggest on this site, or others, that have good information about what I should do. It seems like each paragraph in this article could be expounded upon to make an entire article on it's own, anyone have suggestions on finding such articles??? Thanks for your help... I want to be a ham, not a spammer. :-D

over 8 years ago


Shafiq Pontoh

Absolutely agree :) But there are some interesting findings here in Indonesia, Maybe because Indonesia has a strong culture of community, family and as well as Islamic religion teaching on "Silahturahmi" which means, to keep connected with your friends, family, colleague, business partners, neighbors and even high school teachers, is the act of devotion. That is why there are lots of people are happy to get connected to the social-network (currently no 3 Facebook users in the whole world), and interestingly most of them, don't mind or doesn't care whether they got spammed or finding lots of promotion in their wall. Some of Indonesian House wives even started the online shooping Home business via Facebook, and sell shirts, dress, etc, and spams their friends, and their friends instead of block or report, they actually buy the product. Maybe people here (because of their culture) really like to share information, knowledge, even sometimes their personal life, and others find it interesting, and they react to that. it still a mystery here and an opportunity to develop so called "social-network" marketing in Indonesia, because, there are lots of people here that are started to get connected through social network not olny via computers, but also via their mobile cheap phones. cheers from Indonesia :)

over 8 years ago


Penelope Tsaldari

This was a great checklist enabling me to see if I commit any of these egregious sins. I'm proud to say, I don't practice this type of marketing – so I guess, I pass! and don’t fail!. My goal is to enjoy each segment of my blog as it continues to grow. Each day it seems to get better and more engaging.  This really energizes me and gives me faith in continuing on my slow but steady ascension, for just sticking to my blog focus - ethically. No tricks! No persuading - with arm twisting. If I remain ethical and focused, I am confident I will continue succeeding. I can’t preach the ethical code “The Atticus Finch Code” of good work performance, and not follow it. I believe that those who set out only with profit as their goal, and not to build their reputation based on good performance – will ultimately fail. That’s just what I think for what its worth!



over 8 years ago

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