January 20, 2021
Case Study

How to overcome 9 common marketing and web design mistakes


“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes,” Oscar Wilde said.

It’s great to learn from your experience, yes, but far less painful to learn from someone else’s mistakes.

So we asked about those experiences, and 83 marketers shared mistakes with us. We culled those down into the most helpful lessons for you in this article with examples from a fast-casual Italian restaurant concept, e-commerce business selling flags, marketing agencies, CBD oil company, web development agency, photographer, and online beef purveyor.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

How to overcome 9 common marketing and web design mistakes

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Mistake #1: Burying the gold

I’ve seen many conversion optimization tests that get a big lift without necessarily adding new information to the page. Oftentimes the important information to help the customer make a conversion decision was right there on the page to begin with…it was just buried.

For example, the MECLABS Institute helped a company capture 201% more email addresses by changing the landing page’s headline from “Searching for the Most Accurate Mailing Lists? Your Hunt is Over!” to “We Make 26 Million Phone Calls a Year to Ensure You Get The Most Accurate Mailing Lists Available!” (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

The information about making 26 million phone calls a year was on the original landing page, it was just buried.

As Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute said in Page Layout Optimization: A common mistake marketers and web designers make, and how to avoid it, “Beware of this danger where you have important content buried on your page.”

Mistake #2: Overlooking an opportunity to build a direct relationship with customers

Unless you have an exclusively direct sales model, it can be difficult to build a relationship with your end customer. That relationship can be owned by a brick-and-mortar retailer, online store, or third-party distributor.

But it would be a mistake to overlook that direct relationship. Without it, the retailer or distributor can all too easily drop your product for a competitor leaving you out in the cold.

Here is a great example that might spark your own ideas.

Trigg Thorstenson owns an e-commerce business selling flags. They were looking for a product insert that would generate interest and more importantly, get customers to opt-in.

The solution they came up with is a dog tag attached to the grommet of the flag. There is a registration number on the dog tag so customers can register their flags.

Creative Sample #1: Email opt-in mechanism for e-commerce business selling flags

Creative Sample #1: Email opt-in mechanism for e-commerce business selling flags

“This has been very successful,” said Trigg Thorstenson, Owner, Fine Line Flag.  Since the program was launched on February 12, 2020, the company has added 947 opt-ins from a total of 8,000 dog tags, which is close to a 12% conversion rate. 

“The average outdoor flag is only expected to last 90 days – which would shock most consumers,” Thorstenson said. So the team plans to email registrants 90 days, 6 months, and 1 year after purchase, encouraging them to replace their flag. The email program will also teach customers how to “retire” the flag and dispose of it properly.

“The majority of our sales come from Amazon. In their ecosystem we do not collect buyer information. They are Amazon customers and not ours,” Thorstenson said. “But this way they clearly opt-in to our ecosystem.”

Mistake #3: Creating content for peers rather than customers

A couple of years ago, web development agency Greenice launched a blog. Its main goal was to generate leads.

“When thinking about the topics the first thing that came to mind was to write about technologies and programming. After all, that is what we are experts in and our competitors were also doing it. So our initial content plan became filled with articles that compare various technologies,” said Kateryna Reshetilo, Marketing and Business Development Manager, Greenice.

The old articles had topics like “Apache vs Nginx: How We Chose Nginx Over Apache After 300 Users Case” and “Client Perspective on Symfony vs Yii: Which is Better for Your Project?”

After writing the first couple of articles on technical topics, the team quickly realized that they were not attracting leads.

The readers of such articles are programmers themselves, and although some of their clients are also programmers, there were only a few. Secondly, the search intent for such articles is purely informational. “Hardly anyone Googling the differences between PHP frameworks is looking for developers,” Reshetilo said.

“Right now it seems quite obvious, but back then it was a ‘palm-face’ revelation. And, actually, I still see competitors, especially new ones, writing articles like these,” she said.

Since then, the team has taken a different approach and most of its articles are detailed guides on how to go about developing different types of software or online platforms.

Some of the articles that have generated the most leads are topics like “How To Create A Real Estate Website Like Zillow & Trulia,” “How to Build a Website Like Upwork and Become The Leader of the Gig Economy,” and “How to Create a Hotel Booking Website?”

Here is an example of the difference in business results between these two types of articles. The article “Elasticsearch vs. Solr vs. Sphinx: Best Open Source Search Platform Comparison” – which compares three different types of on-site search engines – has been the company’s top page in terms of traffic for more than two years but has only brought in one lead.

In contrast, the article “How To Create A Real Estate Website Like Zillow & Trulia” has less traffic by almost 2.5 times but has attracted more than 30 highly-qualified leads in one year.

Mistake #4: Not defining correctly who you want to target

“If our audience is too broad our message will be too weak and won't speak to our ideal client,” said Jesse Heredia, CEO & Founder, Ravecode Solutions.

“When starting Facebook ads to target immigration lawyers, we were seeing a cost per lead of over $30.00. But when we narrowed down the audience by including lawyers that liked the American Immigration Lawyers Association, we were able to lower the cost per lead to $10.00,” Heredia said.

Mistake #5: Having the customer service team doing what the website should be doing

In an earlier iteration of their website, the team behind NuLeaf Naturals focused mainly on having information categorized and organized. “While this made us feel better and was neat and tidy, we found that our customer service team and our info inbox kept getting inundated with similar questions: how long does it take to ship? Can you ship to my state?” said Ian Kelly, VP, Operations, NuLeaf Naturals.

The team was wasting hours replying to these emails, until they came up with a simple fix – adding shipping information to the header of every single page.

Creative Sample #2: Shipping info in header of CBD oil company website

Creative Sample #2: Shipping info in header of CBD oil company website

Having the most frequently asked purchasing questions in the site header helped the team reduce cart abandonment and increase sales because potential customers instantly had the answer to their most pressing questions. It also freed up time for the service team to focus on more rewarding and impactful tasks, spending more meaningful time serving customers in depth rather than answering dozens of basic queries each day.

“It is a tricky balance to put all the information out there while not overcrowding or overwhelming the potential customer, so having a sample of everything on our home page makes it easy to find the information they are looking for. And as explained in the video with Flint McGlaughlin, you want to be starting a conversation, not just present labels and categories. On our home page we have our products with essential info, review highlights, information about CBD, and all of these lead to pages with more in-depth information. We try to tell a story and pique the curiosity of website visitors to learn more rather than blurting out all of our information at once,” Kelly said.

Helping to better serve customers with their website is one tactic that has powered Nu Leaf’s growth – 11,949% overall growth over the past three years earning the company the #11 spot on the Inc. 5000.

Mistake #6: Wrong file type

“Far too often, companies use the wrong logo file type in the top navigation bar and footer of their websites. Using a PNG or JPG can cause the logo to appear blurry compared to the rest of the website, even if the file is relatively high-resolution. In order to ensure your logo is sharp and crisp on modern retina screens, always use a .SVG file. It's a quick, simple, and easy way to make sure your entire website experience is high-quality, demonstrating your company's attention to detail!” said Chris Gorges, Founder & CEO, Thompson & Prince.

Creative Sample #3: Example of JPEG/PNG logo in header

Creative Sample #3: Example of JPEG/PNG logo in header

Creative Sample #4: Example of SVG logo in header

Creative Sample #4: Example of SVG logo in header

Mistake #7: Focusing on irrelevant metrics

Professional photographer Paul Richardon spent hundreds of hours creating his piece de resistance – a video combining all of his best work. He’d developed a few techniques over the years to engineer virality and took the video to more than 1.1 million views.

 “That sounds great, right? Unfortunately, it was a disaster,” Richardson said. “The video brought me in no new work. Not a single commission.”

Richardson had fretted over optimizing for view counts, when in reality he should have been spending time getting his work in front of the people who might actually hire him.

“A million views sounds great, but when none of those people are my ideal client, the numbers don’t matter,” he said. “In reality I should have asked the question ‘who hires me for this kind of work?’ and ‘how can I get my work in front of them?’ I could have spent those months meeting with potential clients, figuring out their pain points and building relationships. That would have brought in a lot more work than gaining a meaningless view count.”

Mistake #8: An underperforming headline

The primary headline on the homepage for Wagyu Beef used to simply be “Wagyu Beef,” which is both the company name as well as the primary product it sells.

Creative Sample #5: Old homepage headline for global retailer of premium Wagyu beef

Creative Sample #5: Old homepage headline for global retailer of premium Wagyu beef

After learning a bit more about website optimization, the team decided to A/B split test several different headlines. The headline that yielded the lowest bounce rate was “Authentic A5 Wagyu Beef.”

Creative Sample #6: New homepage headline for global retailer of premium Wagyu beef

Creative Sample #6: New homepage headline for global retailer of premium Wagyu beef

A high bounce rate had been a major problem for the site in the past, and this two-word change alone lowered it from 78% to 47%.

“My hypothesis is that the word ‘Authentic’ is crucial because there are many companies out there that sell ‘fake’ Wagyu beef, marketing their beef as Wagyu when it really technically isn’t,” said Hayato Yoshida, Cofounder, Wagyu Beef. “Furthermore, I hypothesize that the word ‘A5’ is also extremely critical because A5 is a term used to signify the highest quality of Wagyu beef, and quality is certainly very important for our customers who are willing to pay a hefty premium for the very best.”

Mistake #9: Not trying something new

It would be easy to name this mistake, “Not doing enough pre-planning.”

But I think that is a little unfair. If you’re really going to push the envelope and try something new, mistakes will be made. So don’t let all the mistakes in this article scare you off from innovating. As Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

In my own career, working at an ad agency, we had a lot of success with carboard box mailers for high-end real estate properties. But we were always trying to make the next creative execution even better. I had an idea for wooden box mailers and tested it out first with a smaller client. Worked great. So we moved onto doing a custom wood box for a bigger client.

What I did not know at the time was that different types of wood would perform differently. And that cedar will not hold small screws for very long. We ended up fixing it before it got to the client, but at the time it sure felt like a major mistake. In the end, the client was very happy with the final product and the campaign was wildly successful. So the bigger mistake would have been not trying.

Here’s a great example from David Eichler of Decibel Blue.

“We had immense success with a mascot marketing program during our time opening 90+ Dunkin’ Donuts stores across the Southwest,” Eichler said. “When we were retained to expand and refresh the NYPD Pizza brand, a fast-casual Italian concept with 10+ Phoenix locations, no detail was too small for us to poke at. One of our most important and expensive initiatives was to create a mascot.”

They named the character Tommy the Tomato because fresh ingredients were a cornerstone for the company and hired the best mascot designer and renderer in the nation. Tommy even had a built-in AC/fan unit so the person in the suit wouldn't overheat (this was in Phoenix, after all).

The team’s vision was to make Tommy huge. They wanted him to stand out, head and shoulders above the rest in a crowded parade, shopping mall, or festival.

Creative Sample #7: Mascot for pizza franchise

Creative Sample #7: Mascot for pizza franchise

But here’s the rub…

“Well, Tommy turned out amazing, except for one thing. We had forgotten to measure the amount of clearance there is between a normal car’s door frame and back seat. He was way too big for any trunk and we couldn’t count on whoever was scheduled to wear Tommy [would] have an SUV. Would we be able to stuff him into a Honda? This was a big account for us and if this $5,000+ investment was a bust we would have been in a lot of trouble at worst, and out a lot of money at best. Well, we got lucky. Tommy squeezed into a typical car with literal millimeters to spare and he proved to be very successful. A mistake saved by blind luck. I'll take it,” Eichler said.

Don’t make the mistake of failing to challenge the status quo with bold new ideas. But when you do so, try to scenario plan with as big a team as possible to try to uncover possible challenges. Who knows, someone on your team might be a woodworking expert. Or drive a small car. And they can help you overcome your blind spots and avoid mistakes.

And on second thought, perhaps the best name for this mistake is, “Not realizing everyone in marketing has a big head…especially the mascot.”

Related Resources

Optimizing Copy: The 7 most common copywriting mistakes we see marketers make

Email Testing Pitfalls: 7 Common Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Test Strategy

Common Landing Page Mistakes: Form fields that stop selling value

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