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The (In)Exact Science of Online Marketing

Modern marketing has always made use of statistics and data to some degree. The Internet has only provided more data in addition to offline sources. As the digital landscape evolved, we were able to build far more accurate buyer personas than any advertiser in the past.

The online world now affords marketers a rich variety of tools with which to track, analyse and report metrics relevant to a strategy or campaign. In fact, these tools aren’t just available to marketers. Anyone with wifi can see roughly how many times people from a certain country search for a certain keyword.

For our own websites, our analytics tell us who viewed what post. We can see where they click and depending on the tool we can literally see where their mouse hovered.

But wait, there’s more: we can see their gender, their age group, what device they’re using…

Early digital marketers must have been simply intoxicated as these new KPIs came into being. So much information! So much data (read: profit fodder).

Yes – I don’t contest that marketing is more analytical and more technical than ever before. Just think back to the 70s: how ridiculous do you think the combination of advertiser/programmer as a profession would sound?

Things have changed. One thing that hasn’t, however, is that…

…digital marketing is not an exact science.

“Excuse ME!?” the data analysts shriek. I’m sure there are several programmatic media buyers who want my blood now. And I’m definitely at risk of a SEO hurling their laptop at me.

I don’t care. Digital marketing is not an exact science and I stand by that.

Yes, marketing is far more accurate than it has ever been. That’s true. But it’s still not perfect. Why? Because…

You’re still dealing with humans.

Humans are imperfect by nature. Many of us don’t fit into neat little boxes (though some of us do, and that’s fine).

As the analytics show, there are definitely strong trends. For example, certain age groups are more likely to have particular views/taste in shows/trivia knowledge/whatever. Some age groups are more likely to fill in correct information about themselves.

Yep, correct information.

Not all of those metrics you get in your analytics is accurate. How many people are visting your site via a random country through a VPN? How many people jot in any old information into their personal details when creating an account? I never, ever do – except in very rare cases.

Depending on the channel, you cannot fully rely on “personal data”. Although I’m sure most people tend to must theirs into the form and be done with it.

“But of course,” you say, “you can still gain a lot of insight from general behaviour and optimize your campaigns for that, over time.”

I would certainly agree with you. However, remember: Humans can be utterly unpredictable.

Digital media buying and the loss of human perspective

While data, analytics, past behaviour etc. are all great metrics to optimize your campaign or sales funnel around, pinches of salt should be taken from time to time. People are not machines. In fact, people can be downright irrational. You can look at your beautifully-crafted sales funnel and think, “They’ve followed these steps, so obviously (Step 5) is the next logical development. Finally, we’ll get that conversion!”

And then, suddenly, boom – they’re gone. You never see them again.

Of course, this is coming from a B2C perspective. Naturally, with B2C you are dealing with primal wants and desires. I especially saw this in the online dating industry. There’s definitely a reason why “casual dating” made so much money.

The same issues can, however, crop up in B2B. It just happens at a slower pace as several (potentially) irrational humans are making the purchasing decision.

I’ve worked on a lot of media buying strategies. The campaign managers themselves got excited about certain trends, and then utterly confused when a lead didn’t convert. They cited possible reason in numbers, figures… And many times, completely forgot that the person was human and might’ve just changed their mind.

Think about it this way: How many times have you clicked on an ad in an app or on a site, when you were really trying to just X out of it? It’s happened to be me a lot (big fingers, small screens!).


I’m not saying that the data and insights we as media buyers have is useless. On the contrary, it allows for the perfection field of optimization. What I am saying is that a healthy dose of human perspective is key, especially if you’re running campaigns all day. It can be easy to lose sight of the things that make you human and act he way you do when you’re always looking at the figures.

Conversion optimization, overall, is not an exact science. It never will be, unless we start marketing to robots.

duckduckgo search engine

SEO & Brand – Partners in Crime?

After copywriting, SEO was the next step in my digital marketing journey. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that it was also my first introduction to the concept of brand awareness.

When I began my first full-time SEO project, the goal was simple: optimize online dating site reviews, drive traffic and generate revenue. As an apprentice marketer, I absorbed everything I could about competitor analysis, keyword placement, research, link-building… you name it.

Over time as I monitored traffic, updated content, searched for new keywords and products, I started to notice something. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for pretty things, but…

…our brand sucked.

Visually and textually. Our website design was stuck in the early 2000s.

It was bland. The logo was goofy, predictable (a red, heart-shaped face …). Essentially, no different to most other online dating review sites.

Of course, we still generated traffic and made money. That is the point of an affiliate marketing company, anyway.

So, then: why am I fussing over branding? Why not just focus on continually analyzing, optimizing and updating? Well…

SEO means that your website (read: brand) could be visible online for years… Regular maintenance or not.

Depending on how well optimized it is in the first place.

However, let’s say your site falls out of use.

Let’s say your site falls out of use. Even without maintenance, money could still roll in for a good long time. Even after those affiliate links have died, users may still stumble across it.

And… Those users will still see your brand!

If it’s good, it’ll stick. Even if your site is a bit outdated.

Now, imagine you want to revive the site. We decided to do just that with our basically dead Dutch dating reviews site.

You have a solid base, from both a traffic and a branding perspective. Sure, it may need a good bit of polishing. Revival will, however, be faster than starting again from scratch.

Furthermore, it’s always good to remember: “If your brand is prominent enough, people may even forgo Google and go directly to your site.”

How many of us go straight to Amazon when we shop online? I do. All. The. Time.

A brand that stands out and captures the essence of your website and your service will command a loyalty that can last for years.

Good News: Your brand doesn’t have to be fancy

If you have a good product, you should definitely invest time and money into cultivating your brand. In saying that, it doesn’t have to be ground-breaking. It should, however, be memorable, consistent and distinct.

Just consider the following screenshot:

dating sites reviews us

The Wayback Machine tells us that has been around since 2006, at least. I took that screenshot a few minutes ago. Really, look at it: it’s like a throwback to the 2000s.

Upon closer inspection, you see that it has a lot of regularly updated content as well as user-generated content. It has a forum/community and some presence on social media. It dominates the search terms for countless keywords in the online dating industry in the US (at least back when I worked on those projects).

While the design may be wanting, its SEO solid and it’s (basic) brand is memorable, consistent and distinct.

SEO & Brand: So, what’s your point?

SEO and brand awareness should be part of your long-term marketing strategy from day one. Whether you’re a sole proprietor, an SMB or a large corporation. Alongside your airtight SEO strategy, you need a solid brand marketing strategy. Like I said before, it doesn’t have to be fancy. It should be memorable, consistent and distinct.

Think of it this way: if you optimize well, search engines will remember your website. If you do branding right, people (users) will remember you.

Any professional SEO can prove this by throwing up measurable results from their analytics tools. Brand awareness is less of an exact science, but history serves probably the best evidence of its effectiveness.

personal brand blackle

Lie Down Before You Hurt Yourself – Personal Branding for the Rest of Us

Personal brand/branding is a buzz-phrase you’ll hear everywhere. That’s not just for those of us in the now broad and diverse marketing industry. This revamped concept has indeed been hijacked by marketers and sold in the form of books, courses, consultations…

Fair enough. No matter your actual industry, marketing yourself as a professional is an essential skill to help you land a job.

Personal Brand/ing: The way in which a person presents themselves, what they offer to their target audience and how they manage and grow their reputation.

The earliest mentions of the term (or similar) can be traced back to the early 20th century. However, I am certain you could come up with similar or identical equivalents even earlier than that. If you wanted to.

The above definition is, unfortunately, extremely broad. That’s not very different to the term “content manager” in digital marketing. It can mean anything from an SEO to a social media marketer to someone who just posts things on Facebook.

In a sense, we’re all content managers. The same can be applied to personal brand: we all have one, whether we want to or not.

The truth about personal branding

Create your own logo, your own tone of voice, your own website, manage multiple social media accounts and get your image out there… Blah, blah, blah.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? I don’t deny that there are many marketers who find it a thrilling and exciting project. Good for them. However, what many staunch and avid proponents of personal branding fail to realize is that…

…the majority of the workforce neither have the time nor the energy to develop a full personal brand.

Quite frankly, most professionals have better things to do. Many are not interested in manning their phones 24/7. Some of us find social media useful but aren’t obsessed.

For the majority of us, a well-developed and expertly-executed personal branding strategy with all the bells and whistles is… Overkill. Especially if we’re not celebrities, artists, thought leaders, influences, etc…

Think about it for a minute. What about secretaries? Plumbers? “Office workers” (for lack of a better term)? Yes, developing your “brand” to a certain extent is a good idea.

Yet here’s the truth: it does not have to and nor should it take up a significant chunk of your time.

The curse of (digital) marketing is being susceptible to one’s own propaganda. For all our testing, analytics tools and information at our fingertips, it can be disturbingly easy to fall prey to inflated or even plainly false metrics.

facebook logo blurred
Not naming names.

No matter how objective you fancy yourself as a marketer, you can still be swept away by a well-optimized sales funnel or a persuasive piece of advertising copy.

For the rest of us, personal branding doesn’t have to be a complex project. It is as simple as laying the foundations.

Basic Personal Branding – Laying the foundations

For most professionals, laying down the foundations of personal branding is enough. Yes, updating it is necessary – but only once in a while as your skills/experience develop. To do so, ask yourself…

  • Who am I trying to reach? For most professionals, this means employers/companies in certain industries.
  • What do I have to offer? What skills do you have? What experience? How can you help those employers/companies that you’d like to work for?
  • How do I reach them? For many working professionals, this means setting up a LinkedIn page, a simple website (really just an online CV) and doing a bit of networking.

That’s really it. Of course, you can elaborate later if you want. This, however, is your cornerstone.

Your brand is just a label

Having a well-developed personal brand is a good indication of skill for a marketer. For many of us, though, actually doing your job well is the real strength. After all, it is just another word for reputation. That’s really all there is to it. While not quite a “set and forget” system, there are likely more important things that most of us with a personal brand have to worry about.