As a marketing agency, we don’t get any satisfaction from cleaning up other people’s messes. Our digital marketing efforts would be much more effective right out the gate if we didn’t have to fix bad things that happened in the name of “quick wins.”

With the exception of occasional low hanging fruit (yes, we’re sick of that phrase too), there are no quick or easy wins in digital marketing. Forget marketing shortcuts. You have to do the work to get the results.

marketing shortcuts

Cutting corners might get you ahead briefly, but in the long run, it won’t help you meet your goals. In fact, shady marketing practices can land you in a hole you’ll spend months — if not years — digging your way out of while competitors reap the benefits of investing in meaningful marketing from the start.

Avoid these marketing shortcuts

Fake reviews

Cult skincare favorite Sunday Riley recently came under scrutiny over a company-wide directive to post fake reviews on Sephora and other beauty websites. Regardless of a pretty good damage control strategy, the brand’s reputation has been tarnished. Don’t encourage your friends or employees to leave reviews. Just don’t.

Instead: Be remarkable. If you’re selling a crappy product or your customer service leaves much to be desired, no amount of fake reviews will save you. Once you’ve got your house in order, make it easy for happy customers to spread the word. And don’t sweat a few bad reviews.

Black hat SEO

It’s getting harder and harder to game the system, but people keep trying. Especially when it comes to placing meaningless backlinks all over the internet. Google will catch you, and Google will tank your rankings. Yes, this damage can be undone, but do you really want to spend precious time cleaning up your backlink profile and trying to climb back up to the front page?

Instead: Focus on creating and distributing content that’s so awesome people want to share it far and wide. Develop meaningful relationships and offer your wisdom to other content producers.

Shady microsites

Microsites can be excellent when they’re used to promote a unique campaign or shine a spotlight on a unique service offering. But don’t create a website pretending to be someone else (like a fake independent review organization or a rabid fan). You’ll get busted, and Google won’t give you much credit for any backlinks — because it will be able to tell your microsite isn’t a valuable piece of internet real estate.

Instead: Develop a campaign that communicates to a well-researched audience, solves a problem for that audience, and makes it easy to take the next step. That step might not be a purchase. And that’s okay. Embrace the funnel.

Influencers who don’t disclose

Tempted to float someone $100 to say that your product is the best thing ever? Resist the temptation. Not only is it a violation of FTC regulations, it’s also a shitty thing to do. Influencer marketing is a wild frontier, and it relies on those engaging in it to uphold standards of integrity and truth in advertising.

Instead: Work with influencers who always disclose. Focus on engagement, not the size of their following. A smaller number of highly engaged followers in the right target audience are much more valuable than a bunch of exposure to the wrong people — or bots.

Purchased email lists

In some instances, a purchased list that’s highly targeted and consists of people who will benefit from your email can be a useful marketing strategy. But in most cases, if the recipients didn’t explicitly ask to be contacted, you’re at risk of running afoul of CAN-SPAM regulations. (There’s a reason the biggest email marketing software solutions won’t let you send to rented or purchased lists.)

Instead: Either buy lists that consist of people who consented to be marketed to, or build your own list. Your own list will always be more engaged and more receptive to your emails. As long as your emails don’t suck.

Stolen content

The rules of freshman English apply to marketing. We’ve had countless “marketing blogs” scrape our content and pass it off either as their own, or as some kind of cool roundup. (Spoiler alert: It was just stealing.) Don’t repost someone else’s content without explicit permission. Not only are you likely to get busted, but it’ll present your brand as watered down and too lazy to develop a unique point of view.

Instead: Invest in good content. It’ll be better than anything you can steal if you research your audience and speak directly to their pain points.

Adopt a philosophy of meaningful marketing

When we develop content and marketing strategies for our clients, it always comes back to solving problems for their customers. Sometimes that requires a mindset shift away from boasting or focusing on likes and dislikes. Most of the time it requires a shift away from looking at marketing as a quick fix. It should be a lifestyle — a commitment to giving your customers and prospects the best you have to offer at every step that they need you. Only you can determine what that relationship looks like, but it has to be a relationship. And that means push and pull, compromise, and carefully finding your way toward what works.

It can be fun. It should be fun. It won’t be easy.