The secret to great online marketing is relevancy. The reason so many advertisers get this wrong is because they try to apply traditional offline strategies to online campaigns. Traditional marketing is based on reach and frequency. The more eyeballs you can aggregate, the better, because only a small portion of the market is ready to buy at any given point in time. You cannot buy TV commercials that are only shown to people that need to buy a vacuum cleaner within the next 48 hours. This theory is completely reversed online. You can very easily – with a search campaign for example – buy ads that are only shown to people actively shopping for nickel-plated sprinkler heads or authentic decorative tumbleweeds. But with all the powerful targeting that online advertising offers, there is plenty of room for abuse.

When online advertisers start sacrificing relevancy for reach, they often end up with deception. This happens to me all the time on Ebay. I search for something like: “Fender Twin Reverb Guitar Amplifier” and receive a page full of results that all appear to be exactly what I’m looking for. But when I start clicking through to the items, I find that half of them are for things like copies of the user manual, promotional posters etc. instead of the actual amplifier itself. This isn’t Ebay’s fault by the way. It happens because merchants craft their listings for related products to appear as though they are the actual item. They are trying to take advantage of product search traffic in order to sell other stuff. It’s dishonest and does nothing but infuriate the very customers they’re trying to attract.

Doc Searls has an interesting post about online advertising that demonstrates why deceptive advertising gimmicks not only do not work, but could very well “pop” the online advertising “bubble.” The message for advertisers that want to get it right is simple – be relevant. The brilliance of online marketing lies in the ability to establish a true dialogue with people that are already interested in your business. It’s a quality, not quantity, based system.

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