13 Terrifying Marketing Mistakes That Should Give You Nightmares

13 of the Worst Marketing Mistakes (and how to fix them)

At least once or twice a month, it happens to me.

I’m drifting off to sleep at night, or perhaps slowly getting acquainted with a weekend morning—when my heart skips a beat and my head jerks up from the pillow.

“Did I remember to check that link? Change that subject line? Set up that opt-in form integration?”

Usually, it turns out I did remember. But these tiny moments of terror are enough to remind me: marketing is a complicated beast, and even a relatively simple mistake can reveal its dark side.

Today, we’re taking a look into that darkness. I asked marketers all across our team about the worst marketing mistakes that have made them cringe and kept them up at night, and collected an unlucky 13 of the most common to share.

It’s chilling stuff. But there is a bright side. All of these mistakes are preventable with a few precautions. We’ll cover those, too. Look for “Marketing Tricks and Treats” callouts to find free resources you can download to ward off the curse of low conversion rates.

But first, follow me into a haunting realm of missed opportunities. (If you dare.)

Marketing Nightmare #1: Dead-End Pages

First of all, if you’re a small business and you have a website at all, you’re doing better than more than about 55% of the competition, according to recent research from Google. (A fairly disturbing statistic in itself.) But many small-business web pages that do exist still don’t offer a way for visitors to engage with those businesses online.

A highly informative web page is great, but you’re wasting the momentum of your visitors’ journey to your site if you don’t provide a way for them to immediately act on that information. That doesn’t mean that every page on your site needs to have a buy button. Instead, think about how you can actively create an ongoing relationship with visitors and create at least one call to action that will spark that relationship.

That might mean offering a lead magnet on a blog post, dropping an event-signup link in a sidebar, or triggering a pop-up that lets visitors opt in for updates on your new location. And since LeadBox™ opt-in forms can go anywhere on any site you own, there’s not much excuse for leaving any page on your site without a conversion opportunity.

Marketing tricks and treats: Download our Top 10 Tips for LeadBoxes® That Work.

Marketing Nightmare #2: Killing Your Credibility with Careless Copy and Design

There are 3 camps of site visitors: people who aren’t bothered by spelling and grammar errors; people who can’t help but notice them and grumble silently; and people who can’t help but notice them, grumble, and travel to the far ends of the earth if that’s what it takes to confront you about them.

The third camp may annoy you the most, but they’re not actually the visitors you should fear most. Even if you never hear from the second camp, they’re still silently judging any error-ridden copy on your site. And it’s probably having a huge impact on how they perceive your brand and your authority.

The same goes for design. You may not be able to choose a grammatically incorrect color scheme, but you can use color pairings that clash or feel random. You can write your whole landing page in Comic Sans and use 12 different shades of fuchsia, none of which remotely match anything in your photos.

You can do this:


Most marketers will instinctively pull back from that abyss of bad choices, but many still feel comfortable taking a rather improvisatory approach to design and copy.

Now, not everyone who creates a landing page is or even should be a highly skilled writer or designer. But if you’re not very experienced in these areas, you can take a couple of measures to make sure the look and style of your landing pages aren’t turning people off before they even get to the content:

  • Borrow another pair of eyes. Not from a mad scientist’s lab. Instead, look to your friends and relatives. Do you know any interior designers? English majors? Fashion fans? Book fiends? For copy help, identify people who do a lot of writing or, failing that, a lot of reading; for design advice, try folks who work in the arts or simply have a strong sense of style. Recruit them to give your work a quick once-over and encourage them to be vocal about any concerns.
  • Borrow from major brands. Take a quick look at your landing page. At first glance, do the colors, fonts, and images somewhat resemble what you might see on the site of, say, a national retailer—or not in the slightest? You don’t want to be a copycat, but you do want to use the feel of trusted brands to inspire trust in your own products. Spend some time on sites you’d like to emulate and study the colors and design choices they use.
  • Borrow good templates. LeadPages® is constantly releasing templates that reflect the most up-to-date design and conversion practices in the industry. If you’re not a designer, there’s nothing wrong with sticking close to the default settings. They’ll automatically present your business in a professional light.
  • Exercise restraint. If all else fails, concise copy and a color palette of 2–4 hues give you less room to go astray. Take this approach, and you’re all but guaranteed to make sure that site visitors really see your message.

Marketing Nightmare #3: Following the Wrong Metrics Off a Cliff

Man, does it feel good to create something that gets a lot of traffic. And if you can watch your social share count climb, it’s even better.

Of course, you probably know that none of that does much good if few of those visitors actually engage with your business further. So you’re certain to make a play for opt-ins—and if your conversion rate is great, you’re set.

Maybe. But maybe not.

What could go wrong? Well, all those new leads could leak right out of your funnel if you can’t get them from there to your checkout page.

And that could happen. If you create a popular lead magnet that appeals to an audience who’s not likely to buy your product, for instance. Or if you don’t have a good followup sequence in place.

Page views, social stats, and a high conversion rate are all wonderful things. But remember that none of them is the end goal, and they may not stand in direct relation to revenue and profit. Watch your step.

Marketing Nightmare #4: Broken Links & Broken Dreams

Say you’ve got somebody who hasn’t only found your site—they’ve become interested enough to click on something specific. Or they’ve clicked on a link you’ve sent them for more info.

And then they see a message like this:


Sure, the page has suggestions, but they’re just shots in the dark. It’s the “did you try restarting your computer” approach to problem-solving. Not very satisfying.

Rather than sending visitors who find a broken link away frustrated, you can give them something for their trouble, provide navigation links to working pages, and let them opt into your list to boot. LeadPages® offers a couple of 404 page templates designed just for this purpose—here’s our newest one:

good 404

Set up 404 errors to redirect to a page like this, and even a major misstep—such as sending out the wrong link in a promo email—won’t be quite as dire.

Marketing tricks and treats: Download this 404 Opt-in Page template.

Marketing Nightmare #5: The Hobgoblin of Inconsistency

Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds. But inconsistency is the gremlin more likely to throw a wrench in your marketing plans.

It may seem minor. Who cares if you call something an “e-book” in one place and a “how-to guide” in another? Or if your product page says your special price is $97, but the checkout page says $97.99?

These discrepancies may not put a huge dent in your conversion rate, but they’re likely to chip away at it. Even if they never turn into outright confusion, they’re points of friction for your visitor; they induce the vague feeling that something’s not quite right.

That’s a best-case scenario. In some contexts, inconsistent marketing can actually cost you money. If you run ads on Google AdWords, your cost per click is determined partly by your quality score—which in turn is determined partly by how well your landing page reflects the messaging in your ad.

It quite literally pays to be consistent in your approach. At the start of a new campaign, sit down and write out your core value proposition, your pricing structure, how you’ll refer to different elements of your product, and any messaging or taglines you’re using. Then, consult that document every time you create a new piece of that campaign.

Marketing Nightmare #6: Zombie Pages

It’s odd but true: even after your webinar, trade show, or promotion is over, people are guaranteed to still find their way to the page you made for that event. They might get there through organic search, or through a link on someone else’s blog.

This expired page may even be their first impression of your company. And if they’re greeted only by a wound-down countdown timer and now-irrelevant information, that impression is unlikely to be a great one.

You have two options when a page you’ve created has outlived its purpose, and neither involves deleting that page. After all, if people are still finding it, you don’t want to throw away that traffic.

First, you could just update the page. If it’s a simple page such as a LeadPages® webinar page, this will probably be very easy. You can modify the messaging, clarify that the event is now over, and still offer something for visitors to take away by changing the call-to-action button. LeadPages® user Nancy Juetten updates her former webinar registration pages to serve as opt-in pages for a replay of that webinar.


The other option is to set up a redirect. Think about what you can offer people stumbling on your expired page, and send them to a place where they can get it. Maybe it’s your event calendar for the rest of the year, or a product page. If you run a lot of time-sensitive events, this is your easiest way to make sure any residual traffic doesn’t end up in a dead zone.

Marketing Nightmare #7: Constantly Changing Costumes

Some marketers aspire to be shapeshifters. They’ll tell you they have the solution to your problems, then turn around and tell the same thing to someone else—even if that person happens to have wildly different goals and circumstances. They’ll superficially target a hundred different groups with essentially generic messages. They’re like someone trying to win a costume contest by wearing the most costumes at once.

Not coincidentally, the details of their products or services often seem hazy. You might find yourself wandering around their websites asking: “Okay, but what is it that you actually do?”

Of course, most prospects can pick up on this vagueness. Try to speak to everyone in the world, and your message will resonate with no one. It’s the same reason most politicians struggle with seeming “likable”—they’re so focused on trying to engineer mass appeal that they can’t actually be appealing.

So even if you do have dreams of launching a universally beloved product, you can’t start there. Instead, begin with the people for whom your product currently fills the biggest need. Speak just to them. Once you’ve found success there, you can branch out.

Marketing Nightmare #8: Stalking Your Customers with Retargeting Campaigns

I bought a new sleeping bag recently for chilly late-fall camping. Because I researched it online first, an ad for that same sleeping bag now follows me around the web, beckoning me to curl up and take a nap in any climate down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s fine by me—it’s a good sleeping bag—and in this case it’s unavoidable. I bought the sleeping bag in a store, away from the watchful eyes of ad retargeting algorithms, so the company has no idea I’m no longer in the market.

But the company is spending money on me that could be much more profitably used on someone else. And what if I hadn’t liked the sleeping bag? The ads would be a constant reminder that I should return it to the store, or at least cross that store off my list of camping-gear suppliers.

If you’re doing any retargeting on a platform like Facebook, it’s crucial to segment out your existing customers. Whether you exclude them from seeing your ads entirely depends on your industry: if you run a membership site, you definitely don’t want to keep telling people to become members after they’ve purchased. If you’re a clothing retailer, you probably will want to show them occasional ads, but the timing will be different than for totally new audiences.

The same thing goes for people who haven’t bought yet, but whom you can contact via more than a tracking pixel. If someone has opted into your mailing list, you’re wasting money by trying to woo them with additional ad spend. Instead, take advantage of email marketing to engage them further for free. It’s likely to be cheaper and much more effective.

Marketing tricks and treats: For more on the best way to run retargeting ads in Facebook, download our free video course, The Facebook Advertising System.

Marketing Nightmare #9: Disguising Your Intentions

There’s a heartening overall moral to the last several years of internet marketing: in the long run, black-hat tactics don’t win.

If you were on the internet much in 2011, you probably ran across scores of thinly veiled spam comments and unlikely web pages linking to products on e-commerce sites—including JC Penney’s. The department store’s SEO firm was taking advantage of the fact that backlinks from anywhere boosted search-results position pretty directly at the time, and it plastered the internet with those backlinks.

Until Google and the rest of the world caught on. That’s the thing: Google always catches on. Changes to its algorithm and manual penalties demolished the search rankings JC Penney had built up.

A similar development recently played out with networks of plagiarized Twitter accounts that made money through coordinated deals to promote brands. Advertising and social platforms depend on genuinely valuable content to survive, and they’re constantly taking steps to battle the faux content that stands in its way.

So if you think you spot a “loophole” that’ll let you gain advantage by disguising yourself and misleading people into clicking or signing up, be strong and pass it by. That loophole is likely to close behind you pretty soon, and leave you stranded on the wrong side of history.

Marketing Nightmare #10: Approaching Leads with a Bloodthirsty Gleam in Your Eye

Let’s play a quick game of “horror movie villain or marketer building a new email list?”

“Aha! I’ve got them where I want them. Now I can get them to do exactly what I need.”

It’s only natural to be excited when you tap into a new source of leads. But some marketers take that excitement and go way, way overboard. They start sending their new leads emails constantly, and those emails boil down to one message: buy now.

This is a perfect recipe for unsubscribes and spam reports, not to mention a lot of resentment. Think about how you got those leads in the first place. It probably involved building trust with high-quality content. You’ll need to do more of that to move your new relationships forward.

And it may not happen right away. Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that the majority of leads turn into sales after 5–7 points of contact. Use thoughtful, respectful follow-up sequences to give leads reasons to buy, rather than just telling them to.

Marketing Nightmare #11: Crippling Dependency on a Single Traffic Source

The faroff time when businesses were first allowed to join Facebook now seems like a bygone paradise to some marketers.

Originally, when you posted something from your business page, you could be pretty sure that the majority of your active fans were going to see it. Many entrepreneurs rose to tremendous success on Facebook in this era—they had a free, flexible, personality-filled channel to post whatever content they needed to build their brands and drive sales.

But of course, it couldn’t last forever. Due to changes in Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, even pages with smaller audiences started seeing organic reach plummet to 10–20%, with bigger dips for larger businesses.

Some marketers saw in this a plan to force them into paid promotion, but Facebook Ads Product Marketing head Brian Boland had a simpler explanation: “There is now far more content being made than there is time to absorb it.”

And that’s the case on every platform, or will be in the years to come. As content explodes, the platforms that share it will have to be more and more ruthless in choosing what to highlight. We don’t “own” our Facebook fans or Twitter followers; we’re at the utter mercy of changes in algorithms and platforms’ business models.

At least, we are if we depend too heavily on ad and social platforms that aren’t ours. That’s why it’s so crucial to build a robust email list: unless your subscribers opt out themselves, they aren’t going anywhere but closer to your company.

Marketing Nightmare #12: Chasing After Phantom A/B-Test Results

The hardest part of A/B testing may be doing nothing.

You’ve built your variations and turned on your test, and now? You’re glued to the results, and you’re itching for a way to make them better already. Maybe you could just jump in there real quick and . . .

Stop! Editing one of your pages mid-test is a surefire way to muddy your results. But it’s not the only one. Another destructive testing temptation is the desire to call a test too early.

If one of your variations is converting at 67% and the other is converting at 47%, it’s hard not to feel like leaving the test running is watching money burn.

But look at the raw numbers and the statistical significance first. If you’ve only gotten a few dozen visitors during the test period, that conversion-rate difference could be the difference between 10 conversions and 7.

And it wouldn’t be statistically significant—that is, there’s a fair chance that the discrepancy in these results was produced entirely by chance. (In the same way that if you flip a coin 17 times in a row, it’s quite easy to wind up with 10 heads and 7 tails even if each flip has a 50% chance of coming up heads.)

So give it time. And if you really want to see the extent to which random noise can produce an apparent conversion-rate impact, try running two identical variations against each other for fun. You’re likely to see their stats diverge and converge substantially in the first days.

Finally, be sure that your test is receiving traffic that’s truly representative of your normal visitors. Promotions, seasonal variation, or an influx of traffic from press coverage can all distort the response you’d normally get from your average landing-page visitors. Split tests, like all marketing, don’t happen in a vacuum.

Marketing Nightmare #13: Letting Superstition Get the Best of You

We marketers can be a nervous breed.

When a business’s success rests partly in your hands, it’s tempting to look for a safety zone and stay there. So we surround ourselves with best practices and supposed psychological truths and third-hand rumors about what converts.

It’s a mix of solid experience and, sometimes, a little superstition. But while hunches and history are excellent starting points, they absolutely can’t guide the whole of your marketing strategy. Not if you want to achieve what you haven’t achieved yet.

For that, you need a little creativity and a lot of data. So start A/B testing, and pay close attention to what the numbers are telling you.

Again, don’t be spooked into changing course prematurely. Take your time and hold what you find up to the light. The truth is, with the right tools and careful planning, marketing really isn’t so scary after all.

Marketing tricks and treats: Download our Marketing Best Practices Test Guide.

Do you live in fear of any marketing mistakes? Tell us in the comments!

  • Thanks Daphne for helpful article. Zombie Pages is one of popular mistake in recent time. However, there are not many people realize that.

    • Daphne Sidor

      Yes, it is really easy to forget about zombie pages! Thanks for reading!