Ever wish you knew then what you know now?  What would you do differently? 

What would you do again?What would you absolutely not do?

I've spent a good part of the last few months talking to a significant number of startups and small businesses about the above-  to find common themes around the area of lessons learned from early mistakes and pass this on to as many people as possible.  Here are the top 7 'mistakes' made, not in any order of importance:


1.Not understanding the need for a 'web presence'


 Almost everyone I have spoken to have identified a lack of understanding of the internet marketing space as being a major stumbling block in the early days. These businesses have admitted to thinking  that merely translating their product portfolio into some form of online content would be sufficient(a 'build it and they will soon come' mentality). In addition, all these businesses have admitted being surprised by the need to have regularly updated content on their site, and  not 'getting'  the need to 'promote' their site – for example through social media.


  • Update your blog or site regularly and consistently with fresh , relevant and add value content to ensure visitors have something to return to. If you have an e-commerce site, keep the product range  updated. Giving your site fresh content as often as possible will attract visitors who want to see what's new and will also appeal to the crawling web spiders who determine search engine results.A good tip is to use a content management system giving you an easy-to use back-end system for uploading your site.
  • Understand that your website is not all about your business. The goals you want to achieve involve other people, so identify who they are, what they are looking for when they visit your site and what they think of your site. Give them what they want and they will be more likely to give you what you want 
  • Enable interactivity on your blog or site. Examples include user generator content such as a forum, comment boxes or a plug-in application such as Webjam( www.webjam.com). This will help you  develop a sense of community on your site which will continue to develop- soon visitors will log on each day to find out who is saying what and what is happening with whom        
  • Actively promote your site, for example through social media platforms. Make it very easy for visitors to spread word of your site through social sharing. Have your site StumbledUpon, Digged and Tweeted to make the most of the viral potential of social media. Popular sharing tools include Addtoany.com and AddThis- www.addthis.com.   Another good way of promoting your site is by commenting on popular blogs in your niche on a consistent basis which will get you on the radar of that blog. Always keep in mind the impression you want to leave when you are confident enough to pursue this strategy.
  • Add interest to your site to make it attractive: use graphics, video and build-in         simplicity into your site's navigation.  A great example of using imagery is to upload photos of people and products to your site so it offers visitors a reason to stay a while and browse. Similarly you could upload recordings of your work or customers enjoying your work. Do this easily and inexpensively with a Flip camera. Another good tip is to invite others to appear on your site, eg guest posting; or host a webchat or a featured interview
  •  Keep your brand's 'essence'  in mind when you  write your content making   sure   that you write with that in mind



2. Not having clear objectives and measures for their  website

Many of the businesses I have spoken to  admitted ignoring website statistics in the early days; a consequence of not having specific performance indicators for their online business. This leads to frustration and in many cases the thought of 'giving up'.Ultimately a site should be there to convert traffic that is driven to it but in the early days many businesses struggle to articulate what that actually means.


  • You  cannot generate sustainable improvements without measurement.
  • Identify with your team/colleagues/mentor what you want to achieve. What does that look like – the critical pathway to outcomes? How can success be measured and monitored?
  • Install at the very least analytics such as Google analytics into your site and gather the information you need about your visitors on a regular basis.



3. Not having a plan for the evolution of their online business


Some of the businesses I have spoken to have admitted to not having considered what they ultimately want to achieve with their website, resulting in a lack of interest in their website, apathy and disillusionment.



  • Spend time working out where you want you business to achieve in the short term, medium term and long term.
  • What wheels need to be set in motion towards the achievement of your goals? Although it is very likely that a business will not end up where expected, it is nevertheless essential to have a view and a plan of  how you want that business to evolve.


4. Not understanding the difference between online marketing and offline marketing

Several of the businesses  I spoke to admitted to not understanding how customers would find them online (keyword research)_ leading to high levels of frustration over lack of website visitors. Those who did attempt keyword research in the early days would simply concentrate on monthly search volumes of their keyword terms and not consider the competition.


  • It is crucial to understand the words your customers use when looking for your product or service. Search engines rely on keywords and key phrases to identify websites and drive traffic to them. So before you begin to write any of your content, draw up a list of the words and phrases that are key to your business. Try to use them when you name your pages and in your copy. This will make the process of optimising your site much easier when you get to it.
  • Understand the value of niche marketing – it is extremely difficult for small businesses to succeed online without targeting niches
  • Tools such as Market Samurai can help make this much easier for you



5. Not extending incentives to visitors and existing customers


 Some businesses felt they had neglected to 'look after' visitors and existing customers by extending offers to them in order to tempt them back.



  • Exploit the value of offers: for example an offer could be conditional on customers who refer a friend- so that your customer returns to your site with others in tow. Another tip is to design a badge that visitors can display on their own site to show their affiliation to you.
  • A regular e-newsletter is a critical means of maintaining and growing your relationships with your  customers, and will facilitate spreading your content. Make sure your newsletter is 'opt- in' to increase engagement. Providers worth checking out include Aweber and icontact.


6. Not attempting to optimise their site for the search engines


Staggeringly, a number of the businesses said that in the early days , they felt SEO was a  'luxury' reserved for bigger, more wealthy businesses. This was clearly due to a lack of understanding of SEO and how to perform it.



  • Search is the most important way of telling potential customers about your website. According to Jupiter Research, around 80% of Internet users find new websites through a search. This beats word of mouth,a poster or even a TV ad. They will instead go to Google, input their searches and go to the sites that appear- mostly – on page 1. In the UK, according to Nielsen Online, in March 2010 90% of all Internet searches were conducted on Google. So , search means Google.
  • SEO = free traffic. Do it or lose it!
  • Social media and SEO have a symbiotic relationship. Like the proverbial 'horse and carriage' they go together- do both!


7. Not spending any money


Almost all the businesses in my not very scientific research admitted to wanting to do everything themselves, or trying to cut corners and do it on the cheap.



A good dose of self-awareness is key. Know what you can and cannot do. Your website is an online investment and money must be spent in making it look good, easy to use and protecting the confidentiality of those who have given your business their trust. Some areas to consider outsourcing depending on your competence include:

  • Webdesign
  • Content writing
  • SEO

Technology has advanced to such a point where most things are automated and as such it is worth checking out what can be automated effectively and what cannot. Other tips include re-purposing your content so it can be re-used as video, whitepapers, ebooks and so on; thereby saving you some time in the future.

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Ihubbusiness is an information hub for small businesses who wish to learn about internet marketing. The site was founded by Lola Bailey in 2010. Lola is a member of the Institute of Digital Marketing and has over 20 years sales and marketing experience. She is also a full-time copywriter at www.write-upcommunications.co.uk, a copywriter consultancy which she founded. Email: editor@ihubbusiness.co.uk

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