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Monday, Dec. 3, 2007 at 12:00 pm

How to Leverage “OPM” (Other People’s Mistakes)

By Bryan Eisenberg
December 3rd, 2007

other_peoples_mistakes.jpgLots of people who’ve spoken with either Jeffrey or me know how uncomfortable we are with being called “experts,” despite our books and nearly 10 years of focus on marketing optimization. I’ve said it before: “Gurus are a dime a dozen on the internet.” The problem with taking pundits’ advice is that it can end up costing those who follow blindly a fortune. I need your help to prevent that.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe hardly any of the folks who people consider online experts are acting in bad faith. They tried some tactics, it paid off, and now they want to share them with others. But true experts never achieve any level of certainty without a deeper understanding of all the circumstances contributing to their success. To reach “expert” status in other industries — say, the medical field — it takes well over a decade of experience focused in one specialty. Most cardiologists would be hesitant to give you dermatological advice, as they know it’s outside of their domain. It’s why Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.

Sharing your missteps and learning from other people’s mistakes is the surest path to online success. Are you up to helping your fellow entrepreneurs or future clients?

Have you ever taken bad Web advice from a so-called expert?

The challenge we face as marketers is that there’s no solid set of criteria to hang out the shingle and say, “Congratulations! You’re a marketer.” It can be frightening when clients say they plan to use some very specific tactic before the strategy’s been clearly defined. Usually when that happens, if you ask where they got the idea, it’s from an “expert” who may have a technical or other background but certainly not a marketing background.

We’ve all seen designers or developers who are now preaching “expert” search engine marketing advice. While design and code have something to do with search engine optimization, the bigger issues are usually marketing-related. The same is true about conversion optimization advice. While conversion has something to do with usability, multivariate testing and web analytics, the bigger overarching issue is almost always marketing (read: persuasion)-related. When our clients have a challenging search-related issue, we refer them to a search marketing firm we trust. Are there really any social media experts yet (although we may be getting there)?

We’re looking for these types of stories:

  • Did you get blacklisted from a search engine for following bad advice?
  • Did you spend a ton of money on a tool no one uses?
  • Did you do a “redesign” and get poor results?
  • Did you create a “viral” campaign that nobody noticed?
  • Did you invest in the latest and coolest Web 2.0 initiative only to see a small return?

How You Can Help + Get Published

We (as in “you and I”) are going to publish a free ebook. (No need to kill trees on this as I’m sure it will keep evolving with the Web).

We’re not looking to name names or discredit anyone. And of course, sometimes, good advice gets executed poorly. But with your help, we’ll take all the stories and distill them into a collection of truisms, then list the horror stories on so-called expert opinions and freely distribute How to Leverage “OPM” (Other People’s Mistakes): Online Advice from People Who’ve Been There and Done That. If you wish to share a story anonymously, it must be verifiable, so we can keep you anonymous.

Will you share your “expertise” and stories?

If you’d like to be included, tell us your online marketing-related stories either as a comment below or in an email to: feedback [at] grokdotcom dot com

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Comments (6)

  1. Hi Bryan,

    I’m a web developer and I have literally had hundreds of clients over the years. I tell my clients that I am not a marketing expert and don’t even know of one that I would recommend.

    I call myself a developer instead of a designer because I am very familiar with ecommerce and know how to apply some on-page optimization techniques, and such. I did have an advertising/ marketing background offline, and I understand business.

    While I don’t have personal experience working with an “expert marketer”, quite a few of my clients have. Due to this, I have heard many, many “horror stories,” outlandish claims, and downright stupid advice. The main complaints have been about paying exorbitant fees with little or no results. One client paid a large “deposit” followed by what seemed like excessive monthly fees only to have the marketer “quit” before any results were realized. Another (current) client calls me to discuss what his marketer recommends. Generally this client can’t make heads or tails out of what he is being told to do. Often I make a suggestion that differs from the recommendation simply because it makes more sense. When my client then runs it by his marketer, he’s told, “Yes, well, that was my next idea!”

    Normally I don’t respond to posts such as this, but you’ve hit on a huge pet peeve of mine. I totally agree that “Internet Marketing Experts” are a dime a dozen. It’s just too bad that they aren’t truthful (with themselves or others) about their worth! Too many of my clients have paid a high price for nothing.

    If I can’t be of any help on your free ebook, let me know, though I’m sure you’ll get a lot of offers for that!

    Best Wishes,


  2. oops… i meant if I CAN be of any help!

  3. a big part of the problem is that the SEO industry is still young. there are no formal training schemes available, and anyone worth a damn is backed up with paying clients and not too inclined to get into teaching. this will sort itself out is the medium-term, but i look with envy at the life-coaching industry…

    it’s a similar vintage (around 10 years old), but already has recognised qualifications and strong trade groups that heavily promote professional (and sensible) life coaching.

    we (the SEO industry) are still years from anything like this, what have they got that we haven’t?

  4. It’s usually more valuable to learn of peoples mistakes than failures. Steve Jobs was initially a failure at apple, then he returned 13 years later to transform them into a computer electronics powerhouse.

  5. Here’s a story I hate telling. However, it fits the bill perfectly.

    I work for a Content development company named We are doing pretty well and are profitable too. Lots of Indian writers sign up at our website and we have a huge network of writers. We send them regular updates and tips via our writer newsletter. Our newsletters are usually very popular.

    We also run a website named that sells India-centric reports. Earlier this year, we had this “brilliant” idea. We wanted to expand India-reports to include information about startups in India. And we thought, sending a newsletter would be an ideal way to kick off this idea. We decided to have a contest titled “Ten Hottest Indian startups”. This was then, a very popular search term too.

    We figured, all we had to do was send out this newsletter announcing the contest, and writers would come in swarms to our website and pick their hottest startup. We could then come up with a list of the hottest Indian startups based on nominations from writers. This would bring in a lot of traffic to and boost our credibility.

    A lot of planning went into this campaign. Our content and design team worked on the newsletter and we sent it out with much fanfare. Didn’t we all deserve a pat on the back for dreaming up this idea?

    Apparently, our writers did not think so. The response to this newsletter was very poor. Our campaign received ten responses in all, some of them from entrepreneurs eager to enter their own startup.

    Why did this happen? We analyzed the reasons later and came up with the explanation. Our network comprises of freelance writers, most of them working on web content and journalistic articles. They were not techies or entrepreneurs. We had made a huge mistake when we imagined we could motivate freelance writers to nominate Indian startups. Yes, there was a cash prize and all that. But we sent the newsletter to the wrong audience. Perhaps, if the same newsletter had been sent to a different set of people, it would have succeeded.

    The good thing was, this was not an expensive campaign. We could shrug it off and deem it a failed test or even better, a learning experience. We would never launch another “brilliant” campaign without a detailed analysis of our target audience.

    You might think your campaign is perfect, but are you making sure it reaches the right audience?

    Bryan, if you choose to use this experience, feel free to contact me for more details. I can send you the link to the contest page on our website and perhaps the newsletter copy too.

    I am squirming as I send this, but I sincerely hope other online marketers learn from our mistake.

  6. I run an Internet Marketing agency. We deliver SEO, SEM and Web 2.0 consulting services. The issue you’re discussing is very real and gives our industry a black eye.

    However, I use it to my advantage. I emphasize my 20 years in corporate marketing roles prior to starting my agency 5 years ago. I point to results we’ve achieved for clients and offer more references than prospective clients are even interested in contacting. I also go out of my way NOT to over-promise. In other words, I’m realistic with prospective clients. And, if the client is not a fit for us, we don’t contract with them.

    So, any business who gets burned probably didn’t do enough due diligence. And, if they did, they probably got snookered.


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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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