As a marketer, you are keenly aware of how important it is to monitor your website performance. It’s why Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics are so prevalent and have become integral to understanding the health of any online business. The widespread adoption of data analytics and the user-friendly reporting interfaces of Google and Adobe have led to a general familiarity with data among marketers, along with the confidence to interpret website performance using common metrics. However, while many of these metrics seem straightforward, some of the most widely used ones are trickier to interpret than they first seem. Below are three common mistakes marketers make when deciphering the results, along with advice on how to avoid them. 

Mistake #1: Using time on site/page to make decisions

Content producers, ad agencies, and many other marketers love to mention higher time on site as if it is a clear indicator that visitors to your website are more engaged and a justification that you should pay them more to continue creating such excellent content. Conversely, lower time on site is generally regarded as a bad trend and to be avoided. After all, shouldn’t people be spending more time on your site and taking the actions you want them to take?

The problem here is that nobody, and I mean nobody, can interpret time on site correctly. Why? Consider these three examples:

  • Person A visits your website looking for product information and wants to download a specification sheet for a few similar products. She is also are interested in reading about new upcoming products. She spends six minutes on the site.
  • Person B visits your site and knows exactly what she is looking for, which is the name of a specific part for one of your company’s products, so she can order it via her local reseller. She knows the specific page she is looking for, where the information is located on the page, and ultimately only spends 10 seconds on the page before leaving and taking no other action.
  • Person C visits your site but has 20 tabs open in Chrome and only one of those is your page. He isn’t especially interested in your product or brand, but one of your links showed up in a search results page so he opened it to compare your product to others like it. After 15 minutes of browsing other open tabs, he makes it to your site where he views two pages quickly, clicks on a couple items on the page, then moves on again to a different tab. Eventually, the cookie for his visit times out and he is logged as having spent 45 minutes on your site.

Using typical time-on-site logic, Person A is a “good” visit, Person B is a “bad” visit and Person C is a “great” visit. That obviously makes no sense whatsoever, as both A and B are desirable visits, but C was clearly not. Unfortunately, by using time on site, you cannot determine what type of visit you’re really getting, which makes it virtually useless in decision making. 

Solution: Instead of using time on site, consider using a combination of bounce rate, page views per visit, scroll depth, CTA clicks and overall traffic volume to get a sense for whether your visitors are truly engaged. Most of these metrics are already included in basic versions of Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics, however, scroll depth may require some light instrumentation work in Adobe and similarly it must be manually activated within Google Analytics

If you use time on page because you don’t have much click-centric content for visitors to interact with, consider breaking up your text into sections and hiding some of it behind a “see more” click so that you can better understand if people are interested in reading the full breadth of your content. Some visitors may find this format less friendly for easy reading, but if you’re struggling to find ways to measure engagement, then this minor inconvenience to your visitor may be worth the risk.

Mistake #2: Relying on a single metric with no other context

Another common scenario is when the marketer uses a single metric as the sole indicator of success, without considering any other context. You might think an easily understandable metric like sales or revenue would make perfect sense. But, even with a measure as straightforward as revenue, there may be other factors at play. Maybe revenue looks good in isolation ($10 million dollars, awesome!), but you still missed your target for the quarter, and investors will not be pleased, causing your company’s stock value to tank. Perhaps all your revenue is from one customer, but what if that customer is Sears, they just went bankrupt, and you don’t have any other substantive revenue sources after Q2. Not good!

Although revenue is an extreme example, many marketers use metrics in isolation like this, holding them up as amazing successes, when they are far from it. Traffic volume is one example that pops up frequently. But without the bounce rate and conversion context for that traffic, there is no way to determine if it was good quality traffic or if the ideal intended audience was on the site.

Solution: To avoid making ineffective business decisions, always consider the correct context for your metrics before acting. Often, you can confirm that you’re headed in the right direction by making a quick verification that clean data is coming through or by triangulating your findings with an additional metric. 

Mistake #3: Continuing to report on metrics just because they’ve been used in the past

This mistake could certainly apply to more than just metrics: the often-irresistible tendency to perpetuate a business practice simply because “it’s what we’ve always done.”  Many brands insist on using low-quality site metrics for no other reason than they were used in the past. I once worked with a marketing executive who wanted to continue summing daily unique visitors across the company website in Adobe, because that is how the old Coremetrics platform worked (it did not offer de-duplication like today’s more advanced tools do). In doing so, the actual number of unique visitors was over-counted across the site by roughly 30% during the year. That error had a net negative impact on expected revenue and growth targets, which were unachievable due to inflated visitor counts.

Solution: Sometimes legacy metrics make sense, particularly for benchmarking purposes, but it is critically important that you perform regular audits to ensure that all the metrics and reports you’re using to make site decisions are still appropriate, given the changing business environment.

While analyzing metrics is an essential component for making informed decisions about your website strategies, it is imperative that you audit your analytics practices and maintain flexibility in your tactical approach. Be sure you examine a broad and varied set of conditions and metrics. And be adaptable to changes in market conditions and technology that could affect not only your perceptions but your results.  

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author


“Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be.” –Paulo Coelho

A web designer’s mission is to create engaging user experiences, help site visitors accomplish tasks, and increase conversions. In the process, they often only focus on aesthetics, take shortcuts, and end up relying on various common design patterns and trends. The danger in this is that they can get sidetracked by popular trends, and consequently, common UX mistakes are made because the trends are inappropriately deployed.

When it comes to the web, people don’t want to learn things, they want to do things. There are plenty of examples on the web where designers opted to focus only on visual appeal and in so doing, sacrificed usability. They presumed a “wow moment” which drove the design would be powerful enough in itself to engage the user. But sadly, the users are having a hard time understanding the UI, have genuine difficulty using the site, and the site’s bounce rates have skyrocketed.

As Kate Rutter stated, “Ugly but useful trumps pretty but pointless.” The key to using web design patterns and trends effectively is to find a balance between what looks aesthetically pleasing and where they add value.

Common UX mistakes drive people away.
Designers should do everything they can to avoid common UX mistakes and putting roadblocks into the user’s paths.

Let’s look at some common UX mistakes.

More and more tall sticky headers can be seen on websites. “Branding blocks” and navigation menus that have a fixed position and take up a significant amount of space. They stay glued to the top of the browser window (the “sticky header”) and often block the content as it scrolls underneath them.

Some headers on big-brand websites are over 150 pixels in height. Where is their value? Fixed elements, such as sticky headers can have real benefits, but web designers should be careful using them—there are several important UX issues to consider.

Big fat sticky headers are a major UX mistake.
The sticky header on this site is over 160 pixels tall taking up a lot of the viewable area.

If the decision to go with a sticky nav header has already been made, it’s best to test it with users. It’s a common UX mistake to go overboard and stuff the sticky nav header with content. With a fixed header, browsing should still be comfortable for visitors. Failing to find the right balance may result in leaving a small amount of room for the main content and a stifling, claustrophobic site experience for visitors.

Sometimes there is a simple workaround with CSS: by making the sticky header slightly transparent, people are still able to see content through it as they scroll, which makes the content area feel more substantial.

Here is an example of a tall sticky header: ATP’s player profile page on Roger Federer.

Large sticky navigation on websites is one of the most common UX mistakes.

This site’s sticky header has a height of over 180px! That’s over 30% of the entire page height on some laptops: a poor user experience that’s avoidable.

Some people may be using large, high-resolution computer displays where a sticky nav header could speed up interactions, but what about mobile? Without a doubt a significant number of site visitors would be accessing the site from a mobile device, so a fixed header may not be the best idea. Luckily, responsive design techniques make it possible to design different solutions for different platforms, and stick with the sticky nav header—pun intended—for desktop browsers.

The Coffee with a Cop site also has a fixed header, but much smaller—less than 80 pixels tall.

Common UX mistakes that web designers make.

The header navigation, in this case, is arguably the right solution for high-resolution screens, as it enables more efficient navigation. On smaller resolution screens, the header is also fixed but takes up a considerable amount of space. An excellent alternative to a sticky nav header on mobile is the ever-present hamburger menu. Although this pattern is not a universal problem-solver, it does free up a significant amount of space.

Web Design Common UX Mistake No. 2: Thin, Light Fonts

These days thin, light fonts are pervasive on numerous mobile apps and websites. With the advance of screen technology and improved rendering, a lot of designers are using them because they are elegant, clean, and trendy. However, thin typefaces can cause usability problems and therefore hamper the UX.

The goal of all text on a website is to be legible, and thin type can seriously affect readability. Not all visitors will be viewing a site on a display that renders thin type well. Some light type is challenging to read on an iPhone or an iPad with a Retina display.

Above all, text must be legible. If users can’t read the words in your app, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the typography is.

Apple Human Interface Guidelines

Apple is referring to mobile apps, but the same principle applies to websites. Legibility is mandatory, not optional for good usability. There is no point putting content on a website if it is unreadable.

Thin fonts are also a common UX mistake on mobile design.
Examples of thin, light fonts on mobile sites which negatively affect readability.

Here are some common UX mistakes to consider before using thin type:

Using Thin and Light Fonts Because It’s Trendy

Fonts should not only look good, but they should also be legible. To achieve proper contrast and legibility, designers should strive for the optimum combination in their designs: size, weight, and color.

It’s best to test the site on various devices and screen sizes to ensure all site text is legible.

Which leads us to the next common UX mistake:

Not Testing the Text Legibility on All Major Devices

Thin, light type may look good on many designers’ expensive, finely-tuned monitors, but the average user who often see our designs on cheaper, substandard displays must also be considered. The best practice is to check how fonts look on all major devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

For example, while testing a mobile design, have participants use the site on mobile devices in daylight—real-world users will not always have perfect browsing and lighting conditions. If using a thin font on a website, there’s a simple way to adapt to mobile users: specify a thicker font on mobile for better readability.

User experience issues with websites.
Low-contrast text on an older version of the Apple Music website.

Web Design Common UX Mistake No. 3: Low-Contrast Text

Using low color contrast elements have also become trendy in modern user interface design. It grew out of a minimalist design trend because by reducing contrast in some areas, the design would appear “minimalist.” Designers couldn’t cut the complexity of information that needed to be presented, so they played with low contrast in the design.

We have already covered thin fonts, but there is an even bigger pitfall: a combination of a light typeface with low contrast that seriously impedes UX due to lousy readability. Designers should do anything they can to avoid this usability trap.

Low Text Contrast in Body Copy

Cool Springs Financial uses a thin variant of Helvetica for body text on its website. While it looks elegant and contributes to an aesthetically pleasing UI, it’s difficult to read on several platforms. While low contrast is not necessarily bad, it can have a negative impact on the usability of a website by making text hard to read.

UX trends example of low contrast text.
Small, thin, low-contrast body text on a website makes it difficult to read.

Not Testing Text Contrast

There is a nifty tool for contrast checking on the web called Colorable that will help designers set correct text contrast according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Once designers know they are using the right text contrast, they can adjust other colors on their website and do a quick multiple device/user tests to make sure the text is readable.

Another high-risk trend gaining ground on the web is the “scroll hijack.” Websites that implement this trend take control of page scrolling (usually with JavaScript). When people encounter it, they no longer have control of the page scroll and are unable to predict its behavior, which can easily lead to confusion and frustration. It’s a risky experiment that could hurt website usability and at worst, induce “computer rage.”

Some websites can get away with scroll hijacking, but that doesn’t mean everybody can. For example, many web designers follow Apple’s sites with scroll hijacking, parallax effects, and high-resolution images of various products. Apple has its target market, a unique concept, and exclusive content for their website. Since every site has unique problems, it also must have unique solutions tailored to those problems.

Not Testing with Real-World Users

When borrowing trendy ideas or UI patterns, it’s best to test the prototype of a website on real-world users to avoid UX issues. Simple usability testing will reveal whether the implementation of a scroll hijack, for example, is feasible or not. Without testing, designers have no way of knowing if scroll hijacking will work, and making assumptions is often costly.

Common UX problems.
Tumblr scroll hijacks its website and that could prove to be a common UX mistake.

Tumblr, a popular personal blogging site, uses scroll hijacking on their homepage. While doing so could be risky, it’s safe to assume they know their target audience well and the cool, hip user experience they want to present. When site visitors start to scroll, the scroll is hijacked, and people are taken to the next section.

The long scroll page is broken into several sections which are distinguishable by a heavy dose of saturated colors and prominent indicator dots on the left side of the window. As a result, Tumblr’s homepage feels like a big vertical carousel visitors have control over, rather than an unpleasant, experimental website with a mind of its own.

Another common UX mistake in web design scroll hijacking that doesn't work.
Some websites can frustrate visitors with scroll hijacking that seems to be stuck and people can’t scroll pages, as on Bryter.

Web Design Common UX Mistake No. 5: Carousels

Carousels—a slideshow for rotating through a variety of content—are very common on the web, especially on landing pages and homepages. While they can be useful, they have numerous usability issues and therefore qualify as another common UX mistake. According to the Nielsen Norman Group: “people often immediately scroll past these large images and miss all of the content within them.” It could negatively impact UX as visitors may not see valuable content in some of the rotating slides.

Bad UX examples for image carousels on websites.
Auto-forwarding carousels are a bad idea—especially if they contain text for people to read—because site visitors often have no control over the timing.

Website Carousels May Not Provide Value for Users

If done right, a carousel can engage users with large striking images. The trouble is, carousels often don’t add any additional value but are simply there for decoration and only included because everybody else is using them. A way to test if a site carousel makes sense: write down three benefits a carousel provides for the visitor. If three meaningful benefits can’t be found, it doesn’t add any value.

The previous and next Arrows Have Low Discoverability

Important information in a website carousel could remain hidden if the next and previous arrows are not discoverable. The controls should also be tap-compatible for mobile.

Often there are no arrows to control the carousel; only the slide indicator dots are included to advance the slides. However, they are often low contrast, have low discoverability, and lack a large enough clickable or tappable area. The small clickable targets may lead to poor UX, a frustrated website visitor, and a quick exit from the website.

For example, the Floresta Longo Foundation website has a rotating carousel of images on its homepage. It’s set to autoplay and rotates through five photographs. The previous and next arrows, however, are small and transparent, which makes them hard to spot and challenging to click. There are no indicators for the slide visitors are on, and no labels to signify what the images represent. The images are not links and act as pure decoration. While this type of carousel may hold some value for engaging the visitor, overall it leaves a lot to be desired.

Websites with bad UX and sticky navigation UX.
No slide indicator dots and barely visible next/prev arrows are another common UX mistake with website carousels.


Web design trends, if not considered carefully and implemented with caution, could lead to several common UX mistakes. UX designers should use their best judgment and not be afraid to innovate, but to ensure great website usability it would serve them well to test their design thoroughly with real-world users.

In the crazy profusion of web design trends, things in vogue come and go. Amid this chaos, the balanced use of aesthetics, efficiency, and usability plays a significant role in distinguishing the UX trends that have proved to be the strongest and garnered the most user acceptance.

Web designers can come up with the coolest color scheme, the fanciest scrolling animation, or the most fantastic parallax effects, but if the human interaction suffers as a result, the UX will be poor, and people will quickly move on. Another site is just a click away.

• • •

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:


Getting into ecommerce has been one of the best educational experiences of my life. The things I’ve learned by actually starting a business would be challenging to find in an MBA or any business course.

With that said, the lessons I’ve learned were all born from mistakes I made. Each mistake sets you up to do better in the future as long as you reflect on what you could have done differently. I’d like to share some of my missteps with you so you can hopefully avoid them and succeed even faster.

Mistake #1: Rushing the math

Rushing the math.

If you ask any seasoned entrepreneur what the most important skill in running a business is, it’s math. When I started out, my business was like a hobby for me, so I didn’t create a detailed business plan or pay as much attention to the math as I should have.

As a result, I ended up in a niche that had good demand but not enough revenue potential to make it worthwhile. The products I was trying to sell were very cheap, and I had to sell way more than I forecasted to be able to make decent money.

Business math is very simple. To see how profitable your business can be, use this formula: Profit = Demand * (Revenue – Expenses).

To break this down, let’s assume altogether there are 20,000 people that are searching for your product (I’m using such a generous assumption to account for the main keyword, as well as some long tail keywords).

Assuming you can put yourself in front of even half of those people, that’s 10,000 potential buyers. If you convert at the average of between 1-2%, that’s 100-200 sales. If your average order value is $100, and you have a net profit margin of 30%, your profit will be anything between $3000-6000.

Of course, these are really rough estimates. But whatever you get into, if you’ve done the math, you know what you are in for. It took me two stores to learn the math lesson properly, because even though my second store had a very high average order value, the margins were so thin that I was barely making any money after factoring in costs.

Mistake #2: Not finding a gap in the market

Market gap.

Both stores I started were based on the dropshipping model. This meant that I was up against hundreds of people that would carry the same items that I was carrying.

Unless I could differentiate myself from them somehow, I’d just be a “me-too” store and I wouldn’t be providing any value to the situation. Not to mention you still have to compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart.

With my first store, I just dove in, thinking it was a good niche, but without really researching any of my competitors to see what the market’s situation was. I failed to notice that the biggest player in my niche was just plain awesome. They had all the products I was carrying, hundreds of reviews, thousands of social likes, a popular blog, and tons of press coverage. They had every base in the market covered, and I still thought I could go up against them. Needless to say, the store was a disaster commercially.

With my second store, there was a big gap: not in terms of products, but in terms of information. I pounced on this opportunity and started doing my research, and managed to create a very comprehensive resource in my niche.

It’s not that the information wasn’t available elsewhere, but I presented it in a way that was easy to use and helpful for visitors. The result? With some search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, I managed to grow the store to 15,000 organic visits per month in a competitive niche.

The easiest gap to find is an information gap: you don’t need much of a financial investment, and your business’ worth will not only be that of your products and customer list, but of your content, too.

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Mistake #3: Spreading myself thin with products

Spread too thin.

My first store sold eco-friendly recyclable bags. However, since the bags weren’t selling very well, I slowly started adding other eco friendly products from my supplier.

Eventually, I had a whole medley of products, with no relation between them except that they were all eco-friendly. This would have been OK had my brand been something more general, but it wasn’t. While this didn’t directly hurt sales coming from paid traffic, it made it very difficult to appeal to a specific customer, and it also hurt our search efforts.

The error here was more of a branding error than a financial error, but building a brand is just as important, since your brand is what your business is actually worth.

Mistake #4: Not having a content plan

Have a content plan.

This was another mistake I made with my first store. I didn’t put much effort into content marketing, which made getting organic and social traffic very difficult, especially with something as innocuous as reusable bags. I rectified this mistake with the second store, which was built with content marketing as the foundation.

It’s difficult to write content for a boring niche.

Seriously, how much can someone manage to write about reusable bags, right? The key here (which I later learned) is to do content marketing not according to a product, but according to your customers.

Continuing the reusable bags example, who would potentially use reusable bags? Someone that was environmentally conscious, right? It’s also likely that they are into eating healthy, working out, yoga, and natural wellness. These are all initial hunches, but a little bit of research can confirm them.

By building your content marketing strategy around this ideal customer rather than around a product, you have a lot more to write about and a lot more ways to connect with your audience.

Even if your niche is very technical and you manage to write 50 to 100 articles just on the nuances of your product, that information will only go so far. To really round off your effort, you’d want to have more in common with your customer than just the fact that they are buying something you sell.

Mistake #5: Not thinking freebies through

Product freebies

Some businesses do very well with giving away a product for free. Since I was in the eco friendly niche, one such opportunity did fall in my lap.

Unfortunately, I misjudged the whole thing and took a loss on the entire project. I only made one sale from 300 samples that I sent out. Ouch.

Freebies, contests, and giveaways are an effective way to market a product, but they aren’t a good fit for every niche. Freebies would work on perishable or consumable products: skincare, foods, supplements and the like. For all other products—even if it’s something that someone could order another one of, like a piece of clothing—it’s very hard to make work.

What I learned from that expensive experience was that these gimmicks don’t really drive sales; they build a brand. And to build a brand, you need to have a plan.

Mistake #6: Running a contest without a plan

Contest plan.

Reeling from the freebies, I was still looking for effective ways to market my bag business. I decided to run a contest with a blogger. I figured we could pick up a few links and social shares, and I’d also increase my social media following and email list.

This time, I was more prepared financially, as the prize offered was just a $50 gift certificate. The result? I nearly tripled my social media followers, and the contest turned out to be a hit.

Or was it? Since I had already made mistake #4, I didn’t have a content plan to follow up with all of these social media followers.

The trick with social media is that you have to engage your followers from the get-go. Find content to share every day. Put out your own content on a regular basis. Start conversations. Be helpful. Who would have thought Facebook and Twitter could be so much work. Eventually, to all my followers, I was forgotten. Another lesson learned!

Next time you plan on running a contest, make sure you plan for the aftermath of the contest. That planning could end up being far more valuable than the contest itself.

Mistake #7: Wasting too much time with menial tasks

Too many tasks.

In economics, there is a concept of opportunity cost. Essentially, when you choose to pursue any one opportunity, the “cost” of that to you is that your time is no longer free for other opportunities. So the cost of one opportunity is actually every other opportunity you have.

If you are bootstrapping your business like I was, chances are you did everything yourself. You set up your online store, you tinkered with it, you uploaded products, you wrote all the descriptions, you did all the marketing. A spectacular one-person show.

The problem here is that while doing everything yourself is great, it’s also incredibly time consuming. This is time you could be using elsewhere—spending it with your family, cooking up new ideas, or building business relationships, just to name a few.

Menial tasks come in two varieties: necessary and unnecessary.

You want to try and automate as many necessary menial tasks as possible. This process will cost a bit of money, but the headache and heartache you save typically outweighs the money you’ll spend. Besides, you can often find people that will gladly do these tasks (inventory uploading, data entry, etc.) for you for a reasonable sum.

Unnecessary menial tasks have to go to the chopping block. By unnecessary, I mean things like spending too much tinkering with your site’s logo, fiddling with a few pixels in image size, going into unnecessary detail about the color of a button, or some other minor change that probably you alone have noticed.

Some of the things I mentioned above can have a positive effect on your conversions, but you’ll only know once you have a lot of visitors and sales to compare it to. In the early stages of your business, you want to avoid those things.

Especially since after two hours of tinkering, you’ll feel like you did a lot of work, but realistically, your time could have been better spent.

Mistake #8: Not knowing who my ideal customer was

Customer persona.

This was a mistake I learned from after working my first online store, but that I still made missteps around when working on my second store.

Doing quality niche research comes in two parts: finding a product and knowing your customers. The tricky thing here is that you can have customers and then build a product, but it’s very difficult to have a product and then hunt for customers.

Most of the conventional wisdom says to look at numbers and analytics when researching a niche, and that’s absolutely necessary, but a crucial step I didn’t do was to find an ideal customer and build a customer profile.

Even if your niche has sufficient demand and a good selection of products, without knowing your ideal customer, it will be a lot harder for you. That’s what happened with my second store. I did have very good months, but I wasn’t targeting my customers enough and because of that, I probably lost out on a lot of sales.

If you dig deep enough, you will find that niches have niches within them. The more you can target, the better, since it will be easier to identify with your customer’s needs.

I sold fairly complicated electronic equipment on my second store. Even among the myriad selection of products in my niche, there were levels: some were less complex, some were in the middle, and some were very advanced.

My store listed all three types, but in retrospect, had I focused on just one type, I could have connected with my customers even more—and I wouldn’t have found it so hard to network with the right influencers, either. My situation was something of “too pro for the newbies, and too newbie for the pros.”

Mistake #9: Not having a solid marketing plan

Marketing plan.

“Fail to plan, plan to fail,” or so the saying goes.

When you set up an ecommerce website, and you know who your customers are and where you can find them, setting up your marketing plan should be easy. Unfortunately, since I didn’t know either of those things, my marketing plan was more of a “spaghetti-on-the-wall” plan. I’d be doing one thing one day, and something else another day. Not the best of ideas.

While every ecommerce store should have a well-rounded marketing plan that covers all bases, some channels will obviously be more effective than others. Some businesses will do better with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, while some will shine with SEO or social media. Email is a steady sales channel, too.

Whatever your plan is, make sure it is in place from the time you launch. New opportunities will naturally arise, but your foundation, if strong, will allow for steady and scalable growth.

Mistake #10: Falling for PPC company sweet talk


When your business is fledgling, it’s easy to see every service and software as a silver bullet to your problems. I can’t even count how much time I must have spent browsing through site after site, looking for the solution to all my acquisition problems.

Then one company caught my eye. It could have been any company, really, but for me, it was that one. It was a little costly, and would severely hurt my bottom line if it didn’t work out, but the appeal of their marketing videos and the extraordinary results they were showing from other clients pulled me in.

Then I had a call with them, in which they convinced me that they could turn my business upside down and it would just run on autopilot.

I couldn’t have been any more wrong. The results? I was stuck in a 6 month contract that cost me a good chunk of cash, and any sales that I did make during that period were from my own SEO efforts—not a single one from pay-per-click (PPC). Please note this is not an attack on that company! I’m sure they are good at what they do, but it was my mistake to see that the niche I had chosen was not a good fit for their solution.

Pay-per-click companies that I’ve come across have two pay schemes: a) they charge a fee, and out of that fee, they will use a fixed amount towards your ads, or b) you can spend as much as you like on ads (above a fixed minimum) and pay them a set percent of your ad spend on fees.

With scheme (a), you as a small business will throw a lot of capital into just paying for the service without getting much return, and with scheme (b), you need to have a large budget to start with.

If you dropship like I did, it’s going to be very tough. A friend of mine was using the same service and he made some money, but it was nothing close to something to live off of. If you manufacture your own products, or source them in such a way that you have very comfortable margins, then and only then can you even consider going this route. Many companies are wildly successful with PPC, but it’s just a matter of getting your numbers right.

What I recommend to new entrepreneurs

With all of those mistakes laid out, you might be wondering: How do you know you’re on the right track? No one can predict the future for you, but to help in some small way, here’s a shortlist of the hard but worthwhile work you should do to successfully launch and run an online store:

  • Research your niche: is there demand?
  • Know your customers: who exactly are you solving a problem for?
  • Find a gap in the market: is there some value you can add, or are you just a me-too store?
  • Have a marketing plan in place.
  • Avoid wasting time with distractions.
  • Think twice and thoroughly vet any company you work with, and avoid anyone that “guarantees” grand promises.
  • Use a nice, clean design that you don’t have to tinker with.

And last but certainly not least: persevere!

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published on July 10th, 2014.

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