Understanding Risks in Online Marketing

As I prepare for a client review, I find myself pondering the concept of risk.  This is a frequent exercise I undertake on behalf of my clients, but I wonder how common of an exercise this is for everyone else.  My guess is that most of you are aware of competition and risks in general.  My question for you though, is have you sufficiently identified all the relevant risks worth consideration?

Let’s start with a simple question and answer session.  What is risk?  According to Wikipedia, risk is defined as “the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome)”.  We all experience risk in our lives, with some risk being far greater than other.

So for purposes of this blog post, what is the point of all this talk about risk?  Well, when looking at our online marketing campaigns we would be remiss to overlook risk.  We have a tendency to evaluate the normal statistics like rankings, visits, impressions, cost-per-click (CPC), and others.  We even explore other metrics that are a little outside the norm.  How frequently and how in-depth do we actually evaluate risk?
Now I realize that an exercise in the study of risk is an exercise on situations, events, and circumstances that may never come to fruitition.  In fact, I just saw in this week’s episode of House (2/13/2012), that no matter how prepared we are for the unexpected, something always happens that we did not expect.  It’s how we handle the unexpected when it happens that really matters. (Two notes.  One, yes I watch House.  I love the dialogue.  Two, there is an application here.)

Have you really taken a look at the risks that are out there for your, or your client’s, business?  What are the risks that are the most likely to occur?  Which risks have expiration dates?  Which risks are really not risks at all?  Which risks provide opportunities?  These are all great questions and are all questions you should spend some time pondering.

Ultimately I have to leave you to the investigation of the above, and other, related questions about risk in each of your respective situations.  Even though that is the case, I want to take a look at some of the more common risks associated with each of the online marketing initiatives listed below.  Take notice of the overlap from one area to the next.


  • Algorithmic shifts
  • Lead aggregators
  • Merging of local and organic results
  • Merging of social media with organic results
  • Real-time search
  • Malicious competition
  • New and changing competition
  • Mobile


  • Lead aggregators
  • Quality score changes
  • New and changing competition
  • Advertising technology
  • Advertising opportunities
  • Mobile
  • Rising bid amounts
  • Movement from print to online

Social Media:

  • New competition
  • New platforms
  • Shifting consumer behavior
  • Changes in reputation
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Rip-off reports
  • Mobile social
  • Local social
  • First movers
  • Late adopters
  • Deals, specials, and coupons

Local Listings:

  • Shift away from print media
  • Shift towards online and mobile
  • Proliferation of Google Place Pages
  • Adoption of Apple vs. Android
  • Location-aware devices
  • Prevalence of in-car navigation
  • Saturation of smart phone devices
  • Algorithmic shifts on search engines
  • Data aggregators vs. crawlers

Obviously the perceived risks are virtually endless.  They can come from any direction and be across the spectrum in terms of damage.  Keep in mind that many risks turn out to be areas of opportunity.  That is the discussion that we will be having with our client and which was the impetus behind this post in the first place.

Just remember, online marketing is like everything else.  There are risks and there are rewards.  It’s just a matter of perspective as to which are which and what it is you are going to do about them.

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