There are a couple of problems with checklists. The first is the assumption that checking something off not only means that it’s done, but also that it’s been done right. Website? Tick: got one of those. It exists, therefore it must be working.

The second problem is that checklists engender a state of mind where a task only has two states: ‘done’ or ‘not done’.

With marketing, both of these need challenging. We don’t know something is ‘done’ unless it’s working – and we don’t know it’s working unless we have some meaningful goal to measure it by. Finally, few things in marketing are ever truly ‘done’ (unless it’s created for a specific event). This is especially true of a website, which should really be seen as a process of continual improvement.

I find that it’s common for goals to be set for marketing which actually aren’t that useful. As an example, that a website has a certain number of visitors per month. Measuring a website’s success by the volume of its traffic is like deciding the result of a football match based on the size of the crowd.

A better measure might be the number of enquiries, or volume of sales. A traffic-based measure could be OK, for example – you could measure the popularity of specific types of content.

The great thing about deciding how something is measured is that it brings into focus more clearly how that thing should be executed. Instead of working on something in a generic way (“we’re building a website”) you are working towards specific goals (“we’re building a website that has to...”) and are therefore more likely to be meeting the needs of the business.

One thing I’ve seen some people focus on recently is the number of followers they have on social media. “We must have 1,000 followers in a month” or whatever. This is just as superficial. True, there is an immediate impression of success if a Twitter account has a lot of followers – but what’s the purpose of being on Twitter in the first place? Is it to have lots of followers for no reason? No, it’s not. It’s to interact, raise awareness, make sales and so on.

If those followers aren’t especially interested in you or what you do, then they’re simply inflating your statistics without delivering value to your business.

We recently received a spam e-mail shot offering guaranteed Twitter followers, along the lines of: 10,000 followers for £99 or your money back, 20,000 for £159 or 50,000 for £349.

Wow. 10,000 followers for £99. That’s got to be worth it, right? Not really – because the followers were all, upon checking, fake Twitter accounts that have barely ever tweeted. They’re zombies. You’re being sold – well, I was going to say snake oil, but this is less than snake oil. It’s 10,000 fake people. Yep, you hit your goal of getting lots of followers – but you can do precisely nothing with that.

It has been observed that there is some potential value in this. Someone checking your Twitter account might see your 10,000 followers and be impressed enough by the number to follow you themselves. I concede, it’s always of interest to me how many people are following a particular account.

So, the followers you do attract (assuming you do) are attracted not by what you’re saying but by the size of your following. So, they’re pretty much equally useless too.

(Let’s not even talk about the potential long-term risk of having an account where the majority of your followers are fake. You could easily become victim of an automated Twitter cull down the line.)

Setting your checklist to ‘number of followers’ encourages you to think about not only measuring things in the wrong way, but also doing them in the wrong way. A social network is pointless without interaction, followers, friends, real people. It may not stoke your ego in the same way, but 350 genuine followers, within your target audience, are worth far more than 10,000 fake ones.

In the same way, it’s better to have website traffic which is interested in what you do. I’ve genuinely seen misguided search optimisation work which is simply aimed at delivering traffic – with no consideration for what happens next. So the traffic stats look good, yet no one is buying. A smaller amount of the right traffic is infinitely preferable to thousands of people who land once then go somewhere else.

And here’s the problem. To get real followers and real website visitors you have to invest time in creating real content. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – if you want actual results, real sales, real interaction, then you have to put in the work.

Checklists are great – don’t stop using them. But remember, few things in online marketing are ever finished – and for something to merely exist is just not enough. It has to work.