I am always astounded when companies treat the Internet like one big TV commercial. Banner ad click-throughs are almost non-existent, yet ad-buying continues onward and upward, ignoring the cold hard facts, (click-through rates are so low that time spent on a site is now considered a unit of measurement).

Social networking, e-shopping, viral videos and mobile phone content are in, banner ads out. The Internet is a golden opportunity for marketers to create a 1:1 relationship, but all too often, getting that close to a customer is too scary for most. Time to think out of the box with your Web initiative. Here are just a few clues to get you to stop treating Web 2.0 like a television commercial and kick your Search Engine Optimization strategy into high gear. The following are mistakes to avoid:

Mistake 1: You’re treating your online brand like a brick and mortar brand.

According to The Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations and the Internet is one of the biggest, most fragmented conversations ever created. It’s a broadcast arena, a storefront, a publisher, a support group, a social network and something else we’ve yet to discover. It’s about physical borders disappearing in favor of common networks – people gathering together to talk and it is anything but passive.

If people are hanging out on the Internet doing their thing, how do you think marketing is viewed? Marketing to this giant conversation is viewed as a mechanical intrusion to be completely ignored. Doc Searls, in his preface to The Cluetrain Manifesto, points out that, “Markets are conversations; and conversation is fire. Therefore, Marketing is arson.”

What marketers assume is that consumers can’t see this fake conversation, and that is where the big disconnect is taking place. Consumers have formed a story about your brand that has nothing to do with the official corporate message. Time to wake up.

Brands that have been created exclusively for the Internet, get this. They know that the Web is about creating trust not banner ads. They have formed a relationship with an Internet-savvy customer that respects their individuality. People are not “consumers” in cyberspace – they are people.

Commerce in the Internet Marketplace is secondary to the Internet’s main purpose: conversation. Today a brand must romance the digital native and give them what they want, when they want it and how they want it. It may take you months to develop a relationship before getting a sale.

Brands that started in the Brick and Mortar World are seen as the outsider – a buzz- kill attending the biggest party in the world. You just won’t be accepted as a Web brand no matter how hard you try.

This is why Amazon is the leader on the Internet while Barnes & Noble is number 2. What if Amazon tried to build a store in every mall in America? They’d fail. An Internet brand can’t compete against a real world brand anymore than a real world brand can compete with an Internet brand. The overhead alone would drive the Cyber company out of business.

Want to reach your online audience? Try hiring an Internet-savvy marketer. That’s the first step to winning some credibility. Don’t just look at the resume, ask her what was the most unusual way she reached her target and met her goals. The cyber- savvy is the one you hire.

Mistake 2: You have nothing more than an online brochure.

I was recently consulting with one of the largest consumer brands in the U.S. when their VP of Interactive Development asked me why their site wasn’t getting any return visitors. I told them point blank that, although they had flash all over their site and it was well designed and had SEM software and support staff, they had nothing more than a very expensive brochure.

Look, Web 2.0 is about figuring out from your customers what they like, then give it to them, even if it doesn’t appear to affect the bottom line. Figure out how to create that one-to-one relationship with them and your brand will be golden. Stay on your toes – today social networks and viral videos are hot, tomorrow, who knows?

But, here’s the scary part of all this: You have to get rid of the wall between your brand and your customer – it’s no longer a closed system. It’s not about a bevy of corporate lawyers giving you a list of stuff to say on your FAQ section. It’s about one human being forming a relationship with another group of human beings that just happen to be working for your brand. It’s a chance to be a part of the online conversation and join in on what is being said about you. Scary yes, but rewarding.

When your people talk with customers, remove the shackles of corporate speak you have locked around their necks. Train them instead to be themselves. Remember, people can sense a lack of authenticity. If you aren’t part of their online conversation, the real conversation, you are dead.

Mistake 3: Your content is old.

This one needs very little explanation. If you haven’t updated your site’s content, there is no reason for people to revisit. Do you think that might be the reason no one is coming back to that web site you built a year ago?

Take a page from your favorite Blogger. Some Web Log Authors give us new and fresh musings everyday, while others only once a month. Either way, be consistent, personal and in-depth. Give your audience something to sink their teeth into, otherwise forget it.

Try twittering. It allows you to send out mini content to a list of cell phone surfers and online supporters. Keep it short though, twitter is about one or two sentences. Steve Jobs twittered that he was nervous before a keynote address. The audience picked it up on their iphones and were more receptive when he came on stage. It also allows for a human connection to a very popular executive.

I wish more CEOs twittered. It would go a long way to building their company’s brand and engender trust by their shareholders. The Information Age is about staying in touch.

Mistake 4: Your strategy is not bold enough.

Recently Burger King decided to take the Whopper off the menu. They did it half-heartedly by doing it at a few of their restaurants, and then filmed people’s response. It did nothing to affect the bottom line. We yawn and life goes on.

But Starbucks, on the other hand, closed down all their stores all across the United States for an entire evening. Bold and decisive, Howard Schultz took a stand against mediocrity, closed every store and retrained every Starbucks employee on what coffee meant. The next day Starbucks opened to fanfare and a return to great customer service. People noticed and wrote about it in The New York Times.

Bold moves like that can only get bold results, and I predict Starbucks will have a 15% increase in revenue this quarter as a result of such action. It creates a buzz on the street. Try it sometime.

Mistake 5: You’re not facing the truth about your Brand.

Dunkin’ Donuts recently started to provide lattes on their menu. They’ve had flavored coffee for years, but the lattes were an attempt to compete with Starbucks, and with that one action, I could see just how much of a disconnect Dunkin’ Donuts has with their customers.

You see, Dunkin’ Donuts is an all-American brand that served a working nation for over half a century with delicious donuts. Coffee is necessary for their brand because coffee and donuts go together like hamburgers and French fries. But coffee is their secondary market, (sales may seem like coffee is their primary market, but tell that to the customer). Dunkin’ Donuts may try, but they have very little in common with a high-end coffee chain that provides coffees from around the world.

Remember, your brand has a position in the customers’ mind, and that position represents one thing and one thing only. Starbucks represents coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts represents donuts. One is a white-collar brand and the other is a blue-collar brand. The customer for Starbucks wants to pay top dollar to feel as if they are getting the Italian coffee shop experience, while the Dunkin’ Donuts customer is looking for value and speed. The consumer will NEVER see them as equals, because consumers NEVER change their minds about a brand. For Dunkin’ Donuts to think they can compete with Starbucks is a lesson in futility. But try telling that to the board of directors.

Don’t be afraid to listen to the online conversation about your brand. David Felton was so frustrated with his local Dunkin’ Donuts that he built an online message board to complain about his local franchise. Complaints about other franchises started showing up on the site – so much so that 5,000 franchise owners were forced to respond and correct the mistakes…sometimes within hours. It made Dunkin’ Donuts a better, stronger and customer-focused company. But somewhere in the executive suite, they didn’t get it. Felton’s Website was shut down after much harassment from Dunkin’ Donuts. They paid Felton an undisclosed sum, but DD never seemed to understand what was happening. The market was telling them they weren’t perfect. Instead of being the first company to listen to complaints and adjust accordingly, they chose to silence their customer – the lifeblood of their brand. They didn’t like the message they were hearing and instead of listening, they ended the conversation.

Take a lesson for your own brand. Yes, it may not be what you want to hear, but at least it will be honest. After that, work on meeting and exceeding customers’ needs.

Mistake 6: Are you focused too much on the Internet, traditional marketing or both?

Years ago, many a business needed nothing more than an online brochure. Today, the online store is so easy to build and maintain that not having a web presence is seen as a major red flag to a company’s stability.

Many a mega-brand has an online store because it is a duel channel for sales. Best Buy is a good example of this. I love to browse their brick and mortar stores and grab some bargains. But their online brand is very important as well when I have no time to physically shop.

Maintaining a 1-800 number and a Web store at the same time can be hard. But if you want to do it right, then I suggest that you take a look at QVC, HSN, the above- mentioned Best Buy, B&H Photo and others too numerous to mention. Take a good look at how they promote one store against the other – some use a blend of catalogs and email promotions, while others rely on TV and Internet only. QVC and HSN promote their sites from their popular television shows. They drive traffic through a live broadcast, but it doesn’t end with the program. The site continues to run the promotion for a limited time. Updated content and limited time offers will drive traffic and if the offering is a good one, it will create conversion, (browsers who buy).

On the other hand, maybe you are a restaurant and need to have a web presence. Try offering take-out orders through your website with an automatic discount for orders over $25. I’ve seen restaurants do 70% of their evening business through take-out. Some even have to shut down the restaurant so the kitchen can handle the online orders.

Try it. You may find a nice blend between your Web presence and your brick and mortar stores.

Mistake 7: You’re too literal in your message.

Many years ago I attended the annual stockholders meeting for a company in which I was heavily invested. The executive team took several actions that irked me. These changes made me realize they would be going out of business. The first mistake they made was a name change. Someone believed that adding the word Digital to their brand would change the markets’ perception of what they did, (They were an interactive design agency).

The second thing that irked me was they changed the company’s tag line to “A Full-Service Interactive Agency that Forges 1:1 Relationships through Channel Marketing Partnerships with Strategic Players in the Online World.” I felt like I was reading an article for a science magazine instead of a company whose job was to bring powerful experiences to the web-savvy visitor.

I dumped my stock as quickly as possible.

If your primary marketing message is attempting to convince shareholders how great you are in dry corporate-speak, you have a problem. Your message should be simple, on target to your consumer audience and, most importantly, stir the emotions.

When your marketing message sounds like a bank poster, time to rethink your marketing…quickly.

What will help most is that you begin to understand that the Web is not a passive media. People go online to do research for every product they buy. The research they get is not from a corporation telling them how great the product is, they are getting their insight from regular people who are using the product now. They’re asking questions about how well your products work, and what isn’t so great about your brand.

Try listening to your consumer by creating advocacy sites and real dialogue through social networking. Listen to the conversation and follow through with the changes. Or you can continue as usual – ignore the marketplace, market around the problem and hope the next version will fix itself. If your product stinks, no amount of marketing can fix it on the Web. Word gets around fast these days and the one thing Netizens are really into is telling the truth.

Listen to the conversation and change with it. By focusing on getting it right, your SEO strategy will become easier and more profitable. Jumping on a band wagon because everybody else is will teach you a lesson on how to waste money. Being strategic and listening to the market will help build a better relationship with your customers. Let me know how it works.