How to pick the right online marketing strategy


If you follow any blogs, you’ll find that writers often over-generalize about online marketing or digital marketing.

It gets written about as if it’s one thing when in fact there are a great variety of strategies and channels for online marketing. I’m going to list the ones that are most often used successfully and then discuss how you can best get started with online marketing.

Here are the major categories of online marketing as I see them (and some of them are interrelated).

  • Search engine marketing,
  • Search engine optimization,
  • Affiliate programs,
  • “Free” content marketing (article writing, email marketing, social media posting, video creation),
  • “Paid” social media content marketing,
  • Influencer marketing,
  • Publicity or public relations, and
  • eBook publishing.

Unless you’re General Motors, you can’t do all of these at once, so you need to prioritize and develop a system for concentrating your efforts on the strategies that work best for your business.

The single most important thing to remember is that it’s not increased web traffic that you’re after, it’s increased conversions. You might see a big jump in your page views and think that you’ve found online marketing nirvana, but if you aren’t getting a commensurate boost in sales, there’s a good chance you haven’t yet found the right online marketing strategy.

The second point to understand is that some of these are long-range strategies, while others are more likely to pay off in the shorter term. And, to go with this point, there’s one fact that you need to understand up front: SEO and “free” content marketing are long-term strategies.

I’ve talked to too many small business owners who have said something like, “I’ve been posting great articles to my blog for three months and I’m still not getting very much traffic from Google.”

Content marketing takes time and your effort has to be consistently excellent. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do it; I’m saying that it won’t cause a quick jump in website visits. The same is true with SEO. You must do it, but SEO alone won’t flip the switch that turns on traffic to your website.

Let’s look at marketing strategies that can result in immediate sales or at least help you meet other short-term objectives.

Affiliate marketing

If you are selling a product, developing an affiliate marketing strategy can be the best way to quickly drive increased sales. Most smaller website owners sign up with one of the big third-party affiliate marketing service providers, such as Rakuten-Linkshare. There are thousands of websites searching services like Rakuten-Linkshare to find hot items to sell. If you get a feel for what motivates them, it will help you craft a good commission strategy.

The beauty of an affiliate program is that overnight you can have dozens of good marketing minds working on ways to sell your products. The downside is that you’re paying commissions.

Developing your own affiliate program can benefit you in two important ways. First, you don’t have to pay the third-party service, and second, you can get inbound links to your site, which will ultimately help you with your SEO. Michael Cottam has written an excellent article that explains this in detail. And if you have a WordPress site, Nathan B. Weller has written a good guide to creating your own WordPress-based affiliate program.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM falls into two categories, organic and paid. I covered the organic side of the equation above when I discussed how content marketing and SEO are long-term plays; they are the two elements that come together to create organic SEM.

Paid SEM is essentially services like Google’s AdWords. You can boost traffic to your site through a paid marketing program. But remember, the important factor is how many of those visitors convert to a customer. It’s easy to get excited looking at your website analytics when you see a jump in traffic. However, it’s your bank account analytics that is the ultimate indicator of success or failure.

The best thing about paid SEM is that you can easily control your budget and quickly measure results. The problem is that it takes some experience to craft a good AdWords campaign. If possible, find a good agency to help you get started.

‘Free’ content marketing

I warned you above that it takes content marketing longer to start producing good results. However, the social media marketing element within content marketing can pay off a bit more quickly.

If you work hard to build your following on your chosen social media platforms, they can help your content marketing program be a success. You can market to them directly and you can also encourage them to sign up for your email list, and market to them through that channel. The overriding idea is to find ways to get them to visit your website, where you can present them offers. You can try to sell them something or merely encourage them to get on your email list, where you will nurture them.

‘Paid’ content marketing

Many of the social media platforms today – notably Facebook – have paid programs. These can be used to more quickly build your social media following or for other purposes. As with Google’s AdWords, the best part of these programs is that you can easily control your spend.

With the Facebook program, you can spend in order to get people to see your content, or you can spend in order to get “likes” on your Facebook page. As more people like your page, more people will see your “free” Facebook posts. Ultimately, both of these strategies are trying to accomplish the same thing: Get more prospects engaged with your social media content.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing has been around for many generations. However, it has taken on a new life with the Internet. You don’t need the star Yankee pitcher to endorse your product or service today. You can find a blogger who is well-known in your niche to work with. If you’re a local business, don’t overlook local celebrities. Here are some services that connect business owners to all kinds of influencers:

Influencer marketing can be a short-term play. A nice review in an influential blog can increase sales overnight. However, the impact probably won’t last long. If you want to dig deeper, Shane Barker has a nice piece on boosting your social media ROI via influence marketing on the Simply Measured website.

Publicity and Public Relations

Getting free publicity is an excellent strategy and it works to both your short-term and long-term advantage. In the long term, you can use it to gain backlinks and other mentions that will build your online authority. That will eventually be rewarded with higher placement within search engine results. I need to note that some free publicity really is free, but many people end up hiring a PR professional to help them get that “free” publicity.

In any case, the benefits can be huge. If you can get your product featured in a national magazine or a very high-traffic website, you can wake up one morning to sales that are going through the roof. For example, if you made a product that was featured in a Christmas buying guide for a magazine like Real Simple, the demand could be overwhelming.

Christina Daves, who occasionally posts guest articles on my site, has a wonderful overview of publicity on her site and how it can benefit your small business tremendously. Using herself as an example, she shows you what you can achieve through publicity.

eBook publishing

I mentioned the importance of building authority above. Publishing a well-received book is one of the best ways to put yourself on the map. A good book is the best business card you can have.

With eBooks, virtually anyone can publish a book. However, establishing it as a “best seller” is much more difficult. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you are in a fairly small niche, you don’t need to have a best seller – you just need the right people to know about your book.

Let me give you an example. If I were a plumber in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I might write an eBook on how to care for and repair your plumbing in the harsh winter weather. I wouldn’t write a general DIY guide to plumbing. I think a niche eBook like that would go a long way toward establishing my authority and bringing in new business.

Where to start your online marketing strategy

As I said at the beginning, you can’t do all of these. Further, not all of them would perform well for your business, so here’s how to begin:

  • This should be built into your website. In other word’s it’s a given.
  • Free content marketing. Pick two to start with (blogging, social media marketing, video, email marketing). Keep the one that performs best, drop the other and pick a third vehicle to try. Compare results again and keep the better performers. Do this until you’re satisfied you are creating the kind of content that best engages your prospects.

For the following paid services, try one at a time. When you achieve success, test another approach:

  • Paid SEM and paid content marketing. Choose one of these to start experimenting with. When you have a good baseline on SEM for example, then try some Facebook advertising. Compare results and stick with the winner.
  • Influencer marketing. This is probably one of the last things most small business owners will want to experiment with when they are planning their online marketing strategy. However, if you have a niche product and can identify a corresponding niche blogger or social media star, you might want to push this to the top of your to-do list.
  • Publicity and public relations. As I said above, this can be free or cost you. Sending notices to local reporters or media companies can be done easily. And if you know your industry well, you can send information to nationally known individuals and outlets. Some of this is easy to do and should just be part of your routine. However, if you want to get on television or other big media outlets, you might want to hire a public relations professional.

My final advice is to not take on more than you can handle. It’s better to do one thing well than a half dozen things in a slipshod manner. What I’m telling you to do is to experiment with various media and various approaches. If you’re unable to conduct a good experiment, you won’t be able to trust the results you get.

That will cause you to make some very bad decisions.