What is Online Marketing?
If you’re a new business owner (or in the planning stages of becoming one), the amount you need to learn can be overwhelming. One important area of knowledge every business owner needs to take some time to understand is online marketing.
4 Reasons Why Online Marketing Matters
A recent survey found that people now turn to the internet for more of their shopping than brick and mortar stores, and the percentage of purchases consumers make online has been on an upward trajectory for years. Businesses cannot neglect the internet. And it’s not enough just to have a website (although that’s an important first step).
The web is a competitive space and you have to put work into increasing your online visibility so the people likely to become your customers can find you. Online marketing is the best way to do that.
But you shouldn’t necessarily look at online marketing as something you have to do. Instead, see it as a powerful opportunity for your business. There’s a lot you can accomplish with a solid online marketing plan and a lot of benefits it offers in comparison to other types of marketing and advertising.
1. You can meet people where they are.
A growing number of people spend much of their day online. A Pew research study found that 73% of people go online at least once a day, and 21% say they’re online “almost constantly.” Some of that time is spent actively browsing for things they want to buy (and you definitely want them to be able to find you then), but a lot of it is spent on social media, checking email, or reading blogs and news sites.
Online marketing allows you to reach and connect with people in the places they hang out online, in addition to showing up when they’re looking for what you’re selling.
2. You get richer analytics.
One of the biggest challenges businesses have always faced when it came to marketing is figuring out whether or not your efforts are working. Online marketing gives the gift of extensive analytics that make it easier to track marketing success than it’s ever been before.
You can see a detailed analysis of how people are finding and behaving on your website, how well your social media marketing efforts are paying off, and how people interact with your emails. Detailed marketing analytics both make it easier for you to figure out the ROI of your marketing spending, and give you the knowledge you need to continually improve how you approach your online marketing over time.
3. You can be more targeted in your marketing.
Few businesses need to reach everyone in their marketing. For example, if you sell fitness gear, you only really need to reach people that work out regularly (or at least try to). Traditional forms of advertising generally meant having to pay to reach everyone in order to get your advertising in front of the few it was really meant for – billboards and TV commercials don’t allow for much targeting.
Online marketing, in comparison, provides plenty of opportunities to target your ads and content to particular audiences. PPC and social media advertising let you specify who you want to show your ads to based on factors like geography, gender, income, and interests – and retargeting goes even further and lets you deliver ads to people based on their past interactions with your brand.
With online marketing, you don’t have to waste money advertising to teens when your target audience is seniors. You can only pay for reaching the people most likely to buy from you.
4. It gets better ROI.
76% of businesses say that their online marketing gets better ROI than any offline channels they use. As a result, spending on online marketing continues to rise year after year. Businesses wouldn’t be throwing money at it if it wasn’t paying off. If spending money on online marketing will help you make more money, then there’s no good reason not to do it.
The 7 Main Areas of Online Marketing
Online marketing takes a number of different forms, but for most business owners there are a few main types of online marketing you’ll want to consider.
Search engine optimization (SEO for short) describes all the tactics used to help improve a website’s chances of ranking high in search engine results. With Google being one of the first places people turn when they’re looking for anything – the answer to a question, directions to a nearby business, a product they’re looking to buy – showing up on the first page of Google can make a huge difference in how many people discover and visit your website.
SEO consists of a few main types of work:
- Keyword research – Various keyword research tools help you better understand the terms your target audience is using to find the things you’re selling.
- On-site optimization – Strategically use your target keywords in meta tags and the text on your webpages.
- Link building – The hardest and most important part of SEO is finding ways to get links pointing back to your website, which signals to the search engines that your website is of high value.
SEO works hand in hand with some of the other types of online marketing listed here – content marketing in particular. It’s competitive and requires playing the long game. You won’t see results right away, but when you do, they can make a big difference.
One of the most important things anyone new to online marketing needs to know about SEO is that doing it badly doesn’t just mean you don’t get results – you can face serious penalties from Google that are hard to recover from. That means even if you plan to hire someone rather than trying to optimize your website for search engines yourself, it’s important that you take some time to learn the basics so you know how to recognize a professional that’s legitimate.
2. Paid Search Marketing
Where SEO requires playing the long game, paid search marketing provides the closest thing to a shortcut for gaining visibility in the search engines. Often called pay-per-click marketing or PPC, these are the ads you see above or to the side of the organic search results in Google and other search engines.
As with SEO, a large part of paid search marketing is performing keyword research so you know the best terms to target in your ads. The search engines will display your ads in relevant searches, and you only have to pay them if someone chooses to click. Paid search marketing produces faster results than SEO and gives you a lot of power to target your ads to the right people at the right moment, based on demographic data and search terms.
3. Content Marketing
Content marketing arose in part because fresh, high quality content on a website is good for SEO, but it’s become a much larger and more versatile form of online marketing than that. The goal of content marketing is to create an ongoing relationship with customers and leads by providing consistently valuable content.
Content marketing works best when you have a clear strategy to help you reach your target audience with information you know they need in a format they like at the moment it’s most helpful to them.
There are a number of different forms that content can take. Some of the most common are:
- Blog posts on your own site
- Guest posts and articles on other sites
- Long-form content pieces like ebooks and white papers
- Video content
- Interactive content like quizzes and calculators
All of this takes time and money to produce and, as with SEO, it’s something you should plan on keeping up consistently over time if you want to get results. But it can help you improve your search rankings, gain new leads, and nurture your customer relationships over time – which all adds up to higher profits for your business.
4. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing includes any type of marketing you do on any of the main social media sites, both paid and free. This includes using your social media accounts to:
- Promote your content
- Share updates about your brand
- Promote your deals and products
- Interact with followers
- Participate in groups or chats
There are a number of different social media networks brands participate on and the list of channels to consider just keeps growing. Some of the main ones to look into are:
Your brand may not need to be on all of these. Research each one to figure out which ones your target audience are spending the most time on that are a good fit for your brand and the types of content you’ll be sharing.
5. Email Marketing
Email marketing is one of the best tools you have to maintain and nurture relationships with your customers. It can include any emails you send about deals and promotions, personalized emails based on a subscriber’s browsing history, and emails that promote your content.
Email is one of the most effective online marketing channels available with an average ROI of $38 for every $1 you spend. But it’s important to practice permission marketing, which means only emailing the people who opt-in to receiving your emails. This makes building up an email list one of the hardest and most important parts of email marketing.
As such, email marketing often works well in conjunction with a larger content marketing strategy, since you can use your content to attract new subscribers and your emails to promote your content. It’s considered one of the most effective forms of content marketing when used that way. But it can also be used outside of a content strategy to promote sales and deals to repeat customers.
6. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is when one brand or blogger includes links to products sold by another website in their content. When a visitor clicks one of the links and proceeds to buy the product, the person or business behind the content gets a percentage of the profit.
Affiliate marketing won’t make sense for every business, but for businesses that use it, it can bring in new customers and help you make more money. If you decide to create content with affiliate links, it’s usually best to include a disclaimer on your website letting visitors know so you don’t lose trust. And you’ll need to be prepared to create lots of high-quality content. If you go the route of creating an affiliate program, then you’ll need to develop clear terms for how the program will work and identify relevant bloggers and influencers to recruit to participate.
7. Conversion Optimization
Conversion optimization is the practice of designing your website, particularly landing pages, in the way most likely to get people to take the action you want them to. That means creating strong calls-to-action (CTAs) and testing out how different layouts and designs affect click-through rates and purchasing behaviors.
Conversion optimization won’t help people find your site like some of the other forms of online marketing covered, but it will help turn them into customers or subscribers once they do find it.
5 Tips for New Online Marketers
To help you make sure you use the types of online marketing listed well, there are a few general best practices that can help.
1. Do online marketing.
The first tip is straightforward enough. Don’t feel like you can get away with not bothering to do online marketing. If you want to reach people in the space where they’re doing their shopping or planning their purchases, then you have to invest in online marketing.
Not doing so may not ruin your business, but it will pretty well guarantee you’ll be leaving money on the table and missing out on some of the people that could become your best customers. And the longer you wait to start, the further behind you’ll be.
2. Learn a little bit about everything.
As a business or website owner, you shouldn’t feel like you need to be an expert on every facet of online marketing, but you should strive to get a 101-level knowledge of each of the various types of online marketing. That knowledge will steer you in the right direction in figuring out which types you should invest in and recognizing the people skilled enough to help you pursue each one effectively.
3. Hire good people.
Online marketing is a big job. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Seek out an agency or some freelance professionals who are experts on the types of marketing you want to pursue and can take over some of the planning and execution for you. Their expertise will lead to better results, and you can avoid stretching yourself too thin.
4. Create an overall online marketing strategy.
You may have noticed in the descriptions of the different types of online marketing that most of them work better if you use them in combination with others. Your content marketing can improve your SEO. Your social media and email marketing can help promote your content. And conversion marketing can take customers past the finish line once the other forms of marketing have brought them to your website.
Don’t treat each channel and type of marketing as separate. Creating an overall strategy will enable you to make sure every piece of marketing you and your team creates will better support everything else you’re doing and have a higher likelihood of achieving the results you want.
5. Keep it up.
Online marketing isn’t something you can do once and be done. Your online marketing strategy needs to be consistent and updated regularly. Treat this as an ongoing line item in your budget. Use your marketing analytics to check in regularly on how well your efforts are working and determine how to improve upon what you’ve done before.
The longer you do online marketing, the better you’ll get at it and the more you’ll see results. But before you get to that part, you have to get started.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.