The Top Online Marketing Channels – My Top 6 in June 2007

At least a few times per month I’m asked, “Which internet marketing channels do you believe are the strongest?” It’s almost impossible to answer this question without some context. For example, a company that sells toys is much different than a consulting firm looking for Fortune 500 clients, right? Each business will have its own top online marketing channels, based on their model. That said, below I have provided my top online marketing channels in June 2007. My top 6 are based on data collected from across my clients, as well as for my own business.

In addition, I have provided the personification of each channel, which is basically their famous alter ego. ;-) Please note that since web marketing is extremely dynamic, my top channels may change (even in a few months!)

Note: If you’re a small business looking to learn more about Local Search, SEO, and The Long Tail of SEO, then you should check out my online marketing ebook, Taking Control of Your Online Marketing: Small Business Edition. The book includes detailed chapters on each of those topics. It’s a great place to start.

Without further ado, counting down from 6 to 1:

Colin Ferrell Starring as Social MediaComing in at Number 6: Social Media

Who hasn’t heard of Social Media at this point…heck, there’s even an acronym for it in web marketing (SMO) or Social Media Optimization. Social Media is an umbrella term that includes social news, social bookmarking, social networking, media-driven sites like Youtube, etc. Top social media sites include Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Netscape, delicious, Myspace, YouTube, and dozens of other smaller sites. Using Social Media for internet marketing is hit or miss. Yes, these sites can be huge drivers of traffic and links, but some efforts will simply not take off. I think everyone has seen 1 digg for a story quite a few times… That said, I have seen some impressive results recently from a range of social media sites.

Why Collin Ferrell? You never know which Collin Ferrell you are going to get (or show up), right? You might get the Collin Ferrell who has had a few drinks, smoking a cigarette, and throwing the f-word around. Or, you might get the movie premiere Ferrell who comes sober, has some big names in his entourage that night, and lands a $30MM first weekend. Like I said earlier, Social Media is hit or miss.

George Clooney Starring as BloggingAnd at Number 5: Blogging

In late 2005, a VP of Marketing (yes marketing) asked me rather aggressively in a web marketing meeting, “Tell me…how in the world is a blog going to impact my bottom line?” Uh, I’m sure he would like to take back that question now! :-) I don’t need to spend much time explaining the explosive growth of blogs, their impact on readers (consumers), and how RSS, search engines, blog search engines, other blogs, and social media can all play a factor in helping Jane Nobody from down the street gain rock start status as the premiere mommy blogger! If you are in charge of marketing for your business and you aren’t blogging, start now. I’m not kidding, stop reading this post, walk into your IT department, grab a web developer by his collar, and set up your blog now. It’s cost effective, measurable, viral, and can get you closer to your customers than ever before.

Why Clooney? Top bloggers bring people together, they are industry leaders, can play nice with others, and enjoy sharing their knowledge with the community. Clooney has proven to be a big time movie star, but also gives back to the community and works to help others in this country and in other countries. He’s the closest thing Hollywood has to a future President (other than Arnold, of course!)

Tony Soprano Starring as Paid SearchNumber 4 on My List – Paid Search

A tough, gritty, time-consuming, and dynamic online marketing channel, with a hint of fraud in the mix! I’m a stronger advocate of Natural Search (see below), but based on my experience with paid search, it’s hard to overlook its power. The most popular places to run paid search advertising are Google (AdWords) and Yahoo (Yahoo Search Marketing). You can set up your campaigns fast, you have a lot of control over your message and what people are seeing on your site, and you will view results in hours. That said, you can also see your budget zip away in hours! :-) Effective paid search campaigns take time, skill, experience, and a drive to always improve your efforts. You need to be chest deep in your campaigns all of the time to reap rewards from ppc. From keyword research to building ad creative to designing landing pages to optimizing your campaigns, paid search is not for the faint of heart. Regarding fraud, you can read more about click fraud here, but don’t let the article stop you from trying paid search…just keep it in mind.

Why Tony Soprano? He’s tough, gritty, and results are the name of the game. He’ll give you a wad of hundreds for coming through and then smack you across the face the next day. Welcome to the family. :-)

Michael Moore Starring as Word of Mouth MarketingIn third place, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)

The power of wom is undeniably incredible. It’s pure viral marketing. You know, where John tells Mary, who tells her dentist, who tells her husband, who tells his friends at work, who tell their clients, etc. Before you know it, targeted visitors increase, sales increase, links to the site increase, organic rankings increase, blog posts about your product increase, etc. Sounds dynamic, doesn’t it? That’s why, in my opinion, WOM is one of the most powerful ways to enhance your business long term. So why doesn’t every company focus on Word of Mouth? It’s relatively hard to implement, it’s hard to track, and hard to determine a budget, which makes it hard to communicate to decision makers. That said, companies that understand its power (long term power), will reap great benefits from fostering word of mouth marketing. And by the way, I’m an advocate of both organic wom and amplified wom. I think both have their place in your web marketing arsenal. Check out WOMMA for more information about Word of Mouth.

Why Moore? Moore targets an issue and gets people talking. Then the grapevine effect of WOM takes over and everyone has an opinion…which leads to popular movies and revenue. I remember seeing Roger and Me in 1994 and telling my coworkers and friends about it. Think about Moore’s movies and the topics they cover. Then think about how you heard about them.

Anderson Cooper Starring as Natural SearchIn second place, the runner up is: Natural Search

I am a huge advocate of organic search, which are the natural search listings in the search engines (unpaid listings). Rank highly for your competitive keywords and you can drive large amounts of targeted traffic to your website. People trust natural search. It’s unpaid (theoretically anyway), and there are third parties (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) that rank listings based on some criteria of importance (their algorithms). Yes, there’s an entire industry out there (Search Engine Optimization or SEO) that help companies rank highly for terms, but it’s not as easy as applying budget to your organic rankings and having that yield top listings. If you have optimized your site for natural search, then compare revenue from your organic search channel with your other channels. Then, take into account ad spend. Natural Search is ultra-profitable (and can help build your brand, increase targeted traffic, increase revenue, and your bonus). :-)

Why Anderson Cooper? He’s a younger and edgier version of news anchors from the past. He has built enormous credibility (like natural search engine results), but you know there are decision makers above him that help mold the message. You trust him, but not 100%. :-)

Pete Sampras Starring as The In-House Email ListAnd our winner, my top Online Marketing Channel:

The In-House Email List

This is probably the most important marketing asset you can have at your disposal. It’s not trendy, flashy, or sexy, but with it, you have a solid base for any campaign you decide to launch. Used properly, you can count on a certain amount of revenue per month from your in-house list. You also can tap into this list for qualitative data from surveys, focus groups, and other customer feedback mechanisms. In addition, you can segment your list for more power. For example, you might know which customers want to learn more about categories A versus B, they might buy during X months versus Y months, and spend $x per transaction versus $y per transaction. Then you can base your campaigns on this data and you’ll see the true power of your in-house list.

Without a solid in-house email list, you are forced to use other channels to drive campaigns and sales. And, good luck with gaining feedback! “Hello Mr. Transient Paid Search Person, can you tell me what you think of our website?” Come on! For those of you with new businesses or small in-house lists, start to think about ways to increase your list. Launch campaigns to increase your list. Then when you have a solid list, take care of the people on that list. They can make or break your business. Literally.

Why Sampras? Pete Sampras was beyond talented, but he was humble. He dominated the competition, but he rarely made headlines. He won championship after championship, but the reporters ran by him to snap photos of Agassi. Pete was a winning machine, and was completely under-appreciated. But if you needed someone to come through, I wouldn’t want anyone else ready to serve the ball. That’s your in-house email list.