In broad terms, online marketing is any electronic based form of reaching prospects for the purpose of generating a lead, member, sale or simply getting someone to read your point of view. Online marketing, however, is actually a general practice that can be broken into the following sub-disciplines:

  • Search Marketing (SEO and Paid Search) – placing paid ads or optimizing your website to appear when your prospects search in on relevant keywords. Very cost effective because you only pay for clicks (not impressions) or in the case of organic search results do not pay at all.
  • Email Marketing – sending information or offers via email to your list of prospects or customers. In some situations it may include sponsoring a third party email publication for the purposes of getting your message in front of your target audience.
  • Affiliate Marketing – leveraging partner’s website traffic or audience to sell your product or service. In many situations, you may pay a commission to a partner that refers a visitor to your website and that visitor then completes a transaction. Lead aggregators are a form of affiliates where you pay a 3rd party to send you leads for services that you offer. Typically lead generators are paid for the lead whereas affiliates are only paid if a transaction is completed.
  • Display/Banner Advertising – placing graphical ads on sites that have an audience that you would like target. Typically, banner advertising is sold on a CPM basis meaning that you pay for each time the ad is shown (unlike search marketing where you are only charged for clicks). There has been recent innovation in better targeting
  • Social Media – social media refers to web and mobile tools that facilitate community and communication. While initially thought of as a person to person communication platform, social media now has emerged as a new way for business to interact with their customers and clients.
  • Website Design – while website design will not directly bring you prospects, it is important to have a professional website that clearly communicates your value proposition and has a call to action to get a prospect to engage with your business. For services based businesses that might be completing a contact form or calling. For retail businesses it might be completing a transaction. Website design is also important for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes and can therefore indirectly help improve your natural rankings in Google/Yahoo/MSN.
  • Blog Marketing – a part of website design and content, blogs are a great way to demonstrate thought leadership for your business category. Most blogs include the ability to publish content through RSS. If your blog offers content and a point of view that is valued by the public, your customers / prospects can choose to subscribe to your blog and view it through a number news aggregators like Google Reader or even Microsoft Outlook.
  • Website Analytics – without website analytics you are flying blind in the online marketing world. Tools like Google Analytics (free) or Omniture (the standard bearer) allow you to measure the effectiveness of your online marketing activities. By establishing clear website goals, you’ll be able to determine if clicks from Google or clicks from your newsletters are getting you the desired results. If you are a shop, they have now integrated CRM with Search Marketing providing an end to end view of your marketing and sales funnel.

While these are the primary categories there is an ongoing effort to re-package and rename many online marketing solutions. As a result, you will see claims of new products when more than likely it can be placed in one of these traditional categories.

To help put together your online marketing strategy or to do a check-up, we have put together some guidelines for piecing together your online marketing plan.

Start with defining your goals

Each business or organization must have a specific outcome for their online marketing. Here are some examples:

  • Sell a product online
  • Find members for an organization
  • Generate sales leads
  • Get prospects to read your content
  • Starting with a goal allows you to then build a website that is focused on getting your visitors to complete the goal. Your information design, visual design and content should all work together to get your visitors to take the action you want.

    Don’t underestimate the importance of a well designed website as that is now just as important as the appearance of your office space or storefront.

    During the site design phase make sure you think about optimizing your site to make sure Google and other search engines can read and index your information. Any modern online marketing plan includes frequent content updates to your site.

    Generate prospect traffic to your website and convert them

    Once your website is ready, select the categories of online marketing that are best for your business and goal. For example, a search marketer might be able to help you determine whether there are people searching for your product or service and which keywords they are using. Each category of online marketing tactic has its pros and cons. We’ve reviewed them here:

    Traffic Generators

    The following tactics allow you to bring new prospects to your website.


    Pro Con

    Search Marketing - Targeted
    - Pay for actual visits not impressions
    - Can only capture existing demand (requires your prospect to have a need and be looking for you)
    Affiliate Marketing - Pay for performance. Only pay for success
    - Lead aggregators can be effective for certain categories at finding leads but be careful that they are not competing with you in search results
    - Works best for consumer products / services with clear online transaction
    - Affiliate world is filled with scams so buyer beware and make sure you really track the return on the programs.
    Display / Banner

    - The most space for branded messaging

    - Ad serving has become more sophisticated to allow targeting specific sites or demographics. Some services even allow you to show your ad to people who have only visited your site with the hope of getting them to return to your site.

    - Pay for each impressions (actually priced by each 1000 impressions CPM)
    - Ads are sometimes not as visible because web users have been conditioned to ignore ads (some new placements and technologies make ads more interruptive)
    Social Media - Allows conversation with target audience (operations like Dell use to push out specials). B2B organizations might use to push out new content created on their site. - Lots of tools emerging on the market. Need to try different tools to find the one that works for your business.


    Once you have a prospects on your website, there are several tactics to engage with your prospect and convert them over time (if an immediate conversion is not realistic). For example, selling a $30 monthly service might be a realistic conversion goal but selling a $200k consulting engagement on the first visit may not be realistic.

      Pros Cons
    Email Marketing - Best way to stay engaged with your customers or to continue a conversation with prospects - Must build a list which can take time - In some cases, 3rd party sponsorships are available which can be targeted and effective (CPM based)

    Blog Marketing - Offers a way to get your prospects and clients to subscribe to your content or news in your industry
    - Allows you to engage in discussions on other blogs and get links back to your site
    Social Media - Another touchpoint with customers or prospects - Same as above

    Measure the effectiveness of your campaigns

    Regardless of the tactics you select, use website analytics to track the performance of your campaign. You should measure:

    • Bounce rate – a high level measure that shows how many people visit an initial page on your site and then leave. High bounce rate can indicate a low quality visit or that the person was looking for something else and left your site.

    • Conversion rate – a more direct metric that shows how many of your visitors completed a goal that you established. That goal might be a sale or something less tangible like visiting a specific product page on your site. Google Analytics and others allow you to assign a monetary value to actions completed on a site. These monetary assignments help you determine the return on investment of your marketing dollars.

    • Source of traffic – you might want to know how many people are visiting your from search engines, other sites and by directly entering your website URL. All analytics packages allow you to measure these numbers. You might be surprised at where your traffic is coming from.