What are the most valuable online marketing channels?

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I want to start growing my new online startup and would like to know where to focus my efforts in terms of what type strategies and audience I should go for. For example, I've read that SEO is very important in order for websites to be able to do well in the search engines.

I don't mind forking out cash if I know I am going to get a proper return for that investment. However, given that we hardly have any revenue coming in, I also have to be careful about where I spend my limited budget.

What are the best marketing strategies to focus on for a small business looking for decent, sustainable growth?

Top 3 online marketing strategies (plus bonus tips)

You have some great opportunities for growth right from the outset, but most of them rely on hard work and perseverance, and can't really be bought and paid for (otherwise everyone would be doing it successfully).

So while you might have to invest a bit of cash here and there, most of your efforts are going to revolve around human resources - time and effort spent on content, networking, and customer service.

Here's my list of the top 3 most important marketing strategies in order of importance:

1. Word of mouth

In my experience, word of mouth has always been the most effective marketing strategy of all.

I've noticed that new customers arriving at a website based on a recommendation from family, colleagues, or friends, tend to have an entirely different approach to making purchases.

Instead of being sceptical and suspicious, they tend to know what to expect and convert easily (most likely because they've already been told what to expect by the person who referred them).

I recently wrote an article covering the explosive growth in sign-ups and conversions for one of my startups, and talked about how great customer service is the best marketing strategy.

Essentially, being able to create strong positive experiences in the few customers you can scrape together at the start means that they become powerful agents for growth going forward.

2. Email marketing list

I wish someone had been around to tell me that 'the money's in the list', right from the start.

Focus on building a strong email marketing list as early on as possible.

Make sure that email marketing is integrated into your business model - from offering a sign-up form on your site, to specials, deals and discounts for subscribers (to encourage as many sign-ups as possible).

An email marketing list is valuable for two reasons:

  1. opt-in subscribers are, by definition, interested in your company's products or services
  2. reliable and sustainable

Having access to thousands of people who have actively taken time to sign-up to your newsletter or email updates is super valuable. It means you can reach out to a targeted, engaged audience at any time.

So, if things aren't going well, you can send out an email blast with a special offer or deal to generate some buzz and visibility - in a way that no other form of marketing can.

3. Organic search traffic

Google is a very important source of traffic and revenue for most companies who have an online presence.

However, I rate Google as the least valuable of the primary forms of online marketing because they are completely unreliable, and prone to massive, unexplained swings in traffic.

In other words, while generating plenty of organic traffic that is targeted and high converting is great, it is completely unreliable. On a whim, Google can change its algorithm and leave you without a cent, literally overnight.

Relying on Google traffic is like building your house on quick-sand. Treat search traffic like icing on the cake, but don't rely on it in the same way you rely on the first two options.

With that said, however, it is certainly worthwhile generating lots of highly relevant, high quality content for your site because this will lead to better rankings in the search engines, and give your company a voice that can be useful in other areas of marketing - like emails and social media.

4. (Bonus) Influencer marketing

Truly valuable partnerships are those we build with niche influencers who can get our brand in front of the right people. According to independent studies, bloggers are a far more trusted source of information than traditional endorsements (i.e. paid celebrities).

Online influencers hold a lot of authority and trust, and Google continues to place emphasis on quality links.

Fortunately there is a real opportunity for smaller businesses to get the drop on big business while brands and advertisers are still catching on. Unlike traditional endorsements, influencer marketing is not really a “paid” relationship – it’s more like a genuine friendship or mutually beneficial relationship that offers great search optimization potential.

While big business still focuses on paid relationships there is a window of opportunity to build genuine relationships with influencers and start growing your visibility quickly.

There are a few ways to do this effectively, but I find that sharing quality content that targets specific influencers works best. In fact, I would say,

Content + Influence = Confluence marketing.

What type of content works best?

We use “visually compelling data driven content”.

There are a lot of tools and apps that can provide interesting and useful data. For example, if you talk about products in any shape or form, it can be useful to monitor their sales and price performance and receive alerts when they experience changes in pricing and sales (using an accurate hourly sales & price tracker like RankTracer), which has easily shareable charts and stats.

Many top influencers have books or informational products and services this makes it a great way to reach out to them – especially on Twitter. Here's one I shared about ProBlogger's blogging book.

Basically, it offers them a shareable way to promote themselves – which is what everyone, even established influencers, are after. that makes it a fantastic hook and you are far more likely to build a strong network of contacts and influencers quickly using a strategy like this.