Online marketing broadly describes the business of marketing products and/or services over the Internet. While most people think of online marketing only as a means to driving traffic to their websites in order to make money, it can also be used effectively for public relations initiatives, online reputation management and, as we’ve seen in recent years, political campaigns.

The umbrella of online marketing covers a wide range of services, each of which can play an important role in achieving a company’s different marketing goals.

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is a popular method of buying online traffic. PPC advertisements are typically placed alongside search results on search engines like Bing and Google, though ads can also show up on web pages featuring topics related to the ads. For instance, if you sell “coat hangers,” you can purchase ads that link directly to your company’s website when anyone searches for that phrase in Google or when articles about coat hangers appear on different websites. A big advantage to PPC, as opposed to traditional marketing, is that you only have to pay when a visitor clicks on your ad.

Visitors who come to websites through PPC ads are more likely to turn into customers, mainly because they already have an interest in the product. In fact, PPC marketing frequently provides companies with a much higher conversion rate than billboards, newspapers, radio or television, since a smartly-run PPC campaign will only show ads to interested visitors. Since PPC is intertwined with the search engines, some companies often refer to it as search engine marketing (SEM), although this phrase is also used as an umbrella term to describe PPC, SEO and social media advertising.

Search Engine Optimization
A close relative of PPC, search engine optimization (SEO) requires making changes to a website so it can get ranked in the search engine results. Google, Bing and Yahoo make up the major search engines on which businesses want their websites to be found.

Unlike PPC ads, the “natural” or “organic” rankings targeted by SEO do not require that a company pay every time a user clicks on its website. Companies consider high rankings in these results very valuable, since Internet users often trust these results more than PPC listings. In fact, about 70% of searchers click on organic listings instead of the PPC results.

With SEO, the two main challenges are getting your website found by the search engines and getting it to show up on the first page of results. The majority of search engine users find what they are looking for on the first page, so companies who want to drive traffic through SEO need to implement (or pay someone to implement) SEO techniques.

Local Online Advertising
If you own a business that serves a specific local market, the reach of the search engines may seem too vast to be effective for your company. However, that’s not the case. With both SEO and PPC, geotargeting offers you a way to focus on your specific consumer group.

In PPC, geotargeting involves specifying the exact geographic areas where you want your ads to show (or not to show). While you can always go after keywords that include the names of cities where you do business, geotargeting also lets you use general terms, like “taxi company” or “flower delivery” and still have results that only show up for people in your vicinity.

Apart from geotargeting with PPC, the search engines also let you create a directory listing for your company. Google Places is one example of these directories, while Bing Business Portal is another. Both are free services. Once businesses are listed in these directories, they can appear within the organic search results when people search for related services within a specific area. If you haven’t already created a listing for your company, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to be seen by potential customers.

Banner Ads
During the 1990s, banner advertisements (square or rectangular ads on websites) dominated as one of the main sources of revenue on the Internet. Unfortunately, many of these ads were not targeted to the websites’ audiences, which contributed to the burst of the “Internet bubble” when companies stopped buying these ads. Today, banner ads have come a long way and can be shown on specific websites that target specific groups of people. Banner ads are now more interactive than they were in the past, often including animated or video elements that grab the visitors’ attention.

Email Marketing
If done correctly, email marketing can be a great way to reach out to a target audience. In many cases, the best recipients for email marketing endeavors are existing customers or individuals who “opt in” to receive emails from your company.

If your company already sends regular online newsletters or holiday greetings, it’s a simple step to include coupon codes, special promotions, sales events or product upgrade notices. However, it’s important to create a balance of sending emails with special offers and ones that just provide useful information to the consumer, as you don’t want your customers to feel they are constantly being pushed to make a purchase.

If you work with a company such as Digital Dogs for your email marketing efforts, you should receive reports to find out what email marketing campaigns are the most successful and brought in the most revenue with your target group of customers.

Social Media
While social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, weren’t originally created for the purpose of online marketing, businesses have quickly adapted them to such a purpose. Social media websites have become great places for businesses to interact with customers, often just by providing answers to common questions, while at the same time building customer confidence and loyalty to their brands. In addition to the platform to converse with customers, some social media channels, such as Facebook, also offer a service similar to PPC that allows companies to show ads to this Internet audience.

Video Marketing
More and more, smart video marketing is becoming a core part of online marketing for many businesses. Creative, informative videos can be an effective way to communicate a message to your target audience, especially if your company is looking to attract younger generations who respond more to visual, rather than textual, information. Good video marketing often dovetails into a strong social media strategy.

Even if your company doesn’t have the budget to produce videos on a regular basis, you can still jump onboard this growing marketing platform. Similar to television, many videos allow businesses to place ads either before, during or after the video, allowing your company an easy way to reach out to an increasingly visual-focused market.

How have you used online marketing to improve your business? Please leave a comment and share any tips that you’ve found to be successful.

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