When it comes down to it, there's one factor that matters more than any other when it comes to an online marketing campaign: your return on investment (ROI). If you can maximize your ROI, and sustain it over the long term, your marketing campaign, by definition, will be an unquestionable success.
So which online marketing strategies tend to have the highest ROI?
Before I can hope to answer this question in any objective or meaningful way, I have to clear up a few initial points and establish a foundation for my reasoning:
- ROI is somewhat tricky to nail down. Even with all the data in front of you, it's difficult to pin down a precise measure of ROI. This is partly due to the fact that many forms of "return" are imprecise, such as brand reputation, credibility, trust, and visibility.
- Time and money are both investments. If ROI were a simple matter of "money in, money out," it'd be much easier to estimate and compare. However, some strategies require more of a time investment than a money investment, which adds another difficult-to-measure variable to the process.
- Long-term ROI is different than short-term ROI. And one isn't objectively better than the other. Over the course of five years, a long-term investment will pay off far better than a short-term one, but sometimes you need results to start showing immediately.
- Marketing strategies depend on execution. Let's say there's a marketing strategy that has a tremendously high average ROI, but you have no idea what you're doing; would you expect to see that high of a return in your campaign? The success of a marketing strategy depends on its execution.
- Every business is different. Every industry, every demographic, and every individual brand has unique factors that affect how effective different marketing strategies will be. It's impossible to account for all these factors.
With those considerations out of the way, let's take a look at some of the most popular marketing strategies around today and how they compare with each other.
Most business owners who have tried it will tell you that paid advertising offers a good ROI. However, there are a few considering factors that complicate paid advertising, making it difficult to pin down an objective conclusion about the strategy. For example, the price per click on a Google search ad can vary wildly depending on what industry you're in, sometimes up to $50 or more per click. Plus, you're not "building equity" with a paid advertising campaign, no matter what platform you're on; it's more like paying rent. Once you cut funding to paid ads, they instantly turn off, and the only lasting value you get from it is the sales you made while the ads were active.
Content Marketing and SEO
Unlike with paid advertising, it's technically feasible to get started in content marketing and SEO with no monetary investment. However, if you want to scale your strategy to a meaningful level, it's going to take significant time and/or money. When you first start out, your results will leave you wanting more, but the true power of content marketing and SEO is their ability to scale exponentially over time; rather than giving you linear results, as with paid advertising, every new piece of content you produce will hold a lasting, semi-permanent value for your brand in terms of web real estate, referral traffic, and domain authority.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is another area where it's technically feasible to pursue with only an estimate of time. Depending on the scale of your efforts, social media marketing could cost thousands of dollars per month. As for the value--that's trickier to measure than the results you'll get from SEO or direct advertising. You can measure engagements, traffic, and conversions, but it's hard to accurately quantify the reputation value your brand has generated. Plus, there's wide variation between industries when it comes to social effectiveness, and the price of paid social media ads.
Email marketing has been described as the highest-ROI online marketing strategy, when implemented properly, with 67 percent of businesses listing it as their highest earner. Part of this is the low cost of creating a list and sending out emails; it won't cost you much in the way of time or money. There's also something of a growth factor, as the value of your email campaigns will increase with the size of your list. However, email marketing is dependent on a number of other interrelated strategies to be effective--and actually getting that email list built up in the first place, which can be very expensive.
The Final Contender
Out of the significant online marketing channels I listed, it's tough to pick a clear winner, especially after acknowledging the considerations I outlined above. In the short-term, paid advertising can give you a strong return, and email marketing seems to work best for the majority of businesses once they have a strong email list built up. However, if I had to pick one "best" strategy when it comes to ROI, I'd choose content marketing and SEO--thanks to its multifaceted range of effects, permanent value, and potential for compounding returns, there's just no better way to spend your marketing budget (though ideally, you'll be pursuing all these strategies in one form of another).