Here’s what 376 marketers say is working in online marketing

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For entrepreneurs and startup founders looking for new ways to grow their businesses, there’s no shortage of information on the “whats” and “hows” of digital marketing.

For the past decade, I’ve done my best to provide even more information in those categories, helping entrepreneurs with everything from the basics of building an online presence to advanced tactics in categories like SEO.

But it’s also important to zoom out, beyond the strategies and tactics, so we can understand the “whys” behind marketing — as well as where it’s headed and when.

Last year, I attempted to answer these questions with an original survey I called “What Works in Online Marketing,” and I walked away with some interesting revelations about the state of the industry. Now that it’s a year old, I figured it was time to redistribute the survey and find out exactly where we stand today.

You can download the entire report here (registration required), but below, I’d like to highlight some of the most interesting findings from the survey and discuss what they mean for your business.

Survey methods

The survey itself was fairly simple. It comprised a number of questions regarding the use and effectiveness of multiple different online marketing strategies, including content marketing, SEO, social media marketing and link building.

We distributed the survey to 376 people, most of whom are professional marketers or business owners, and collected the results for analysis. There was a fairly equal distribution of participants by age, gender and position.

This year’s most important takeaways

So, what did we learn about the state of online marketing? These were some of the biggest takeaways:

  1. Attitudes haven’t changed dramatically. Compared to last year, attitudes about marketing haven’t changed much one way or another. As you’ll see, marketers still feel good about the strategies they’re using, and they are investing in different tactics (such as SEO, content marketing and social media marketing) in similar patterns. There haven’t been many disruptive events to force people into new paradigms and new strategies, nor have there been any big scares or economic disruptions to curb the power of marketing.
  2. People are ready to spend more on marketing. Nearly 45 percent of marketers are planning to increase their marketing budgets this year, with another 30 percent of responders planning to keep their budgets the same. That means 75 percent of respondents are keeping their budgets the same or increasing them, compared to less than 25 percent who are planning to decrease their budgets. This is a sign of overall economic growth, potentially, but it’s also important to recognize it as a sign that most marketers are finding success.
  3. Marketers are clueless when it comes to ROI. But how are those marketers defining success? Return on investment (ROI), arguably the single most important metric for gauging the profitability of a campaign, remains elusive for many marketers to measure. For each core online marketing strategy, we asked marketers what type of ROI they were seeing—and the top answer for nearly every strategy was “not sure.” The only strong exception to this rule was social media marketing, which 44 percent of marketers saw a positive ROI for. Otherwise, either marketers aren’t measuring their ROI rates consistently, or they don’t know how to do it.
  4. Facebook is king, but Instagram is rising. As you might have predicted, Facebook remains the most popular social media platform, both in terms of the number of marketers using it and in terms of the ROI those marketers are seeing from it. Over 88 percent of respondents are using Facebook, and 53 list it as their top-ROI platform. However, Instagram is also rising in importance, jumping to become the second-most popular social platform for marketers (excepting YouTube). With 95 percent of marketers planning to keep or increase their social media budgets, social media marketing is likely to stay around for a while.
  5.  Optimism reigns. Finally, optimism in the online marketing community is high. Overall, marketers are increasing budgets, but they’re also increasing budgets for most specific strategies, including SEO, content marketing, link building, influencer marketing and social media. They’re happy with the results they’re getting, and they’re predicting that the strategies they use are going to stick around for a long time. For example, when asked if they thought SEO would ever become universally impractical, unprofitable or otherwise useless, 32 percent said “maybe, but it’s unlikely,” making it the top response. Only 22 percent gave some kind of “yes” answer, and 17 percent said “no, never.”

Where are we headed?

Between any two points, you can draw a straight line. With the information from this year’s survey in conjunction with information from last year’s survey, we can predict what’s going to unfold over the course of the next year.

Personally, I look forward to seeing more enthusiasm and more investment in online marketing overall. The more people we have working in the industry, the more innovation we’ll collectively drive, and the more information we’ll have to collectively work with.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.




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