Blog & Insights

Digital Marketing – What Actually Works?

It’s time to talk about online marketing. Many people still seem to believe that it’s possible to create digital marketing by taking a print ad and digitalising it. If your primary goal is to spend a lot of money, this might be the model for you, but if you’re interested in getting the maximum effect of your advertising, you’ll want to choose another strategy for your marketing.

For a long time, Email, Pay Per Click and SEO have been the holy trinity of online marketing. It has been these three that have led to purchases, nothing else has done that to any greater extent. I would also like to highlight two other methods: social media advertising and affiliate marketing. This survey is rather old by now and the situation has somewhat changed. Still, we can see that the three big methods – Email, PPC and SEO – generate revenue on a scale that other channels simply don’t come close to. That doesn’t mean you should ignore other efforts, but it does mean that you should have these three in place before you do anything else.

SEO – The Organic Results

If you look at the survey above, or any other decent survey, you’ll see that the organic results always generate the most purchases. (Paid results, Ads and similar are getting closer). SEO has increasingly become less of an investment and more of the equivalent of making sure you’re wearing clean underwear. If your search engine optimization doesn’t work, your online marketing doesn’t work.

What is SEO?

SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of increasing the visibility of a website in the ‘regular’ search results. You can’t buy your visibility here, you have to earn it. That means, among other things, making sure your products and product categories are visible. For example, if someone searches for “soft shell jacket fjällräven” or “jacket” you want your shop to appear in the search results if you sell these products. That includes ensuring your visibility for the brands you carry, as well as protecting your other campaigns. For instance, if you run a TV ad with a fun slogan such as ‘Come and buy a funny slogan’, you need to ensure you’re visible also on searches for this slogan – otherwise your competitors might devour the customers you’ve created.

PPC – The Paid Results

When talking about Pay Per Click, what’s implied is almost always paying per click in the search results. At Brath we often choose to call this SEM, Search Engine Marketing, since there are also other forms of PPC. You can pay per click in places other than search engines as well. A well-executed SEM can quickly grow your business.

What is PPC?

Using the above definition, PPC is about paying Google or some other search engine for ad clicks. Google Ads is the largest marketplace for this kind of advertising, constantly running keyword auctions. You bid with money, but also with relevance and if the multiplication of those two factors results in a higher bid than those of your competitors, you’ll end up on top. SEM requires careful crafting of ad texts and bids – since you’re paying per click, you need to work continuously with these two factors in order to prevent competitors from decreasing your margins. You can find more information about other forms of pay per click advertising a bit further down.

Email – The Original Digital Marketing?

Email marketing is an incredibly efficient and cost-effective method to activate and re-activate customers. Note that there is a clear difference between sending an email to someone who didn’t ask for it, and to someone who did ask for it. A lot of times it might seem like the same thing, but it’s the latter approach we’re talking about here.

What is Email Marketing?

We’re mainly talking about certain types of marketing via email and in these cases, email marketing is a very effective channel. Newsletters are the most common type: these you fill with news, discounts or similar things. Of course, a longer list of interested readers is both about retention (to retain your customers) and a way of generating extra income.

Another method is to use different forms of email automation. A large part of Marketing Automation relates to email, although there are other types as well. One is the Abandoned Cart Email, that is, sending an email to a person who placed items from your shop in the shopping cart, but who didn’t buy them. Another one can be, for example, to get people to sign up for a newsletter by offering reports, courses or similar via email. Our SEO Academy is one example of a completely automated email sequence.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing quickly became a big thing and, together with emailing, it was the kind of marketing you could do in the early days of the internet. Today, there are certain segments where affiliate marketing is an incredibly strong type of digital marketing, but it doesn’t work for all segments – at least not without a considerable effort. It works best in segments where there are already plenty of skilled affiliates, but that also comes with problems. By creating an affiliate market in your segment, you also create competition in both SEO and SEM, since these are the main methods that affiliates use in order to acquire customers. You can also end up in a situation where you’re decreasing or even eliminating your margins – good affiliates know how to charge for their services.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

In affiliate marketing, you pay web masters per click, per customer, or similar in order for them to drive visitors and sales to your site. You can either use your own system for this or go to any of the large affiliate networks that connect advertisers and publicists.

Social Media Advertising

If you remember the boom in social media marketers a few years back, you probably also remember that many of us were sceptical of their effect. Nowadays, however, there are parts of social media marketing that are effective and profitable, and not just in exceptional cases. If we just look at advertising, the advertising platforms have become much better, and therefore more efficient – especially in the case of Facebook. They have gone the same way as Google Ads by talking about conversion instead of reach, which means this is a quickly growing channel for online marketing.

What is Social Media Advertising?

Social media advertising really took off once Facebook managed to make it possible to get a good return on investment on ads, while at the same time throttling the organic reach for companies. If you share information from a business page, only a small amount of people will see the post in their feeds, compared to how many that saw it before. However, targeted advertising can yield good results. If you put together the right type of offer and put an effort into your images and message, social media advertising can work well and be profitable.

Final Words

To summarize, make sure you’ve got SEO, SEM and Email marketing in order before you try less profitable or least less critical forms of online marketing. Otherwise you risk losing a lot of customers along the way. And if you’re thinking about running a print ad, consider whether that’s really the most effective use of your money.

Magnus Bråth


Magnus is one of the world's most prominent search marketing specialists and primarily works with management and strategy at his agency Brath AB.

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