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The Online Marketing Laboratory: Researching the Tools of the Trade

Hinge Marketing surveyed over 500 businesses to find out what digital marketing tactics they implement and which work best. Find out their results.

So your firm has decided to implement (or get serious about) an online marketing strategy. Maybe you’re going to start blogging regularly. Everyone’s excited – but a little daunted, too. Where do you start? How do you know that you’re not just aimlessly tossing a thimble of content into the ocean of the Internet, never to be seen by anyone? And once you feel confident about your strategy, how do you know which tools work best?

Online Marketing and growth

Here at Hinge, we have spent a lot of time studying the distinctive online marketing strategies of high growth professional services firms, including interviewing many online marketing experts. We talked to over 500 professional services firms, comparing the strategies and perspectives of average growth firms to those of companies growing at a much faster pace.

First, we found a striking relationship between the growth rate of professional services firms and the percentage of leads generated online:

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The takeaway here is clear: firms generating a significant number of leads online – at least 40% – are growing at the fastest rate. Those companies generating no leads online are growing at a markedly reduced clip.

But what does this picture look like with respect to companies’ profitability? A robust online marketing program requires a steady commitment of resources – does that investment pay off? The next chart illustrates firm profitability as a percentage of revenue:

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If anything, the takeaway is even clearer here. As online lead generation increased past the 20% line, profitability steadily increases with it.

So we’re seeing evidence that online marketing works. But up until now, we’ve talked about online marketing in broad terms. But which tools, exactly, are these firms using? And how effectively do these strategies help companies accomplish their aims?

Inside the online marketing laboratory

We asked the firms in our sample group to rank their focus on the online marketing tools that they used. Then we arranged the results to show which tools were favored by high growth firms and which were used by average growth firms.

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The starkest contrast here is what you could call the blogging gap: high growth firms’ focus rating for blogs – the essential core of any content marketing initiative – was over double that of average growth firms. And notably, high growth firms place the most emphasis on blogging, search engine optimization, major social media platforms, email marketing, and web analytics.

Next, we wondered how effective firms found the tools that they used. Below, you can see our findings on the effectiveness of the tools above as ranked by both groups:

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Here, SEO, blogging, and web analytics emerge as the most effective tools, followed by email marketing and lengthier content marketing materials like whitepapers or ebooks. On SEO, high growth firms indicated that a thoughtful optimization strategy was the most effective online marketing tool a firm could use. In conversation with a panel of online marketing experts, our interviewees agreed that committing to an optimization strategy is the key to seeing results. High growth firms used optimization techniques at a much higher rate – and so they saw a much higher rate of return.

And that, really, is the most important thing to take away from our research. That nervousness I mentioned at the beginning – the fear that your online marketing efforts won’t pan out – can be your greatest hurdle. Dipping a toe into the water of online marketing isn’t enough. Identifying the right strategy and committing to it is the key to making it work. Hopefully, this research will ease some minds…and make some marketing programs that much more effective.

To read the full results of the study, download a free copy of the book Online Marketing for Professional Services.