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Organic marketing versus, well, everything else on the Internet

Organic, Pay Per Click, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Socila Media Advertising, Link Farming, print/paper/radio/television advertising, direct mail marketing, email marketing - The list of methods for getting your company's brand and message out there actually goes on even further.

So which is "best" ? Depending who you ask, this is where the blood gets ankle deep and children are turned into orphans. This commentary, however, will be on my observations of thirty years on Internet use, twenty of them professionally in all three of technical development, sales and marketing (All three of which, I still do today)

The quick answer, for me, would be "Organic marketing is the way to go, period."

Why is organic marketing better ?

Why ? It takes longer to see results, the feedback loop is no where near as immediate, so evolving your strategy can often be a matter of months, rather than hours, and, in general, organic marketing is time and labour intensive.

Why ? Because it works. Not only does it work to bring people your message, thus bringing the people to you, but it's because it gives them the answers to the solutions they are actually seeking. Pay per click, push media like television and newspaper, mail or email marketing, most of those are typically a scatter gun approach, or "Throw enough mud at the barn wall and some of it has got to stick". They rely on the sheer volume of people seeing the message and the hope that that message is good enough that that magical four percent conversion ratio, or view-to-click ratio, will be achieved.

So what is "organic" marketing ?

Organic, or "natural" marketing, is the process of getting other people, web sites, blogs, social media, word of mouth and private emails to not only link to your business, but recommend and endorse it because it is relevant to them and to those they think will benefit from it. Organic marketing automatically contains the subconscious recommendation-from-a-satisfied-friend benefit, because the chances are when you are reading a site that you already follow faithfully, you do so because you value and/or trust that sites' content: When that trusted source recommends another source, you automatically give that second source a higher chance of earning your business, rather than a random Joe along the street who happens to see the same thing.

Of course, organic marketing, when successful, also gives the same benefits as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, in that you're placed at the top of the search engine results. To be fair, this is not only harder to do, but also harder to maintain, but this is pretty standard: You can spend your entire weekend fixing your own car, getting dirty, cuts and scrapes, lost time that you'd rather spend on the boat, or you can pay someone else to do it in an afternoon in their shop.

Like fixing your own car, the satisfaction of having done it yourself is tremendous. Unlike fixing your car, however, organic marketing success also brings you financial benefits in the form of increased business. If you're doing things right, this is not only an increase in short term sales, but in the long term retention of loyal and repeat customers.

A little advice for successful organic marketing methods

The purpose of this commentary isn't really to get into the how-to's of organic marketing (I might put up something like that at a later date if there is enough interest), but I will make a few suggestions:

  1. Content, content, content! Just like having a repeat customer come back to your store for new and interesting products, repeat visitors to your site are looking for new and interesting content. Never forget that most people do not make a purchase on their first visit to a site: Give them reasons to come back.
  2. Don't insult your customers by telling them to buy your products on your say-so alone. This is related to #1, above: If your website is nothing but a catalogue of your products, along with their prices and a bunch of checkout buttons, you are insulting your customers by telling them "Buy our stuff because we tell you to". When selling widgets or services online, you need to show, via your site, how to use your widgets, why people use your widgets, creative use of same, feedback from your customers on your widgets good and bad - that shows you listen to your customers.
  3. The Internet is much more than just your website: You, your company and your staff should be all over the place. There are literally millions of forums, websites, blogs, social media sites and so on where your company's presence should be felt. HOWEVER: Be aware that sometimes, "presence" and "spam" can have a very fine, sometimes invisible, dividing line between them. If you're not sure about putting content about your firm on someone elses' site, try asking the site owner. At the very least, if you can't see other examples of companies doing the same on the site you'd like to expose yourself on, try asking the users. A message like "Hi everyone, I represent a company that is very much related to this forum and I think we've got a lot of insights and advice that would be of interest, but do not wish to have the appearance of spamming - Can anyone point me in the right direction for what is and isn't acceptable here in terms of company participation in the discussions and community ?" - That will give you a lot warmer reception than blatantly jumping in, head first, with an all-out ad for your latest product, no matter how closely related to the site's interests you are.
  4. Email marketing and confirmed opt-in. This is critical to email marketing and communications: You should never, ever be sending email to any member of the public without whom you do not already have a business relationship, are answering a direct query or have a record of the confirmation of their permission for your to send them bulk email. Keep in mind that the first two, direct business relationship (i.e. They just bought something from you) and query response (They just asked if your products also come in pink) does not constitute permission to send other, bulk, email. Bulk email includes newsletters, site update notifications, sales or promotions mails, solicitations for new business and so on. Failure to adhere to confirmed opt-in for email marketing will very quickly find your company listed with Spamhaus or AHBL, which means your internet will quickly turn into an intranet - meaning you won't be able to email anyone but yourself.
  5. Given the perception that email marketing is cheap, quick and 'has the potential to reach millions', read #4 again.
  6. Cross-linking; The ideal goal is to have as many possible sites linking to yours as possible, in order to raise your profile both to the general public, as well as to the search engines. However: The concept of "pay it forward" or "Do unto thy neighbour" also applies, here: Don't be afraid to make your own recommendations for complimentary (but non-competing) businesses of your own. In fact, doing such is a great opener for getting in touch with the company you'd like to recommend with a note along the lines of "You know, we're really impressed with your product and would like to let you know that we are recommending your company on our site, here (URL here) - We would like to know if you would be interested in reciprocating the link because, as you know, the greater the cross links sites have across the net, the better we each appear in search engine results". Of course, it is even better if you can actually pick up the phone and ask this of someone you have a business relationship with, rather than an "out of the blue" email.

There are so many other hints, tips and suggestions on true, successful organic marketing that it would literally take a book - a large one - to cover them all. Some of it is through trial and error (and yes, I have the benefit of twenty years of such for my own efforts), but the above is a good starter. You can also search for "Organic marketing tips" and similar terms in your preferred search engine and get a lot of healthy tips and ideas.

At the end of the day, Organic marketing success should be your ultimate goal, whether you've just started a new business or are a long term player in your industry. I guarantee you sales and profit from organic marketing are a lot higher in the long run than the quick injections from PPC or similar.

How do I know ? Well, running Canada's number one Internet Service Provider ( ISP ) list and comparison site, CanadianISP, from Beachburg, Ontario, a farming village of 900, should be an indication of just how well it works :)

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