As 2017 draws to a close, we thought we’d ask a group of hand-picked, industry experts, which digital marketing channels they’ve seen the most success on throughout the year.
The response was overwhelming, with 44 respected marketers taking time out of their busy days to share thoughtful, insightful - and in some cases surprising - observations.
So, what's been the most effective digital marketing channel in 2017?
Interestingly, SEO remains the favored marketing method of many digital marketing experts, with 30% of our contributors choosing it as their most effective digital marketing channel. A further 12% of experts found their best results using SEO in combination with another channel, such as social media, influencer, and content marketing.
Social media marketing proved to be the second most popular channel, with 23% of our experts choosing one of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, as their digital marketing weapon of choice. Unsurprisingly, LinkedIn proved to the most popular social media platform.
The third most effective digital marketing channel in 2017 according to our expert contributors was content marketing, with 20% of experts preferring this channel over any other.
Here are the contributions of all 44, including their notes on each.
"It’s always the same for me. SEO. Although I have also been increasing my time on Youtube (more on that below).
When you know how to get on page one of Google, then it’s kinda hard to justify wasting time on any other marketing channel.
I use a simple combination of keyword research and great content to make sure I can spend my time wisely and get the best returns. It’s knowing you have a high chance of ranking to begin with that helps.
Another channel I love at the moment is Youtube. It’s less crowded and easier to connect with people because they see and hear you.
There is a higher barrier to entry, because most people are not comfortable with it, but if you spend the time, then the returns are epic."
"It’s a somewhat subjective question as we all know that different brands/products/services require sometimes vastly different approaches. No single channel is usually solely responsible for particularly strong results.
This year however, we’ve had great success combining SMM with solid SEO foundations; meaning that combining improved social media exposure with great organic search visibility vastly improves not only brand awareness and trust, but also has an indirect, positive affect on CTR in paid and organic search results and conversion rate."
Christoph Trappe @CTrappe (https://authenticstorytelling.net/christoph-trappe/)
"The blog! I know right? What year is this? LOL. While I’ve seen tremendous successes with social channels, ultimately many things come back to our blog. From continued SEO successes to the ease of content creation through a Create Once, Publish Everywhere model the blog helps us establish our organizations as the experts and grow audience! Email also fits in here. Growing an email list while our SEO strategy takes off is also still very successful."
"The marketing channel for your content has to be your own website. You want to build and own the audience. When you place content on other platforms that you do not own, you risk losing that valuable asset. Of our 40+ clients, those that stuck with our content and SEO recommendations on their own website, saw an average increase in their traffic of 66% in the first year.
In their second year, it jumps to 167%. Not too many other marketing channels can top that from an ROI perspective. Get that right, then you can start looking at other marketing channels to really amplify your content."
"I’m in love with LinkedIn. Its become an indispensable channel personally and professionally. Its magical for B2B, influencers and networking."
"Organic search has always been the best channel for my agency, Bowler Hat. Now organic is a multi headed beast. And where we see some traction from organic for search queries like “SEO agency” and local for searches like “SEO Birmingham” – all of which we tend to rank really well for. The real win for us is always content.
It is the helpful marketing content that we share that drives most of our organic impressions and clicks. This drives brand awareness and of course there is always an option on these articles to get in touch for a free SEO consultation or website review as a form of lead generation.
Ultimately, we give small businesses the content they need to do SEO themselves. But, if they read what needs to be done and feel they either don’t have the time, skills or inclination then we can help.
I like helping people. So I like this kind of marketing. It’s not pushy. We are not phoning you up. We are not locking you into long term contracts. We expose our expertise and provide what businesses need to do to improve. Sometimes folks may see some success themselves and need help. Other times they come straight to us. It’s marketing that helps people. And ultimately helps us connect with businesses we can do great work for.
Another consideration here is that we got a lead via a more commercial search like “SEO company near me” then we may be competing with several other companies. There is always someone who will be cheaper or will promise the world. And we are very realistic. We aim to under-promise and over-deliver. So, these leads don’t always work out great for us. A lead on the back of a content piece usually comes to us and only us. The lead is warm and we don’t have to do the hard sell (which we don’t do anyway). So not only does this work drive leads. They are good, warm leads who already get what we are about at Bowler Hat.
Ultimately, our philosophy at Bowler Hat is to help SMEs. Do great work. Help the underdogs take on the big boys. So, this marketing is successful from that perspective and successful from driving qualified leads. Win-win."
"Content marketing. We had an article written back in 2010 that showed a spike in traffic this year. The investment we've had in place since 2009 in content marketing seems like free now.
We do, however, go back to the old articles and do some refurbishing, but that is certainly the best investment of our time and money now. So, it’s SEO too. But that doesn’t work without good content."
"Content. What’s been – and always will be – effective is providing valuable and useful information that helps our audience move forward with their business challenges. The only way to do this, of course, is to continually listen, not just to talk."
"SEO and influencer marketing have been my best channels this year. We’ve done a good job of publishing content that aligns well with phrases and top-line traffic is up. But better yet, we’ve been more collaborative in our approach than ever, and influencer marketing has led to better quality, more traffic and new friends.
This aligns well with the results other bloggers are reporting for 2017. According to our latest blogger survey, influencer marketing correlates with “strong results” more than any other promotion tactic. Here’s the data…
For 2018, we’ll keep writing search friendly articles, but we’re going to double down on collaboration, including quotes from influencers whenever possible."
Doug Kessler @dougkessler (https://velocitypartners.com/blog)
"LinkedIn is getting stronger and stronger as a marketing channel. Super-targeted.Trackable. Easy to run tests. For me, it’s the most effective B2B marketing channel. There’s no professional network like it."
"Organic Search continues to be the channel that brings the best return-on-investment because of the quality traffic it brings. Despite on-going fluctuations in SERPs, it’s the most sustainable source of traffic when using the right tactics.
However, no digital marketing strategy should focus on a single channel – organic goes hand-in-hand with paid search and retargeting, and there are more clients getting (sometimes surprisingly) good results when we’ve tested campaigns on social channels."
"For us it’s still old, or since it’s now evolving very rapidly – new fashion SEO. Playing in a very small market – Sweden, we feel the best way to market ourselves still remains ranking for those keywords that are most important to us. Being able to stand out among companies ten times our size is what I believe to be a true sign of quality."
"Content marketing is still our most effective digital marketing channel so far. Most of the traffic we get is from our pages that show up in organic search, and our top referrals come from our guest post mentions. It’s also worth noting that our Facebook ads have done exceptionally well for us this year."
"Native advertising has been incredibly effective as a distribution channel for content. It’s a natural progression – meet people where they are with information that’s timely and relevant to them."
"Definitely social media. Twitter is my favorite and most powerful marketing channel. With more than 40k followers, I tweet a lot, respecting the 80/20 rule (20% of my blogs, while sharing 80% other people content). I leverage the power of Twitter by using it in combination with other tools, such as JustRetweet, ViralContentBee and Triberr. I multiply my social media reach, this way."
"Research shows that most companies get the majority of their traffic and conversions from the combination of email, search and social. All of these channels have one thing in common: engaging content. That’s why content marketing is the most ROI-producing digital marketing channel.
Create content on a website you own. Optimize to the content that your audience wants to read and share. Convert using the email subscribers to that content."
"Organic search has been the single most effective digital marketing channel in 2017. Through strategic and proactive search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, we’ve been able to generate high volumes of qualified leads and ecommerce revenue at a lower cost than any other channel.
The primary challenge in creating an effective SEO program has been creation of unique, compelling content that can be optimized. We’ve figured out ways to harness internal and external resources to overcome that obstacle and look forward to further success in 2018."
"Social media platforms are essentially huge AI systems designed to keep users ‘tuned in’ by showing them things they want to see and using data to improve the success of that goal each time a user engages. But AI isn’t really that smart yet. Most AI is big data pattern recognition that gets better at predicting what they will do as more people use the systems.
It’s not actually ‘thinking’. As the tRump media machine proved, real thinking beings can manipulate these systems with relative ease using anchor content such as a blog post, or video, bot based syndication (half of tRump’s Twitter followers are fakes) and then the power of real people sharing and training the algorithms to ‘think’. Add in some well-placed adds on automatic networks like Facebook and bam, media that motivates. Brand marketers can easily do this in a less nefarious way and tune the process to eliminate endless digital spam and create awesome content that the AI algorithms connect with people along the path to purchase that might actually care.
This is precisely what John Andrews and I have been working on at the this year. First by mapping the prevailing digital path to purchase, creating and testing content along that path, and then building engaged persona models based on people who actually care about the content that we created. By doing so, we can build better algorithm trainers and achieve outsize results. These tactics are being used by purveyors of FAKE NEWS, so we consider it a current content marketing tactic, but should and will be used and incredibly useful to individuals, brands and businesses."
"SEO without a doubt. But that's not because we’ve split tested a ton of different ones it is because it is the one we use the most and how our company is based.
Remember, as long as there is search there will be SEO. There will always be a need to get people rankings in Google.
For social it really depends on the niche. For instance for our niche (SEO, internet marketing) Twitter is awesome. There are lots of niches Twitter isn’t good for, like a local roofer probably won’t do as well as say a “”historian.”” Instagram is great for anything where you have a steady supply of great photos, period. Regardless of niche. Facebook you can make anything work."
"SEO still works best for me! I also put a lot of my focus on creating the right type of content and UX design of my landing pages."
"This year our clients have seen the best ROI from content marketing efforts. We have been actively engaged with creating content that prioritizes mobile and is optimized to earn Google featured snippets.
People want long-form content that they can easily scan on mobile devices. Use lots of lists, media and short 40-60 word paragraphs to break up your content into snackable chunks. That’s the formula we are seeing the best success with."
"By far the best channel that we have seen in 2017 for return on time investment on how to gain new customers with SMM.. Facebook GROUPS. Especially local Facebook groups.
No matter your niche or vertical there is a FB group that you can participate in to contribute to the discussion, answer questions, and develop a presence to refer people to your business, often times when they are looking for exactly what you offer.
FB just also launched a dedicated mobile app to support their groups’ communities so now it’s easier than ever to manage the groups that you participate in, monitor the conversations, and participate while on the go throughout your day.
We have found this tactic to be very effective for our marketplace. We monitor local groups and neighborhoods’ groups , and when anyone is asking for a recommendation on a lawn care service, we kindly let them know about the GreenPal community. We track the success and 60% of the time we make a recommendation, they signup for our service
This tactic can work for almost any business in any niche."
"Video marketing continued to be a major success driver for us and our clients in 2017. Specifically, more and more companies are using video by their sales team in the sales process so as to increase buyer education and trust while ultimately shortening the sales cycle. Fact is, once a sales team sees the power of video, and utilizes it in their everyday prospect communications, it can be a game-changer for the organization."
"For local offline and online shops – e.g. takeaways: Enticing customers face-to-face with special offers to signup for newsletter and Facebook page. Then followup with regular special deals and contests. Excellent bang-for-the-buck value in building online engagement and repeat customers.
For new global sites and products things have a tendency to steer towards requiring personal contact with influencers, spending money on ads or turn to PBNs and similar – the latter not being an acceptable longterm strategy. As Google classifies more and more techniques as unnatural linking (e.g. freemium tools leaving a link when used for free) the bar to “”break through”” a competitive niche has increased. For new companies unwilling to depend on advertising – the most realistic bet is to focus on establishing personal contacts with bloggers and alike both offline and online on social media."
"We run a somewhat unconventional business, where we are targeting a very specific type of client based on behavior and relationships. Lead gen activities are lower priority, as we are not pitching any old prospect for their business. Because of this unique model, we’ve found by far the most success in 2017 via search engine optimization and content marketing, with an overlay of social media marketing.
Many of our customers are able to benefit quickly from paid channels like Google AdWords or Facebook Ads, so I don’t want to discount these fantastic PPC-driven lead gen platforms. Should our model change to one more focused on quantity over quality of customers, we’ll surely jump back on those platforms as we have done so successfully on behalf of our own clients."
"Your website needs to be the most important digital marketing channel for inbound lead generation. Once you’ve implemented a powerful organic SEO strategy, you’ll be able to reap the benefits for months, if not years, to come.
We implement something that I call the “”5 Pillars of SEO”” methodology for our customers and I recommend you do the same:
1. Make sure your site is properly optimized from a technical standpoint. Google will provide site owners with great feedback and information via Google Search Console. It’s a free tool any site owner should take advantage of.
2. Make sure your site visitors have a great experience once on your site. Website usability is getting more and more important. Ensure your site is mobile friendly, people find what they are looking for in two clicks or less. The list goes on.
3. Get your on-page SEO right and start with comprehensive keyword research. At the very least, optimize the meta tags and content of each and every page on your site for three target SEO keywords.
4. Off-page SEO: Google now pays very close attention on what’s going on outside of your website. High-quality link earning is extremely important and will continue to work in 2018.
5. Love it or hate it, social media marketing needs to be part of your overall digital marketing and SEO strategy. Google has partnerships with many of the leading social media platforms and they pay close attention to the links and content you share on social media. Your social media reputation can be very helpful in earning additional “”SEO points”” from Google.
The foundation of these five pillars is content marketing. There’s very little SEO without providing your prospective customers with high-quality content. Invest heavily into creating content that’s better than the content currently available out there.
I just visited a customer to go over the results of our 2017 efforts. Year-over-year, we were able to help increase Google organic search traffic by 82%. This boost in search traffic resulted in an increase of 74% more leads compared to the previous year. Sales are up dramatically and everybody is happy. The first 3-4 organic search results on Google will usually get close to 80% of all clicks. If your site doesn’t show up there, your competitors will get the clicks and potentially the sale."
"My number one channel for 2017 was (again) email marketing. I love how people keep telling me “”email is dead””, but then another year goes by and email was again the most profitable channel for me.
Sure, the game is changing. Email Marketing Automation is a must going forward, but – for me – it’s fun to set up clever automation workflows. The possibilities you have today to automate your business and to personalize your emails are fantastic. Leverage them for a successful 2018"
"LinkedIn – It’s simply become the most valuable resource for building and maintaining professional relationships."
"This is going to sound weird, but my best digital marketing channel is “books.” While you may not think of a book as a “digital channel,” in fact that is primarily how books are created, published and distributed today. Creating a new book (“KNOWN”) led to exposure to new audiences, new monetization opportunities (speaking, consulting) and of course a unique passive income stream.
Most important, it is a powerful way to establish thought leadership. Writing a book isn’t for everyone, but if your market is saturated with blogs, videos, and podcasts, this might be a way to stand out."
"For us, organic still provides the best return on investment for a business looking to invest time and energy. Even if a website can’t appeal to niche topics with new and expanded content, one spot many miss out on is optimizing for their own branded name. For most, branded queries drive the bulk of impressions and clicks – protecting one’s brand message from negative or competitive results is vital."
"Facebook by far. The ability to reach your audience in a cost-effective way is unparalleled. From top of funnel awareness to bottom up conversion, creating custom audiences and strategies to mirror actions taken on your site or within Facebook has been unbelievably successful. And it seems to keep getting better."
"We still see a great rate of growth from SEO & Content Marketing channels for growth in 2017. With the right type of long form content and the right SEO strategy businesses can still grow rapidly. You also need to be investing in paid media alongside SEO efforts."
Luan Wise @luanwise (luanwise.co.uk)
"My answer to this question has to be LinkedIn. Not just because they recognised my use of the platform in 2015, including me as a top 5 female marketer for their ‘best connected’ campaign, but because it is the platform where I make connections and keep-in-touch with my network.
I can gather the latest insight about my industry and keep learning. I can also share content, which drives conversations, generates leads and opportunities for my business, and my clients’ businesses."
"My business was built on Social Media. My website has only just launched after nearly 2 years without. I’ve never even advertised my services. Yet, I have always received a healthy number of leads and enquiries each week from LinkedIn and Twitter…
For this reason, Social Media is by far my most effective channel to date!
Combined with guest blogging? Insane growth…
You can find sites that accept guest posts by searching on Google, like this:
“your niche here” “guest author”
“your niche here” “write for us”
Then, whittle down your list to only include the best brands with sizeable audiences — but forget requesting through their web forms. Try to discover key people in the organization and reach out to them on Social Media, AFTER building a genuine relationship with them!
Social Media + Solid Relationships + Content = Presence.
I grew my own audience and business to what they are today, mainly by initially guest blogging and being constantly active across social. That says a lot about the power of this collective technique:
AND REMEMBER: If you’re on Social Media and not engaging with your audience — You’re just media!"
Wade McMaster @webuildyourblog (wellbuildyourblog.com)
"Solid SEO has still been the biggest driver of traffic to my website, leveraging that with Email has been a killer combination!"
"I’d say these channels have helped my website as well as our clients’ sites to gain more traction in their niches: organic/search channel and social media (for the right industries using paid social advertising)."
"It’s become apparent to me in 2017 that a holistic approach to digital marketing is the most effective way to succeed online. Each channel has direct or indirect benefits on other channels – take display advertising, for example. Display advertising can increase brand awareness, which in turn can build trust.
More trust often equates with higher organic click-through-rates, which means more site visitors. More site visitors over time signals to search engines that people find your site valuable, and you’re more likely to rank. To me, asking which digital marketing channel is better is like asking which of your limbs is better. They shouldn’t be thought of in isolation, but rather as essential parts of the whole, each serving a valuable function."
"Personally speaking the best platform for personal brand is Twitter. I have to admit that I have had less time to focus on this than in previous years; as a result of growth we have seen in recent months following my agency’s acquisition by IPG.
That said, it’s firmly on my agenda again as a prioirity for 2018 and that plan will encompass writing more again for my own blog (link in my bio). I also plan to spend more time in key Slack channels as I do see this as a great way to add value by sharing my experience with super niche audiences."
"I’ve seen a lot of success with webinars this year. Webinars can help you reach a global audience with specific messages, in a cheap, effective way."
"I would say organic traffic is the best channel to promote services online. However, we cannot analyze and compare them separately. It means that you can rank highly in SERPs but if your website doesn’t help users to complete their goals, you won’t sell anything. It’s a kind of synergy: huge organic traffic + user-oriented website.
The thing that has changed this year is the fact that analyzing the effect of the campaigns takes more and more time due to the changes in SERPs: more paid results appear and there are more featured snippets that influence users’ behavior. Definitely, it has forced us to pay more attention to the effectiveness of the campaigns."
"My company Mod Girl has relied heavily on organic search for the last several years. And while the majority of our leads come from organic search, we also added a new channel to the mix in 2017: our Facebook group, The Mod Agency Insiders.
While I cannot sit here and tell you that the Facebook group drives more leads than organic, it has produced some “unspoken” success stories for Mod Girl this year. For starters, it has built our authority in the agency coaching sector and allowed us to create numerous products that we were able to pre-sell to our group.
In addition, we use the group as a sounding board to let us know what challenges startup agencies and marketing consultants are presently facing, and where they need the most help. It’s also connected us with amazing entrepreneurs that we collaborate with and even include in our products. In addition, it’s allowed me to document my passion and share my knowledge with other marketing entrepreneurs, which I absolutely love.
So while SEO is still the #1 driver of traffic to our website, it doesn’t have that community and trust factor that the Facebook group has. We are excited about 2018 and growing the group exponentially. We have a lot of amazing programs in the works and free trainings planned for 2018. We will continue with our SEO-friendly blogging, ensuring those #1 rankings in Google, but I can promise you that more of our marketing dollars will go towards maintaining and growing our Facebook group."
"Relationships. Oh, wait. Is that digital? Seriously, though, this year, for me personally, it’d have to be social media marketing – and SMM IS about relationships. Building them, nourishing them, cultivating them.
One of my biggest pet peeves is that a lot of people don’t connect the dots for their visitors. For example, having their social accounts showing on the website. You have a website; you have social accounts. Why would you make your site visitors search for your social accounts? Social takes work, but you can’t beat the benefits of a true brand ambassador. That’s when digital turns into relationships and word of mouth marketing (aka referrals). And who doesn’t love getting a glowing referral?
That’s been my bread and butter this year, and it all starts with relationships."
"I still think that the most effective digital channel for my clients in 2017 is organic search. Companies that work to improve their website accessibility and build new engaging content can see anywhere from a 10% to 200% year over year increase in performance. While, paid search and paid social as well as other digital channels have their place, to build up long term success, you need to be willing to invest in organic search. Having done SEO for more than 16 years, I find it hard to believe that even now many industries are just starting to consider organic search as a necessity in business."
“What was the most effective digital marketing channel in 2017?
Actually, there were two of them. Email marketing and Social Media marketing. I’ve been using Twitter and especially Instagram to find my target audience, connect with them, build a trust and connection, and turn them into email subscribers.
Most of our email subscribers come from Social Media.
After someone subscribes to my email list – I have a follow-up sequence in place to connect with the prospects on a deeper level, this template works very well:
Day #1: Welcome Email – Tell them who you are, why they should listen to you, what they can expect and ask what is the #1 thing they struggle with your topic.
Day #2: Why and What Email – Tell your story, explain how did you learn about your topic, show your credentials and why they want to learn about your topic.
Day #3: Mistake Email – Describe the most common mistakes people are making in your niche and ask your subscribers if they have done some of those mentioned mistakes too.
As you can see, each e-mail encourages the subscribers to reply to your email. There are many reasons why this is very important.
– You will learn valuable insights about your prospects
– You will start 1 on 1 conversation with your potential customers
– Your email open rates increase
– Email providers notice that people responding to your emails and your emails will end up in primary folder instead of spam folder
If you should focus only on one thing in next year – focus on growing your email list."
Thank you for taking the time to read my post on The Most Effective Digital Marketing Channels in 2017, and thank you in particular to all our experts for taking part.