Still uncertain how to start your online-marketing efforts this year? Here's some practical guidance that will soon have you on your way to success.

10. Borrow and Share

Share your content, borrow others'. This is a really simple concept, but due to decades of a winner-take-all, competitive scarcity-model mentality, it's a hard philosophy for most marketers to embrace.

All of us have some content that's worth getting out, so we should share it with anyone willing to post it on their site. In the same vein, we should borrow content from others who have supporting information that will enhance the experience of our Web-site customers.

Even those whose business is information—publishers—can't cover all things at all times and need to share. If The New York Times is willing to aggregate and share content from other publications, then it should be possible for the rest of us to do the same.

Recommendation: Find the top two or three publishers/bloggers/reporters who cover your industry and grab an RSS feed. Insert it in your news section of your Web site. This may not produce any results, but it will help you get used to—and begin to understand the value of—the shared-content concept.

9. User-Generated Content as a Strategy

With folks out of work and looking for ways to engage, what better time to encourage participation? You might be surprised to find how many of your customers are more than happy to give insight on their experience with a product, service, or solution that you offer. So why not encourage them to share?

Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and many more sites have become brand leaders over much more established brands simply by embracing a user-generated-content strategy. Now, it's your turn.

Recommendation: Pick a product, service, or area of interest on your site and, with the help of a 30-day trial from one of the many ratings/reviews software vendors, start getting content from your customers. With no additional tech support or manpower hours on your end, you will have expanded your online offerings.

8. Cost-Conscious Search

Recently I heard the folks at Hitwise, a company that monitors online trends, including search (like Nielsen for TV), mention how search patterns predicted the downturn in our economy: low-cost keyword search phrases had a huge spike starting in August.

With Americans looking for savings above all else, your site can tap into budget-conscious searches by inserting low-cost phrases like "best deal," "highly discounted," or "lowest price available." Apply this both to your paid search ads and to your search engine optimization efforts in the copy on your site, and the cost-conscious shopper will find you on the major search engines. Everyone is looking for a deal, so give it to them.

Recommendation: Take your top 15 keyword phrases and build a 30-day mini-campaign for your paid search program around low-cost descriptors. At the end of that 30-day period, evaluate what your CTR is compared with what it was without those low-cost phrases.

7. Email With Purpose

Stop the e-newsletter and start serving the customer. So many of us send our monthly e-newsletter with the fierce discipline of an Olympic athlete. We are dead set on getting that email out at 10 AM on the second Tuesday of every month, and will drop everything to make sure it gets out. But are our customers really waiting with baited breath for this generic e-newsletter to hit their inboxes? Are there going to be a flood of calls to customer service if at 10:01 AM the email has not arrived? Of course not. So why is it such a priority?

Instead of clinging to the e-newsletter habit, what about launching a timely, well-segmented email campaign that has relevant information that will be of the most interest to your customer base?

The day that an e-newsletter becomes the most important tool in your arsenal is the day you become a publisher. Stop spending your time on that low-impact e-newsletter and start spending it on relevancy and segmentation.

Recommendation: In your next e-newsletter, ask your customers what they are interested in, what they'd like to hear more about, and how often... then segment audiences and build campaigns around this information.

6. Analytics for Real

We all have Web analytic tools to measure what is happening on our Web site. And though many of us need to purchase a better software system for more relevant analysis, all of us need to improve what, how, and why we measure what we measure. Therefore, there is no better time than now to improve how we measure online success as it relates to company sales, cost savings, and ROI. And the great thing is that the hard costs are negligible: it's the soft cost of your time that is the real issue, making the analytics conversation a much easier one to have with the powers that be.

Retrench, re-evaluate and read best-practices to build a key performance indicator plan that will help you determine metrics of value to your business and eliminate those that are have little to no value.

Recommendation: Reflect on the major company and departmental goals for the year, then ask yourself, "How can I use my Web metrics to show how our site is improving those goals for the organization?"

5. Plunge Head-First Into Social Networking

Too many of us are still merely dipping our toes into the world of social networking. This time last year, about the same topic I wrote that there is no time for you to wait. This year, the need to jump in is even more pronounced.

Interest groups are being formed, new brand leaders are being established, and thought leaders are constantly emerging in these new social communities. If you are not out there making mistakes, learning the protocol, and getting a feel for how your brand and personal connection play in the bigger business cycle, you will quickly find yourself isolated and on the outside looking in.

How are you going to use Facebook, LinkedIn, and other essential social media to establish brand credibility and your place in that new marketplace?

Recommendation: Build a group in LinkedIn and Facebook and start the invitation process. And if you don't have profile set up in either, start there and begin to get a feel for the what it's like to be a participant in the community.

4. Stop Twittering, Start Working

Twitter has some very useful applications, but 90% of the information on the site has little to no importance to any of us. Unless you have a plan to monetize, stop wasting your time and start doing something productive. Just because you have 2,000 followers, does not mean anyone really cares what you are doing at 7AM Saturday morning!

Recommendation: Stop for 30 days and see if the sky comes crashing down.

3. Budget for Customers

One of the most compelling opportunities during times of economic uncertainty is to question all costs, practices, and budgeting processes. Now more than ever is a great time to get your peers to take a hard look at where your customers are spending their time and money, and then working to align your budgets accordingly. Are they reading the newspaper, are they reading magazines, are they listening to the radio?

Figure it out, and start spending where they are. Chances are, many more of your customers than you realize are online. Do you have the presence necessary to meet them there?

Recommendation: Do some quick research on Forrester, Pew Internet Research Project, or any of the other major research companies that study human behavior on this topic, then take that research to your next budget meeting and ask how this should affect your spend for 2009.

2. Education Is Always the Key

Ask anyone who has spent their life fighting the major epidemics of the world—AIDS, poverty, etc.—and they'll tell you that the key to solving the problem is education. Education on safe sex, education on malnutrition... education is always the first and most important step.

Today, with the enormous shift toward online communication, education of your stakeholders, coworkers, and superiors about the online space is essential to enabling solutions for years to come.

Going to their office and asking for additional resources (again!) for this year's online efforts won't do the trick. Educate yourself to educate them, and it will be smooth sailing for years to come.

Recommendation: Sign up yourself or a key stakeholder for a good webinar, conference, or certification program, or buy a great book on online media, and really get serious about starting the education process.

1. No Fear

Now is not the time to cower in your shell and hope this whole recession thing passes. If you fear the economic change that is upon us, the consequence will be poor results, bad decisions, and, for many, job loss.

On the other hand, if you embrace change, build a plan to capitalize on it, and approach your team with the attitude of becoming stronger as a result, you will find that the bumpy ride ahead can be more enjoyable with the positive focus and aggressive approach to tackling the challenge.

Recommendation: Build a plan that proactively tackles the issues versus reactively "kicks the can" of despair. So, what does "No Fear" actually translate into?

  • It's a matter of attitude: "We have an opportunity to kick our competition's butt because we are going to do XYZ to gain market share while they scramble."
  • It's functional: "We need to start doing more with less, which means making the existing programs that we keep better, and getting rid of those that we cannot measure."
  • It's proactive and goal-driven: "If we can cut marketing cost 20% and increase lead generation 10%, then we'll open up more budget and the marketing team will be bonused."  

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Aaron Kahlow is founder and executive director of the Online Marketing Summit ( and the Online Marketing for Marketers blog (