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A guest post by Dan Mckee of Sparkplug Digital.

When is the last time you had a crash course in online marketing and took a hard look at the pillars your marketing strategy is resting on?

From time to time, it’s helpful to brush up on the fundamentals. Even the most diligent marketing practitioners can lose sight of the basics and end up neglecting the crucial building blocks of success. To stay competitive online it’s no longer acceptable to master one or two pillars and ignore the rest.

There are five in particular that stand out and are worthy of ongoing study and practice:

1. Design
Many marketers grossly underestimate the role design plays and keep it off their list of priorities. The truth is that, with subpar design, it’s impossible to effectively communicate any type of marketing message. Without design, none of the other pillars matter. It’s irrelevant if 10 million visitors land on a page if the design looks like it was done by a sixth grader.

Wait, my website looks fine! I had it built by a professional.

The problem is that we might think our design is top notch when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. We never know because we never bother testing it. If you’ve yet to do so, try using Google’s website optimizer tool. Run tests to see how well your design converts visitors into customers or subscribers. To have efficient web design, we must learn how to take our own opinions out of the matter and let the numbers do the talking. The best design is always optimized for conversions.

2. Copywriting
The copy on your site can be a make or break factor when it comes down to a visitor deciding to leave or take the necessary action to convert, such as making a purchase or providing an email address. Solid copywriting starts with not just a grasp of basic grammar and language, but also an understanding of what motivates and entices people to take action. Simply put, good copy turns visitors into customers.

3. SEO
Learning search engine optimization (SEO) best practices is one of the smartest investments one can make when it comes to generating ongoing exposure and traffic to a site. Almost everyone uses search engines and the sites that rank higher are logically going to be visited more often. SEO isn’t a short term play; it takes patience and an ongoing commitment. Some people stop at on page SEO and neglect off-page SEO, while others focus on creating lots of content for their site, but fail to properly optimize it. SEO work is never really finished, but the payoffs can last long into the future.

4. Email
If you’re not collecting emails on your site you’re missing out on opportunities. With all the attention giving to SEO and social, we tend to forget that email marketing has been around longer and has a higher ROI than almost any other type of online marketing discipline. Collecting emails is as easy as offering up a newsletter, e-book, or other piece of content in exchange.

5. Social Media
Too many people take a “set it and forget it” type of attitude when it comes to social media and then end up wondering why they’re not seeing results. Participating in social media is more than just periodically updating Facebook and Twitter, there’s a level of awareness, transparency, and humility required unlike that of any of the other 4 pillars. Social media requires creative ways of reaching out and one on one brand to customer conversations. It’s not going away and it’s only going to get more complicated in the future. Those who don’t make a commitment towards social media will risk losing ground over those who do.

The five pillars of Internet marketing are often interconnected and thus should each be given their due diligence. Focus attention towards the weak spots and consider getting outside help with areas that are beyond your reach. Make no mistake that if you avoid any pillar for too long; you’ll eventually come to regret it.

Dan Mckee is the Senior Social Media Consultant for Sparkplug Digital, an online marketing agency that helps companies plan and execute effective SEO, PPC, and social media campaigns.

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