effective online marketing channels

A company can’t succeed in today’s connected world without online marketing.

Before you start putting together an effective online marketing strategy, you need to know the following:

  • What is an online marketing channel?
  • What different marketing channels exist on the Internet?
  • What media do most marketers and business owners prefer?
  • Which channels will bring in the highest ROI for your online business?
  • What is the best way to choose your channels?

We’ll try to answer all of these questions and give you a checklist of the factors you need to consider before you make a strategic decision.

What is an online marketing channel?

effective online marketing channels

For many of you, the word ‘channel’ may bring images of a waterway. You may think of Mark Twain’s lucid portrayal of the ever-changing channel of the Mississippi River in Huckleberry Finn. Or you might imagine the English Channel—the natural body of water between southern England and northern France.

But what are marketing channels?

A marketing channel is the means or method through which a message is delivered to a specific audience.

Online marketing channel definition

Now, let’s define what an online marketing channel is:

An online marketing channel consists of all elements that are necessary to communicate your brand message (i.e. advertising and promotion) from the point of production (your company) to the point of consumption (your customers).

Online marketing channels may also be called new media or advertising channels. These terms refer to the internet communication vehicles discussed in this article.

Types of marketing channels for your online business

Let’s leave theory aside and talk about specific online marketing channels.

Almost all online marketing channels or media can be classified into Owned, Paid, and Earned Media.

Owned channels

Owned channels or owned media are your property. You have the ownership, and you are in direct control of the medium. Examples of owned online marketing channels are:

You can influence how your business is represented and what goes where on these spaces or accounts.

Paid channels

Paid media are essentially ad placements that you pay for. Again, you control the content your audience will see but don’t own the medium through which it is displayed.

Examples of paid online marketing channels are:

Earned channels

Earned media are free to use. Still, you don’t have complete control over them. It is offered at the sole discretion of a third party.

Some examples of earned advertising channels on the Internet are:

  • Word-of-mouth (WOM)
  • Reviews and posts about your business on other sites
  • Testimonials

Why is the choice of online marketing channels important?

how to choose online marketing channels

Think of owned, paid, and earned media like a tripod. Each of the three elements is an integral part of the whole. All three contribute to a complete online marketing strategy.

Furthermore, there are several reasons why every online business should use a mixture of these channels to get their message across to their target audience.

First off, every company needs a way to find buyers for their products. The online marketing channels provide the perfect medium to identify, reach, and sell to potential buyers.

Nowadays, marketing through offline funnels is not enough. It might generate a good income for your business, but there’s still so much more potential to reach a wider audience online.

Also, using one online medium only is not enough in most cases. The competition is fierce. Having only a website that presents your team, products, and contact information won’t help you reach your marketing goals. A website with static content is a somewhat passive type of marketing because you put your content out there and expect people to find you. With all the competition, you’ll be too lucky if Google ranks your site on the first page of search results.

What you need to do instead is understand the importance of using the right mix of online marketing channels to grow your business. While all of this sounds good, it’s common to see enterprises marketing their products without a plan. If you dive into online marketing channels without a plan, you will waste resources and leave your business success to luck.

Deep dive into the most effective online marketing channels

Now, let’s dive into the most effective online marketing channels that fall under the three categories, namely owned, paid, and earned media, that we previously discussed.

Website and Blog

Your website and blog form the foundation of your online identity. But it’s not just that. A website with a blog can be your business’s most important online marketing channel. To make the most out of the website, marketers use techniques like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) to attract their ideal customer avatars and optimize the processes of converting them into paying customers.

Optimizing your website for SEO and CRO involves tactics like keyword research, link building, on-page SEO, content marketing, landing page creation, A/B testing, click-through rate (CTR) tracking and improvement, optimization to reduce cart abandonment, etc. These are just a few examples of what website owners and marketers spend their time on to make the best out of their websites.

Email Marketing

Email marketing falls under “owned media” because you have complete control of your brand image, content, and processes when you do email marketing. Most businesses use third-party email marketing platforms to host their accounts and databases. With email marketing, you collect email addresses from prospects and then deliver your messages with the sole aim of converting these prospects into customers.

You might find yourself working on newsletters, autoresponder series, lead nurturing campaigns, launches, and other tasks when using email marketing as an online marketing channel.

Email is arguably the second most crucial marketing channel after your website and blog. It is often said that for every 1$ you spend on email marketing, you get $30 to $40 back —more details further down this article.

Social Media

Social media as a marketing channel refers to your accounts, pages, or profiles on social networks in which you market your business. SMM (Social Media Marketing) is the art and “science” of leveraging social media to earn visibility traffic. Almost every company today that has an online presence utilizes at least one social network to get its message across to a  larger audience.

Some examples of actions you might perform on social media channels are posting in a Facebook group, updating your Facebook pages, publishing an article on LinkedIn, or doing Twitter marketing, and all these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Social media usually comes right after email marketing when marketers are asked what online marketing channel has the highest ROI.


Webinars have become a marketing channel in recent years due to an explosion in the need for demand generation via video. It’s now a mature but reliable marketing technology that “just works” when attracting leads, pitching your offer, and increasing sales. These days, some businesses base most of their lead-generation efforts on sales webinars and webinar funnels.

Suppose you decide to use webinars as an online marketing channel. In that case, you might be involved in activities like building a registration page, rehearsing your webinar script, and pitching during the webinar.

All that’s left for you to do is set it up in your autoresponder!  Or, if you’d like it completely done for you, you can tell us about your project here!

Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC)

Now, let’s move on to paid channels. In a recent article about the pillars of an online marketing strategy, we explained exactly what falls under PPC, SEM, display advertising, network advertising, and all types of paid advertising. For simplicity and as an example of paid advertising in general, we will only refer to PPC in this post.

PPC is an online marketing channel where advertisers bid for placement at a search engine to earn visibility and traffic when users enter relevant queries into search engines. Advertisers are only charged when users click on their ad, hence the name “pay-per-click.”

When marketers use PPC advertising, they spend their time on tasks like adding relevant keywords to Google Adwords or adding copy to Bing Ads.

Retargeting / Remarketing

Retargeting, also known as remarketing, is about displaying ads to people who have recently visited your site but haven’t performed a planned action, like subscribing to your newsletter or adding a product to the cart.

It is a powerful marketing channel that contributes to conversion optimization. It’s a marketing tool that works with other marketing channels as part of your larger digital strategy. Remarketing works best when you are already sending paid traffic to your website via PPC or other paid marketing channels.

Retargeting is effective because retargeted customers are much more likely to click on your ad since they have recently demonstrated interest, compared to internet users who haven’t interacted with your brand before.
When trying to convert random visitors into leads, retargeting can give you a second chance; with retargeting ads, you can bring visitors back to your site and keep your message fresh on top of their minds.

When preparing for retargeting campaigns, you’d create display ads in AdWords or set up your site’s Google tracking.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing is another paid channel incentivizing marketers or site owners to promote your product. The incentive is a commission, a percentage of the revenue they drive to your business.

Companies that use affiliate marketing to promote their products use in-house tools to manage their affiliate programs or third-party platforms like ShareASale and Commission Junction.

Word Of Mouth

WOM refers to organic marketing, which doesn’t cost you a penny. It’s all about people talking about your company and your products. Word-of-mouth is one of the most trusted online marketing channels because it involves a direct recommendation from one customer to another.

When WOM goes wild, your brand is the first thing that comes to mind when shopping for similar goods. This can swing either way; while positive WOM is what you’d be looking to achieve, negative WOM can also be as influential on a potential customer’s purchase decision.

We’re talking about viral content when you choose to affect online WOM. In this case, your goal is to generate content worth sharing so that you influence how people spread the word about your brand and ultimately earn more traffic back to your offers. With viral campaigns, you’d look at linkbait production, guerilla marketing, viral video creation, etc.

Posts about you on other sites

Often, good products will receive online reviews. These reviews might appear on specialized product review sites or other blogs. If you have a good product, bloggers, and YouTubers will likely discuss it and share their customer experience with their audience. Sometimes, they might be affiliated with your brand and receive a commission for every customer they refer to your company.

Posts and reviews on other sites make an essential marketing channel because most people look for reviews and feature comparisons before they make a buying decision.

Accordingly, acquiring more reviews should be an integral part of your online PR efforts. And this point takes us to the last earned marketing channel, which is…


When pleased with your product and customer service, your customers will happily give you a testimonial. Customer testimonials should be on your website, landing pages, and sales emails.

When potential buyers evaluate different offers, they usually do all of the following: look for reviews, look at what bloggers and influencers say about you, and finally, examine customer testimonies. The impact of earned media is vast.

Therefore, make it a priority to ask happy customers for a testimonial and publish them in a prominent location on your site and other owned media.

How to choose the right online marketing channel for your business

In our opinion, the right approach is to adopt a multichannel strategy. Relying on one online marketing channel only is not likely to bring the desired business results. Let’s see how you can evaluate the channels and choose the right one for your business.

Target audience

To that end, you must consider who you want to market your business to. In other words, you need to define your target audience.

Type of business

Your choice of suitable online media depends on your business type and who you want to serve. Do you have an e-shop selling consumer goods? Do you sell a B2B digital product to small businesses? Or do you sell a training course that is meant for individuals?

Is your product targeted at fathers, executives, women, or children? Is your product innovative or a commodity? Knowing your industry and customer avatar is imperative to deciding which online marketing channels to invest your resources.

Survey customers

Do you have existing customers? Conduct a short survey using the proper tools to uncover your actual customers. Use quizzes, emails, and surveys to learn more about their needs and challenges.

Where are your customers?

Be aware of where your customers hang out online. This information could help you determine whether to use those online marketing channels to reach potential customers. Are they on Facebook or LinkedIn?

Are they blogging? Are they buying from Amazon? Connect the dots to paint a picture of your online marketing strategy and decide on the vehicles you want to market your products.

Targeting options

Moreover, you may want to look at the different targeting options in paid advertising channels. Can you target your audience using keywords only? Do you have the ability to show your ads to those who are already engaged with your brand?

Can you target specific demographics? Can you upload your lead database and target those people only? Targeting looks different in AdWords, LinkedIn Ads, and Facebook Ads. Other platforms offer different options, so keep that in mind.

Stage of your business

Then, it would help if you considered the stage of your business. Are you just starting up? Are you an established business in the growth stage? Have you reached a plateau? Any existing data from previous online marketing campaigns will give you valuable information about how effective each channel is for your business.


It wouldn’t do you any good to choose an effective online marketing channel when you can’t afford it. Look at your budget and other resources. A common question is, “How much does PPC cost?” There’s no definite answer because you pay a price per click. Still, you can’t estimate the total cost without considering factors like your goal in terms of revenue, the keywords you want to target, the projected CPC for different keywords, and so on.

Also, the advertising platform plays a role when determining your total cost. For instance, as a rule of thumb, CPC for the same keyword is higher in AdWords than Bing Ads.

Other resources

What other non-financial resources do you have? Think of team know-how, talents, and business culture that affect your choice of marketing channels.

For example, do you have the resources to create epic content? Or who from your staff comes to mind when you think of a webinar host? Do you have tech hurdles preventing you from making an efficient email marketing workflow? What would you need to outsource?

Competitor intelligence

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Look around and see how your competitors promote their products. What channels do they use? What seems to be working for others? Competitor intelligence is always an excellent means to generate ideas.

Business goals

Don’t forget to focus on your goals when devising a strategy and making essential marketing decisions. Your choice of the perfect marketing channel will depend on the top priorities you want to achieve for your business.

Is brand awareness your goal? Is it to create a market for a new product? Do you have sales goals you must accomplish by drawing a clear market segment to your site? Your marketing goals will strongly affect your choice of online channels.

But wait… Which marketing channel has the best ROI?

Okay… We’ve discussed several factors you need to consider when putting together a list of online channels that you will use in marketing. But…when you’re on a limited budget, you might want to ask, “Which online marketing channels have the biggest impact on ROI?” Ultimately, if you have to pick one or two channels along with your site or blog, you need to know which channel will most likely produce the highest ROI.

So, is there an objective answer to the question, “Which online marketing channel is most effective?” Let’s see if there’s proof on the web…

What do the famous think?

Andrew Chen of Uber talks about the marketing channels best for a startup company looking to grow. These channels are scalable, and they are:

  • Paid acquisition
  • Virality
  • SEO
  • Sales
  • Other (rare and situational opportunities for growth, like a partnership with a corporation)

Boris Wertz, the founder of Version One Ventures, narrows it down to two levers that allow high growth:

  • Paid acquisition coupled with a high Customer Life Time Value (CLTV) because high CLTV gives you the freedom to spend significant money on customer acquisition.
  • Virality, because that lets you amass users cheaply or even without spending any money at all on paid acquisition.

Rand Fishkin of MOZ uses his own opinions and experiences to produce a ranking of different online marketing channels from high to low ROI combined with effort and cost to achieve that ROI

Internet Marketing Channels


Effective marketing channels for retailers

Brilliant Insights published a benchmark of the most successful acquisition channels for retail.

The data from US e-commerce sites shows that nearly 40% of e-commerce traffic comes from organic search, while paid search and email marketing account for 25% each. Of course, those numbers don’t prove that the above channels have the highest ROI, but they indicate what works best for the top US retailers.

Traffic sources for retailers

The same source, Smart Insights, examines how e-commerce purchases are attributed to different channels. They conclude that organic (22% of assets), email marketing (20%), and CPC (19%) are the online marketing channels driving most purchases.

Retail Ecommerce orders per traffic source

Email marketing has a fantastic ROI

In a classic survey (updated in 2017), DMA asked the participants who could calculate the return on email marketing, “How much is the approximate return you get back for every pound spent on email marketing?” The answers revealed that the average ROI is £30.01. Because email works so well, it is probably unsurprising that marketers reported sending over four emails per month.

Website, Email, Social media, and SEO are the channels that stand out

Another survey published by Ascend2 reveals which online marketing channels are worth your attention. Marketers say these are the most lucrative and engaging channels that could give you the best results.

But what are the most challenging online marketing channels to execute? Here are the responses:

  • Website – 40%
  • Social media – 40%
  • SEO – 39%
  • Email marketing – 36%
  • Mobile – 34%
  • Paid search – 30%
  • Display ads – 29%

marketing channel effectiveness versus difficulty

A Vocus digital marketing survey asked small business owners which digital marketing channel is most effective.

Here’s how the top online marketing channels ranked:

  • Website – 33.9%
  • Social media – 24.9%
  • Email marketing – 19.6%
  • SEO – 16.2%

Most effective online marketing channels


Now, how about webinars? We know webinars bring consistent marketing ROI for nearly any business, but let’s look at some stats supporting that claim.

The Content Marketing Institute reported that 64% of marketers consider webinars “very effective” or “effective.”

ReadyTalk, a webinar platform, was conducted with their clients, and they found that between 20% and 40% of webinar attendees turned into qualified leads.

A study from the Content Marketing Institute found that marketers rate webinars in the top 5 in terms of the most effective tactics they use.

But how do you get people to register for your webinar? The answer is to let people know about your webinar via other marketing channels. This source reports that on a scale of 1 to 5, email marketing ranked 4.46 and was the top tool for promotion. Scoring 2.77 out of 5, social media was the second most widely used promotional tool for webinars.

How can you tell which option is best for your business?

As a business owner or marketer, you’re constantly looking for new ways to attract customers, but not everything is black and white regarding effective online marketing channels.

You don’t need to get blinded by those survey answers. Keep an eye on trends and emerging channels that might be an opportunity for your business growth. Listen to your entrepreneurial intuition, and start with what you believe would work best for your business. Choose the online marketing channel that makes more sense, try, evaluate, and revisit.

Here’s a summary of the digital marketing channels we discussed in this article and a checklist of the essential variables you must examine before deciding.

  • Owned channels
    • Your website and your blog
    • Email marketing
    • Social media
    • Webinars
  • Paid channels
  • Earned channels
    • Word-of-mouth
    • Reviews and posts about your business on other sites
    • Testimonials

Online marketing channel checklist

Before choosing the best online marketing channel mix for your business, consider the following factors in this 14-point checklist:

  1. What is your primary business goal this year?
  2. Can you map out one to three of your most significant online marketing objectives that support that business goal?
  3. Define your ideal customer avatar.
  4. Where on the Internet does your customer spend most of their time?
  5. What are your customer's most pressing needs and challenges?
  6. Can you adopt a multichannel approach?
  7. What's your online marketing budget? How much can you afford to allocate to marketing via online channels?
  8. What other resources do you have? Think of team, know-how, talents, and business culture.
  9. How would you describe the stage of growth in your business?
  10. Are you a B2C or a B2B company?
  11. Are you selling physical products, digital products, or services?
  12. What marketing channels do your competitors use?
  13. Which of the shortlisted channels delivers the highest ROI?
  14. What does your gut feeling tell you about the top marketing channels?


Now, at this point, and with the help of the digital marketing channel checklist, you should be able to identify some candidates who would make good online marketing channels to put them to the test. Generally, SEO, email marketing, and social media can give you a good start.

If you’re a startup or any new business, these three channels provide the perfect opportunity to establish an awareness of your products and services and gain your first customers.

You don’t need to be everywhere, though, if you don’t have the resources to support an omnichannel strategy. Go with as many different media as you can handle. It’s preferable to focus on two or three media instead of trying to be good at everything.

Start small and focused, then use cross-channel leverage and scale as you see results from your chosen online marketing channels.