Creating great content is pointless…
…unless you're getting it in front of your target audience.
You do this by using any one of a number of promotional tactics to reach your target audience on a variety of platforms.
Most of these platforms can be grouped together, and that's where we get marketing channels. A promotional tactic can then be applied to most of the platforms in the channel.
For example, social media is a marketing channel, consisting of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Depending on whom you ask, you'll get different answers to the question of how many marketing channels there really are.
The number gets even more complicated if you consider that there are many offline marketing channels as well.
However, for most of us, the number of channels doesn't matter.
What does matter is that there is a handful of core channels that are by far the most effective digital marketing channels.
That's what this post is all about.
We'll go over the six main digital marketing channels you should at least be familiar with. On top of that, I'm going to show you how to evaluate each channel to determine whether it's worth your time.
The real power of studying channels: If you want to learn this stuff because you love marketing, that's great. But there's also a great practical reason for you to want to learn it.
Once you learn how to identify the best marketing channels for your business, you can study them and create content for those specific channels (and sites in them).
By targeting content towards a specific audience, you're much more likely to create something they'll love and want to read.
Channel #1: Search engines (SEO) is the best place to start
There are very few websites that wouldn't benefit from search engine traffic.
No matter what industry you're in, some of your target customers are using search engines to search for something.
That doesn't mean you should necessarily spend all your time on SEO. It's not always the best channel, but it's one that you must research.
What you should be looking to do at this point is just some basic keyword research. Afterwards, you can do some more advanced keyword research with these resources:
- 5 Modern Keyword Research Methods to Uncover Hidden Gems
- Keyword Research – The Advanced Guide to SEO
- How to Use the Google Keyword Planner Tool for SEO
Here, we just want to see the general number of searches your target audience does every month.
For that, the Google Keyword Planner will work just fine.
Start by entering some broad niche keywords. For example, “content marketing” or “social media marketing” if you were starting a blog like Quick Sprout.
Look through the list that comes up, and see how many keywords have a significant search volume (at least a few hundred per month).
While you're missing out on a lot of keywords using this simplistic method, you want to see at least 50 keywords worth targeting.
If you don't know where to start when it comes to searching for keywords, find a close competitor in your niche.
Then, enter their URL in the website field of the keyword planner instead of typing in keywords.
If they have a WordPress blog, you can typically add “/feed” to the end of their blog URL to get a more complete set of keywords.
For example, instead of entering:
That will give you a set of really broad keywords, and you can enter any of those into the tool to get a list to analyze.
Channel #2: If you want readers fast, PPC (pay-per-click advertising) is the way
When you identify a marketing channel, you first want to make sure you can actually reach your readers through it.
After, you need to decide if it's ideal for your business. All channels have their strengths and weaknesses.
SEO, for example, can provide you with steady, high-quality free traffic. The downside is that it is hard to earn that traffic, can take a long time to get, and requires an upfront investment.
PPC, on the other hand, allows you to drive the same type of traffic (if you're using AdWords) from day one of publishing content. There are also many more platforms you can use other than search such as Facebook advertising, LinkedIn advertising, or even a small network like 7search.
The downside is that it's expensive, and if you don't have a solid conversion funnel in place, you'll end up wasting that traffic and losing money.
When can you use paid advertising? Another benefit of PPC is that you can use it for virtually any niche.
If there's search traffic, you can advertise on Google or Bing.
If it's most popular on social media, you can advertise there.
If you have a significant content promotion budget (on an ongoing basis), PPC is an option at your disposal.
However, if you don't already have a solid sales funnel, be prepared to lose money.
Your time should mostly be spent optimizing ads and conversion rates of your content (readers into email subscribers). From there, you'll need to determine the best way to sell to those subscribers.
Channel #3: You don't always have to compete with other blogs
If you're starting a blog, I sure hope there are at least a few other, remotely similar to yours, popular blogs that already exist.
If not, there probably aren't many potential customers reading blogs in that niche, and you're wasting your time. The one exception is if you're writing about a very new topic that has just started growing.
These blogs are usually seen as competition, but they don't have to be.
A reader is not an all-or-nothing asset. A reader can follow multiple blogs.
If you give blog owners an incentive, you may be able to get them to allow you to get your message in front of their readers.
The main ways are:
- Guest-posting – I guest-post on a regular basis and have written multiple guides to using it effectively. Here, the incentive is free content for the site owner. Of course, you need to make sure that your content is good enough to be worth it. Not all blogs allow guest posts, but many do.
- Joint content – For all my advanced guides (in the sidebar), I've gotten help from respected bloggers in each niche. They get publicity, and I get help with my content.
- Sponsored posts – You can contact a blogger and offer to sponsor a post. These typically involve a few mentions naturally throughout a post.
- Joint ventures – You can even get involved with a product a blogger sells and help improve it. Their customers will see you in a very good light, and many will follow you because of it.
For now, you want to find as many of those blogs as you can.
It's pretty easy these days. Start by Googling a phrase like “top (niche) blogs.”
You'll probably find at least a few results, featuring long lists of blogs in your niche.
Write these down somewhere.
You can also head to Alltop, find your niche in the menu bar, and then write down the blogs that come up:
Traffic is king: There's no point in doing a guest post on a site with very little traffic. Even if your post is great, you'll only get a few readers from it.
Your next step is to estimate the traffic levels of each site you wrote down.
Visit each site, and look for:
- Average number of comments on each post
- Average number of social shares
- How well designed the site is
- Whether the number of subscribers is listed anywhere
It's hard to know if a site has a lot of traffic, but if it's getting 5+ comments or 100+ social shares on each post, it has enough to consider partnering with.
Filter out all the low traffic sites. If you still have 20+ sites left to potentially work with, then these blogs are another channel you can target.
Channel #4: Can you be social?
Social media sites are usually hit or miss.
Some niches, like fitness, food, fashion, and even marketing to a degree, are highly shareable.
In order to use social media effectively, you need those extra followers and readers you get from “likes” and “shares.”
That's why you don't see a lot of asphalt companies or paper companies killing it on social media. It's really hard to create shareable content in those niches.
To see whether it's viable for your niche, you can use Buzzsumo, a tool I've mentioned many times before. Not only will it show you if your niche is popular on social media, but it will also tell you which social media sites to focus on.
Type your niche into the top content tool. If the results seem irrelevant, add quotation marks around your keyword:
In addition to the core keywords, I recommend typing in a few related keywords for more data.
You're looking for two things here:
- Is content in my niche shareable? – If there are several pieces of content with over 1,000 shares, it's safe to say that your niche is viable on social media.
- Which network(s) is most popular? – You'll likely see that one or two networks make up 90% of the shares. In the case above, Twitter is the dominant source, followed way behind by Facebook and LinkedIn in most cases.
While there may be a few fluctuations, you'll see that there is a pattern when it comes to the most popular social networks. You'll want to focus on the most popular ones if you choose to use social media.
Channel #5: Forums are the backbone of the Internet
Forums have been around since the start of the Internet and continue to play a big part in most users' online lives.
While getting readers from forums doesn't scale very well, it can be very effective when your blog is new and you need that initial audience to write for.
On top of that, it's free-other than your time investment.
Here, you need to find out whether there are any popular forums. To do so, Google for “(niche) + forum.”
You need a minimum of one highly active forum. You want to see 100+ users a day making new posts.
Check out the first few results, and see if any meet that criterion.
You can usually scroll to the bottom of a forum to see how big it is.
Turns out, there actually aren't any good content marketing forums – bummer.
If you run into a case like this, you do have the option of expanding your scope (“marketing forums”), but it's usually better just to move on.
Channel #6: Q&A sites
Some might group question and answer (Q&A) sites with social media sites, but I think they're distinctive enough to warrant their own section.
The biggest Q&A sites are Quora and Yahoo Answers.
Just like forums, these don't scale well, but they can drive a good amount of traffic to your blog (if you include links in answers).
One bonus is that your answers will rank well in Google for long tail search terms (which are usually questions), which will send you consistent traffic in the future as well.
Head to Quora, and start typing your niche into the search bar. You're looking for a topic that is exactly the same as yours or close to it (click it):
Quora provides follower statistics on each topic page on the right. If a topic has a good number of followers (say 20,000+), it's active enough that you could focus on it as a marketing channel:
As a side note, here's my post on using Quora for marketing.
Now that you have a good grasp of the ways to determine whether you could use a channel for marketing, it's decision time.
Take a look at each channel, and first decide if your audience uses it (as I've shown you).
Then, consider the relative popularity of each channel, your budget, and your goals, and determine the top 1-3 channels.
You don't want to try to target too many channels at once. Instead, focus on one or two, and put all your resources into using them effectively.
If you need help doing this, I'm happy to try to point you in the right direction. Leave me a comment below with as much detail as possible, and I'll try to help out.