Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The 3 Golden Rules of Internet Media

Pop Quiz: Of all of the different formats of online media, which one is best?

I'm asked this question quite frequently, followed by a stream of anxiety-ridden follow up questions . . . is display advertising dead? Does paid search work? Should I send out email blasts? Do directories work? Social media? Blogging?

Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to experiment with practically every type of internet advertising. Yes, its true, I've bought pop-ups from spyware companies, sent out 300 million emails a weeek, owned domains some might call typosquatting (and the list goes on and on).

And so the quick answer to the pop quiz is "All of them" . . . followed by a "but it depends who you are and what you are trying to accomplish." Clearly typosquatting and buying spyware pop-ups is a terrible way to build a sustainable brand. But, if you are smart college student running a 1 person affiliate company, why not arbitrage some media? It's very legal and you can make good money. But, leaving that aside for a minute, there are 3 Golden Rules I've developed for buying Internet Media. I believe they are especially relevant for lawyers because, well, I haven't come across many that follow them.

Rule #1: Never Lock Yourself Into a Long Term Deal (as in 1 year)
Testing and tweaking is key all direct response advertising and the Internet has made that easier to do than ever. I ran a series of direct response ads in monthly magazines earlier in my career . . . the testing cycle for an offer and the ad creative was 6 months. That test would have taken 6 days online and I would have received in an initial indication of how I was doing in 6 hours. So, it rarely makes sense to lock yourself into a long term deal. Things change too fast online for that to be effective.

Rule #2: Monitor Performance and Refine Your Approach
Testing and optimization is the heart of online advertising. Just because something doesn't work for you the first time you try it doesn't mean that it doesn't work. I've often had to ask myself, "why can [insert company name] buy this media profitably and not me?" Unless you think your competition likes to lose money, they have found an approach that works. You haven't. More often that not, studying the competition and tweaking your campaign can have dramatic impacts on performance.

Rule #3: Set Your Expectations Appropriately
Too often I see inexperienced online marketers fail because they set their expectations too high. If you spend $1000 on advertising and one client earns you revenue of $2000, then you should expect to get 2 or 3 clients (or 4 - 6X), on average. If you do a lot better than that, good for you. Realize that it probably won't last because the market will eventually become more efficient.

So, before you begin your search for the Internet marketing holy grail, keep these 3 rules handy . . . no matter what you do (blog, directory, SEM, SEO) these rules will always ring true.


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