William Furney
William Furney 7 May 2021

British Firms Still Trying to Work Out What Digital Marketing is

A new survey of UK firms reveals that many are grappling with digital marketing and how to make the most from the internet.

Digital marketing remains a steep learning curve for the majority of British firms, with many still trying to get to grips with the different online channels and which ones work best in giving returns, the results of a survey show. 

In a poll of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) conducted by UK-based digital marketing agency Exposure Ninja, most executives and business owners (49.6%) said they were not sure about online traffic sources and those that earned the most valuable leads that ultimately resulted in sales. 

They were, the survey showed, puzzled by the value of traffic from such digital sources as organic, where visitors arrive at a website without any prompting, such as via a Google search; social media posts; paid search — as in running ads on search engines or social media platforms; digital PR; content on their sites; or email marketing. 

Others who took part in the survey (48.7%), carried out using polling service Typeform in February, said digital marketing was challenging for them because they worked alone and not as part of a multidisciplinary team skilled in the various aspects of marketing a company's products or services online. 

And 45.4% were frustrated with their digital marketing efforts because they were getting traffic to their website but their visitors were not converting into leads or sales by taking actions such as filling in a contact form, signing up to a newsletter or taking advantage of a time-limited special offer.

That perhaps signals issues on the pages of their websites, as they may not have calls to action that are strong enough to compel people to do something or have other conversion blockers, like overly complicated contact forms that turn people away. 

A Marketing Paradigm Shift 

Propelled by the pandemic and rolling lockdowns, the online sphere has exploded in the last year, with people flocking to web-based shops to get the items they need and businesses forced to shift some or all of their operations online to survive.

Traditional ways of marketing a company, via printed or electronic media, are no longer effective and have little if any relevance on the internet, meaning businesses have to learn a whole new way of marketing themselves — or appoint a digital marketing agency to do it for them. 

The Exposure Ninja poll asked British companies if they believed that digital marketing would become more important in a post-pandemic world. The majority (65.3%) said yes, it would be the most important factor. The remainder (34.7%) said digital marketing would become more important but wouldn't take priority over other methods of marketing products and services to target audiences. 

But over three-quarters (75.8%) of respondents said they would be putting more emphasis on internet marketing in 2021, agreeing that the strategy in gaining more sales was "hugely important" while just 15% said they were "thinking about it" and 9.2% said they might do more digital marketing this year but weren't sure where to begin. 

Which Online Channels are Working for UK Firms?

While British companies — and perhaps those in many other countries — are grappling with digital marketing, some are finding success in getting leads and sales online. Respondents were asked which channels delivered the best return on their digital marketing endeavours.

The majority (46.1%) said it was organic search, which can be bolstered by doing search engine optimisation (SEO) so that a website is in good shape and is primed to appear high up in Google and other search engine results. 

Next, as the most effective online channel for executives and business owners looking for new sales, was organic social media — posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks, perhaps sharing blogs, special offers and announcing company developments.

A total of 31.3% of respondents said this worked for them, while email marketing was the channel of choice for 27.8% of respondents and slightly less (27%) relied on Facebook and other social media advertising. 

Running ads on search engines like Google — pay-per-click advertising — was the best channel for just over a quarter of those who took part in the survey (35.2%) and a mere 6.1% said affiliate marketing, or earning commission for marketing another firm’s wares, was the most effective for their businesses.  

Is content still king for companies and their websites? A whopping 71.9% answered an emphatic yes, that blogs, articles, product copy and other content were "very important" for them — and that it must be high-quality to attract visitors, engage them and turn more people into new customers.

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