Prioritize Your Online Marketing with This One-Page Chart

The online marketing landscape has become so complex that cutting through the “noise” is now one of the biggest problems small businesses face. Sorting out WHERE and HOW to spend our limited time and resources is increasingly the challenge.

So Many New Choices

Part of the problem is that we are bombarded right and left with new choices.

Search engine optimization (SEO) has taken on a much higher profile as the number of indexed Web pages balloons and it gets harder to be found in search engines like Google. The search marketing industry is now in the multi-billion dollar range. Not only is search growing, but it is increasingly being broken down into distinct specialties, such as local search, paid search and mobile search marketing.

Affiliate marketing has become big business, too … a more-than $6 Billion a year industry.

Blogs, YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and every manner of social media site are discussed ad nauseum. Yet, many businesspeople do not have the time it takes to investigate these social media sites. Most people have only the vaguest idea what these sites do or how to use them — perhaps just a nagging sense that the sites are somehow “hot.” ‘Better not be left behind,’ you think.

OK, It’s Complex. So What Do We Do?

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a chart to visually demonstrate where we small businesses can best spend our limited time and dollars on online marketing. The chart can be a useful tool to quickly cut through all the noise — and focus.

The chart uses concentric circles to outline an online marketing strategy. Here is the chart I’ve come up with:


small business marketing ROI

The most important elements of an online marketing strategy appear in the center two circles. Those are the activities you will get the greatest return from, for the time and money you spend on them.

As you move farther toward the outside circle, most business will spend more time and/or money for smaller overall return. In other words, the return on investment will be smaller, the farther out from the center circle you get.

Center circle – At the center of the chart is your website, which should be the core of your online marketing plan. Hopefully if you are reading this article, you already have a website and it’s not a question of IF you should have a website, but how you can improve it. First impressions count and today’s prospects and customers will form impressions of the quality of your products and services from your website. Plus, by investing in smarter technology you can make your website work harder to generate leads and sales. Consequently, spending time to improve your website can bring the biggest payoff. (If you don’t have a business website, get thee to a Web designer now!)

Second circle – The second circle outlines activities that most businesses will see a meaningful return from. Investing in search engine optimization, setting up a blog, growing and leveraging your house email list, issuing press releases through an online distribution service such as PRNewswire or PRWeb, and doing PPC ad campaigns are key strategies most small businesses in America can get value from commensurate with the time and money invested.

Outer circle – The light yellow circle on the outside contains activities that generate a lot of the “noise” that confuses most small businesspeople. Not that I’m against those activities — not at all. In fact, some of them bring excellent results for the right kinds of businesses. It’s just that the return from such activities tends to be lower compared with the time or money you put into them.

Marketing always involves prioritizing. There’s never enough time, staff or budget to do everything.

What you don’t do is as important as what you do. You could end up wasting a lot of time by focusing too much on the outer circle, and neglecting the inner two circles. For instance, you could be driving visitors to your website but failing to convert them once they get there, because your website looks unprofessional or needs a message overhaul or needs logical navigation.

Some businesses simply decide that activities in the outer circle are not worth doing, no matter how ga-ga others seem to be about them.


What would you change, eliminate or add to this chart?

And how would you fit e-commerce and freelance businesses into this type of chart? For instance, where do eBay, Amazon Marketplace, Etsy, Elance and other online marketplaces fit in to a small business’s online marketing strategy?

The other thought about this chart is that it can be a living/breathing part of your marketing plan. You could customize the chart specifically for your business, in order to get everyone on your team on the same page.

I’d like to hear what you think.

Originally published at Open Forum. [Updated by editor and broken links fixed December 2012.] 14 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

14 Reactions
  1. Anita,

    I am so thrilled to see website in the middle. SO many people take this for granted.

    It’s at the CORE of your entire online marketing strategy.

  2. This chart is perfect for someone just starting out with getting their business online. It keeps it simple and straight forward. It will give them a good idea of where to begin and where they need to move forward to. I agree, Shama, the website is the most important place to start.

  3. Anita,

    I like the chart. You did a great job of making a complex subject make sense I’ve been using a much more complex version to show my clients and now I will send them here to look at this one.


  4. Nice chart Anita. I like simple, linear images that provide direction.

    To answer your question about freelance or independent professionals, I’d add article marketing in the second circle and move blog into the inner circle with the web site (hopefully they already are combined). Then I would prioritze social networks over a lot of the other outer ring activities. As service providers, we have to build our personal brand and help prospects determine our expertise. Getting this information out into the network is important to making this happen. The good news is that once the profiles are set up with the blog feeds, it’s more or less automatic. It’s finding the right ones in which to participate that is important.

  5. Solo Business Marketing

    This circular flowchart makes perfect sense to keep a perspective on how many directions are available within the marketing umbrella.

    A friend of mine is now working with a personal coach who, among other things, helped her create a similar chart to determine what to do on her own and what to outsource.

    Great visual, Anita.

  6. This is a great summary for small businesses. If we know our customers well then the selction of which tactic to use becomes a little easier and the same goes for knowing what our marketing objectives are. The only other suggestion is perhaps have the customer at the centre and then the web.

  7. Hi Debra, article marketing is definitely something to consider. And I get what you’re saying. It’s almost like there should be different versions of this chart for different types of businesses.

    Susan, there’s a lot to be said for having the customer at the center, although I was trying to focus on activities. But of course the customer should be at the center of everything.

    And Shama, Amanda, Doug, Shirley — thanks for the encouragement. I was a little worried about over-simplification. But it’s a practical way of addressing online marketing.


  8. I really like this Anita. It makes it easy for folks to understand how important it is to create your own web properties under your direct control (websites, blogs, etc.). But it also illustrates the groweing importance of joining the ongoing converstations taking place where the people already are congregating. And how using multiple channels and formats helps create more engaging ways to extend conversations and build more meaningful relationships.

    What will be intersting to see is how your diagram evolves over time as new tools and activities come at us. How will it look in a year’s time?

  9. Dr. Todd Fiegel

    Great illustration of our marketing tools. It’s really clear to prioritize them that way.

    I have found Twitter to be exceptionally helpful for marketing (if used properly) and in building your network. For me, it’s even a notch higher in effectiveness.

    And that’s where I happened upon you…and now follow you. (Nice to meet you.)

    Dr. Todd, “The Aptitude Doc”

  10. Martin Lindeskog

    Nice chart!

    I have business contact who has specialized in online marketing for a long time. He has created a system of 10 different points: (“TenMethods”)

    Domain Name Strategies.
    User- and Search Engine Friendly Web Design.
    Copy writing.
    Linking Strategies.
    Search Engine Positioning.
    Online Advertising.
    Network Marketing / Affiliate Marketing.
    E-mail Marketing.
    Customer Relationship and Interactivity.
    Internet Traffic Analysis.

  11. Ryan @ Creating a Website

    I like the image, and how it demonstrates the importance of a website still as the hub of activity for small business owners. I’ve met quite a few recently who are using just twitter, or just facebook, and don’t really understand that you need a main “hub” to drive your traffic to and convert into sales.

  12. The best advice is to always submit quality articles that are free from grammar and spelling errors. The article directories will delete your content if it has errors.

  13. Is there a larger image available? I can’t read a lot of the text in the small image. Further more, clicking the “When Did Online Marketing Become So Complex?” link brings you to a 404 page.

    • Thank you, Zachary, for the heads up. I updated the text and included a full size image. It might be a bit dated — I will see about making a 2013 version!