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Best online marketing services of 2021

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Choosing among the numerous online marketing services offered nowadays means, first and foremost, doing your own research and compiling a list of your needs. While this is the case for any large purchase, online marketing is such a broad field that thorough research is even more important.

Considering that this field includes everything from SEO keywords, social media content, specialized ads, mailing lists, and many other features, it is not to be expected that one single tool can handle all of these. However, most businesses won’t need each of these features, or at least not at the same time. Additionally, combining these tools can yield the results you need without sacrificing quality.

Unsure which of these options is best for you? Our guide covers how to choose between the best online marketing services around.

(Image credit: Google Ads)

1. Google Ads

By far the best reach you can get

Largest internet advertising network
Powerful when paired with Google Analytics
Paying only when your ad is clicked on
Hard to balance costs at first
Too many options to choose from
Can be pricey

Google’s reach is close to unlimited: statistics suggest that Google is capable of reaching more than 90% of internet users all over the world. Paired with their keywords that work in accord with user data and search history, your ads are guaranteed to reach the people who will find them relevant. You can even target users who have previously googled a product similar to yours.

Another big advantage of using Google Ads is the fact that you only pay for the clicks you get on your ad, rather than the number of people it has reached. Additionally, Google will show them your ads again in case they have visited your page but haven’t purchased anything or interacted with it much. Plus, combined with Google Analytics, you get to see everything you need to know about the way your ads have been performing.

On the other hand, there the problem of "too much of a good thing". The number of options means using the platform has a steep learning curve in order to be able to use it to its fullest extent, which in turn means you may be paying for more options than you will ever need. The best keywords can be pretty expensive, and your price per click depends on many factors, including how much your competitors are bidding for the same thing.

(Image credit: Facebook)

2. Facebook

Everyone can go viral

Visual content usage
Simple setup
Misreported metrics
You’re limited to Facebook users
Can be pricey

Speaking of giants, Facebook is another option with incredible reach, also offering microtargeting. This means you can set your ad up to reach only the people you want, through parameters such as age, location, interests and hobbies, etc. Similar to Google, Facebook also lets you advertise to users who have already interacted with your page(s).

But its biggest difference compared to Google Ads is the simplicity with which you can set up your ads. The process is pretty straightforward and there aren’t as many options to choose from, and with a more narrow selection, there is a smaller risk of over tweaking.

Facebook’s biggest weakness, however, is pretty obvious: you’re limited to only Facebook users. Although the social media giant is still huge, a large number of their users have migrated to other platforms, and if your target audience is among them, there is no point in paying for Facebook ads. Additionally, some metrics like video play and instant articles have previously been inflated and repeat visits are counted as new ones, which makes it hard to estimate organic reach.

(Image credit: Moz)

3. Moz Pro

Everything you need from an SEO perspective

Plans that scale by business size
Industry-standard metrics
All the important SEO features
Not as intuitive as many of its competitors
No mobile app

Moz Pro is one of the top SEO tools available today. Featuring a full-range toolkit, it covers everything, from keyword and link exploring, SEO crawling, to detailed user experience reports. However, the scope of these features will very much depend on the plan you purchase.

The keyword explorer, for example, lets users determine what keywords visitors are using along with several metrics like difficulty, volume, priority score, and others. SEO crawling is one of their most praised features: it checks your site on a weekly basis for some of the most common problems, like broken links, that usually bring a site’s rating down, and explains how each problem can impact you. 

However, even the cheapest option can be a bit steep for some: starting at $99/mo for the Standard plan, this is best suited for either those new to the world of SEO or those with limited needs. The next cheapest plan is Medium at $149/mo, offering a pretty significant increase in available features -- perfect for small businesses with defined needs. Medium-sized businesses will find the Large plan (at $249/mo) best for them, while the Premium plan ($599/mo) is perfect for enterprises.

(Image credit: SendinBlue)

4. SendinBlue

Best email marketing platform for small-to-medium businesses

Many transactional email features
Low-cost plans
SMS marketing tools
Limited integrations
Non-intuitive account setup
Not very well suited for enterprise-level businesses

Email marketing is another aspect of online marketing that has seen a much-needed improvement in automation. One of the leading services in this field is SendinBlue, which features important tools such as CRM, marketing automation, SMS, Facebook ads, transactional emails and others, all with competitive pricing.

And the service takes “competitive pricing” to a whole new level, even offering a free plan for those who only need the bare bones of what they’re offering: marketing automation, phone support for the first 60 days, and up to 300 emails a day. As they charge by the number of emails sent, rather than the number of contacts you have, the cheapest paid plan will set you back $25/mo for 40,000 emails. The next step costs $39 for 60,000 emails, while their most expensive plan runs for $66 for 120,000 emails.

Aside from the usual newsletter tools, like reports, choice of template designs, and a landing page editor (available only for the two more expensive plans), they also boast an SMS marketing tool, which makes them relatively unique in the space. However, their options are pretty limited if your needs exceed the basics, so SendinBlue still works best for small-to-medium businesses.

(Image credit: Adobe)

5. Adobe Marketing Cloud

Striving to be an end-to-end marketing platform

Multiple channels
Automate campaigns
Steep learning curve

Adobe Marketing Cloud’s goal is to be the one-stop shop for all things online marketing. That’s why their services include everything from analytics and content management to campaigns, and also why they count many big names among their users, including Virgin Holidays, Nissan, Renault, Dior, and many others.

However, all of this comes with a price tag. While the cost will depend on the exact services you need, according to many users, the price can be prohibitive for small-to-medium businesses. Another prohibitive feature is its steep learning curve, as their tools are not very user friendly: you will have to have at least some programming and marketing experience to make full use of Adobe Marketing Cloud. 

But for enterprises that can afford both Adobe Marketing Cloud and a team with the know-how and experience to use this suite, this could very well be the best product money can buy. The solution is also cloud-based so implementation is pretty straightforward, and any existing accounts you may have with Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target are easily integrated.

Which features can you choose from?

The five options we have listed represent only a tiny fraction of what the online marketing space has to offer. The options range from “getting your name out there” to full-sized marketing campaigns designed to make you into a household name, and the pricing tends to follow a similar trajectory.

Here are some basic features that you can usually choose from to narrow down your search.

● SEO keywords. Search engine optimization, abbreviated to SEO, is the process of getting your website recognized by search engines when users search for a certain keyword. This leads to organic views, meaning users chose to engage with your website, instead of following an ad. This is often considered the first step in marketing your product online, and nowadays, not even recipe blogs or travel diaries will skip this part. Most online marketing services offer SEO at some level as part of their package, but some (like Moz Pro above) put it front and center, making it their focus.

● Content marketing. If you’re looking to engage your potential users without always selling them something, you should look into creating content surrounding the issues your product addresses. Some services offer content creation as part of their package, writing SEO-focused content like blog posts, newsletters, social media posts, PR strategies, etc. 

● Email marketing. This approach is highly effective because you’re going directly to your prospective and existing customers with what you know they are likely to buy. While it’s best if you already have a list of contacts, some platforms offer lead collecting services (at a price), along with their email automation software. You can also get an overview of how many of your emails (and which ones) generated interest, so you can adapt your strategy accordingly. 

● Social media management. The role of social media in generating interest cannot be overstated. Almost everyone has a profile somewhere, and if you know exactly which platform your target audience uses, there is no reason not to advertise there. Some companies offer social media management as part of their content marketing package, but you can also do it yourself by using the paid ads option of the social network in question, depending on your needs.

Paid advertising. This is usually what people think of when they hear the phrase “online marketing.” You purchase ad space, sometimes even a specific design, which is then showcased where you want it. In the case of Google Ads, the situation is not as simple, since their number of users forces them to choose the highest bidder as the most prominent ad in search results.

● Influencer and/or affiliate marketing. A specific subset of paid advertising is also influencer and/or affiliate marketing. There are some basic differences between the two: many influencers will require payment for their marketing services, like promoting your product on their social media, while affiliate marketing only gives a percentage of each sale done through those affiliate links to the owner of the website. Both of these types use people and brands with an existing reputation to vouch for them and offer something in return.

Other important decisions to ponder

Once you know which features you need, you still have a lot of shopping around to do in order to find the perfect provider. Some of the most basic questions are:

Your budget. This deserves the top spot in every list about picking the perfect product. Once you have your budget figured out (as well as an allowance in case something extraordinary comes up and you don’t want to miss it), you can proceed to the next step.

In-house vs digital agency. As with everything else, this will depend very much on both your budget and your needs, but also on what your company can handle. If you’re only setting up a few ads for your business online, you can certainly handle it all in-house. But if you’re launching huge campaigns, you will have to pay more. Then, if you don’t plan on keeping the campaign running in the long term, hiring an agency is probably your best bet - but if branding and image is a big part of who you are, you may want to look into creating a separate marketing department, again keeping the job in-house (and creating new jobs in the process).

Level of customer interaction. Merely offering your product for sale will not get you very far in today’s commonly oversaturated markets. That’s why many businesses strive to be seen as human by their customers and adapt their marketing strategies accordingly - the Twitter account of US fast food chain Wendy’s is one example. You should decide upon the level of customer interaction that you want, which can range from social media posts and replies to contests and giveaways. After all, loyal users like to feel like they’re getting something in return from their favorite business.

● What do these statistics mean? Every online marketing service offers some level of insight into the statistics and trends of your marketing campaign, no matter how big or small it is. Knowing what to do with those reports is a completely different thing, however, and if you need a hand with that, be prepared to pay more. As above, having a digital agency handle the whole matter for you is the simplest (and most expensive) way, while the cheapest, but hardest is just receiving reports and letting you decide what your next step should be. Most providers offer several levels of advice and support in between those two, with detailed explanations of what each level consists of.

Potential options based on your business size and needs

Going down our checklists has probably narrowed the choice down a bit for you, but you may still be confused as to how to approach the problem of online marketing. 

Here, we list some example situations and potential solutions, which may be able to lead you down the right track. Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to marketing.

● Small business on a budget with loyal customers looking to expand their reach: email marketing

Many people won’t immediately see the appeal of email marketing. But if you already have a loyal customer base and a way to address them directly, using email services to automate this process will free up your hands to deal with other matters. Also, as we mentioned, some offer the feature of collecting new leads based upon the ones you already have, so you can address the same type of consumer with emails geared towards them and their needs. You may be tempted to use the likes of Google Ads to get your name out there, but since the best keywords cost the most, it may be more costly than you expect.

● Small-to-medium business looking to grow their brand: Google/Facebook Ads + content marketing

This is where Facebook and Google ads (among a number of similar ones) come into play. If growth is your main objective, you shouldn’t skimp on it. Be prepared to cash out more to be sure you’re reaching your target audience.

To build a brand, you will also need SEO content. You can either pay for it from third-party providers or write it yourself and have an SEO service optimize it, depending on your budget.

● Large business looking to maintain their image: email marketing + content marketing + social media presence

Staying at the top in your niche is arguably harder than getting there in the first place. If you have already made a name for yourself and can afford to maintain that image, you should be reaching your followers (and potential followers) in any way you can.

Reaching out to the loyal ones through email, addressing their issues and concerns through content marketing, and maintaining a strong social media presence are all valid approaches, and having an agency or a marketing team will streamline this process.

● Large business looking to expand into new territories: email marketing + aggressive campaigns

Having your name already out there helps a lot when you’re trying to expand. An email marketing service will help you let your customers know that you’re expanding, and a sufficiently aggressive campaign through targeted ads will reach the people that are interested in your new offerings. Be prepared to pay more than the other options, however: most online marketing services have different plans with varying degrees of involvement and campaign sizes, and if you want to go all-in, you will have to bear the costs.

● Not entirely sure?

Maybe you have a vague idea that you need to do something, but you’re not sure exactly where you fit. Talking to your team and seeing what they think is the first step, and the second could be a poll among your customer base to gauge their opinions. Not only will you have interacted with them already - an equally important part of any marketing campaign as anything else - but you will already have a better overview of where to go with your product and your company. After all, growth is a continuous process, and your customers are as much a part of your journey as your team.

Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.