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The Long Game of Digital Marketing: Why Online Marketing Isn’t a Sprint, But a Marathon

SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk had a thought-provoking series of tweets back in 2013 on SpaceX’s future and long-term goals. Looking back on his thoughts could teach us a few things when it comes to looking at digital marketing’s future and role as a long-term strategy for fueling business growth. Keep reading to learn what Musk said and how to prepare your marketing strategy for long-term success!

Bonus Reading: Can Digital Marketing Grow Sales in 2024?

He said:


Musk was discussing the pressure to take SpaceX, his privately-owned space exploration company, public. The long-term goal of SpaceX is to get humans to Mars.

It’s a wildly ambitious goal and one that isn’t a match for the quarterly pressure from shareholders focused on short-term goals. Elon Musk is playing the long game and can teach marketers a few lessons about keeping our eyes on the bigger picture. While your company might not have shareholders to appease, it’s easy to start focusing too much on short-term goals in your online marketing efforts.

The web is so fast-paced and ‘overnight’ success stories so rampant that we often forget how much time and effort it takes to build and market something great online.

The biggest reason marketers and business owners struggle to see value in inbound marketing channels is because they aren’t patient enough to see the dividends.

There are marketing avenues out there on the web that allow you to quickly get some return on your investment: Display advertising and paid search are two of the most common. But chances are you will have a better long-term return on investment (ROI) and more sustainable marketing efforts by investing in inbound marketing tactics like search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, and content marketing. The biggest reason marketers and business owners struggle to see value in inbound marketing channels are because they aren’t patient enough to see the dividends.

Let’s look at a few specific examples of where playing the long game provides the most value for your Internet marketing campaign:

1. Blogging

Long- and short-term blogging tactics Blogging is probably the area where most businesses quickly give up. They invest time in writing monthly or weekly blog posts, but they haven’t gotten any traffic to their posts, let alone any new leads. By giving up so early, they are missing out on links, social shares, referrals, search traffic, and brand trust that can only come from creating compelling blog content.

If you ask most successful bloggers, they will tell you how they blogged for months or years to an empty audience before they earned their first few dedicated readers.   blog growth example   Investing in a blog requires a long term commitment. To earn people’s trust, you have to be willing to blog when nobody is reading.

2. SEO

Long- and short-term SEO tactics While SEO can provide some quicker returns than blogging can, it’s going to take some time to rank highly for all of the keywords you want to target. In fact, a quality SEO campaign never really ends. Your keywords will evolve over time and there are always new areas to break into.

Let’s say you sell widgets. You might want to rank highly for “widgets” but that isn’t feasible unless you are investing in a long-term SEO campaign. You can start by focusing on keywords like “small red widgets” and other less competitive terms with an eye on building up the authority of the site to rank for those super competitive head keywords in the future.

You can buy links and perhaps rank highly for “widgets” in the short term, but you’re sitting on a time bomb. Google’s algorithm might not catch up to you for a few months or even a year, but it’s only a matter of time. Truly great SEO is sustainable and being too aggressive is only going to bring you trouble sooner or later.

When it comes to playing the long game in SEO, data is your best friend. Relying on data over intuition will keep your keyword strategy rooted in fact and provide realistic expectations. With hundreds of tweaks to Google’s algorithm each year along with natural fluctuations in search volume, your SEO campaign is going to have some ups and downs.

Don’t zero in on small time periods. Focus on significant samples of data in Google Analytics to drive your strategy.

3. Social media

Long- and short-term social media tactics Social media makes it really easy to become overly focused on short term results. No matter which social network you’re on, there’s a handy number of fans or followers that you can use to quickly judge the success of your social media efforts. Don’t do it.

Somehow, we’ve made social media into a numbers game when it is really about relationships and interactions. A Twitter account with 25 real, qualified followers is infinitely more valuable than one with 5,000 fake followers. Avoid score-carding yourself against your competitors in social media.

If you don’t, you’ll end up on Fiverr paying for followers that won’t make you a dime. The long game in social media means spending time finding out who your target market is online and creating ways to engage them. You’ll have to work a lot harder if you aren’t strictly focused on follower numbers, but your social media campaign will actually provide value to you when you play the long game.

Get in the game and make your play

Most of the time, marketing strategies that deliver short-term dividends do not provide long-term payoffs. That said, every business has a ‘busy season’ or time when focusing on a specific time segment makes sense. Focusing on the short-term isn’t a bad thing as long as your short-term goals are also pointing back to your long-term dreams.

Your end goal is your “going to Mars” moment. It might be attaining 100 paying customers, doubling the size of your team, going public, etc. Whatever that goal is, you should be passionate about it, and it should drive every decision your business makes.

If you’re looking for a coach to help your company make digital marketing a long-term, revenue-driving tactic, WebFX is a trusted partner of small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs). With more than 28 years of experience and a seasoned team of over 500 digital marketers, we can provide your company with a dependable partner for marketing your business online — and helping it grow offline. Learn more about our digital marketing offerings by contacting us online or giving us a ring at 888-601-5359 to chat.

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