I recently attended Internet Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was an entire day (a solid 11 hours) dedicated to discussing the current and emerging states of the Internet economy through panel sessions, keynotes and demos from hundreds of entrepreneurs, executives and marketers.

Keynote & panel sessions included talks from executives leading companies such as ESPN, Technorati, Viget Labs, Microsoft, Emma, Goldman Sachs and my personal favorite, The Body Shop. From listening to the executives of these colossal companies, my take away can be boiled down into a Top 5 List of Internet Marketing Must Do’s for 2010.

1. Simplify your Web Experience

This seems like a pretty straight forward point, but it’s astounding how many companies have a hard time simplifying their website information architecture and experience. ESPN Senior VP of the Digital Media Group, John Kosner, had a philosophy to simplifying their web experience on ESPN. He followed 3 principles/goals:

  1. Simplicity.
  2. Easy to find.
  3. Easy on the eyes.

These points might sound too obvious but I encourage you to take a look at your website and its paralleled experience. Does it exist as a living, breathing ecosystem? Does it cultivate new visitors into knowledgeable, intelligent beings through efficient architectural flow, valuable content all while preserving simplicity? And finally, not only are you listening but are you ASKING your customers about their experience?

John Kosner explained that after truly listening to their community and incorporating suggestions into their homepage redesign, ESPN.com revenues jumped 35% last year! Just by simply asking your customers and simplifying your web experience, you too could save your company millions of dollars a year.

2. Establish KPIs TODAY

We’ve all heard it before. What are your key performance indicators for this initiative? What’s your measurement for success? What are your expectations of outcomes on this project? These are questions that every company, department, work group needs to answer and define before starting any project. Yet, it’s still a key piece that many departments fail to define.

Determining your criteria for success before beginning a project is your Number One most crucial component. If you’re going into a project without defined key performance indicators, you’re making a huge mistake. KPIs are critical metrics that measure actual performance against predefined goals and objectives and help you to remain focused on the issues that really affect the organization. Define your KPIs for every project from here on out.

3. Cloud, Cloud, Cloud

Big topic at the Internet Summit this year – current CIO/CTO hurdles and the future of the cloud. I sat in on the CIO/CTO Roundtable where executives from 1800-Flowers, SAS, Univision Interactive and DoublePositive discussed their biggest obstacles in technology:

  • Scale
  • Timely reaction to data
  • Immediate gratification
  • Funding

The issues CIO/CTOs are facing in technology introduced talk of the cloud and their plans on leveraging it. Technology executives are drawing closer to the cloud because these types of offerings deliver both a cost benefit and an organizational benefit in scalability, speed of deployment and flexibility. A challenge for anybody who grows rapidly is integration. Concerns arise with so many sources of data coming from mobile, social media, enterprise systems, browsers, etc. and how to unify and bring them all together? Hmm have you ever heard of a company called, MindTouch? 😉

For businesses looking to get into the Cloud, Which part of the cloud do you want to take? You can’t have it all, so where will you focus? Only focus on one thing that you’re really good at, and look to providers for the rest.

The members of the Roundtable stated that within 2-4 years we will see significant investments by Microsoft & Google into the cloud. This is definitely a hot topic and something every Internet marketer, Website architect and IT executive needs to keep in the forefront of their minds in the months and years to come.

4. Blast Those Emails

Thinking that email is a dying breed for marketing communication? Think again. According to panelists at Internet Summit, email marketing is still the most commonly used and open platform. Generation Y claims that email is their #1 route of communication. With email still positioned as the most common form of communication Marketers need to look at email as the entry point and all of the social tools the movement. Here’s a metaphor: Email is the casting of a stone in a pond and social media are the ripples. No, I didn’t come up with that one.

The way to go about email communication is to determine who in your database is truly an influencer? Reach out to those influencers and share your social media tools appropriately. By leveraging your key influencers to contribute content, share advice and seek out additional community members, you’ll begin to see your communities organically and healthily grow. Remember before you do any of this, you need to plan and map out your sales and marketing processes. Plan your goals. Don’t think in terms of activities but think of longer term marketing strategy. Continuously nurture your communities and provide valuable content and resources, otherwise key influencer contributions will be wasted.

Did you know that email delivers $45.06 for every $1 spent? This is by far the highest ROI of any marketing channel but remember this is not a magic bullet. These ROI numbers are based on best practices and continuous testing. Follow these 3 email marketing best practices to get the most ROI out of your email marketing initiatives:

  1. Be relevant
  2. Think long term campaign strategy
  3. Segment audiences and personalize

Update: Here’s a great resource on 10 Tips to a More Effective Email Marketing Campaign.

5. Juice Up Your SEO

What’s your SEO strategy? Is it just that side project that keeps getting blown off because “more important” tasks come up? Well think again. SEO is by far the MOST important marketing investment you can make…ever. Remember your website is your biggest asset so why neglect to tell the search engines about it? You cannot wait any longer to juice up your SEO. Yes, it will be an up-front investment of time and money but the long term benefits far surpass. SEO has proven to be one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing available.

Just ask The Body Shop who focused on SEO in house for an entire year. By the time the next year came around, The Body Shop saw SEO traffic and sales (the kicker here) increase 30-40%! This can be your company! Consider how profitable you could be if your prospects found your website through keyword search over your competition. Why let your competition reap all of the traffic benefits from your lack of SEO? Today is the day you need to start your SEO strategy.

Overall the Internet Summit was an informative, useful conference. I would, however, like to see more women participating in the panels. It always amazes me how many women attend but how few actually take part on stage. I would also like to see the conference span over 2 days. There was not enough time to go to each session, tour the demo pit and talk to sponsors all in one day. By and large Internet Summit was an insightful 11 hours and the participating panelists came from a high caliber of companies and experiences. These Top 5 points are not new but still applicable to your existing sales and marketing efforts.

Additional categories: Industry Trends