When it comes to interactive marketing data, there’s no shortage of studies and sources. Indeed, quite the contrary — most digital strategists struggle to make sense of all of the data they get bombarded with, and then try to figure out what’s relevant to their particular industry, product line, or situation.

However, it’s a necessary evil of the planning process – which, by definition, should rely on a combination of quantative and qualitative inputs. To that end, the following list serves up 10 of the most important metrics (or data categories) that should be top-of-mind with every digital strategist, and can serve as valuable reference points during digital strategy design initiatives.

(Note: this list references a variety of data and metrics from a range of sources, which rely on unique methodologies for data collection and forecasts, so comparisons among them may be difficult.)

1. Interactive advertising increased 15% in the U.S. during 2010, totaling a record $26 billion, and surpassed newspaper advertising for the first time; search marketing accounted for 46% of all digital advertising. Takeaway: It’s rather obvious but still worth highlighting: online advertising is sizable and growing, and if your budget isn’t growing too, you’re at risk of falling far enough behind the competition so that no amount of future spending will allow you to “catch up”. Some gains on the internet, such as those involving organic search, can only be accomplished through regular investment and attention. (Source: IAB / PwC)

2. 324,697,205 and 162,174,905. That’s the total number of websites and blogs, respectively, in existence as of the middle of May, 2011. To understand the pace of the internet’s expansion: there were about 200 million websites in existence in early 2009, and 77,000 new blogs launched over the past 24 hours. Takeaway: competition on the internet is fierce, and intensifying; rising above the noise factor is getting more challenging every day – literally, every day.(Source: Netcraft and Nielsen BlogPulse)

3. Total advertising (online and offline) spending grew 6.5% in the U.S. during 2010 to reach $131 billion, after contracting 12.3% in 2009; and only the newspaper category shrunk last year. According to this study – which does not include search marketing spending – TV advertising grew faster than online (display). Takeaway: Companies reacted to the financial crisis by pulling back on ad spending in late 2008 and 2009, but jumped right back in at the first sign of a turnaround. And the smartest companies took advantage of a soft market by negotiating favorable, long-term contracts for cheap, multi-channel advertising.(Source: Kantar Media, as reported in Ad Age)

4. Interactive marketing is forecast to represent 21% of all marketing spending in 2014 – up from 12% in 2009. Spending on digital will approach $55 billion as marketers s hift dollars away from traditional media and toward search marketing, display advertising, email marketing, social media, and mobile marketing. Takeaway: marketers will be aggressively re-balancing the marketing mix in coming years to re-direct dollars from offline channels to digital. (Source: Forrester)

5. 73% of 1,941 global businesses surveyed say they plan to invest in site redesigns or will make significant enhancements to improve their site’s ROI, with 4-of-5 indicating they plan to deploy those enhancements within the year. Takeaway: companies now understand the need to pay regular attention to their most important digital asset. (Source: Adobe Scene7 2011 Survey: Digital Marketing in the Next Decade)

6. Creative – or “ad quality” – can be up to 4X more important than the media plan, as compared with other variables such as price and promotion.Takeaway: when you’re looking to save money on a campaign, think twice before you bludgeon the creative line item. (Source: comScore ARS)

7. 93% of U.S. web users subscribe to permission-based email*and 70% say they always open emails from their favorite companies. Takeaway: social media and mobile are the current industry darlings, but email marketing remains a powerful promotional and relationship-building tool. (Source: Exact Target / eMarketer)

*Receive at least one permission-based email each day.

8. Twitter is used by 8% of U.S. adult internet users, with heavier usage skewing towards the young adult demographic, minorities, and urban dwellers. Takeaway: for all the hype, penetration and usage is currently modest, and social should play only a supporting role in digital strategies at most companies. (Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project)

9. Private equity groups invested $3.8 billion via 729 digital media deals in 2010, and activity is forecast to increase this year. Financiers are placing big bets on the concept of “reinventing traditional business models and transforming the distribution of media content, services and applications.” Takeaway: given the pace of change that’s being fueled by aggressive investment in disruptive digital tools and techniques, even the most compelling digital strategies can easily be obsolete in 24-36 months. (Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers/NVCA Money Tree Report, as covered by Kensel & Co)

10. Apple spent half-a-billion-dollars on advertising in 2009. During the same period, Microsoft spent $1.4 billion and IBM doled out $1 billion. Takeaway: if any company has products capable of “selling themselves”, it’s Apple, yet the company still dishes out a boatload on advertising and promotion, and should serve as a good example for the rest of us about the role of marketing and advertising.(Source: CNNMoney / Public Filings)

About East Coast Catalyst

East Coast Catalyst is a digital strategy management consulting firm that works with clients to develop innovative web strategies that drive new business and result in meaningful competitive advantage. Relying on a research-driven methodology to analyze performance and inform effective strategies – and an objective corporate structure devoid of conflict of interest concerns – East Coast Catalyst helps clients sell more products and services, capitalize on new opportunities, create sustainable advantage in evolving markets, and transform their businesses.

For more information visit eastcoastcatalyst.com or contact Tim Bourgeois at [email protected] or 617-314-6400.