Ten years ago, for instance, you wouldn’t have heard much about the concepts of multi-channel marketing (be visible everywhere) or omni-channel marketing (be consistent everywhere).
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to run a competitive marketing program without them.
While the internet and personal computers have been around for a while, the field of digital marketing remains new to many marketers and business owners looking to gain an edge in the modern economy.
This is much easier said than done, since communications technology evolves quickly, and so the methods used to communicate with customers are evolving right along with them.
Yet the fact remains: those who can master digital marketing have a distinct advantage over those who don’t.
It (quite literally) pays to stay tuned into the newest trends, and find ways of reaching your target market wherever they may be.
We’ve prepared this introductory guide covering the most fundamental aspects of digital marketing. It’s essential reading for beginners, but even those with some digital marketing wins under their belt can benefit from the refresher.
Traditional marketing has had its heyday. The world’s seen more than its fair share of flyers, billboards, and print ads— today’s marketing goes above and beyond the targeting limits set for traditional print and broadcast media.
While traditional marketing could get a message out to a good number of people in a specific area (e.g. one billboard along a highway, an ad in a local newspaper), digital marketing has the potential to reach a worldwide audience.
While this may not be groundbreaking news for local businesses, those with global operations (ex. SaaS, international e-commerce, etc.) can enjoy unparalleled access to viewers from all over the planet.
Traditional marketing has it so that a business with wide creative potential would have to pick and choose its battles carefully.
When a TV commercial placement can price into the tens of thousands of dollars and a billboard at a landmark site can cost over $100,000 for a period shorter than a month, it isn’t feasible for a business to leverage every form no matter how ready it may be to do so.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is digital marketing, which allows just about anyone to host and distribute static images, audio tracks, and video content free of charge—it costs nothing to set up profiles on Facebook and Instagram.
Of course, organic reach (i.e. views you don’t acquire through paid advertisements) can only take you so far. Paid placements are where the truly large viewership numbers come in, and those are significantly cheaper than traditional media: for the cost of a thousand views on a standard TV ad, you could easily multiply the number of viewers on Google’s display network.
The lower barrier to entry means that businesses are more free to experiment with their messaging and content than ever before.
Of course, those low barriers to entry we’ve just mentioned don’t come without a tradeoff. Since just about everyone and their mum produces content nowadays, digital marketing is a highly competitive space.
If you’re a Facebook user, then it’s possible you’re glossing over hours of content as you scroll to find posts that do pique your interest. From a marketing perspective, it’s a cutthroat environment where you either sink into obscurity or rise to popularity among your key market segments.
The difficult truth is that businesses don’t just have the option to play around with varied forms of content—they’re often obligated to in order to reach their full potential.
The answer to that question up there is, “A lot.” Certainly, more than we can cover without turning this article into a textbook.
We’d argue that websites are the cornerstone of any digital marketing effort. Unless you’re a really small business (the sort that processes orders exclusively on Instagram), odds are you’re using a website to handle transactions and provide leads with the full details of your products and/or services.
Make no mistake: your website is your greatest asset. As platforms go, your website is the one you’ll have the most control over—you can optimise its layout, content, and features to your heart’s delight.
The best-designed websites draw people in, help them convert into sales, and keep them engaged long after their first transaction. This is worth its own discussion, so be sure to check out our guide to best web design practices.
Content marketing on a website involves creating blog articles, lead magnets, and other material hosted on your site that offer value to your visitors in the hopes that it’ll steer them along the path to becoming a paying customer.
To this end, marketers use their content to establish domain expertise (“We know what we’re doing!”) and open conversations with their leads by either securing data (“Fill out this form to download our guide!”) or providing compelling calls-to-action (“Like what you see? Call us today!”).
Search engine optimisation (SEO) goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. Blog articles are often used to improve a domain’s performance on search engines like Google: if you can provide a meaningful answer to a user’s search query (ex. “What is digital marketing?”) then you stand a chance of ranking high on a search engine results page (SERP).
The important thing to note here, however, and the reason why we say SEO is virtually inextricable from content marketing, is that your odds of ranking improve drastically when you create content that’s worth viewing.
Of course, there are myriad technical factors that will play a factor regardless of the quality of your content. You’ll obviously want to feature the most appropriate keywords, write up a meta description that attracts notice, and collect links from reputable websites along the way.
Finally, note that search engines like Google are constantly innovating the features that appear on their results pages. Oftentimes, it isn’t enough to achieve high placement on results listings—you’ll also want to perform well in local search, and earn placements on SERP features.
We go into further detail in our dedicated article on SEO.
Social media is a big deal. There are over 3.8 billion people on social media, which means it’s a no-brainer for businesses looking to reach new buyers.
Marketing on websites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is a matter of generating interest, communicating positive brand values, and earning loyalty. To this end, your activity on the platform or platforms of your choice should be a concerted effort to keep people informed and/or entertained.
Social media marketers are after both organic and paid views. The former is the kind of attention you receive when your posts are shared by people with a genuine interest in your content. The latter is the attention you receive when you pay to have your posts served to people who aren’t already connected to your social media profiles.
You might also opt to engage in community-building, and play up the solutions your business offers. If there’s one common thread that binds your target market together, it’s the fact that they have problems that you can solve. Keeping them informed of the layers to their problems (as well as possible solutions) is a good way to stay top-of-mind.
We go into greater detail on social media marketing in our article dedicated to the subject.
Search engine marketing (SEM) refers to paid ad activity on search engines like Google or Bing.
This includes a wide range of ads, but you’re probably most familiar with the text ads that appear at the top and bottom of some search pages (you can try searching for “accounting software” and see what comes up).
Google also offers marketers the option to run ads on their display network: virtual ad space (like banner ads) found on websites all across the internet.
SEM benefits from the same dynamics as SEO: you can position your offerings directly in front of the people who are searching for them. People turn to search engines with motives or goals (called search intent), and being the most prominent solution to whatever problems they may have is a sure advantage. When only 5% of web traffic reaches the second page of a search, it pays to get as close to the top as you can.
Text and display ads are rich topics, and you’ll find a lot of literature explaining their ins and outs. For now, know that search engine marketing is an investment of time and focus—it comes with one of the steepest learning curves in the field of digital marketing and involves a lot of optimisation.
If digital marketing looks like a daunting task, that’s because it is. When businesses take to digital marketing for the first time, the process often involves a lot of guesswork, and costly trial-and-error. To save you a bit of trouble, the following section contains three tips that you must know when starting out.
Digital marketing makes it possible to measure just about everything when it comes to your marketing activity. Just about every platform comes with robust analytics features that let you track how well your ads are doing, who’s been seeing them, and even how the placement of buttons on your website affect user behaviour.
Businesses that take advantage of analytics can make faster, smarter adjustments to their strategies and make better impressions on their audiences. We’re not saying you should get a degree in statistics, but it pays to get familiar with analytics best practices.
As with any business activity, it’s important that you have a solid plan of action before venturing into digital marketing.
Start by setting clear goals. Decide whether you want to grow your brand’s visibility, pass more leads along to your sales team, or encourage repeat business. This is an important step, but one that’s often overlooked—much to the detriment of marketers who then have to decide on a course of action out of many possible options.
Likewise, come up with ways to measure the success of your plans. “Good enough” isn’t good enough where marketing is concerned; you should have a clear marker for when your strategies are paying off.
The ability to reach anyone, anywhere is equal parts blessing and detriment. On one hand, it’s obviously a good thing to be able to expand your business’ reach beyond the scope of what billboards and print ads. But on the other hand, you need to make sure your ads are reaching the right people.
Digital marketing platforms often allow marketers to be precise when distributing media to potential customers. You’ll likely be able to set a scope for geography, gender, age, and even interests (as in the case of Facebook and Instagram ads).
In order to define these features and identify your customer base to the best of your ability, it helps to create buyer personas: profiles of the different kinds of people who wind up becoming customers.
We cover this in detail in a separate article.
As you can see, much has been said and discovered when it comes to digital marketing.
It’s an essential core feature of today’s businesses and one that has to be perfected in order to get a leg up over your competition.
If you aren’t an expert on the subject, getting your bearings will take some patience, time and money. That much is to be expected, and it’s a fair trade in exchange for better sales and a more prominent brand name.
However, you don’t have to start from scratch. A capable digital marketing agency can eliminate much of the guesswork, error and pain that it takes to reap the benefits of a strong online presence.