By Michael Feder
What are you passionate about? Running a small business or a personal brand? Are you trying to connect others with your website or design portfolio?
Attention seems to be in short supply these days. Every Google search or newsfeed can feel like a million voices vying for your consideration, all of which can make the prospect of promoting your own work seem more than a little daunting.
In the digital business landscape, it’s key that your voice cuts through that noise and connects to the people who will share your passion for your work. That’s where digital marketing enters the picture.
Put simply, marketing is messaging to potential customers to promote a product or brand. These efforts can take a number of non-digital forms, including mailers, billboards, automated phone calls — even skywriting!
Digital marketing is any marketing effort performed on digital channels accessed through a phone or computer. Think search engines, social media accounts and blogs (like the one you’re reading now!).
With the rise of the internet and the digital marketplace, digital marketing practices have become increasingly common. Becky Montchal, founder of the Phoenix-based, digital marketing agency Green Hearted, began to notice the rise of digital marketing about eight years ago. According to Montchal, it used to be much more common for businesses to forgo digital marketing efforts, as she explains, “Let’s say you’re looking for a restaurant. Maybe you'd Google ‘sushi near me.’ Well, unless that page is optimized to appear in your specific geographic location, you might not ever know about this great hole-in-the-wall sushi place.”
Recent events, however, have made these digital marketing efforts essential. Montchal explains: “COVID brought places like that sushi restaurant on the map because [those restaurants] had to switch to this a digital-first mindset, incorporating partnerships like Uber Eats or Postmates or DoorDash.”
By virtually connecting businesses to customers, digital marketing practices have made it possible for many businesses to withstand the slowdown of in-person customers. Digital marketing has now become the rule rather than the exception.
In this article, we’ll cover the different types of digital marketing and why developing a digital marketing strategy is so important.
First, let’s cover the basic unit of digital marketing: assets.
Digital marketing assets refer to a broad category of digital material that can be used in marketing efforts to connect with customers. Assets are the point of contact between your brand and your potential customer. Some assets, like logos, are used across all marketing channels. Others, like an Instagram profile, exist within a specific channel. Some examples of digital marketing assets include:
A productive marketing campaign goes where the customers are. While putting up a billboard or placing an ad in the local paper can certainly help you reach customers, their reach is limited by geography and distribution.
Digital marketing, on the other hand, has the potential to reach anyone using a digital platform. And Americans are connected. According to Comparitech.com, American adults average more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Whomever you’re trying to reach with your marketing efforts, chances are they pay a good deal of attention to the digital world.
What’s more, your potential customers use a number of different platforms for digital access. Everything from computers to smartphones present unique challenges and opportunities for strong marketing. Finding your audience and keeping their attention can become very complicated when that attention is split among different devices, not to mention other digital marketing efforts.
Creating a digital marketing strategy is one of the most effective ways to distinguish your brand from the competition. It leverages the attention your potential customers pay to digital platforms, all while creating a coherent brand identity across multiple channels.
And as we will see, digital marketing tools allow you to make more meaningful connections with specific customers. Compared to a billboard on the side of the road, digital marketing allows you to be much more precise about who you’re messaging. You can specify your marketing to the demographic and data trends that best represent the audience for your brand.
Here are a few areas where digital marketing can seriously benefit your brand or business.
According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, 15.7% of business sales in the second quarter of 2021 occurred online. This percentage has been on an upward trajectory for several years and was greatly accelerated by COVID-19’s negative impact on in-person retail shopping.
Having a website that’s easily accessible on digital platforms, indexed near the first position on Google, and shared on several marketing channels, can help you take advantage of this trend. Digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with a positive e-commerce experience that keeps customers coming back. Emailing past customers with discount codes, or spreading the word about a sale on social media can help bolster your sales efforts online.
A brand represents the broad, intangible associations that your audience has with you or your business. For instance, there are a variety of logos, colors or slogans that people can easily identify or associate with a specific company. Brands were developed and solidified over many years of marketing with the intention of making them instantly recognizable.
With digital marketing, however, you don’t need years to build up a brand image. By coordinating efforts across different channels, you have the opportunity to create consistent messaging and imagery that will go a long way to creating and strengthening your brand.
When it comes to non-digital marketing, most prices are fixed, regardless of how many people see your advertisement. The price for an ad in a newspaper, for instance, does not reflect how effective that ad actually is. Marketers often pay upfront for traditional marketing, bearing a significant financial risk if the advertisement isn’t effective.
What’s worse, once you’ve committed to a certain marketing message it can be difficult to adjust according to how your customers interact with it.
Digital marketing tools, on the other hand, tend to have flexible pricing models. When you host ads on Google, for instance, you’ll only pay when users click on the ad. For anyone looking to use their marketing budgets efficiently, this is a great improvement over the fixed cost of traditional marketing methods.
That isn’t to say that traditional marketing efforts are useless. Whether it be improving sales or brand identity, traditional methods comprise a big piece of the puzzle.
Digital marketing can complement traditional marketing. For starters, it’s a great arena to experiment with different messaging strategies. Because it can provide so many useful data points, digital marketing strategies can reveal valuable insights on what messaging works and what doesn’t.
These insights can help bolster your traditional marketing efforts, providing insights on what is likely to succeed in non-digital forms. Finding the most effective slogan for a billboard, for instance, is a lot easier once you’ve tested several ideas through email and social channels. In short, digital marketing is not at odds with traditional marketing. In fact, they benefit from each other!
When you Google something, you’re met with a page full of links that are ordered in terms of their relevancy to your search. This page is called a Search Engine Results Page or SERP.
SEO is a digital marketing practice that works to claim and secure a website’s top position on the SERP. This position is called a ranking, and users are much more likely to click on a higher ranked result than a lower one. In fact, 31.7% of all clicks on Google go to the link in the first position and drastically drop off for the succeeding positions. This drop-off is so extreme that only 0.78% of Google searchers clicked on something from the second page.
With on-page SEO, digital marketers update the content of a website in order to rank higher on the SERP.
To understand this, it’s important to think about search engines as a large index of websites hosted on the internet. The search engine “reads” through all of the pages on these websites and determines how well they relate to the search query. By having information on what is on each website, the search engine can determine which indexed websites are most related to the search. Then it ranks those websites accordingly.
The exact way these determinations are made vary from search engine to search engine. They are subject to change and depend on many factors that are both known and unknown to the public. Some of these factors include:
On-page SEO seeks to make a website both “readable” to search engines as well as focused on content that relates to user searches. A background in writing is hugely beneficial for crafting on-page content that is both optimized and engaging for users.
With on-page SEO, a website can be easily indexed and matched to different search queries. That isn’t the full story, however, on why certain websites rank higher than others.
With off-page SEO, digital marketers work to create connections outside of a website that lead users back to that website. This is determined as a sign of authority on a given search query, which positively affects the website’s SERP ranking.
Creating these off-page connections isn’t easy. It requires reaching out to other websites to connect your content with theirs. By having content linked between websites, both domains benefit from better SERP rankings.
Crucial to ranking higher on the SERP, Technical SEO also focuses on making websites more “readable” by search engines. Instead of on-page SEO, which focuses on the text, images and other content hosted on the website, technical SEO focuses on the website hosting that content.
To put it another way, technical SEO optimizes the infrastructure that makes up a website for search-engine indexing. Search engines “crawl” websites in order to gather information on their content. Technical SEO makes it easier for search engines to crawl a website efficiently and without error.
Technical SEO is performed through a number of techniques that are beyond the scope of this article, but include:
To summarize, SEO covers all the ways that a digital marketer can improve a website’s SERP rankings for free. Proper SEO implementation drives more traffic to a website by presenting that website as more relatable to a number of search queries.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM), on the other hand, involves paying for advertising space on the SERP. If you perform a Google search, you may notice some links marked as ads at the top of the SERP. This is the work of SEM. Digital marketers pay Google in these instances to place their domain at the top position.
SEM comes in two main forms:
With pay-per-click SEM, digital marketers pay for ad space at the top of the SERP. This is performed through a bidding system. In this system, keywords that are searched more frequently are seen as more valuable and therefore pricier for ad space. Less searched keywords cost less.
For example, let’s say you wanted your website to appear among the ads related to the search query “shoes.” This is such a frequently searched word that it would cost you significantly more to have your ad appear on that search query than say, “shoes with flames on the side” which is more specific and less searched.
These are called pay-per-click ads because they generally only cost money when a user clicks on the link. This feature makes PPC ads very attractive to digital marketers on a small budget.
These ads include:
These PPC advertisements appear on the top of the shopping search on most search engines.
These include the SEO title, links and excerpt that consist entirely of copy.
These are the ads you see on various websites you visit, often hosted on services like Google Ads. Bidding for display ads generally operates on a cost-per-thousand-impressions basis. Impressions here refers to the number of times an ad appears in front of the user. This is in contrast to cost-per-click pricing in that it costs money regardless of whether users click on the ad.
Display ads help your brand reach potential customers on the websites they visit. In conjunction with other digital marketing methods, this can be an effective way to promote to customers.
As another major pillar of digital marketing, social media marketing promotes brands through social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of the American public is on some form of social media. Success on these platforms has the potential to expand your brand to millions, and getting started with a social media account is generally free.
There are two main types of social media marketing:
Organic social media marketing focuses on the ways you can grow an account’s following for free. This includes following other accounts and creating content that is of interest to others. A digital marketer seeking organic social media traffic might make posts with popular hashtags. This connects that post with others using that hashtag, which makes it more likely that users will visit that account.
A strong social media marketing strategy takes advantage of multiple accounts on different social media platforms to build an audience. A popular video on YouTube, for example, can be used to drive user traffic to an Instagram profile or Facebook page. The end result is a stronger brand identity and more customers for your business.
As with search engines, paid social media marketing allows digital marketers to buy ad space on social media feeds. Scrolling your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram Explore, you’ve likely run across promoted posts. These may relate to your interests or prior search history and are a way for brands to reach an audience that may not have found it through organic means.
You can read more about the subject in a recent blog, “What is social media marketing?”
Some social-media platforms for business include:
On social-media platforms, many users have amassed large followings, usually related to a common interest. These users, known as influencers, can leverage their large followings to share a promotion with a large audience.
As part of influencer marketing, brands will reach out to influencers for promotion. This helps bring a product to a community of people who are likely to be interested in it. Health brands, for example, often work with exercise influencers to promote products or deals. This is a relatively new type of digital marketing, but also one of the most exciting.
Email marketing is one of the first forms of digital marketing. It involves emailing potential customers with marketing assets to highlight the latest promotions, news, products, etc. These potential customers might have submitted their email addresses to receive updates from a specific business, or a digital marketer may have purchased a list of emails specifically for this purpose.
Email marketing is an opportunity to connect with users who are the most likely to be new or returning customers. Often these users have consciously opted in to receive marketing messages, which usually indicates that they have particular interest in a brand. Email marketing can be hugely beneficial to get customers who have submitted their emails at checkout to return for another purchase. Though the potential reach is small compared to SEO or social media marketing, the email marketing audience is generally more enthusiastic about the brand.
Similar to email marketing, SMS marketing generally targets those who have opted to receive text messages from a brand or business. This can indicate a general enthusiasm about a brand, but it comes with the risk of annoying and alienating potential customers. The key to SMS marketing is strategic messaging centered around particular customer interests.
SMS marketing allows for instantaneous, simultaneous messaging to many users. This is perfect for time-sensitive promotions like fire sales or for reminding users about an upcoming event. Messaging can often be personalized to individual users, which can deepen the connection between a user and the brand.
Content marketing focuses on creating and sharing assets that are relevant and valuable to a brand’s audience. It goes hand-in-hand with the other types of digital marketing and is a particularly critical aspect of on-page SEO.
Everything from blog posts to videos and informative graphics fall under the umbrella of content marketing. What these things all have in common is that they can both be hosted on a website and be shared on different channels. Content marketing translates a brand’s identity into assets that can be accessed, understood and shared among an audience.
Strong content marketing efforts produce content on a consistent basis that is valuable to potential customers. This might mean doing in-depth research for a blog, creating video content that’s novel and engaging, or developing images that users can share on social media. Content marketing can improve brand awareness across channels, funnel SEO traffic to a website and increase sales.
That’s it! Those are the seven types of digital marketing. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and familiarity with all of them can help take your promotion efforts to the next level.
How do we know if our digital marketing efforts are paying off? In a word: analytics. Using data gleaned from various sources, analytics provide insights that can be used to improve your digital marketing strategy. Various services can be utilized to collect and analyze this data, such as:
Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are major pieces of data related to a digital marketing effort’s success. These are what digital marketers look for to see how their campaigns are working. Some KPIs include:
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
Cost to convert a potential customer into a customer
How many visitors to a page follow through with a purchase
The number of clicks received by an ad or SERP link
Average time of conversion
How long it takes for a user to visit a website and make a purchase
There are hundreds of potential KPIs, but they all provide insight on how digital marketing efforts are going and where there is room for improvement.
Asked what digital marketers could do right now to benefit their digital engagement, Montchal has several suggestions.
We hope this guide is helpful to you as you continue your digital marketing journey. Make sure to bookmark this page for future reference!
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