Consider this digital marketing guide an overview of marketing and how all of the dozens of little puzzle pieces fit together to create a cohesive tapestry that reaches your ideal customers and convinces them to buy from you.
Take what you learn in this digital marketing guide and apply just one thing right away.
Then, as you build momentum in your digital marketing execution, you can add to it.
And before you know it…well, you’ll be executing (as an expert) on your own digital marketing strategy.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What is Digital Marketing?
Let’s start with the very first question most people think, but are afraid to ask (for fear of looking foolish):
What is digital marketing?
If you ask a dozen people in the industry this question, you’ll get a dozen answers. And, to be honest, most of them are a little stuffy, academic, and vague.
Take HubSpot, for example. Their definition goes like this:
Digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the internet. Businesses leverage digital marketing channels such as search engines, social media, email, and other websites to connect with current and prospective customers.
Okay, that gives us a little information, but it still leaves you thinking, so what?
In short, digital marketing campaigns are:
…any form of marketing products or services that involves electronic devices.
That’s catchy and easy to remember, but still sounds like it was written for a Marketing 101 class in 2007.
The American Marketing Association merely regurgitates what everyone else is already saying:
Digital marketing is the use of the Internet, mobile devices, social media marketing, search engines, and other digital marketing channels to reach consumers. Some online marketing experts consider digital marketing to be an entirely new endeavor that requires a new way of approaching customers and new ways of understanding how potential customers behave compared to traditional online marketing.
While there’s no such thing as a perfect definition – particularly for a field that’s evolving more than traditional marketing – we don’t feel as if any of these are fully indicative of what digital marketing is and why it matters. They aren’t compelling enough to acquaint people with the reality of what we’re doing.
So while there are elements of truth to each of the definitions above, here’s the definition we’re going with:
Digital marketing is the process of leveraging online mediums – such as websites, email, marketing automation and social media marketing- to strategically reach the right people at the right time with the right message, all in an effort to increase brand awareness and ultimately convert these individuals into customers who go on to become loyal and raving fans.
A bit wordy? Yeah, probably so. But it cuts straight to the heart of what digital marketing is and why it matters.
Digital marketing isn’t about using electronic devices to reach people. It’s about utilizing the power of the internet to deliver a cohesive message that moves people through a journey over time. And if you do that with consistency, you’ll win big in the business world.
Why is Digital Marketing Important?
We’ve already touched on this some in our definition of digital marketing, but let’s go even deeper.
Here are a few specific reasons why digital marketing is so important for brands of all sizes:
Digital marketing personifies your brand
The first thing that digital marketing does is clarify and personify your brand.
You already know what your company is about, but the marketplace does not.
By investing in digital marketing, you’re able to share your story in a way that brings your brand to life. It makes you relatable and engaging.
And in this sense, it magnetizes people to your brand.
In the later stages of your digital marketing strategy, a personified brand can help you in many different ways. In addition to having more loyal fans and more engaged prospects, you’ll have an improved foundation you can use for customer support, social media channels, and other interactions with your base.
Digital marketing creates brand awareness
Speaking of magnetizing, digital marketing is all about creating awareness and understanding.
Think of it as the PR arm of your business, reaching out to the marketplace and telling them,
Without digital marketing, you’re totally reliant on word of mouth marketing and other elements that are outside of your control.
When internet users and even potential customers are more aware of your brand, and when they have a better understanding of your brand, they’ll be much more likely to turn to you when they have a need you can solve.
Admittedly, building brand awareness can be a slow process. It’s hard to build brand recognition, and even harder to build familiarity and a good reputation, but the upfront effort is worth it if it means achieving a more dominant competitive position.
Somebody is going to tell your story online.
A digital marketing strategy makes sure it’s you (not the competition or misinformed customers) that’s telling that story across all online channels, including websites, news outlets and social media.
Digital marketing streamlines the buyer journey
We often think of a buyer’s journey as happening along a simple one-way continuum.
But the truth is that today’s buyer’s journey with various digital marketing channels is more like a pile of spaghetti noodles. People zig and they zag.
They get distracted and lost.
For example, a potential customer may learn about the problem they’re facing, but refuse to take action on it. They might sit on the problem for months before delving into research on how to solve that problem. Over the course of months, they might experiment with a variety of different solutions, or postpone solving the problem further. But eventually, they may discover your brand and start buying consistently from you.
Digital marketing helps to streamline their journey and connect the dots. And creates a cohesive thread that continually drives them back to your brand.
Digital marketing campaigns convert buyers into raving fans
Digital marketing isn’t just about reaching new people and earning first-time internet users turned customers.
It’s also about engaging people who are already customers.
A good digital marketing strategy will help convert casual buyers into raving fans who make repeat purchases and refer other customers to your business.
Digital marketing is what connects you to your audience and encourages them to come closer.
It creates familiarity, cultivates trust, and helps make sense of what can otherwise be a confusing process.
The Cornerstones of Digital Marketing
If you’re a visual thinker, you might find it helpful to think of your digital marketing efforts as a house.
And while most people look at a house and they see what’s visible to the eye – the walls, windows, doors, siding, roof, etc. – these elements are ultimately being held up by a foundation.
And the foundation is – in both digital and traditional marketing methods – held up by cornerstones.
Your overarching digital marketing strategy is the foundation.
And at the core of your foundation, you’ll find cornerstones like:
This isn’t necessarily an element of digital marketing, per se, but it’s what you’re marketing.
And you can make your marketing much easier and more effortless if you develop a quality product or service that stands on its own merit.
This is important for several reasons.
For starters, if your product is appealing enough, it has the potential to market itself. Imagine you’re shopping for a car and you find a model with high safety ratings, near-perfect fuel efficiency, decent performance, a design you like, and a long warranty. The car is only $3,000 new. Amazing, right? You wouldn’t need to see many ads or marketing materials to be convinced that this is a good deal.
This example is obviously a fantasy, but it demonstrates how much easier your job as a digital marketer is when you have a great product to work with.
Additionally, having a quality product will lead to the development of more incidental internet marketing materials. People will leave better reviews. They’ll volunteer testimonials for your brand. They’ll mention your brand often on social media channels and share it with other people. In other words, much of your digital marketing work will be done on your behalf.
The second thing you need is a brand vision.
Bestselling author Donald Miller encourages brands to follow this template:
A character has a problem and meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to an action that results in success and/or helps them avoid failure.
In this framework, the character is the customer, your brand is the guide, the plan is your digital marketing, and the call-to-action is the product or service you’re selling.
Your brand vision (or story) is how you accomplish this.
It requires an intimate understanding of who you are, who the customer is, what you want, why you want it, and what all of that means in a business marketplace.
Too many businesses get so caught up in themselves that they miss the entire point: satisfying customers.
While it’s good to have clear identity and vision, it should always be filtered through who the target customers are and what’s important to them.
The best way to do this is by taking time to create in-depth customer profiles for each segment of your market.
Who is your average customer? Where do they live? What do they do? How do they act?
Even more importantly, what are their values? How do they see the world? And what types of arguments are persuasive for them?
The better you understand who your customers are, and how they can be reached, the smoother your digital marketing and SEO strategies will be.
Unless you’re trailblazing a brand new industry that’s never been seen before – which is highly unlikely – you have competition.
And whether the competition is large and concentrated or small and fragmented, it’s wise to do some competitive research so that you can understand where you fit in, what’s already out there, and how you can differentiate in positive ways that compel customers to choose your business.
Who are the top brands competing with yours? What kinds of products and services do they offer? How are your products better – or at least different – than the competition? And how can you use this information to strategically position your online marketing and advertising?
The final cornerstone is a clear set of brand guidelines.
If you’ve done a good job of addressing each of the previous foundational elements, this part turns out to be really fun and rewarding.
It’s where you design logos, pick color schemes, create digital marketing collateral, and establish rules about how your brand sounds (sophisticated, quirky, relatable, etc.), the types of words you do and don’t use, etc.
These guidelines ensure consistency in your digital marketing, regardless of the medium.
Most brands skip right over these foundational elements and move on to the surface level details.
But the reality is that you can’t execute well if you don’t have these cornerstones in place.
Taking the time to flesh out these details will serve you and your brand well for years to come.
Framing Your Digital Marketing Strategy
Continuing with our analogy, we must continue to build our house.
And now that we have a strong foundation in place – one that’s built with sturdy cornerstones designed to hold up the weight of a large home – we can frame out the walls, windows, doors, and all of the other elements that people see.
The framing is the fun part, but it’s also a lot of work.
And much like a house, you’ll frame, re-frame, renovate, expand, replace, and reconfigure the layout of your strategy over time.
But for now, here are the areas you’ll want to focus on:
Your website is your little slice of digital real estate.
It’s your internet property – something that you control completely.
Whether you’re running an ecommerce business, a consulting firm, a membership website, a PR business, or something in between, your website lends credence to your mission by helping you build trust and authority.
Your website is also going to serve as the central hub for your other online marketing strategies. Whether you practice SEO, social media marketing, PPC advertising, or some other combination of tactics, you’re going to need to drive members of your target audience to some target location.
This centralized location can then provide detailed information to visitors, educate them and persuade them, and eventually motivate them to make a purchase (or interact with your brand in some other meaningful way). If your website is functional, appealing, and persuasive, it can be the ultimate final link in all your other digital marketing tactics; get people to your website, and the website will take care of the rest.
Some of the keys to a successful website include:
Make sure your website is fast!
Speed is vital. You want your web pages to load in less than five seconds.
With each additional second it takes to load a page – from zero to five seconds – you’ll experience an average drop in conversion rates of 4.42 percent.
After five seconds, conversion rates drop by 2.11 percent per additional second of load time.
If your site is slow and clunky, people aren’t going to stick around. Most people will bail before they even see the content on your website. Those that don’t will lament the poor user experience – and possibly walk away with a worse idea of your brand’s reputation.
Fortunately, improving site speed isn’t difficult. You can usually see measurable results by simply including a caching plugin, optimizing your images and videos, cleaning up any inefficient backend code, and deleting any content that isn’t strictly necessary for your site.
Your website should be mobile marketing friendly
Your website should not only be fast on desktop, it should also be mobile responsive and load quickly on mobile devices.
Your site’s bounce rates will increase dramatically if it’s not optimized for mobile marketing.
In fact, the 1) rise in mobile usage worldwide and 2) Google’s push toward means that your efforts to appeal toward mobile visitors should be paramount:
Mobile marketing should be a prime focus of all the digital channels you are targeting in your digital marketing efforts.
Use visual hierarchy
Your page should be designed in such a way that the best content is above the fold.
Items with high visual prominence are large, located at the top of the page, feature strong and contrasting colors, have movement/video, and are surrounded by whitespace.
Items with low visual prominence are small, positioned at the bottom of the page, have low contrast, are typically text-based, and get crowded together on the page.
Distill each page
Every page should have one specific call-to-action and/or a value statement that can be distilled down into a few words or a single sentence for easy understanding.
This is especially important at the top of the homepage.
Keep it simple
Complex design is out. Minimalism and white space are in.
Keep things simple and let your website’s design breathe. You want to focus on doing a few things really well, rather than doing a lot of things so-so or average.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Your website is not the place to get innovative and try outlandish things.
Research shows that people prefer “standard” websites that are relatable.
This means featuring your logo in the top left of the page, contact info in the top right, using a main navigation in the header, and including a clear value proposition above the fold.
These are just the basics.
If you’re really interested in understanding the complex architecture that goes on behind the scenes, check out our in-depth resource on site structure and SEO.
It’s also a good idea to experiment with your website periodically, especially when it comes to conversion opportunities.
How can you be sure that your content is as persuasive as it can be? How can you be sure that your conversion rate is maxed out?
You can’t. At least, not without a ton of experimentation.
Measure and analyze the behavior of your onsite visitors. Are they spending a long time on each page? Are they eventually converting? You can also conduct user surveys to see how each visitor feels about your onsite content.
Then, change things up.
Use your digital marketing experience to tweak copy, change your layout, and rotate in new media.
Use each new month to try another digital marketing tactic (e.g. influencer marketing) and see if it works for your brand.
You never know until you try.
However, the likes of influencer marketing can be a money pit for the wrong industries. Best to connect with a knowledgeable digital agency to give guidance to what digital ads work best for your online channels.
Do these changes improve your results? If so, keep them. If not, revert to a previous version and try to figure out why this change didn’t work.
Over time, and through dozens of iterations, you’ll inch your way to perfection – and you’ll learn a ton about your target audience as well.
2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Having a website is a start, but your website is nothing more than a glorified project if you don’t have traffic.
In other words, you need to get people to find, click, and spend time on your site.
The most cost-effective and organic way to do this is by investing in search engine optimization (SEO) services.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that it satisfies the search engines. In doing so, you increase your chances of being featured prominently in search engine results pages, also known as SERPs.
A good SEO process consists of a few key elements:
This is the most boring part of SEO, but it’s also the key to making it work.
If you want your website to perform well, you have to get all of the technical elements like HTML, title tags, website speed, and navigation taken care of first.
Proper keyword research
While the days of keyword stuffing are behind us, search engine optimization is still very much rooted in keywords.
Best practices involve the use of long-tail, semantic-friendly keywords that can be used naturally within your content.
Keywords and phrases are essentially the words and phrases your target audience will enter into search engines when searching for businesses like yours. For example, if you sell bicycles and related accessories, you might target keywords and phrases like “best bike for under $400” or “speed bike or mountain bike?”
Keyword research is much more sophisticated than simply trying to predict user searches, however. You’ll need to think about keyword variety, the competition level for each keyword and phrase, and the search volume for your prospective targets, at a minimum.
Google and most other search engines are on the lookout for websites abusing keywords to manipulate search rankings, so stuffing your site full of keywords is a bad idea – and one that could get you penalized. Accordingly, modern best practices involve the use of long-tail, semantic-friendly keywords that can be used naturally within your content.
Armed with the right keywords, you can focus your efforts on creating high-quality content that adds value to your target customers and helps the search engines understand what your website is all about.
Excellent content helps your site in several ways related to search engine optimization (SEO). SEO marketers love content because it helps to build your authority naturally, it gives you a platform to include more target keywords, and if it’s strong enough, it could even attract links on its own.
We’ll talk about quality content in search engine marketing in more depth in our next section on content marketing.
Finally, we come to link building.
This is the process of building out backlinks from other high authority domains to your own pages.
This can be done manually, organically, or through a combination of the two approaches.
Links are important because they pass “authority” from one site to another. Google and other search engines typically rank content according to how trustworthy or authoritative it is; if it’s seen as more trustworthy, it will rank higher.
Each link serves as an indication of trust, so earning more links, and earning them from stronger sources, will eventually make your site seem more trustworthy in the eyes of search engine algorithms.
Just be aware that Google explicitly forbids link building for the pure sake of ranking manipulation (mostly as an anti-spam measure). If you want to be successful when link building for SEO, you’ll need to carefully consider how natural your links are – and work with professional SEO marketers to ensure you’re following best practices.
With the right SEO strategy in place, you give yourself a chance to compete for visibility and traffic at a high level.
And while Google is constantly changing the goalposts and making tweaks to its algorithm, the same basic principles will always apply.
Good technical optimization combined with quality content will ultimately give you wings to fly.
3. Content Marketing
Content marketing plays a vital role in helping you accomplish your digital marketing goals and, ultimately, larger business objectives.
The benefits of a content marketing strategy include increased brand visibility, enhanced brand reputation, more time on-site, higher conversion rates, SEO visibility, referral traffic, social traffic, and greater customer retention.
A good content marketing strategy takes your brand vision/story – which hopefully you created as part of your cornerstone strategy – and fleshes it out in a way that connects the right people to your message.
There are any number of strategies you can use to get results with content marketing, but we typically recommend a combination of onsite blog content, high-quality static website content, guest blogging, and social media marketing.
But, for the most part, it’s your onsite blog content that’s going to be the stickiest and get the most visibility.
When developing blog posts for your website, here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- While there’s no definitive word count for quality content and SEO, the best pieces tend to be extensive and in-depth. Shoot for a minimum of 1,000 words, but consider writing a 2,000- or 3,000-word post for maximum benefit.
- Write directly to your audience. Use second person voice and make the reader feel as if you’re having a personal conversation with them.
- Don’t overly optimize your posts for specific high-level keywords. Instead, write naturally about a topic. The right keywords will emerge and Google will take notice.
- Don’t use dense and meaty paragraphs. Stick to one to three sentences of copy per paragraph and let your content breathe!
- Use plenty of visuals – including graphs, charts, videos, images, and memes – to stimulate readers and keep them engaged.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s essential to write content that your audience actually wants to read. To accomplish this, you first need to understand your target audience – and it pays to understand your competition as well. What types of content are your target customers consuming? What topics do they need help understanding? Which posts from your competitors have been most successful in the past and what can you learn from those success stories? Measure your impact and use surveys to verify that your content is serving its purpose well.
You can drive traffic to your content using any number of approaches, including link building, social media marketing, paid ads, and email.
4. Social Media
Everyone wants to immediately jump into a social media strategy.
And while it’s an important element of digital marketing, it’s typically only effective if you’ve taken the time to establish the right foundation.
That means building out a quality website, investing in SEO, and creating high-touch content assets that draw people in.
If you’ve taken the time to execute in these other areas first, you’ll gain much more traction at a much faster pace than most brands experience.
Our best suggestion for social media is to focus on quality over quantity.
Rather than going out and creating profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, and Pinterest, pick one platform to focus on.
Then, once you build up a solid following with lots of engagement, you can consider adding other digital channels
Depending on the industry you’re in, Facebook and Instagram are usually where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
5. Email Marketing
Email isn’t as splashy as web design and social media, so a lot of brands push it to the back burner.
But what you may not know is that email marketing (especially using marketing automation) is actually one of the most valuable digital marketing investments you can make (in terms of the return on investment, or ROI).
Content marketing ROI, which is calculated by taking the amount you gain from a digital marketing activity and subtracting the amount spent to execute the digital marketing activity, is the ultimate measurement of digital marketing success.
And when you look at email marketing, it gets a 4400 percent ROI. To put that into perspective, it means the average email marketing campaign generates $44 in revenue for every dollar spent.
Do we have your attention?
Email marketing can be used to raise brand awareness, nurture leads, increase sales and revenue, and drive website traffic.
And the reason it works is that you have total control.
Unlike social media and SEO, where other platforms dictate your visibility and reach, email is your platform.
When you collect an email address, you can push a message to that person’s inbox (a highly personal space) whenever you like, which is especially helpful if you’re using marketing automation to streamline your reach.
And it’s (technically) free.
6. PPC Advertising
While we believe organic SEO, consistent content marketing, and properly executed social media strategies are the way to go, there’s also something to be said for pay-per-click advertising (PPC).
PPC advertising, which is most commonly seen on Google and Facebook, is a particularly cost-effective method of gaining exposure and driving traffic back to your site.
You basically create an ad, set a “bid” price that you’re willing to pay, and then pay that amount every single time someone clicks your ad.
The benefit of this digital advertising approach is that you aren’t paying for exposure.
You only pay when someone actually lands on your page.
A good PPC digital marketing strategy starts with keyword research and an understanding of the current PPC ad marketplace.
You need to understand what the competition is doing and how much you’ll likely need to spend in order to get your ads served.
While you can technically do your own PPC advertising, it’s a pretty technical endeavor – one that you’ll want to perfect in order to maximize your ad spend.
Hiring a PPC search management company to help you implement and manage your digital marketing strategies will serve you well.
Building an Internet Marketing Funnel
Once you’ve laid the foundation (quality product, brand vision, customer profiles, competitive research, and brand guidelines) and framed the house (website, SEO, content marketing, social media, email, and PPC advertising), it’s time to bring the house to life.
Just like a traditional house needs furniture, paint, and finishes, an effective digital marketing strategy needs something to pull all of the pieces together and bring it to life.
A well-lubricated digital marketing funnel is the answer.
A digital marketing funnel is basically a targeted strategy that you use to reach prospects and convert them into customers.
You do this by moving them through various stages, often referred to as:
As we explain in our detailed Guide to Marketing Funnels:
A prospect has no clue that your business exists. She then becomes aware of your business and its products, interest is sparked, she evaluates whether she likes your products (in the context of other marketplace options), decides to make a purchase, and ultimately follows through by exchanging money in return for what you’re offering.
This process doesn’t happen by accident, though.
You need a plan for reaching the prospect at each stage of the funnel and ultimately coaxing them into the next phase.
And if you can learn how to do this, good things will happen for your brand.
SEO.co: Your Digital Marketing Partner
While we’ve equipped you with all of the information you need to get started dreaming up a digital marketing strategy and executing right away, we understand that not everyone has the time to handle it in house.
If you’re looking to do content marketing at scale – or totally re-architect something that was never constructed appropriately in the first place – it helps to have a little hand-holding, ensuring your digital marketing techniques match your offline marketing campaigns.
Our formula is really quite simple:
We write quality content.
We secure top placement on high authority domains.
We get you, the client, stellar links that increase exposure, generate traffic, and turn curious visitors into paying customers who ultimately become loyal and raving fans.
In fact, we’re the digital marketing agency that other digital marketers rely on for optimizing all their digital channels.
Want to learn more?
Feel free to contact us by visiting one of our SEO location pages and we’d be happy to discuss how we can partner together to help you accomplish all of your digital marketing objectives.