The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing
Marketing has changed.
100 years ago, it used to be enough to take out an ad in a daily newspaper.
50 years ago, it used to be enough to publish a crappy television commercial.
10 years ago, it used to be enough for companies to buy a cheap website, sprinkle in a few keywords, and call it good.
Well, marketing has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous 100—launching us out of the age of TV spots and print ads into the age of VR, apps, social media, and Google.
This, my friends, is the age of digital.
We are in a time of 24/7 connectivity—where 81% of Americans own a smartphone and spend on average 8.8 hours online per day. As a result, it’s a must to have a digital marketing strategy that meets consumers in the digital realm and follows them through their online sales cycle.
What you’ll find below are the basics of digital marketing, with the goal that you’ll be able to walk away with a clear understanding of your options and an actionable way forward.
What Is Digital Marketing?
What is the actual definition of digital marketing? In a nutshell, digital marketing—also known as online marketing—is an umbrella term for all marketing and engagement activities done through online media channels. The role of digital marketing is to help you get found, get noticed, get leads, and then turn those leads into returning customers.
Today, we can catalog digital marketing activities into a few general buckets:
- Your website
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Pay per click advertising (PPC)
- Marketing automation (including email marketing and messenger marketing)
- Social media marketing
- Video marketing
Granted, it gets more granular than this, but we’ll stick with the basics.
Why Is Digital Marketing Important?
The reason digital marketing is so important to your business—no matter which type of business you own—is because today’s consumers are connected to the web 24/7 thanks to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Electronic devices like these are the first thing most adults use in the morning, and they’re the last thing 95% of them see before they go to sleep. Consider the following statistics:
- The average U.S. consumer is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day
- 92% of consumers look at a company’s website when choosing a service provider or product
- At any given time, 84% of Americans are shopping for something
- 97% of people go online to find products and services
- 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine
- 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations
- 86% of people look up the location of a business on Google Maps
One of the fundamentals of marketing and advertising is: Be where your target audience is. As of now—really, as of 20 years ago—your target audience is online.
How Did We Get Here? A (Very) Brief History of Digital Marketing
How did we get here?
Marketing is nothing new. It can be traced back 4,000 years to when Egyptian merchants used papyrus to make sales posters. Over the millennia it changed—but not by much. The business owners that could afford it used print advertisements to broadcast their goods and services.
It was the 1940s before marketing really began to resemble what we know it as today. As competition in the business world became more intense, marketing and advertising started heating up as businesses tried to one-up each other to gain a competitive advantage.
Digital marketing made its first appearance in the 1990s, as access to digital media became easier. The ’90s gave birth to giants like Google, Yahoo!, and the first web banner ads, which would pave the way for digital growth in the new millennium.
Now, pay attention—this bit is important.
Along with the new millennium came The Web 2.0, which basically blew up marketing as we knew it. In the 90s and the early days of digital marketing, it was still fundamentally about advertising TO people. The development of Web 2.0 changed the way people used the internet, which caused marketers to change how they market—it became less about overtly advertising to someone and became more about creating an experience people wanted to be a part of.
What Is the Web 2.0?
“Web 2.0 is the name used to the describe the second generation of the world wide web, where it moved static HTML pages to a more interactive and dynamic web experience. Web 2.0 is focused on the ability for people to collaborate and share information online via social media, blogging and Web-based communities.
Web 2.0 signaled a change in which the world wide web became an interactive experience between users and Web publishers, rather than the one-way conversation that had previously existed. It also represents a more populist version of the Web, where new tools made it possible for nearly anyone to contribute, regardless of their technical knowledge.” – Techopedia
That’s because, with the Web 2.0, people stopped being passive users of the internet and became active participants. This wave of user-generated content (on sites like YouTube and blogs), social networking sites, and greater accessibility put companies in the backseat as consumers took control of the media they consumed.
Why was that bit above so important? Because digital marketing as we know it evolved specifically because of the Web 2.0. It changed the entire marketing funnel as we knew it and triggered the establishment of the types of digital marketing channels below.
Digital Marketing Basics: Types of Digital Channels (And How to Use Them)
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, you should understand some digital marketing basics. There are a core group of digital marketing practices that most businesses use. We listed them above, and we’ll dive a little further into each one below.
Your website is the mother of all online real estate, and arguably your best marketing asset. If the web were a shopping mall, it would be your storefront. Having a website for the purpose of driving leads and sales is also known as inbound marketing—a strategy focused on bringing customers to you via company-created content on your website.
So, first, you need a website. Second, your website needs to be five things to be successful:
- It needs to be fast – Your website needs to be fast. While website speed is largely subjective, every single visitor needs to see SOMETHING happen on your website within three seconds. After three seconds, 53% of mobile consumers will click the “back” button.
- It needs to be secure – Your website needs to be HTTPS instead of HTTP. The modern consumer is informed. One side effect of this is that they’re much more aware of the dangers of visiting an unsecured website. Hacks are all too common—and your website visitors know this. If your website has any place where users can fill in personal information (even if it’s just a phone number and email address) it needs to be secure. Heck, even if it’s just a blog with no contact form it should be secure because website security is a search ranking factor.
- It needs to be mobile-friendly – Mobile website traffic (website traffic that happens on either a tablet or a smartphone) now outpaces desktop web traffic, and experts predict that at least 30% of searches will happen without a screen by 2020.
- It needs to have a clean, easy-to-use design featuring your contact info – Your design needs to look good and add value. Key components are: Having contact into in the upper-right corner, clear calls-to-action, clear navigation that can be easily tapped on a mobile device, and an easy way to contact you. This is called having a good user experience (UX).
- It needs to be optimized for SEO – People need to be able to find your website, and most of the time, they find it with a search engine. Learn more about search engine optimization (SEO) below.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
People need to be able to find your website. How do they do that?
Well, 93% of the time, they find you via search engines like Google. Take a look at the anatomy of a search engine result page below:
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a combination of techniques and marketing methods that aim to make your company dominate the search engine results page for a particular set of phrases, questions, and keywords. This is done in two ways: Search engine optimization (SEO) and with paid search ads (PPC).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
That first organic position on Google mobile search has a 31.35% clickthrough rate—which means it’s incredibly valuable. So, how do you get your website to be in that top-ranking Google position?
SEO is one branch of SEM, and is the process of tweaking and updating your website code and content to get your web pages to rank higher in the search results organically.
Here’s how search engines (like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!) work: They use search crawlers to scan web pages and decipher what they’re about. That way, they can spit out the web pages that are most relevant to your search query.
But, here’s the problem: Search engine crawlers speak a different language than we do—HTML. They can’t just read the words on a page, and they can’t “see” an image. What we do with SEO is write clues for crawlers in a language they understand. It’s like adding subtitles.
How SEO Works
Here’s how SEO actually works: Google and other search engines crawl pages on the web, indexing and categorizing them in what would be the universe’s biggest library. When you search for something online, you’re putting in a request to the library. Google uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to decipher your search term and produce web pages with the information you’re looking for.
Here’s where SEO comes in. Search crawlers speak a different language than we do—HTML. So, they need some extra help to determine what a web page is about so they can correctly index it.
Think of it like this: You’ve gone to the world’s biggest library, but the librarian speaks Russian, and all the books are in English. By optimizing your website for search, you’re using specific tactics—like adding in extra bits of code and structuring your website a specific way—that act like subtitles and make it easier for crawlers to understand, categorize, and index each web page.
SEO is arguably the most reliable and profitable digital marketing tactic. But, before you ditch all your other advertising methods, understand that SEO is a lot like the stock market. You pick stocks—your keywords—based on information available at the time. Then, you wait for the returns, occasionally tweaking your strategy. Depending on how well-optimized your presence is, it can take anywhere from three months to a year to gather steam.
Like the stock market, results fluctuate—often due to factors like seasonal or yearly consumer behavior, Google algorithm tweaks, and advances in digital technology. Also like the stock market, one thing is certain: If you play your cards right with SEO, you’ll get accelerated returns as time goes on.
There are more than 200 signals these crawlers use to determine what a page is about, but here’s a basic breakdown of what search engines look for:
- Secured sites (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Websites that are mobile-friendly
- Schema markup
- Webpage content quality
- Webpage content length
- Page speed
- Social signals
- Quality backlinks
- Optimized images
- Domain age
- User experience (UX)
SEO is one of the best digital marketing channels you can invest in—leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to only 1.7% for outbound leads like print ads.
Learn more about SEO here >>
Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
Pay per click advertising is an umbrella term for online paid ads where you only pay teach time someone clicks on your ad, hence the name “pay per click.”
Paid search ads are the ones you’re probably most familiar with—they’re the ones that show up in the search results. Most of the time (except for some home services queries) those ads are search ads, meaning they are triggered when someone searches for a particular set of keywords. On average, 41% of clicks go to the top three paid ads on the search results page, and 75% of people say paid search ads make it easier to find the information they need
You’re not limited to paid search ads if you want PPC ads. Within “pay per click” there are a few different types of ad strategies:
So, how effective are PPC ads? Well, businesses make an average of $2 in income for every $1 they spend in Google Ads.
Learn more about PPC ads here >>
Ever feel like websites you’ve visited are following you with their ads? You’re not crazy—that’s called remarketing.
Here’s how remarketing works: When someone visits your website from any device, a few lines of code from your retargeting partner (like Google AdWords) drops an anonymous cookie in the user’s browser. This cookie is a small file that stores various bits of information and tracks the site visit without storing any sensitive personal info. Then, when this cookied user leaves your website, the cookie tells your ad platform when they land on another one. Then—POOF—your ad appears. It works, too—visitors retargeted with ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website.
You can retarget and remarket on hundreds of websites and platforms, including social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Email Marketing and Marketing Automation
Email marketing is pretty much what it sounds like—marketing sent through email. It has a wildly high ROI when compared to other types of digital marketing, and is one that can skyrocket your leads for pennies.
- The first thing 66% of business leaders do in the morning is check their email
- 61% of consumers enjoy receiving promotional emails weekly, and 28% would like emails to come even more frequently
- Email marketing has a 4,400% ROI, with a return of $44 for every $1 spent
Email marketing is not the same thing as marketing automation. Marketing automation is an umbrella term that can include any form of messaging that is triggered automatically. This can include everything from email marketing to automated texts and messenger marketing on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Here’s an example: Someone visits your website, and enters their email address or phone number to download something. That email address or phone number then goes into an automated system that automatically sends pre-determined emails and messages. We highly recommend incorporating marketing automation into your digital marketing strategy.
Learn more about email marketing here >>
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing refers to any marketing activity done via social media profiles and platforms. Currently, seven out of ten consumers expect a business to have a well-maintained social media presence, and 17% of consumers actively use social networks when looking for information about a business. The top platforms for social media marketing are:
However, not all platforms are created equal, and picking the wrong ones can tank your social media strategy. At most, you should be on four social media platforms (unless you have a dedicated team devoted to social media marketing). Find out which social platforms are best for your business here.
That being said, organic reach on social media is at an all-time low, thanks to a combination of social media feed algorithms and the rising popularity of using the platforms for business. What that means is you can’t get by with only posting organically. You need to supplement your social media campaign with paid social media ads, or else your message will die on the wind.
Learn more about social media marketing here >>
Video marketing is exactly what it sounds like—marketing that takes the shape of a video. It’s incredibly effective—take a look at these video marketing statistics:
- A video is 50 times more likely to get organic page ranks in Google than plain text
- Half of the consumers who watch online product videos say it helps them make more confident purchasing decisions.
- People who watch videos stay on a site two minutes longer on average and are 64% more likely to make a purchase.
- U.S. consumers now watch up to six hours of digital video per day
- Studies show that web pages with videos have a significantly higher average time on site than those without videos.
- Next to Google, YouTube is the second largest search engine out there.
- Videos allow you to drive branding and build trust. They’re like a TV commercial—for a fraction of the price.
The best marketing videos are under 60 seconds—in fact, they should be under 10 seconds for maximum impact. Because consumers prefer short videos, they are more likely to watch yours if they know you provide quick, succinct details. To get started, we recommend making the following videos into your marketing plan:
- How-to videos of your products and services
- Customer testimonials
- Company culture videos
- Videos that highlight the benefits of using your products or services
Learn more about video marketing here >>
Tracking and Analytics: The Metrics and KPIs that Matter
None of this matters unless you’re tracking your campaigns and tweaking them based on metrics that affect your bottom line. However, thanks to the massive proliferation of data analytics capabilities, most companies are drowning in it. The key here is to identify which metrics matter, and to do that, you need to understand the difference between a metric and a Key Performance Indicator (KPI).
Metric: A metric is a number
KPI: A KPI is a metric that is most closely tied to the overall business success
While metrics are helpful in forming specific strategies, only certain ones can help you refine and tailor your business strategy.
Bounce rates, page views, time on page, new visitors, and search rankings are all metrics.
These are the KPIs that really matter to your digital marketing strategy:
- Total sales
- Return on marketing investment (ROMI)
- Lead-to-sale conversion rate
- Booking rate (from calls)
- Cost per lead (CPL)
How to Develop Killer Digital Marketing Strategy
Where you’ll go with digital marketing depends on the data of where you’ve been, your digital strengths, and your company’s weaknesses. The number one way to start your digital marketing strategy is to have a digital competitive analysis done.
A competitive analysis will pit your online presence against your top competitors to see where you stand. You’ll also find out what opportunities they are taking that you aren’t and what’s necessary to beat them in the search engines and grow your company. With the best digital competitive analyses, you’ll also get a roadmap of the marketing channels that are the most important for your business.