What is Digital Marketing?

By Dan Barraclough | Updated: January 10 2020

A jargon-free roundup of the digital marketing strategies you need to know about…

Fifty years ago, to generate serious buzz around a start-up, you needed two things: a costly ad agency to run promotions, and investors willing to foot the bill.

Needless to say, success was a long shot. And even if you had those things, there was no guarantee you’d resonate with your audience. A miscalculated print ad here or a badly-positioned billboard there would leave your budget depleted and the world none the wiser that you ever existed.

That all changed with the arrival of the internet. The first banner ads delivered unprecedented returns on investment (ROI), and Madison Avenue quickly took note.

Ever since, digital marketing has dominated discourse about how brands should communicate with customers. Social listening tools have revolutionized media measurement, and digital marketing firms can send thousands of customers your way for a fraction of the cost of a TV spot.

What Are the Types of Digital Marketing?

Content Marketing

In the age of ad fatigue, content is king; so goes the thinking behind content marketing, a strategy for winning the trust of ad-weary web users by serving them content that’s timely, relevant, and valuable.

It’s a long-term approach to building loyal brand advocates, one retweet at a time. Put another way, content marketing is about earning your audience, not buying them.

The brands who are best at content marketing speak to this idea. Sure, Rolex sells watches; but that’s not what motivates its army of Instagram followers to fawn over beautiful photos of Rolexes with their friends (#goals). Nor would Apple be the music streaming giant it is today if not for the free music festivals and star-studded radio shows it’s been curating for years.

Done properly, content marketing is a great way to get people thinking and talking about your company, without being self-promotional or ‘salesy’ about it. Unfortunately, many companies don’t do it properly, because they don’t have a documented content marketing strategy.

Social Media Monitoring

Ever wanted to know what people said about you when you’re not around?

Social media monitoring is the process of listening to what customers, prospects and the general public are saying about your brand online.

Somewhat confusingly, the term ‘social media monitoring’ doesn’t refer exclusively to monitoring social media. You can use social media monitoring tools to trawl e-commerce sites, news and review publications, blogs, forums and social media platforms for mentions of your brand.

You’ll hear most people use the terms ‘social listening’ and ‘social media monitoring’ interchangeably. Rest easy – both mean more or less the same thing.

Most brands lack a clear strategy for social media monitoring, which is why only 11% of social messages sent to brands ever get a response.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Also known as pay-per-click (PPC), search engine marketing (SEM) is all about – you guessed it – using search engines to connect with your customers. First off, PPC professionals analyze Google data about users’ search queries (called ‘keywords’) to identify things your target audience are looking for. If the data shows your product or service doesn’t quite serve an existing need (i.e. a chocolate fire extinguisher), you go back to the drawing board.

If, however, you find lots of search volume for relevant keywords, the next step is to ‘bid’ for your website to appear at the very top of Google’s search results pages for those keywords. Essentially, you’re bidding against your competitors to be seen by your prospective customers.

Naturally, with such a great prize on the line, auctions can get pretty competitive – the skill lies in knowing what keywords to bid on, and how much to bid. Experienced PPC marketers know exactly how to strike this balance to keep your company’s margins intact.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of making sure your website is poised to draw visitors from Google. SEO experts focus on beating your competitors to the top of Google’s organic search results (just below the paid results your PPC prodigies are fighting for). It’s a vital function, given that your website’s ranking has a huge impact on your bottom line. If you don’t even appear on the first page, you can forget about redesigning your website – no one will see it.

For smaller websites, it’s easy enough to carry out on-page SEO checks in-house. However, as your site swells in size, a job done properly becomes a job done professionally. Investing in outside SEO expertise is key to make sure your site gets the attention it deserves.

Display Advertising

Display advertising refers to any graphic or text-based ads that appear while you’re browsing the web. It’s actually gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years – the notion that people don’t click on banner ads anymore is so well-trodden, we’re surprised there’s still a path.

Some people put it down to the idea that millennials’ attention spans are shorter than the next sentence; but is that fair?

Hardly. They’re probably just tired of being treated like click fodder by lazy marketers:

spammy banner ad
Users are very unlikely to click on spammy-looking banner ads like this one

Quality display advertising does still exist, thanks to top digital marketing firms. Their tireless work, along with advancements in audience tracking technology, can produce more highly-targeted display ads today than were possible even five years ago. They have the skills to pay the display advertising bills and generate a healthy ROI.

Why is Digital Marketing Important?

By now you might be feeling (like the aforementioned millennial) your attention starting to drift. Digital marketing sounds great, sure, but… why does your business need it? What are the concrete benefits for you?

 The Internet is Power

Innovations that changed the world: sliced bread, the Boeing 747, and… the internet! These days, people go online for just about everything. From ordering a pizza to booking a flight to Mexico, your customers are melting the plastic everyday on the web.

By harnessing the strategic power of digital marketing, you’re hitting people where they spend not only a lot of their time – but a lot of their money, too. Get your message and visuals right, and you can cut yourself a slice of that sweet digital pie.

Target: Acquired

One of digital marketing’s big, big perks is that it lets you hone in on your exact targeted demographic. Why spend a fortune making sure everyone sees an ad that’s only for a specific age range? Don’t cast the net wide – go spear fishing!

Digital marketing lets you create campaigns with a laser-sharp focus. This not only helps you reach the right people (and sell more!), but can also propel your site to the heady heights of Google’s rankings. Don’t look down!

So-cial we?

If you were offered the ability to instantly connect with 244 million people to promote your services, you wouldn’t pass it up – would you?

Didn’t think so.

But the fact is, there’s that many users of social media in the US today. And each one is spending an average of two hours and 22 minutes on social media and messaging platforms, every day. Given the stats, it’s mind-numbing that there are still businesses not using social media as a marketing tool. Can you afford to ignore those numbers?

Probably not. Harnessing the forces of social media (for good) is crucial to growing your online presence and developing your brand. And it’s not just about selling to your online audience – it’s about listening to them, too. Social media monitoring lets you tune in to mentions of your brand and industry, and get the lowdown on what your customers really think.

Crunch those numbers

Running a digital marketing campaign is one thing – making it successful is another. The fact is, digital marketing can be tough to get right – and you will get campaigns that fail. Thankfully, though, digital marketing makes it easy to learn from your mistakes – and make sure you get it right next time.

That’s right – when you use digital marketing, you get an advanced array of analytics to drill down into even the most disastrous of ad campaigns. You’ll see how long users spent looking at your ad, and how they interacted with it. Did they bounce? Did they share? Did they click click click? All this and more, on your next digital marketing campaign!

Take your business to a new level

Digital marketing, in some ways, is like Robin Hood. It doesn’t steal anything from the rich, or give to the poor – but it does help to level the (proverbial) playing field for small businesses. Because you’re ‘bidding’ on keywords unique to your brand, products, or industry, you won’t always be competing directly with ‘the big guns.’

Yep – there’s no squaring up to Squarespace, or going toe to toe with Toshiba. Digital marketing lets you fly under the radar, while still reaching the right people.

Next Steps

Nowadays, digital marketing services are well within the reach of even the most cash-strapped startups. All you need is a rough idea of the things you’d like help with, and a phone conversation will take care of the rest.

If you’d like to receive quotes for any of the digital marketing services covered in this article, you can request quotes from selected partners by completing this short webform.

Dan Barraclough

Dan’s a Senior Writer at Expert Market, specialising in digital marketing, web design, and photocopiers, amongst other topics.

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