All you need to know about digital marketing: an essential guide

Today’s customers live across online social channels, so having an online presence is a must if you want to build a meaningful and prosperous relationship with them. Your business needs a carefully crafted marketing strategy that has a strong digital component in order to generate return on investments, as well as long-term success.

I. What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the Internet. It is about being where your consumers spend most of their time and promote your business using a variety of channels and actions. From a fully developed and functional website to active involvement in social media channels, reaching out to your consumers via email & newsletters, video content, search engine, and display banners, digital marketing reunites all efforts that involve the Internet and devices.

II. A brief history of digital marketing and advertising

We can’t know what the future holds for us, but one thing is sure: to advance in life, we need to take a look back. To better understand digital marketing, we propose a short virtual journey to its roots.

Here are a few key moments in the history of digital marketing that we all need to be aware of, according to the Digital Marketing Institute:

The World Wide Web was launched by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, but it didn’t take off until Netscape, the first successful mass-market browser, was released in 1994.

  • The most famous search engines and mass e-commerce sites appeared in the following order:
    • Yahoo – in 1994;
    • Amazon – in 1994;
    • eBay – in 1995;
    • Google – in 1997.
  • Email marketing became a new outbound tool, sharing the stage with the traditional arsenal consisting of TV, radio, telephone sales, and print advertisements.
  • The first steps in SEO involved a high keyword density, excessive tagging, and lots of backlinks building, in order to generate high rankings. Razorfish was one of the key players in the early SEO efforts, as well as a pioneer of the “server push” possibilities of the Netscape browser.
  • In 2001, the dot-com expanded, which shifted the marketing tactics.
  • After 2000, the introduction of today’s most appreciated social media networks made users spent more and more time online:
    • LinkedIn – appeared in 2002;
    • Myspace – appeared in 2003;
    • Facebook – appeared in 2004;
    • Hi5 – appeared in 2004, but was eventually shut down in 2012;
    • YouTube – appeared in 2005;
    • Twitter – appeared in 2007;
    • Instagram – appeared in 2010;
    • Pinterest – appeared in 2010;
    • Snapchat – appeared in 2011;
    • WhatsApp – appeared in 2016;
    • TikTok – appeared in 2016.
  • The first modern smartphone was produced in 2003, by BlackBerry and supported text messaging, phone calls, web browsing, email, and it was mostly used by business professionals.
  • In 2007, the ground-breaking release of the iPhone took place. In short, the world as we knew it moved online and straight into our pockets.

We have also prepared for you a short history about advertising:

    • The first widespread digital advertising has begun in the early 1990s. Display banners started to appear on the bottom of the user’s screens. They were promoting Prodigy, an online service provider.
    • In 1993, a law firm from Silicon Valley created the first clickable ad. This was the start of everything that followed later in terms of advertising.
    • In 1994, web banner advertising was rising, and it stayed on top of things until 1998 when the first search advertising keywords were initiated by a company that was later acquired by Yahoo!
    • In 2000, Google launched AdWords. The rest of the digital marketing puzzle was assembled afterward.
    • From 2000 until the present, we’ve witnessed the landscape shift to include video advertisements, social media, and an entirely new marketing methodology was created, surrounded by the idea of promoting content, not just creating ads.
    • In 2010, mobile advertising became a regular part of customers’ lives, improving the user experience, and generating ads relevant for their online journeys. Mobile advertising has been increasing each year, ever since.
    • People have internalized digital advertising so well. We’re seeing users spending longer and longer periods online, connected, together. This can only mean that digital channels are growing rapidly and will continue to do so.

III. Why is digital marketing important?

Digital marketing is crucial for business nowadays, when people spend more time online, because it provides a lot of benefits:

    • It allows you to reach people where they spend more time and money.
    • You can gain valuable information about your customers and clients via tracking their online behavior when interacting with your website or social media pages.
    • You get direct feedback and reviews from users who experienced your product or services, so you’ll know exactly what features and aspects you can improve to generate more sales.
    • You can reach a global market.
    • You can track responses to all your marketing efforts immediately.

IV. What are the types of digital marketing?

There are several types of digital marketing, and an efficient strategy includes all or a combination of the followings:

1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

 What is SEO?

SEO refers to a set of activities performed to increase the visibility of a brand/website in Google’s organic results, thereby increasing the amount of organic traffic the website receives. The aim is to rank higher on the first page of Google’s results, when a user searches for specific keywords or phrases related to your business.

SEO optimization can be executed in more than one way:

  • ON-PAGE SEO: involves optimizing the existing and future content published on all website pages, by researching high-density keywords and enriching articles with them. In articles, you must answer as many questions the users might have as possible regarding your product or services.
  • OFF-PAGE SEO: this refers to backlinks, or easier said, the number of publishers that link to you and the “authority” of those publishers. Google ranks your website higher in search results when you gain “domain authority” or otherwise, the search engines “confirms” that your website is trustworthy if many publishers refer to it via links.
  • TECHNICAL SEO: this refers to the backend of your website, on how the pages are coded. You can increase your site’s loading speed if you structure data, compress images, and optimize the CSS file.

2. Content Marketing

What does Content Marketing mean?

According to contentmarketinginstitute.com, “content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The content marketing strategy should serve your business’s objectives: brand awareness, traffic growth, lead generation, video views, conversion/sales, clicks, etc. A well-crafted content marketing strategy can significantly increase the visibility of your brand, help build credibility, and create an enduring relationship with your audience. Now, it’s more important than ever to earn trust and loyalty with your customers for the long term.

There is a wide variety of content marketing types you can include in your strategy, such as:

  • Blog posts. Include a Blog section on your website, where you can share news and relevant information with your audience. Optimize articles using SEO techniques as a low-cost way to boost your organic traffic.
  • Think of ebooks as tiny digital books you can give for free to your actual or potential customers. It is a type of long-form content that can help you provide valuable information to your readers. You also can use it as part of your lead generation campaigns. People who subscribe to an offer/service you provide can receive for free an ebook.
  • It is a visually captivating type of content you can use to present statistics, processes or benefits of your services/products. It’s a colorful way you can catch your users’ attention.
  • Video content represents a powerful way you can engage with your audience. 54% of the users want to see more videos from brands they like.
  • Case studies. You can use this type of content marketing to show that your products or services are of good quality.
  • Testimonials/Reviews. Both of these are great ways to receive feedback from your customers, which you can publish on your website or social media channels, to show other potential clients how your business stands out in the eyes of those who benefit from your products or services.
  • Another type of lengthy content, whitepapers are densely packed with data and information.
  • User-generated content. This allows you to involve customers into creating authentic and valuable content related to your business.
  • A savvy way to increase engagement with your audience, memes are popular images with text that circulate rapidly in the online environment. If you can adapt the images or the text with your brand’s tone of voice or business communication model, you will obtain an extra source of engagement with your audience.
  • You can use these as a step-by-step method to solve a problem, which you can later integrate into your social media pages.
  • How-to-guide. A written guide to instruct users on how to make the most out of your services or products is always welcomed.

 3. Social Media Marketing

 What is Social Media Marketing?

Social Media Marketing is the use of social media platforms to promote a company’s product and/or services.

This involves constant publishing of content on all social media pages, listening to your followers, engaging with them, analyzing your posts performance and running social media ads to increase brand visibility, sales, video views, website traffic, apps installments.

The most frequently used social media platforms are: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube. On these platforms, you can create posts and images, videos, GIFs, Polls, Stories, share blog articles, and any other type of content that drives audience engagement.

5 content pillars for an effective social media marketing strategy

  1. For a successful online presence, think about what your goals are, which social media platform your target audience uses most, what type of content do you want to share.
  2. Editorial planning and publishing. Start by creating an editorial content calendar structured by days, hours, and types of posts you want to use on each social network. Create and organize your posts around impactful editorial routines, then keep an eye on which one performed best. For scheduling and publishing your posts, there are several tools and apps you can rely on: Hootsuite, Buffer, Later, Monday or Facebook Creator.
  3. Listening and Engaging with fans. As you will continue to post and share company updates, the conversation around your brand will expand and it’s important to show up and talk to your fans: reply to comments, like their comments, answer to direct messages, tags on social media posts, and so on. Keep in mind that you can use social media listening and engagement tools like the ones mentioned above, to do this job easier for you.
  4. Analytics and reporting. From month to month, it’s good to take a look at your pages’ insights and draw conclusions about what types of posts worked best and to monitor your most important social media key performance indicators, such as reach, impressions, views, clicks, engagements (likes, shares, comments, reactions). Is the feedback you receive from fans positive?
  5. When funds grow, take into consideration investing in social media advertising. This means creating and running ads that allow you to reach a wider audience than the number of people that follow your pages. You can target users by specific details such as: location, demographics, interests, behavior and more.

4. Pay Per Click (PPC)

What is Pay Per Click (PPC)?

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a form of online advertising that allows marketers to place ads on an ad platform and pay the host of that platform every time their ad is clicked, according to searchenginejournal.com.

This is a method to drive paid traffic to your website. You can develop advertising campaigns on all social networks that your target audience is spending most on their time on: Facebook Ads, Instagram boosted posts, LinkedIn Sponsored Messages, YouTube video promotion, to name a few.

Also, Google Ads or AdWords is the most known type of PPC. This is an advertising service useful for companies that want to show ads on Google and the ad network. AdWords allows companies to set an advertising budget and pay only when users click on their ads.

  • Companies create relevant ads high volume search industry keywords.
  • When users search those specific keywords on the Google search engine, the ad starts to run.
  • If users click on the AdWords ad, they are directed to your website.

Google Ads is split into 2 main categories: the Search Network and the Display Network.

Types of Google Ads

A). Search Network

The Google Search Network is a group of search-related websites and apps where ads can appear. When you advertise here, your ad shows up near search results whenever someone searches with terms related to one of your keywords.

B). Display Network

The Google Display Network is a group of more than 2 million websites, videos and apps where your ads can appear. Display ads are the visual banners ads that users see on advertising-supported sites everywhere. Google states that Display Network reaches over 90% of the global Internet users.

5. Affiliate Marketing

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing is a performance-based advertising method where a business pays a commission on conversions made by an affiliate. The affiliate earns money by promoting or selling other business’s products. Sales are monitored via affiliate links shared on blog posts, social media channels, websites.

How does Affiliate Marketing work?

In short, it’s a collaboration between a merchant and its affiliates.

Merchant is the business selling a particular product or service to a customer.

Affiliate is the person that owns a website/social page and promotes the merchant’s products/services to its audience, to drive sales and receive a paid commission in exchange. For a business, it’s good to benefit from someone else’s (the affiliate’s) community and share of voice.

Commission rates vary, the payment structure can be organized by:

  • Pay Per Sale: the commission is established as a percentage of the sale price or order value.
  • Pay Per Lead or Inquiry: the fee is fixed to a sum paid every time a lead or inquiry is made.
  • Pay Per Click: a fixed amount is paid out each time a click on the merchant’s website comes from an affiliate partner.

6. Native Advertising

What is Native Advertising?

Native Advertising refers to paid ads that match the look, function and feel of the media format in which they appear.

Basically, they don’t look like ads, they look more like part of the editorial flow of the page. It is a non-disruptive technique that exposes the user to subtle advertising content that doesn’t bother him.

For instance, an article called advertorial that is published on a website with the purpose to promote a product or a service. The content of the advertorial matches the form and style of an editorial material of that website. The word “native” defines the coherence between the advertising message and the other content elements of the website in which it appears.

Top 3 most frequently used native formats to achieve marketing objectives, according to IAB’s study called Native Advertising Playbook 2.0:

  • In-Feed/In-Content Native Advertising: these are placed in article pages (between paragraphs) or content feeds and imitate the design and aesthetics of the surrounding editorial experience.
  • Content Recommendation Ads: these can be an article, a video, a product or a web page that are displayed alongside other paid content. They can be found below or alongside an article or in a feed. When a user clicks on it, it is redirected to an external page/URL.
  • Branded/Native content: this is a paid content from a brand that appears on a publisher’s website in the same format.

7. Marketing Automation

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is the technology used by a business that helps it manage marketing processes and multifunctional campaigns, across all used channels, automatically.

Businesses can send customers automated messages across website, social media pages, SMS, email, and so on. For instance, in order to avoid repetitive tasks done manually, the marketing department from a digital agency uses automated solutions to cover up basic operations, such as: email newsletters (there are tools that help you send newsletters only to users that want to receive them in Inbox), social media posts scheduling tools, campaign tracking, and reporting tools.

To put it in a nutshell, marketing automation helps simplify some of the most time-consuming activities in modern marketing and sales roles.

For instance, with marketing automation, you can:

  • Create, automate and measure campaigns across all used channels;
  • Engage customers via email;
  • Target the right audiences with personalized ads;
  • Keep track of your social media posts performance and your website’s visitors;
  • Measure ROI;
  • Build custom landing pages and contact forms.

8. Email Marketing

What is Email Marketing?

Email Marketing is a digital marketing strategy that uses email to promote products or services while developing a relationship with potential customers or strengthening the bound with actual clients. Effective marketing emails convert prospects into customers and turn one-time buyers into loyal fans.

Emails are often used to promote discounts, events, content or just to lead people to a website. With email marketing, you can inform existing customers of new products, upsell them to a more premium package, or even encourage them to share your business with their peers. You can also include weekly or monthly newsletters regarding company updates, sale promotions or exclusive deals for subscribers. The purpose is to keep clients informed and tailor marketing messages for the audience.

Email is very much alive in today’s online marketing landscape, so it’s worth building a strategy around. There are various types of emails you can use to keep in touch with your customers: blog subscription newsletters, follow-up, welcoming emails, holiday promotions, etc.

Email marketing strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Grow your email list. You can do this by adding a contact form on your website or using lead generation campaigns in social media. Give something free to users and ask in return for their email address. It can be an ebook, a cheat sheet with industry tips, whitepapers, case studies, a free webinar, free samples, etc.
  2. Personalize messages sent via email. This means organizing your email database by what type of relationship you managed to create with users. To prospects, you will start by sending informative emails, free deals, and any relevant content in order to bring them closer, and after a few purchases, you can create more sales messages. To loyal customers, use emails to give them exclusive offers and deals that will ensure they stick by your side long term.
  3. Respect your subscribers. If you want a chance to convert them from customers to fans, make them feel special and appreciated. Very important, if some users unsubscribe from your emails, respect their decision and make the process easy for them.
  4. Follow a schedule for the newsletter. Sending emails multiple times per day or week is not a good email marketing strategy. Choose frequency carefully, in alignment with your business type. Once a week or twice a month is a good start. Customers do not want to feel spammed by your emails.
  5. Optimize for mobile. Plenty of emails nowadays are opened directly from mobile phones, so it’s important to make sure they display correctly from this device.

9. Online PR

What is Online PR?

Online Public Relations (PR) is a form of PR that defines the work of communicators via available online channels, be it social media, blogs or websites.

This practice incorporates activities geared towards influencing media, communities and audiences that are online and use social channels. It may involve spreading press releases, outreach journalists via social media, respond to company reviews from users, respond to comments on your website/blog, etc.

Online PR vs. Traditional PR: Similarities and differences

Both forms of PR are about influencing other people and presenting a business in the best possible way. Both focus their communication efforts to ensure a positive reputation for the brand or business. Because PR is about what you say about yourself and most importantly, what others say about you.

In traditional PR, communicators focus on general press, niche print publications, TV and radio. In online PR, the communication efforts expand on all available channels from the Internet: website, forums, blogs, social media platforms, influencer campaigns, online news and video portals.

10. Inbound Marketing

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing is a marketing methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and personalized experiences for them.

Instead of pushing products or services towards potential customers, inbound marketing allows you to draw people towards your business.

This type of marketing is all about attracting, engaging, and delighting the customer at every stage of their buying journey. Inbound marketing is used to attract the attention of prospects or new customers to your company when they are looking for solutions, rather than competing for their attention.

Inbound marketing can be done in 3 ways, according to hubspot.com:

  • Create relevant and interesting content, entertain conversations that ensures your position as a trusted advisor in the eyes of your customers.
  • Introduce customers with insights and solutions that match their goals, so that they are more likely to buy from you.
  • Provide help and empower your customers to accomplish their purchase.

In inbound marketing, own media and paid media are used as ways of engage with potential customers in a creative manner.

  • Owned media: all the channels controlled by a business, such as website, blog, product landing pages, YouTube channel, social media profiles. The business owner chooses what, when and how to publish on each platform.
  • Earned media: it’s the earned coverage a business obtains as a result of hard work, either in offline newspapers and magazines, or in online, on new sites, usually after intense digital PR, campaigns, forum conversations and reviews.

11. Sponsored Content

What is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is a form of paid media that is paid for by an advertiser, but created and shared by another brand, influencer or publisher.  

In short, it refers to a situation when you, as a brand/business, pay another company to create and promote content that discuss your brand or service in some way. Influencer marketing is a popular way of sponsored content. It means that you sponsor an influencer to publish posts or videos related to your business on his/her social media pages.

Types of sponsored content:

  • Sponsored photo;
  • Sponsored video;
  • Sponsored articles;
  • Carousel ads.

Sponsored content vs. native advertising

Both are forms of paid media strategies that align with the form and function of surrounding editorial content on a webpage.

But the main difference is that native advertising looks more like a traditional ad, while sponsored content is more like a media placement. A native ad is created and paid for by the advertiser, while the sponsored content is when the advertiser pays another brand or digital agency to produce and distribute it.

V. How digital marketing works?

Each of the digital marketing types and tactics mentioned above can work together in order to help you achieve your most important digital marketing goals. As you build an integrated marketing strategy or you hire an agency for digital marketing, it’s essential to make sure that your messages are consistent across all used platforms. The brand’s voice must be the same on every channel. This will help you create a more seamless experience for your target.

To put it in a nutshell, digital marketing strategies work together to increase website traffic, create brand awareness and transform leads into loyal customers of your business.

For modern businesses, an integrated multi-channel digital marketing strategy is necessary, because the Internet has a significant role in how today’s customers purchase products or services.

VI. What skills do you need for digital marketing?

As in any other profession, in marketing, experts must also have a wide range of skills and knowledge. Below, we have marked a few of them:

  • Writing and editing skills. At the heart of any digital marketing strategy is content. This means more than writing social media posts, blog articles, landing pages – it’s about connecting with your users via relevant messages and convince them to take the wanted actions.
  • Data Analysis. There are plenty of data analytics tools available today, which give marketers all the information they need to understand customers and target them with the right messages. As a digital marketing expert, one must have a passion for numbers as well as for words. Understanding results will help one know what he/she can improve in the future to attract more clients and increase business revenue.
  • SEO and SEM skills. A well-written article is useless if users don’t come across it in the digital world. And since Google’s algorithm is continually changing, marketers need to keep an eye on relevant and specific keywords for your business.
  • Design skills. Marketing isn’t all about text. It’s also about visual appearance. A good graphic designer knows how to grab the users’ attention in an already crowded online landscape.
  • Organization and project management skills. Running multiple online campaigns at a time can easily become overwhelming. Building an omnichannel marketing plan involves using various technologies and different measurements of the outcomes. Only a clear-headed person with good organizational skills can manage to do all of it without losing sight of the ultimate goal and reach it.
  • Ability to adapt and adjust. Marketers are lifetime learners, so one must be curious, entertained and to continually read news related to the industry in which he/she operates. Keep up with what the competitors do, getting inspired by other marketing campaigns, and being flexible with changes that also come with the job.

VII. Inbound Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

Wondering what the difference is? Let’s find out.

In short, digital marketing is any type of marketing that happens on digital platforms. Inbound Marketing is a marketing methodology used to draw customers in, rather than pushing products towards them.

Inbound marketing is about gaining, not buying, the user’s attention and loyalty, through informative content that means something to him/her and creates a positive connection between the brand and the consumer. Types of inbound marketing actions may include: ebooks, podcasts, blog articles, infographics, white papers, direct communication with clients on social media.

Digital marketing uses both organic and paid actions to solve short term goals, like boosting Facebook and Instagram posts or increasing traffic to your website.

VIII. Does digital marketing work for any business?

Yes, regardless of what your business’s specific is, digital marketing helps you shape your buyers’ personas to correctly identify your audience’s needs and deliver valuable content for it. Even if your business sales are mostly offline, it’s still best to be present in the online world, to attract more and more potential customers. However, each business should implement different strategies for digital marketing, which is why we recommend you to trust a digital agency for this step.

B2B Digital Marketing

B2B (business-to-business) digital marketing refers to any strategy or content developed around online lead generation. B2B marketing targets individuals’ needs, interests and challenges that make purchases on behalf or for their organization. Basically, the organization is the customer.

B2C Digital Marketing

B2C (business-to-consumer) digital marketing refers to any strategy used to attract people to your website and convert them into customers. B2C marketing targets the needs and interests of individual consumers who make the purchase for themselves. Thus, the individual is the customer.

IX. How long will it take to see results from digital marketing?

Relying on an agency for digital marketing will shorten the path to excellent results in online marketing. To put it in a nutshell, if you want quick results or fast sales, it’s best to use paid advertising as a strategy. For long-term and sustainable success, it’s recommended to focus on building your organic reach using content marketing strategies, SEO strategies and social media posts.

X. What budget would you need for a digital marketing strategy?

Marketing doesn’t come for free; even the experienced marketers need some tools to get things done.

Moreover, the budget depends on what marketing tactics you want to use as part of your strategy. For example, using social media, SEO techniques and inbound marketing is cheaper than using PPC techniques to promote your products or services.

You also need to be aware that there are fixed costs and variable costs associated with marketing—the latter change in line with the levels of activity. Pay-per-click models are an excellent example of this: the more people that click on an ad, the more you pay.

It is important to see marketing as an investment since its focus on gaining and keeping customers is crucial within a business. With its responsibility to create awareness, interest, and desire for products and services, marketing is a key driver of sales and profit.

With budget invested wisely, with results tracked correctly, together with visionary ideas, the marketing strategy is ROI-positive for your business.

XI. How do you know if you need a digital marketing strategy?

Digital marketing is not a one-person kind of job, because it involves coordinating a lot of digital assets that your business will gradually develop: a fully functional, user-friendly, creative, coherent website and tracking consumers’ behavior on it, managing all social media pages that are right for your brand, constantly writing articles and improving content with SEO techniques, on page and off page, investing in PPC ads via all channels – all of these require tremendous time and efforts. Digital marketing is a fundamental part of every business, and in today’s market, it moves fast. It seems every day there’s a new tool, a new tactic, and a new report in regards to marketing.

You need to stay up to date with the latest in marketing tips and ideas, to explore the changing digital landscape and keep your marketing skills sharp.

This is why it’s recommended to trust a team of experts to manage your online business’s activity. Explore our solutions. Get in touch.

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