Digital marketing is more than just uploading your ad copies and creatives online. It leverages digital technologies to deliver cost-effective and measurable marketing strategies, enabling you to develop a direct relationship with a highly relevant audience.
Unsure about how to get it right? Read on to learn the must-have steps in developing a marketing strategy, and how to plan some common strategies, with suggested roadmaps for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
What is digital marketing?
Digital marketing refers to any marketing on digital channels that promotes brands and connects with customers via online tools and platforms. Digital marketing campaigns appear on digital devices such as a computer, a phone, or a tablet. Examples of digital marketing include:
- social media posts
- display ads
- online videos
- search engine marketing
See below for the types of digital marketing strategies and how you can leverage them to achieve marketing goals.
Benefits of digital marketing
How is digital marketing superior to traditional marketing? In short, digital marketing enjoys the advantages of advanced technologies that traditional marketing cannot match.
Digital marketing uncovers customers’ needs with relatively cheap costs, lowering your average cost per customer. Some strategies cost nothing to get started.
Digital marketing allows better control of costs. You have the flexibility of pausing or resuming an online campaign in a matter of clicks, which is impossible for a traditional billboard campaign. ROI (Return On Investment) maximization is also feasible in digital marketing where you know how much you invest versus how much you get in return so that you can allocate your budget as needed in a media campaign.
More nuanced targeting
In digital marketing, you can set more precise targets and effective customer segmentation thanks to a trove of online data. People reveal a lot about themselves online; so granular details about their online habits help you build realistic customer personas which is the foundation for well-targeted marketing campaigns.
For example, with digital marketing, you can precisely target a specific audience like men between 35 to 65 having an interest in cars, and make sure only they will see your ads. Such precise targeting ensures a highly relevant audience, compared to a billboard being shown to everybody, regardless of their interests. High relevance in digital marketing maximizes the value of your ads.
More accurate forecasting
At your disposal are powerful tracking tools, some of which are free. They enable constant tracking and KPI measurement. This allows flexible optimization and a more precise forecast of marketing spending.
Even before starting a media campaign, you know if it will be worth it thanks to those forecasts. This will enhance your accountability with the management board, compared to when you do traditional marketing where you must spend money first and then evaluate the results, good or bad.
More effective testing
Digital marketing enables cheaper and faster A/B testing of ad copies and visual creatives. This means you can implement your strategies with optimal creative choices and a firmer understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.
In traditional marketing, you must go with one creative only, be it a billboard, magazine banner image, TV commercial, etc. You cannot A/B test anything.
On the other hand, in digital marketing, when you run an online ad banner campaign, it marginally costs nothing to produce ten variations of an image. Running ads to test all ten variations costs the same as running ads for one image. Quickly, you can see the best-performing ones, and reiterate the process for more optimizations later.
How to create any digital marketing strategies?
All digital marketing strategies go through the steps below, although the specific process depends on the chosen strategy.
Step 1: Clarify your objectives
This cannot be emphasized enough.
A digital marketing strategy strongly depends on the campaign objective. A brand awareness campaign is totally different from a campaign to drive online sales on a website.
Before spending money, know where your money will go and how much return it promises. This only comes from knowing what you want, then setting your expectations and budget accordingly.
Step 2: Know your audience
Researching the audience is another thing that many professionals miss out on by rushing into implementing a strategy. Go beyond creating simple audience personas – go into details about who they are and why they want your offerings, from their perspectives. This may include:
- Audience profile
- Online presence (on which channels?)
- Purchase potential
The effort to understand your customers will pay off when customers feel special that your marketing effort speaks directly to them. Moreover, this will improve the relevancy and appeal of your digital content, thereby lowering your media spending.
Step 3: Benchmark your competitors
Competitors are a precious mine of information. We can learn from their successes and mistakes. We can also align our strategy with theirs. Some questions to consider when benchmarking your competitors:
- Should we target the same audience?
- Should we differentiate our products/services?
- What market share can we target?
- Are they bidding on specific keywords?
We do not mimic what they do, but neither do we have to reinvent the wheel.
Step 4: Budget
It is essential to be realistic when budgeting. Too many digital marketers try to convince themselves they can get a 6,000% ROI rate with a 1,000 USD budget. This does not work. What works is to conceive a budget by benchmarking the competition, and considering all costs of the digital marketing campaign including:
- Media spending
Step 5: Plan a roadmap
Combine steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 to plan the roadmap. Look at the examples below.
Example 1: If our audience and competitors are all on Instagram? Maybe we should run Instagram ads.
Example 2: If our prospects want to purchase online? Maybe we should:
- Build an e-commerce website
- Run online ads on the right channels to drive quality traffic to our landing pages
- Convert them into confirmed sales.
Put a lot of effort and thinking into planning the roadmap. This is the essence of your digital marketing strategy, and it will make the next step easier.
Step 6: Execute
Once the digital strategy is defined, we execute it.
For example, if we want to run an SEO campaign, we will:
- perform keyword research
- optimize our web pages
- work on an outreach plan, and more.
If we want to run Google ads, we will:
- set up the ad copies and visual creatives
- prepare the ad account
- launch the ads
- monitor and optimize the ads
The execution phase should be easy and intuitive thanks to the strategy defined before. Of course, this is because we have the skills and experience to do so.
Step 7: Evaluate
Evaluation is more effective in digital marketing because of the availability of data. All you must do is understand what each metric indicates and make sense of the trends visualized in the data.
The purpose of evaluating the digital marketing campaign is to optimize it, so it delivers better results. It is a never-ending process.
Types of digital marketing strategies
It cannot be emphasized enough that the choice of digital marketing strategies depends on your objective and research as detailed in the last section. Any of the strategies below works only when combined with steps 1 to 4 above.
This principle extends to planning ads for each stage of the sales funnel or marketing objective.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) marketing
Your website needs to be optimized so that it can be found on search engines (which is Google for most people, but don’t forget other search engines depending on your market, e.g., Bing for the U.S., and Yandex for Russia).
Think about how a customer can reach you online when they know nothing about you. The first thing they do is search for a relevant keyword on Google. If your webpage appears on the first page of Google search, then you have a high chance of getting most users to it. How high? The #1 result on the first page gets 4 times more clicks than the #2 result and 9 to 10 times more clicks than the rest. People do not like to scroll down when searching.
Therefore, when SEO is done well, your web pages get increased organic traffic, your website gains authority, and generate more leads in the long run.
SEO needs time. When you choose SEO as a strategy, you need to allocate at least three months to a couple of years to see positive results. Only 22% of pages rank in the top 10 in their first year. The time it takes for your pages to rank depends on many factors, such as market competitiveness (easier to rank in a new niche than competing against Coca-Cola) or web page seniority (long-standing web pages tend to rank better than newly published ones).
You cannot rush SEO results without resorting to black hat tactics, but these tactics will eventually hurt your website. Specifically, search engines may ‘penalize’ your domain, resulting in less online visibility. Purchasing backlinks is always a waste of money because those backlinks are of poor quality. They do not ‘stick’ to your website, and you usually lose them after two months, with your money down the drain, and potentially getting penalized!
Effective white hat SEO practice needs a duet between sustainable SEO and good content creation. With every Google search update, the algorithms are being altered to better serve the needs of users.
Therefore, in SEO you are serving two ‘readers’: the engine and the users. When you optimize a webpage, you make it easier for search engines to crawl, index, and match it to searchers, but also, you make it useful and relevant for visitors. You’re serving both the algorithms and the people.
The most valuable achievement in SEO is to gain backlinks from reputable and relevant sources. When these people like your content and link back to your page, you will get backlinks. Your webpage not only needs to rank high to get discovered, but it also needs good content to get backlinks.
Many SEO professionals focus too much on the first part – working with the engine – by stuffing keywords to make the content seem more relevant. On the other hand, content writers create content that appeals to the users but remains undiscovered on the search engine. Good SEO practice means a balance between these two goals.
Read our complete SEO guide article for more on how to optimize your domain.
What if your website isn’t on the first page of Google? No fret, you can pay your way up the ranking, so your website appears above the top organic results. How? Pay-Per-Click marketing.
When you run a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing campaign, you pay the advertising departments of search engines and social media platforms to run your ads. The ads could be text ads, visual aids (or banners), or video ads (on YouTube). You bid for the best prices, called Cost-Per-Click (CPC), for your ads. Your competitors are other companies bidding for the same keywords.
PCC marketing provides an effective shortcut for you to get traffic while waiting for SEO to work. Less than half of searchers can tell the difference between paid and organic results, and appearing above organic results means your ads get more clicks.
Google considers the number of ads you run for your pages when ranking them. When users arrive at your page via ads, Google counts these arrivals as paid traffic. Officially speaking, Google prefers organic traffic over paid traffic. Realistically speaking, however, Google makes around 90% of its revenue from Google ads, i.e. paid traffic. So…….
Essentially, organic traffic is a more realistic indication of the quality of your page, while paid traffic (i.e. ads) is one way for you to skip the queue.
PPC marketing is best for short-term results. PPC marketing is recommended when you want to offer a promotion with a short-term deadline, so you need customers to come in fast to take advantage of the deal while it lasts.
Email marketing reaches customers in their inboxes. It involves building an email subscription list and sending regular newsletters to those on the list.
Emails are personal. When writing one, imagine writing to a person you may know. Address them by name, and make sure your subject titles do not look like spam. It takes seconds for a person to ignore or delete spammy emails.
To be able to do so, categorize your email subscribers into discrete groups based on your customer profiles. All email marketing software (like MailChimp, Constant Contact, HubSpot, etc.) have a tagging system that allows such categorizing. Send a customized email to each group at a time. You can also go further with A/B testing two email versions for each group.
For email marketing to work, you first need to build a subscription list. There are many ways to get emails:
- Subscription banners or pop-ups offering first-time offers (make sure they are responsive for mobile devices)
- Publish free online resources with access in exchange for an email
- Capture emails with integrated tools on social media
A word against cold emailing:
We do not recommend sending ‘cold emails’ to people who have never subscribed to your list. We also frown upon ‘mailing lists’ that you can purchase from other businesses (which is illegal, but who can check this?). Sending a cold email mostly harms your brand and associates it with spam. Also, note that most email marketing software like MailChimp do not allow sending emails to lists marked as non-subscribers, for good reasons. Simply, sending unsolicited emails will hurt your reputation and put people off.
The frequency of email sending depends on the goal of your email marketing strategy. Regular emails are mostly informative, while seasonal emails are event-based or promotional.
When your content is no longer relevant, customers may unsubscribe. Make the un-subscription process smooth and effective – nothing is more spammy than emails the readers have unsubscribed from. Who knows if they may want to subscribe again when the need arises? Stellar customer service means leaving a good impression even at the goodbye.
Online resources publishing
Have you ever given your email to get access to interesting and useful online reports or eBooks? Publishing online resources has emerged as a marketing strategy since the pandemic. People have been looking for trusted, well-edited, and thorough resources from credible sources, all for free. Those who are privacy-conscious would ask “do I value this piece of content enough to give away my email address”?
If you are doing business in a field you are formally certified for, such as law or medicine, or in which you have life experience worth learning from, then you stand to benefit from publishing online resources.
Online resources can be made available for a small fee, a subscription, or for free (in exchange for emails, traffic, conversions, and awareness). They should be useful, educational, and informative. These include, but are not limited to:
- web app
An online resource should address a prevalent need that requires sustained effort to fulfill. For example, you can write an article on healthy meal ideas, but an eBook on healthy living. You may be reluctant at providing such expert information for free, but it is also one of the most sustainable ways to gain trust online. People love freebies, and if they like your offerings, they will come back for more. They may also link back to your content as an authoritative source in your field, earning you backlinks – the Holy Grail of SEO. This will benefit your visibility, traffic, rankings, and leads.
Identifying an in-demand topic that you know well is crucial to the success of online resources. Use the following digital tools to analyze search volumes and demand for keywords (or topics).
These tools are gold mines for marketers trying to understand where the hot topics are. The main criteria for choosing the right keywords/topics:
- Search volume
- User intent for the topic
- Your interest/skills/expertise in the topic
Because of the substantial content provided, online resources encourage deep engagement from users: a reader may spend five minutes scanning an article, but an hour perusing a whitepaper. Users’ impression and trust in your business will deepen after they have consumed your online resources.
So, show off your expertise and experience, and strengthen your online reputation. Online resources are a great way to improve your E.A.T in search engines – Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, to increase your search engine rankings. Thus, doing this is good for your business.
Social media marketing
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Snapchat are their own ecosystems. Here is an updated stats on these platforms.
Compared to building a website, a social media account is easier to get started, but the lack of ownership over the domains means you must be satisfied with complying with the platforms’ rules. Like web page traffic, two types of social media to consider: organic social media and paid social media (ads).
Organic social media is cheap to get started. This is about maintaining a business fan page with business information and organic posts.
Is organic publishing sufficient for an average business? Only if you constantly have immensely engaging, viral content, which is rare to come by, hard to forecast, and ultimately unsustainable. The platforms want you to pay for visibility and conversion.
Paid social media has better reach with your customers. This is about running ads to generate website traffic, leads, and sales. “Pay to win ” is a fundamental attribute of social media marketing.
Is the cost of running social ads worth it? Yes, it is, because the platforms are designed to make you pay to enjoy its full range of technologies.
On Facebook, organic posts only reach 6% of your followers on average. Facebook intentionally restricts this. Pay to reach 100% of your active daily users.
Competition: many businesses are already running social ads and reaching customers. Whether they successfully convert them into leads and sales is less clear, but here is a competition you can beat.
Paid social media allows much more accurate targeting, which basically works like PPC marketing and Google ads mentioned earlier in this article. Targeting settings are a bit different though. For example, Facebook serves its ads by audience interests rather than by keywords.
Thanks to accurate targeting, you have a clearer forecast of the campaign ROI on budget and time.
Social media marketing tends to be more visual rather than textual, and more casual rather than formal. It shows a personal side of your business in a fun, authentic, and creative way. The features let you maximize your interactions with customers, which helps in building a community, gaining trust, and shaping a unique brand.
Get ready to employ multimedia skills such as image and video making and go mobile first. Most social media platforms are suitable for B2C, but there are platforms for B2B such as LinkedIn.
So, where to start? Follow the steps above to create a social media marketing strategy.
When to run ads and what type of ads to run? This depends on your sales funnel: what are the different phases someone goes through before they become your customers? Each phase has a different goal, and one ad is customed to serve one goal. The goal will influence the copy, creatives, call to action, and type of ad. Knowing your campaign goal is the crucial first step. Run ads only when you have nailed down the goal. Otherwise, it will be a waste of your time and money.
Each platform offers different ways to sharpen your ad targeting. For example, Facebook offers a feature called custom and lookalike audiences to further leverage a successful email list. Once you upload that email list to Facebook, it will help you target your ads to users who have similar habits and activities as your current customers. By doing so, you can replicate your email list’s success on social media.
Other social media platforms also have their own versions of specific audience targeting, such as matched audience on LinkedIn, and tailored audience on Twitter.
Once a user shows an interest in your products, you can run ads to retarget them and users who are like them. They will see the ads whether they are on their phone or their laptop because the platform’s algorithms target the user, not the device. Such precise segments and granular user data mean your retargeting ads are vastly more relevant than traditional marketing.
If you think about partnering with famous people, there are two types: social media influencers and KOLs.
Influencers are native to social media – they earn their fame by building a social media presence.
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are mostly celebrities with well-defined followers and may not be native to social media. Many KOLs still maintain an admirable social media presence and could rival influencers in the number of followers.
The top influencers have a growing number of followers in the tens of millions.
Influencers have worked hard to build a respected following. Partnering with them means your brand will share the limelight and gain instant visibility and authority in their community.
Because of its spectacular and high-profile nature, this marketing strategy can become exorbitant. After all, you are paying for VIPs to endorse your brand. Make sure the influencer fits your brand image to a T and is relevant to the targeted customers. Because nothing is more jarring than a famous person that poorly represents your business. Poor representation could lead to public backlash and negative press, and notoriety is harder to manage than fame.
Do you have a social media account, a blog, or an email subscription list? Then you can do affiliate marketing. This is when you allow ads to appear on your social channels, websites, and emails, and after a user clicks on the ads and makes a purchase, you earn a commission of 5% up to 50% depending on the deals. The merchant, the one selling the products via ads, pays your commissions once it passes a minimum threshold. To sign up for this scheme, you must join an affiliate network, and place affiliate links across your online channels.
As a source of passive income, affiliate marketing is easy to get started, costs nothing except time, and has virtually no risks.
How do you earn passive income from affiliate marketing? By getting visitors to click AND make a purchase via the affiliate links. Clicks without purchase (i.e. no conversion) also earn you some money with a few affiliate schemes such as Google AdSense, but it is not as lucrative as click and conversion.
As an affiliate marketer, you need to track two main metrics: Click-Through-Rates (CTR) and Conversion Rate (CR).
The CTR measures the proportion of visitors clicking on the affiliate links and landing on the product page. The CR measures how likely these people buy the product.
A normal conversion rate is around 0.05%, meaning, for every 10,000 visitors, five of them would buy the products from the affiliate links on your online channels, and you earn commissions on these five purchases. Of course, those metrics depend on your niche market.
As a product seller using affiliate marketing to bring traffic to your web pages, you can also track conversion sources and metrics for the performance of your referrals. The affiliate links include UTM trackers that are unique to the referral. The UTM is a type of permanent link extension in a format like this: www.yoursite.com/utm_source=affiliateA&utm_source=blogA
With the UTM trackers, on your landing pages, you can see how many visitors that come from a specific referral.
The technicality is easy, but what makes it work and earns you a good income is not. Affiliate marketers need a combination of traffic volume and content relevance:
- Traffic volume: no volume = no conversion.
- Content relevance: the more relevant and ‘native’ your affiliate links are, the more likely it converts.
This combination is truly challenging to achieve. Affiliate marketing is time-consuming, and only a few people manage to earn sustainable revenue from affiliates only.
It always goes back to the users. Make sure your content is relevant to the products being advertised and useful and informative for the users. Most people are resistant to salesy messages, and many use ad-blockers. Therefore, providing relevant content to the right users is crucial. Choose a niche in which you can offer valuable expertise and experience to attract the most engaged visitors who will click through and spend money.
Read more details about affiliate marketing and how to earn passive income.
Online marketing strategies for entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, the priority is to enable potential customers to find you online and get them to believe in your ‘why’. Create a minimum viable product and don’t wait too long to bring it to the market, because you need to test your idea and get feedback for improvements. Getting ready for customers could be daunting, so here are the basic digital marketing strategies to usher in your market entrance:
- Create a website. This is your staple online platform
- Create social media channels, relevant to the target audience
- Run an SEO campaign on your website
- Run paid ads on your website and social media
Going further, based on your market, industry, audience, competitors, etc., you may consider other options like email marketing, influencer marketing, eBooks, freebies, etc.
Again, we cannot over-emphasize how important it is to follow the seven steps mentioned above. These steps apply to any marketing strategy, yet even professional marketers have overlooked them at some points.
The steps are important because they prompt you to build a comprehensive custom online strategy for your business. Make analyses, use the available tools, never go in blindly, and never make decisions based on assumptions with insufficient data. All of this helps you define a roadmap that will likely be unique to your business.
Online marketing strategies for small business
As a small business, you can build a digital marketing strategy even if you do not have enough budget. Of course, your ad budget will not match that of a big corporation, so your results cannot be as well-performing. Meanwhile, the most important thing for a small business is to take off first. Once you grow in revenue, you will have the budget to scale up.
There are free tools that help you get started, and the steps for success remain the same, no matter the scale of your marketing strategy.
Myths about digital marketing strategies – FAQ
Debunking the myths, and saving you time, by avoiding common mistakes.
Does digital marketing require coding?
Having coding skills has become optional since there are many web builders with simple drag-and-drop features. Having a website is key. For small businesses with no money, ‘do-it-yourself’ website building remains a viable option. While a web developer helps make the website look more professional if you cannot afford one, for now, it is better to have an imperfect website than no website at all.
Will digital marketing be automated? Will it be replaced by AI?
It is true that AI has become smarter, but up to 2023, they are still not able to replace the human brain. Studies show that copywriting by AI does not perform as well as by real humans. Since the Google core algorithm updates of 2022, many websites lost their traffic because they were AI-written, while human-written web pages enjoyed improved traffic.
Are backlinks important to social media marketing?
No, they are not. Backlinks are a way for search engines to crawl the web and find web pages. Backlinks are immensely important for web pages, but not as much for social media marketing, because they lose their crawling purpose. Besides, search engines attribute less value to web backlinks coming from social media or forums.
H3 Having lots of keywords on one page is good SEO.
This is untrue. Having lots of identical keywords on one page, or keyword stuffing will hurt your SEO ranking. This strategy worked 15 years ago but nowadays search engines have become much smarter. The Google core algorithm Panda update, released on 24 Feb 2011, totally killed keyword stuffing.
Having external links to pages with high domain authority will improve my ranking.
Not at all. External links (or outbound links) are those your web pages send out to other websites. They do not improve your rankings, but they may improve the rankings of the receiving websites. You are helping them, not yourself.
Can digital marketing make you rich?
Yes and no! Like many other things in life, digital marketing can go well, or it can go wrong. It depends on your market, competitors, audience, skills, strategy, etc.
The heart of your marketing strategies
The audience lies at the heart of any marketing strategy you may choose. Call them by any name: users, customers, clients, buyers – they are the ones that can make or break your strategies. Knowing your audience is the first step.
Knowing them well, discovering their needs, and benchmarking your competitors, is how you get to the next level. Match your business objectives with your audience’s expectations and find the win-win meeting point in a competition you can beat. From such insight unfolds the ultimate marketing strategies for your business.