I hope this post will inspire you to understand the basic concepts of digital marketing, start implementing digital marketing efforts in your business, and give you actionable advice to expand your skills as a marketer – no matter where you’re starting from!
What is Digital Marketing?
Digital Marketing is exactly what it sounds like – marketing online, or promoting awareness of products and services and the benefits they provide to potential customers over the internet.
This can be done organically by creating content about your business that people are compelled to consume and share, or by purchasing and placing advertisements on the internet that compel people to take a desired action (i.e. visit your website, start a free trial, or watch an informational video).
While it might be easy to get caught up in the hype of a “new way of advertising,” it is important to realize that any kind of marketing is still marketing; the bottom line of your effort is to promote your product or service to an audience of potential buyers.
Digital marketing uses a lot of the same strategies as traditional marketing, adapted for the way people consume information online. The three most common ways people consume information online are through email, search engines, and social media.
Email marketing is the O.G. of digital marketing. The first email ever sent was in 1971, and companies have been using email as a platform to send messages about the products and services they sell to their contact lists ever since.
A contact list is the list email addresses of everybody who has expressed interest in your business and given you permission to follow up with them via email. Permission needs to be given in one of two ways – implied or expressed.
Anybody who takes part in a business transaction or engagement with you gives implied permission to follow up via email. You give “implied permission” to a company to follow up with you when you make a purchase, make a donation, or enter a contract. An example of this is an emailed receipt after making an online purchase; by trusting this company enough to engage in a transaction, you are implying that they have permission to follow up with you about that transaction.
If there is no implied permission, you must get expressed permission from someone before sending any email messages. Expressed permission is when you clearly ask a customer for permission to send them email messages and they agree. You must include all relevant contact information about your company and an option to unsubscribe from your contact list at any time.
We don’t have time to get into building a contact list in this blog, but luckily Kissmetrics came up with a list of 11 ways to build an email list as quickly as possible to help you out.
The strategy of email marketing – i.e. the way you communicate your message and how often – will be unique to every business. Businesses might change the strategy of their email marketing efforts based on company growth, shifts in market demand, or during product releases/software updates. A change in email marketing strategy usually results in a new marketing campaign.
An email marketing campaign can be described as a series of emails supporting the same message or promoting the sale of a specific product(s) or service(s).
Search marketing is probably how you bought your last car, found your favorite Thai place, and found the very blog you are reading right now.
When you search for something on a search engine like Google or Bing, a complex algorithm determines which website will probably be the most helpful page – i.e. the one you were searching for. When you search something like “good Thai restaurant near me, ” the search engine populates a list of restaurant websites specifically in order of how relevant that search result will be to you (i.e. how much you’re going to love the curry!).
The algorithm for each search engine is unique, unknown to the public and changes constantly so you’ll never know exactly why a certain page was chosen as your the first search result; there are, however, a general list of factors that influence why a page gets chosen over others.
Keywords are the specific words or phrases that your potential customers will type when searching for your business or a business like yours. The more frequently your page uses a keyword and the more prominent the placing of the keyword (i.e. the title), the higher you’ll rank in search results. Moz.com has a great resource on how to do keyword research to find the keywords your customers are using; once you’ve found those, update your page copy (or create new content) using those specific keywords.
Links to other pages are highly encouraged in most algorithms. The three types of links you need to be aware of are outbound, inbound, and backlinks.
Outbound links, or linking to other sites from your page, shows that you are connecting to other businesses in your niche (which search engines want to see).
Inbound links, or linking to other pages on your site show that you’ve developed quality content around other relevant subtopics relating to your main topic (and proves to search engines that you can help searchers in a variety of ways).
Backlinks, or links to your pages from other sites, show that other businesses in your niche find your content valuable and worth sharing (and worthy of a higher search result placement).
Relevance has to do with the quality of the page someone lands on when they click your link from the search engine results page. Having a high bounce rate, or a high percentage of people who click the link to your page but “bounce” (leave) your site after only viewing that one page, indicates that your site is not interesting or valuable enough to hold the audience’s attention (and therefore unworthy of a high search ranking).
The act of optimizing your website pages to rank higher in the algorithm is called search engine optimization (SEO). We don’t have time to dive into specific SEO practices in this blog, but Forbes put together a great resource of 11 ways to improve SEO if you’d like to learn more.
There is also a way to pay to have your website link clicked more often than your competitors – paid search advertising. You can pay search engine sites (through services like Google AdWords and Bing Ads) to display your ads in the top search results for specific keywords or on relevant third-party sites that have partnered with the search engine. There are two ways to pay for search advertising:
CPC is short for Cost-Per-Click, and means exactly that; everytime someone clicks on your link, you pay the search engine a fee. CPM, or Cost-Per-Impression, means that you pay every time your ad is displayed to someone on their device.
Both types of paid search can bring a high return on your investment, so it’s worth looking into the differences between CPC and CPM to decide which type of advertising will work best for your business.
Search marketing is a great way to get traffic to your website for cheap (or for free), but it isn’t the only place people go anymore to find recommendations on products, services, or brands; people have started shifting from consulting search engines to consulting social media.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is the newest advertising platform in the game, but it might just be the biggest return on investment if you do it right.
There are quite a few social media platforms these days, but the first two you should familiarize yourself with are Facebook and Instagram.
Marketing on Facebook and Instagram can happen two ways: organically and through paid advertising.
Organic marketing simply means marketing your brand, product, or service directly on your business Facebook or Instagram page to your social following (i.e. publishing a post). While we don’t have time to get best practices in this blog, Neil Patel came up with a list of 20 ways to boost your organic reach that will help you tremendously.
Paid advertising means paying for your content to be shown to a larger audience than just your social following. Facebook Business is the hub for implementing advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, and third-party sites that have partnered with Facebook to display relevant ads to site visitors.
The best part about paid advertising is that you can choose who you want to see your ads on interest-, behavioral-, and demographic-based targeting. You can create an audience based on characteristics of your “ideal customer”, you can create a lookalike audience of your current customer list, or create an audience that shares characteristics with your current or past customers.
Just like any marketing strategy, the strategy for paid advertising on social media varies from business to business.
A great resource for learning about Facebook Marketing is the Facebook blueprint courses available online for free. You’ll learn best practices for creating Facebook marketing campaigns straight from the horse’s mouth.
Digital Marketer also offers a 7-step Facebook advertising game plan that will help you create the best Facebook campaign for your business (and make the most return on investment).
Social media marketing, search marketing, and email marketing all great places to start marketing online, regardless of the budget you have to spend. That brings us to the next question:
What do I need to advertise online?
The most important asset for a great marketing campaign is a great product to market. The best marketing in the world won’t sell a $#!^ product.
Besides a great product, the most basic asset you need for online advertising is a website. Your website is the command central to all business transactions and it’s generally the first place your potential customers (aka leads) will look to find more information about your brand, products, or services.
There are many companies that help individuals and businesses set up a website if you are not at all comfortable with coding (or technology), but sites like WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, and GoDaddy have beginner-friendly website building tools to help you build a site on your own.
Besides a great product and a website to sell it on, you’re going to need constantly varied creatives. If you don’t have a designer background, a flat-rate design service like Rival Design can help you create the graphics you need in the exact size and format that each marketing platform requires. You’ll require graphics for email marketing (headers, footers, supporting campaign graphics), search marketing (blog feature images, display ads) and social media marketing (Facebook ads, Instagram ads, post feature images).
Where should I start?
My experience at Rival Design has proven one thing to be true in digital marketing: nothing is certain, everything is temporary, and your feelings don’t matter.
Nothing in digital marketing stays the same for very long. Algorithms change, competitors join the industry or the market demand shifts due to technological advances. To stay sane and productive in an ever-changing industry, you have to accept the fact that these changes are going to happen and prepare yourself to adapt every single time.
The best advice I can give you is to start wherever you can.
Are you simply brainstorming a potential business idea but don’t have a great background in basic marketing principles? Start by learning the basics of marketing.
Spend some time figuring out what it is that you don’t know, and put everything else aside for a moment to learn that skill. Learning “digital marketing” all at once is liking learning how to drive a car all at once; you won’t get anywhere. You need to first learn the functions of the car, then the strategy behind the implementation of those functions, and finally how to course-correct if something goes wrong.
The same thing goes for digital marketing – you must learn the tools of the trade, how you can implement those tools to fulfill the mission of your business, and how to correct a course of action that is not fulfilling your mission.
There is no right or wrong way to learn how to be a digital marketer, but I’ve learned the best digital marketers are quick to adapt, hungry for results, and committed to learning and expanding their knowledge in the industry.
If I can go from counting reps in the gym to counting purchases made online, then you absolutely can too! Stay flexible, stay hungry, and stay committed to expansion.