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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

What is Digital Marketing? Marketing Online For Beginners

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Online or digital marketing, encompasses all promotional activities carried out on the web such as search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media, email, and websites to establish contact with existing and prospective buyers. This also entails communication through text or audio-visual media and organic and paid activity.

You may feel overwhelmed when getting into digital marketing, especially if you do not spend all your time online. Luckily, it is not as difficult as it seems. No one starts out in the deep end, and no one has all the answers before beginning, and even better, starting out is usually less expensive and quicker than you might think. Even if you don't have a cent to spend on digital marketing, you can still accomplish quite a bit. Begin small, experiment, learn, and expand over time.

So get a drink, grab a snack, and put on your specs because we are going in-depth with this look at digital marketing and how it can help grow your small business into a big business.

Marketers that reported that they proactively plan their marketing are 331% more successful than their peers.

Key terms

Digital marketing

All of your online marketing efforts can be categorised as digital marketing. Search, social media, email marketing, content creation, and websites are just a few of the digital channels that businesses use to connect with their customers.

Inbound marketing

Instead of fighting for potential customers' attention, inbound marketing relies on bringing them to you. It's all about sharing and caring, and inbound marketing is no exception. The purpose of inbound marketing is to attract qualified prospects to your business and keep them coming back for more by providing them with content that is tailored to their needs.

Content marketing

The purpose of this marketing approach is to attract new customers by creating, publishing, and distributing content to them online. Content can be things like blogs, video, images, webinars, GIFs, memes....anything that is written, visual or audio and in the online space specifically created to either educate, entertain or inform.

Buyer's journey

The process people go through from becoming aware of a need through to purchase:

  1. Awareness stage: the buyer realizes they have a problem or pain point

  2. Consideration stage: the buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it

  3. Decision stage: the buyer chooses a solution

  4. Loyalty or advocacy stage: if satisfied the buyer ideally will become a repeat purchaser and create positive word of mount (WOM)

What are the benefits of digital marketing?

Having a strong digital presence will help you in multiple ways:

  • It will make it easier to create awareness and engagement both before and after the sale

  • It will help you convert new buyers into fans who buy more (and more often)

  • It will kickstart word-of-mouth and social sharing and all the benefits that come with them

  • It will shorten the buyer’s journey by presenting the right offers at the right time

The process

Identify your objective

Simple right? Sure but you need to be as specific as possible about what you are wanting to achieve and know what success looks like. Set timelines and numerical goals. This will help formulate your digital marketing strategy.

Generally, objectives will be one of these three things:

  1. Brand awareness - making your brand and/or your products or services visible to potential customers

  2. Lead generation and conversion - from new customers

  3. Growth of existing customers - by increasing purchase frequency, preference over your competitors and fostering brand loyalty

Marketing goal setters are 377% more successful than peers

Know your target market

It's essential to understand your target audience if you want your message to be relevant enough to stand out. A common way to identify your target market and its characteristics is to create personas.

Personas are a way of picturing who your customer is - their demographics, lifestyle, behaviours, preferences etc.

Questions you should ask
  • Who are they? You’ll need to know your typical audience member’s demographics to create marketing they’ll be receptive to

  • What are their top problems (that your business can solve)? When you understand your audience’s pain points, you’ll know how to present your product or service as the solution

  • What content do they consume? Consider what content your audience likes so you can create content that touches on similar themes and subjects

  • Where do they hang out (online and in real life)? So you’ll know where to place your marketing collateral for the most exposure

Find data from your website

Google Analytics provides information on the location, interests, gender, and age of your website visitors. To find this information, click Reports on the left-hand menu then select Demographics or Demographic details under User.

Despite seeing a lot of visitors in one group, they may not be the most engaged with your website. Check which segments of your audience are engaging with your website content and acting on it.

Use the takeaways from your data to create your marketing personas — fictional profiles that describe your typical customer. Include details like:

  • A drawing or photo representing the fictional customer

  • Name and job title

  • Demographic info like age, gender, income level and education

  • Hobbies and interests

  • Product-related goals and pain points

  • Values and fears surrounding your product

  • Favourite content sources

Hubspot has a great free tool you can use for this.

Source: Hubspot

Know your brand

  • What are your defining qualities?

  • What do you stand for?

  • What are your strengths?

  • Why do customers choose you?

  • What are your distinctive benefits?

  • What pain points do you solve for your clients?

  • What is your brand promise - something you always do for your customers?

Your brand is why your customers choose your business over your competitors. If you aren't clear about what makes your business special, how will your customers?

Analyse your answers for common themes and craft a sentence or two about what makes your brand truly special. Ensure it is written from the perspective of what you can do for your customers. Refine, refine and refine until you have a concise statement. This is your unique selling proposition (USP).

Research your competition

You need to know what you are up against. You can learn that by finding out what the opposition is up to. Learn by both their successes and mistakes. Try out their products or services, do a mystery shop, follow their social media, check how loyal, their customers are and why, and ask your customers about what they think your rivals do well.

You want to find out which of their marketing strategies are most effective, where they are underperforming, and whether there are any opportunities or threats that can help inform your own strategy.

Compare your results to your competitors to see how you measure up, and then you can highlight your strengths and identify areas for improvement.

Do an honest audit

Conduct a SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis examines both internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats - what's happening inside and outside your business. Some of these factors are within your control, and some are not.

A SWOT analysis can help you determine what your company is doing well right now and inform a successful strategy for the future. It can also reveal weaknesses in your business or areas where your competitors could take advantage if you don't protect yourself.

SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can tell you about the internal and external forces that influence your business's position in the market. Your company's strengths and weaknesses (internally) will reveal what you can adapt and embrace. Meanwhile, your opportunities and threats (external) will help you execute your marketing strategy against external factors.

Once you've examined all four aspects of SWOT, you'll want to build on your strengths, boost your weaker areas, head off any threats, and exploit every opportunity.

From the analysis...

The result of all of this analysis should answer some key questions that will set you up strategically:

  • What are the main demographics of my target audience?

  • Which marketing channels drive the most engagement and growth?

  • How much brand loyalty and awareness does my business have?

  • What trends or opportunities am I missing out on?

Identify the marketing approaches & media to reach your target audience

So you have identified who you are, what you want to do, who you're trying to reach, what you want to measure, and what you want to accomplish. You’re ready to get started.

With digital marketing, it’s simple to experiment with different methods to connect with your audience via social media, search engines, and your website. You may experiment with various forms and styles of content to discover what works best.

Digital marketing campaigns are simple to monitor, so you can start to gauge their success shortly after they're released. You will quickly find out which tactics produce the greatest return on investment (ROI) and which ones are most suitable for your brand.

Plan and design your digital marketing around touchpoints on the buyer's journey or sales funnel.

Source: Constant Content

Each point on the buyer's journey requires targeted messaging on particular digital platforms. You will discover what these platforms or touchpoints are by analysing customer data.

Digital marketing techniques

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Nearly 90% of all searches occur on Google. Google’s ‘spiders’ continually crawl, categorise, and rank all web content according to a huge number of factors. known as an algorithm

One of the best ways to reach new customers is by ensuring that your site appears when customers are looking for answers to their problems or questions. You accomplish this through search engine optimisation.

An optimised site can help increase traffic to your website by improving the search engine rankings for keywords related to your market.

So how do you optimise your website?

From Hubspot, make it:


  • Update it regularly, and use the same keywords people are searching to find your product or service.


  • If it’s easy for people to navigate, Google will probably like it. Make sure the links to your sub-pages are logically named, and minimise add-ons like auto-playing videos or pop-ups asking for email addresses.


  • Like most people, Google doesn’t like spelling mistakes or broken links. They can count more than you might expect.

Optimised for mobile

  • More people now search on mobile over desktop, so sites that are more mobile-friendly are rewarded over those which are not.


  • Similarly, if you try to load up your site with keywords or links on hidden pages that are intended to be seen by crawlers but not customers, that counts as deception and can incur a ranking penalty.


  • If another site links to yours, that’s a vote in your site’s favour. So if other people have recognised this expertise by linking back, that will help.

Easy to read

  • Don’t use images as headlines, and make sure description tags for pictures.

User experience (UX)

Having a website is your chance to show off what your brand is all about and connect with your customers on your home turf. Here, your customers seek out information, useful content, and purchasing opportunities.

Look at your website’s analytics to see how people are interacting with it - which pages they click on the most, for example. If your bounce rate is high (meaning people leave the site after visiting only one page) or dwell time is low (meaning they have less than 30 seconds, they haven’t found what they’re looking for), your UX needs improvement.

The percentage of visitors to your website who convert into leads by taking an action you want (such as a purchase or filling in a form) is known as your conversion rate.

When you construct your site, considering UX helps visitors find the product that is right for them, help them decide that yours is the brand they want to purchase from or keep in touch via a newsletter, for example.

Best UX practices
  • Update web content regularly

  • Ensure your website is quick to load

  • Use clean, clear layouts with plenty of white space

  • Make navigation simple and intuitive. Aim for a shallow page structure - more than four layers is too many

  • Keep design consistent

  • Choose fonts and text layouts that are free from complexity and easy to skim

  • Like text, use colour wisely and opt for cleanliness and simplicity with plenty of white space. Ensure colour choices are consistent with your branding

  • Incorporate images and video for variety and engagement

  • Make your call to actions (CTAs) stand out by giving them plenty of space and a pop of colour

  • Optimise your site for all devices - number 1 is mobile. This is known as responsive website design

Source: Constant Contact

Paid search

Pay-per-click, or PPC, is a form of advertising that allows you to pay a fee to have your website on the search engine result page (SERP) when someone types in specific keywords or phrases to the search engine. The SERP will display the ads you create to direct visitors to your site, and the fee you pay is based on whether people click your ad.

Using the most popular Google Ads, as well as similar offerings from Yahoo and Bing, you can have an advertisement built and online in a matter of minutes.

Identify the keywords your target audience would use to find your product or service. Your ad must stand out among all the other similar-looking ones in order to catch the reader's attention.

Ensure you set a maximum budget. Popular words cost more per click than less common terms (because others are also bidding for them). Make use of your platform's conversion tracking. If an ad isn't performing as expected, test alternatives that might be more effective.

Display advertising

Display ads are ads that are shown on the articles, videos, or websites that consumers browse. With Google Ads, you may serve your ads on the Google Display Network, a collection of over two million websites that reach over 90% of Internet users across the globe.

While search ads show to potential customers in the moment that they are looking on Google for what you offer, display ads show up while people are visiting sites across the Google Display Network usually for other reasons.

When running display ads, you might not reach those who are actively searching for what you offer. That said, you’re still introducing your business to a specific target audience who is likely to be interested in your products or services. This may help you to reach a larger or completely new audience than simply through search.

Paid social media

Paid social media is another word for advertising. It’s when brands pay money to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc. in order to have their content shared with specific new targeted audiences who are likely to be interested, either through “boosting” their organic content, or advertisements.

Paid social media advertising is quick, easy and very, very cost-effective. Superior targeting is also available meaning your ads can be served to only those most likely to convert to customers. You can put together highly-targeted ad campaigns that are displayed in front of exactly the right people. By targeting your ads, you’re increasing your chances of getting results.

Digital ads are much cheaper than print ads. Depending on how you set the ad up, you can use a Pay Per Click (PPC) method where you only pay if someone clicks on your ad!

Digital social media ads also have more room for creativity, which you can use to generate interest.


Unlike typical ads, retargeting ads are a form of online targeting advertising that are served to people who have already visited your website or are a contact in your database (like a lead or customer).

There are two types:

  1. Pixel-based - the most common type. When someone comes to your website a pixel is placed on their browser (known as cookie'd). This means that when they leave your site and continue to explore the web that cookie notifies retargeting platforms to serve specific ads based on the pages they visited on your website.

  2. List-based - this works if an organisation already has your contact details like your email address. These lists can be uploaded to some digital advertising platforms such as Facebook and matched to users of the platform. Then your ads are served to those specific people only.

You can see how effective these tactics can be as you are targeting 'warm' leads who are more likely to convert as they are already familiar with your offering.

Text (SMS)

Today, 95% of text messages are opened within three minutes. Yet, only 12% of local and small businesses use text marketing in their digital marketing strategies. For these companies, text marketing can be a low-cost, highly-efficient way to engage with customers.

There is a great deal of marketing vying for people's attention. As a result, they can become wary of traditional advertising tactics. Text or SMS marketing can establish personal relationships with customers which results in high rates of conversion. In fact, because consumers trust local and small businesses, they are up to 45% more likely to opt-in to their text promotions.

Hubspot identifies that SMS provides these advantages:

  • Higher response rates: Text has a 209% higher response rate compared to phone, email, and social media.

  • Higher conversions: Consumers redeem text message coupons 10x more than any other type of coupon.

  • Greater convenience: 66% of consumers think texting makes it more convenient to work with local businesses.

  • Lower costs: Compared to other digital campaigns, text campaigns are extremely low-cost to run.

Before engaging with your customers via SMS ensure you have their permission to do so and all messages must be accompanied by a method of opting out.

Then you might engage in the following ways:

  • Website chat: After chatting with a contact, you can ask if they’d like to stay up-to-date with offerings for your business.

  • Post-sale transactions: Congrats, you sealed the deal! Now is the perfect time to ask for a phone number so contacts can get more savings.

  • Post-review: Did someone leave you a five-star review? Send a follow-up to thank them with a CTA to sign up for more deals.


As social media has grown in importance, many so-called marketing experts have predicted the end of email. Don’t believe them! Email marketing is alive and well and one of the most cost-efficient and effective channels for marketers.

Email marketing can be used for branding, engagement, acquisition, retention, direct sales, reactivation, generating traffic, and getting referrals, making it one of the most versatile tools any business can use to grow their business.

There are three types of emails:

  • Transactional – to provide customer service.

  • Relational – to engage subscribers and nurture relationships with them.

  • Promotional – for generating sales.

In the process of building your business, winning new customers is as important as nurturing the relationships you already have. Stay in touch with your loyal customers with emails that go beyond the announcement of new products. Build connections with:

  • Newsletters - increase brand awareness and drive traffic with what’s new on your site

  • Seasonal emails - stay on your customers’ radar with Christmas or birthday emails

  • Exclusive offers - make loyal customers feel special with the odd discount or gift

  • Reminders - if a subscription is ending, drop a friendly email

  • Flash announcements - boost sales with flash discounts, like a 48-hour sale

Make sure your blog, social media, and paid campaigns are driving traffic to a landing page that’s optimised for conversion to collect lead information. As with SMS, ensure you have permission to contact your customers in this way and always provide a means of unsubscribing.

There are dozens of easy-to-use email services that let you design emails, manage your address list, and track analytics such as the number of opens and clickthroughs.

Test, test, test: What types of subject line words result in the highest number of opens? Where are your readers clicking?

Native advertising

According to Outbrain, Native advertising is a form of paid advertising in which the ads match the look, feel and function of the media format where they appear. They fit “natively” and seamlessly on the web page.

Unlike banner or display ads, native ads don't really look like ads, so they don't disrupt the user's interaction with the page. This is the key to a native advertising definition – native ads expose the reader to promotional content without being obvious.

Native ads often feature as recommended content on websites. They also appear as “in feed” ads, as part of your news feed on social networks. Another form that native ads take is search and promoted listings that appear at the top of your Google search results, or in the sidebar.

Source: Outbrain

As adtech becomes more sophisticated, there are many more native ad formats available to advertisers. It’s no longer just standard ads – today, native ad formats include carousel ads, video ads, click-to-watch video ads, mobile app install ads, native social ads… the list goes on.

Wrapping up

Digital marketing may seem overwhelming - particularly when it is in a constant state of evolution and change.

However, you can start small by focusing on just one area such as email or social media before moving on to perfecting the next. Even small initiatives in digital marketing can lead to great rewards and progress towards your business goals.

Remember digital marketing is part of your overall efforts and should only be undertaken when you have the foundations of your brand and offerings in place.


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