A Complete Guide to Digital Marketing: What It Is and How to Use It

Jill Conway


March 6, 2020 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

Illustrated vector graphic with 'digital marketing' in text across image; concept for a guide to digital marketing.

Thanks to advances in technology and social media, the world of marketing has changed drastically over the years. Digital marketing is becoming integral to the success of any business, regardless of the industry. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend some time familiarizing yourself with what digital marketing is and the different forms that it can take. In this article, learn what digital marketing is, how and when to use the different digital marketing strategies, and why it’s important that you begin creating and optimizing digital content as part of your marketing strategy.

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is really any form of marketing that occurs on electronic devices or, more specifically and most commonly, online. Technological advances have allowed us to market services or products using a wide range of digital technologies and mediums, such as mobile phone applications, websites, web applications, social media platforms, search engines, and email. Digital marketing has changed the landscape of marketing by allowing businesses to connect with a wider audience of both current and potential customers.

Examples of Digital Marketing

There are quite a few strategies and channels involved in digital marketing, such as:

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy in which you entice and engage with customers through every stage of the purchaser’s journey. When adopting this methodology, you can use all of the other strategies listed below in order to develop a marketing tactic that creates a pleasant customer experience. Here are just a few comparisons between traditional marketing and inbound marketing techniques:

  • Replace traditional pop-up advertising with blogging.
  • Rather than commercial advertising, reach your audience with video marketing.
  • Instead of sending email spam, create email contact lists.

Online Public Relations (PR)

Online public relations functions similarly to traditional public relations except that it takes place online by gaining coverage with content-based websites, blogs, and digital publications. Some ways you can use the digital landscape to further your PR efforts are:

  • Engaging with visitors to your blog or website: You can generate meaningful relationships and conversations with the people who visit your site or read your content by responding to their comments or reactions. Not only does this enhance an individual’s experience, but it encourages visitors to engage with your content in the future.
  • Responding to online reviews: Whether the review is good or bad, you can humanize your brand by engaging with the online company reviews. This will also help to protect your brand’s reputation by directly and quickly addressing any customer critiques that arise.
  • Developing relationships with the press on social media: You can facilitate opportunities to produce earned media by interacting and developing relationships with journalists across social media channels.

Email Marketing

Organizations use email marketing to communicate with their audience, direct people to the company’s website, spread the word about events and discounts, and to promote content. There’s really no limit to the types of information you can share in an email marketing campaign to develop your brand’s image and strengthen the relationship with your company’s audience. Here are some examples of the kinds of emails commonly sent in email marketing campaigns:

  • Series emails that offer industry-specific tips or other relevant information
  • Promotions and discounts for members of your company’s customer loyalty program
  • Welcome emails for new customers or clients
  • Emails sent to follow-up with individuals who downloaded something from the website
  • Newsletters for those who subscribe to the company’s blog

Marketing Automation

Many marketing professionals rely on marketing automation to automate some of the more repetitive tasks related to marketing operations, such as:

  • Tracking and reporting campaigns: Typically, companies create marketing campaigns from several variables, like phone calls, webpages, content, emails, and people. Marketing automation can help categorize the variables by the campaign. From there, you can keep track of the campaign’s success by consistently measuring the progress of each of the components over a period of time.
  • Converting leads: Generating and converting leads is generally a long, drawn-out process that can be easily automated. Through marketing automation, you can specify criteria, like if someone downloads something from your site, that will then send the lead an email with specific information or content that your company intentionally created to convert that lead into a customer.
  • Scheduling social media posts: Posting frequently to social media is integral to developing your organization’s brand image and visibility. Posting manually can be unnecessarily difficult, which is why most companies rely on social media scheduling tools to automatically post content to their social media channels This allows them to place more focus on engagement and content strategy. Using these tools, you can upload images, write copy, incorporate hashtags, and post to specific platforms. In fact, some tools on the market can even streamline your engagement and direct messages across the various platforms that your company uses.
  • Email newsletters: You can use email automation to generate and send emails to subscribers to save time. These marketing automation tools allow you to write and structure your company’s newsletter messages and then schedule them to automatically send out to your email subscribers at a time that you specify.

Native Advertising

Social media channels include native advertising, which allows organizations to feature paid content alongside non-paid posts. These sponsored posts often resemble the other content on the platform and are barely discernible as advertising. This type of advertising is especially effective because it automatically directs viewers to either your company’s social media page or website and provides analytics about the number of views and actions taken by your audience.

Additionally, you are able to choose the factors and characteristics such as geographical location, age, and gender that make up your target audience, and the ad will appear in the feed of individuals that fit those specific parameters.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing provides a commission to individuals or brands for promoting another company’s services or products on their website. This type of advertising is performance-based and usually includes things like:

  • Posting links to affiliate companies from a social media account
  • Hosting an advertisement through an online video

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Another popular digital marketing strategy is pay per click advertising. Using this strategy, you can drive traffic to a company’s website by having a publisher promote an ad on their website and then paying them every time that a user clicks on the ad. You’ll often find pay per click advertising when reading a blog or on a webpage.

Social Media Marketing

You can accomplish a lot by promoting your content and brand across social media channels. A majority of individuals have profiles on at least one social media site, making it an obvious choice when looking to expand and improve your company’s marketing strategy. Not only are social media business profiles effective and free marketing tools, but they can also help you generate leads, drive web traffic, and improve brand awareness. Some of the most popular social media platforms to use for your marketing needs are:

Content Marketing

This general term refers to the practice of creating and then promoting content in order to generate customers and leads, grow traffic, and encourage brand awareness. Some of the more popular channels for these content marketing strategies are:

  • Infographics: Infographics are a stimulating and effective way to visualize content so that visitors to your website can understand and engage with difficult concepts. As a society, social media has caused us to become more visually driven, which means that infographics and other forms of visual content are perfect for social sharing and increasing brand awareness.
  • White papers and eBooks: Aside from allowing you to share valuable, long-form content that will help you educate your audience about industry-specific topics, eBooks and white papers can facilitate lead generation by gathering contact information. This is accomplished by prompting those that download your content with an online form for them to fill out in which you ask them to provide essential details, such as their name and email address. From there, you can follow up with any individual that displays an interest in your company and its expertise.
  • Blog posts: Creating and posting blogs on your company’s website is a great way to generate search traffic and demonstrate your expertise in your industry. Ultimately, writing blog posts gives you opportunities for converting website visitors into leads.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is the practice of tailoring your content, webpages, and overall website so it ranks higher on the results pages of search engines. As a result, you will increase the amount of organic traffic to your site or blog. There are quite a few approaches that you can use to improve your company’s SEO, such as:

  • Technical SEO: By focusing on some of the more technical aspects of your website’s SEO, such as how your site’s webpages are coded, optimizing CSS files, structuring your data, and image compression, you can improve the loading speed of your website. This is an important detail for search engines and can improve your website’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Off-page SEO: Backlinks, also referred to as inbound links, are external factors not found on your website that can optimize your site and improve its search engine ranking. Improve your off-page SEO by increasing the number of quality publishers that link to you, which you can coordinate through networking, external attention, and taking part in guest posts that link back to your website.
  • On-page SEO: On-page SEO focuses on the content that exists on your website, which you can easily optimize. Start by researching keywords that target a specific audience or topic, with the goals of ranking higher on the SERPs. You can also improve your website’s on-page SEO by answering frequently asked questions for readers.

What Is Digital Offline Marketing?

Though digital marketing takes place primarily online, there are four major categories of digital marketing you can use offline:

Enhanced Offline Marketing

This type of marketing may occur offline, but electronic devices can enrich the experience. For example, you often see this in restaurants where customers use tablets to place their orders. You can also find enhanced offline marketing in modernized traditional advertisement strategies. Electronic billboards are a great example of modified traditional advertising because they use LED (light-emitting diodes) to catch people’s attention by creating engaging and sometimes interactive advertisements.

Enhanced offline marketing can also take the form of demos or product samples that come in a digital format. When you are developing a digital marketing strategy for an electronic product, offering your audience a sample can be a great way to spark their interest and generate leads.

Radio Marketing

Radio marketing is the oldest form of digital offline marketing. Though the internet’s development and increasing prevalence has negatively affected many of the more traditional media platforms, radio still has a relatively unwavering audience. Radio commercials are a wonderful marketing opportunity that is surprisingly affordable. With so much emphasis on social media marketing,  you may be able to easily locate a local radio station willing to have you on a show, whether for an interview or a commercial.

If you decide to go this route, remember that in order to do well on the radio you need to be entertaining. Spend some time crafting a radio commercial that uses audio and sound effects to convey your message.

Television Marketing

Streaming services and video hosting platforms like YouTube have really affected television. One of the reasons why television commercials are struggling so much is because they lack specificity. Email, social media marketing, and search engines have conditioned consumers to expect to see products that are specifically tailored to their experience and needs. Because of this, they ignore any content that’s irrelevant to them.

Consumers want control of the content they consume and are generally uninterested in things that don’t directly relate to their life. But industry professionals usually design television commercials to market to broad audiences. They’re competing with custom-tailored experiences that show a higher ROI (return on investment).

Phone Marketing

Telemarketers have been using phone marketing for ages, and most of us dread it when unknown numbers pop up on our phone screen. But smartphones create so many more opportunities for digital offline marketing, and mobile advertising is quickly becoming one of the primary modes companies use to promote their products and services. Though much of this occurs online, offline mobile marketing can be just as effective.

Whether a phone is smart or not, there are two functions that work every mobile device: texting and calling.


Cold calling is the term for when a sales representative calls a person to try to sell them a product or service having no contact with the individual prior to the phone call. This tactic can be effective but lacks the scalability that email and social media can provide.


Unlike cold calling, texting someone can almost guarantee that they will read the message you have sent, and usually within several minutes of receiving it. Text message marketing, when the customer gives permission beforehand, can be a valuable tool for communicating discounts, coupons, and special deals to existing customers. Many companies run text message marketing campaigns by having their audience text a code to a number that signs them up to receive promotional messages.

Text message reminders are a great way to enhance your company’s customer service. For example, some delivery services and other businesses, like pharmacies, have begun using text messages to notify customers of changes or updates about their orders. Loyalty programs that work within apps or by exchanging a phone number are another option that encourages customers to return. Some companies use text messages to promote giveaways. Regardless of which form it takes, texting can be a great tool to engage with your audience and improve your company’s bottom line.

Inbound Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

Though inbound and digital marketing both prioritize developing digital content for people and take place primarily online, there are some subtle differences. Most notably, digital marketing is more of an umbrella term that doesn’t differentiate between inbound and outbound methodologies.

Digital outbound strategies focus on directly reaching as many people as possible with an online marketing message. You’ll often see this tactic take the form of a banner ad that rests at the top of a website. These ads are usually promoting a product or service to people that may not be looking for it. Digital inbound strategies, on the other hand, attempt to attract their target audience onto a website by creating online content that may be a helpful asset to the target customer. Blogs are a great example of a simple yet effective digital marketing asset that capitalizes on keywords an ideal customer is searching for.

In other words, inbound marketing is a strategy that creates digital marketing resources in order to attract and engage with customers online. Digital marketing, on the other hand, is a comprehensive term that is used to describe all online marketing strategies, both outbound and inbound.

What Kinds of Businesses Use Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing can help any business, regardless of its industry, by developing customer personas to better understand the needs of a company’s target audience and then building online content that the target demographic will find valuable. Though it is a beneficial practice for all companies, digital marketing strategies will vary depending on the needs of the company and the consumer. Here are two major distinctions within digital marketing:

  • B2B digital marketing: Companies that offer products or services geared toward other organizations, commonly referred to as business-to-business or B2B, need to focus their digital marketing efforts on generating online leads. Most of these interactions will likely have the desired result of someone requesting to speak with a sales associate. To serve this purpose, a B2B marketing strategy needs to attract high-quality leads through digital channels, such as a business-focused networking site like Linkedin or a company website.
  • B2C digital marketing: Most business-to-consumer (B2C) companies strive to attract people to the organization’s website and then convert them to a customer without ever needing to contact a sales associate. Because of this, B2C companies often focus on creating a quick and simple buyer’s journey rather than generating traditional leads. In other words, a visitor to the company’s website is guided through the process of making a purchase with strong calls-to-action (sometimes referred to as CTAs) and highlighted product features. B2C companies often benefit from digital platforms like Pinterest or Instagram more than the other business-focused channels like Linkedin.

What Does a Digital Marketer Do?

Digital marketers generate leads and encourage brand awareness for a company by masterfully utilizing both free and paid digital channels, such as a company’s blog, display advertising, emails, rankings on search engines, a company’s website, and social media. Within the realm of digital marketing there are many professionals that focus on specific key performance indicators, commonly referred to as KPIs, so that they can evaluate a company’s performance across the various digital channels being used.

Though there are digital marketing generalists that use all of the digital marketing tactics described above, larger companies usually have specialists on their team that are equipped to focus on just a few of the brand’s digital channels and strategies. Some examples of digital marketing specialists are:

Marketing Automation Coordinator

The KPIs for a marketing automation coordinator are usually the lead conversion rates, click-through rates for campaigns, and the number of emails opened by recipients. In order to facilitate the desired results, these specialists assist with choosing and managing software that allows marketing teams to measure the organization’s growth and better understand the behavior of their customers. Additionally, marketing automation coordinators are responsible for categorizing and tracking digital marketing activities as they relate to their respective campaigns.

Social Media Manager

Though which social media platforms they manage really depends on the industry that the organization belongs to, social media managers are primarily responsible for developing a posting schedule for a company’s visual and written content across specific social media networks. The number of shares, impressions (how many times a company’s posts appear on a user’s news feed), and the number of follows they are able to generate are the KPIs for this role. They often collaborate with the content marketing specialist to develop strategies for what kind of content to post in various social media networks.

Content Marketing Specialist

Content marketing specialists focus on creating digital content for a company’s various digital channels. Their KPIs include the number of subscribers, the traffic to a blog, and the amount of time spent on a webpage. They typically create content strategies and blogging calendars for a company, and often collaborate with other specialists and departments to ensure the consistency of promotional content for campaigns and products across the various digital channels.

SEO Manager

Overall, the job of an SEO manager is to increase a company’s ranking on Google. As such, their KPI is organic traffic to an organization’s website. They can use various approaches to accomplish this goal, and often work with other specialists, specifically content creators, to ensure that all of the people involved are creating optimized content that is able to perform well on the SERPs.

What Is Digital Marketing’s Role in a Company?

Unlike more traditional marketing efforts, digital marketing allows industry professionals to measure and track results quickly and accurately. This is a stark contrast to billboards or print ads, where you are unable to really know if anyone purchased a product as a result of seeing your ad. But with digital marketing, you can see an accurate return on investment (ROI) for every aspect of your marketing initiatives. Here are some examples of the information you will be able to gather:

Attribution Modeling

Attribution modeling is a digital marketing strategy that allows you to understand trends and patterns in the way that people investigate and purchase your products. As a result, you can make informed choices about the aspects of your sales cycle that need to be revisited as well as the parts of your overall marketing strategy that need to be reevaluated. You will be rewarded with higher sales and an improved bottom line assessing and improving the customer’s experience through the different steps of the purchasing journey.

Lead Generation and Content Performance

If you were to create a physical product brochure and then place it in mailboxes surrounding your business, you would be unable to know people even opened it or if it was thrown in the trash right away without even looking at it. On the other hand, by placing an online brochure on your website, you will have access to data about how many people viewed it. Even more impressive, you could use a form to collect contact information from people that downloaded the brochure, allowing you to generate concrete leads from visitors that have shown an interest in your content.

Website Traffic

Digital marketing, in conjunction with digital analytics software, allows you to see the precise number of people that have visited your company’s website. Not only that, but you can see which pages they went to, what kind of device they used, their geographical location, and many other details. This data gives you the information you need to focus your marketing efforts based on the amount of traffic being driven to your website by specific digital channels.

For example, if just 5% of your website’s traffic is a result of organic web searches, you probably need to revisit your website’s SEO so that you can improve this number. Unlike with offline marketing, digital marketing empowers you to identify patterns in people’s behavior before they make a purchase, allowing you to make informed choices about which strategies you should use to attract them.

Why Is Digital Marketing Effective?

Unlike more traditional marketing strategies that primarily exist in physical marketing, phone communication, and print advertising, digital marketing has the power to reach audiences electronically and online via websites, social media, marketing videos and email, just to name a few. All of this adds up to more strategies and options to choose from when implementing and readjusting your marketing tactics. Aside from the endless options that digital marketing provides, its success is much easier to evaluate than more traditional methods. Various analytics tools are available to help you monitor the engagement, reach, return on investment (ROI), and overall success of your digital marketing campaigns.

Now that we’ve discussed the options and analytics, let’s talk about one of the more obvious and primary benefits of digital marketing: People are spending more and more time interacting and “living” on digital platforms, so it only makes sense to meet them there. Though traditional marketing strategies like billboards or print ads still have their place, they’re becoming less and less effective. This is largely due to the fact that instead of purchasing a newspaper or magazine, a majority of the public is finding their news and entertainment digitally.

How to Figure Out What Type of Digital Marketing to Create

Your content creation will need to be altered depending on the varying needs of your audience during the different phases of the purchasing journey. To begin, you should create a persona for your target buyer, allowing you to identify what their struggles and objectives are in life and in relation to your product or service. The primary goal of your online content should be to help your audience overcome their challenges and reach their goals.

After you have identified what kind of content your audience needs, you’ll need to do some content mapping. In other words, you’ll have to evaluate when in the buyer’s journey your audience would be most willing and ready to receive this information. Content mapping’s goal is to create targeted content based on what stage the person is in on their buyer’s journey as well as the characteristics (buyer persona) of the individual. Here are some digital marketing options for each phase in the purchasing journey:

Awareness Phase

This stage in the buyer’s journey is when the audience is still exploring ways to overcome their challenges or meet their needs. Some options for effective online content for this stage are:

  • Short videos: Videos are a great option for creating shareable content. By hosting them on a platform like YouTube, you are increasing the chances that new audiences will discover your brand and increasing the chances that your company’s name will appear in the SERPs.
  • Infographics: Creating infographics is another effective choice when trying to create content that compels people to share it. This type of content is usually found and shared on social media channels, increasing the chances that people will find your company on these platforms.
  • Blog posts: As we’ve mentioned before, blogs can do a lot to generate organic traffic to your company website, especially when paired with strong keywords and SEO strategies.

Consideration Phase

After you have gotten your audience’s attention, you can guide them through their research of your company and the products/services that you offer by creating content that addresses these aspects. Not only will these digital assets inform your audience, but they will also establish your brand as an authority on the subject. For example, you could produce:

  • Webinars: At this stage in the buyer’s journey, it’s wise to provide your audience with content that is more comprehensive and interactive. Webinars are perfect for providing more details about a topic and for establishing a learning environment for your prospective consumers.
  • Research reports: Though research reports are a great way to offer your audience highly valuable content when generating leads, they can also be extremely effective during the awareness phase because they are often recognized and reported on by the press or industry-specific media.
  • EBooks: As sort of a more comprehensive version of an infographic or blog post, eBooks provide your audience with valuable details about your brand’s solutions to their needs. Additionally, because they offer highly valuable content, people are far more willing to provide their contact information so that they can gain access, making it great for generating leads.

Decision Phase

The decision phase is your opportunity to sway the consumer to purchase your product or service. Effective ways to do this are by providing them with:

  • Testimonials: Testimonials are a good option for both B2B and B2C brands. You can place them around your website and/or on specific product pages. For a clothing brand, for example, testimonials may come in the form of customer photos wearing and styling the clothing items that are gathered using a brand-specific hashtag.
  • Case studies: If someone is ready to make the decision to buy your product, providing detailed case studies on your company’s website can help sway their decision.

Is Digital Marketing Expensive?

The budget you’ll need for a digital marketing strategy will really depend on what tactics you plan to employ to meet your company’s specific needs. With inbound techniques such as content creation, social media, and SEO, the focus is on crafting high-quality content that your audience will be interested in, so you’ll typically have to spend more time than you will money. That is unless you decide to pay to outsource the work.

Outbound techniques, on the other hand, can become quite expensive. Depending on the audience you’re trying to reach and the amount of visibility that you’re hoping to gain from the advertising, you may buy email lists or use pay per click online advertisements. All of these prices will vary depending on the keywords you are using. Regardless of the techniques, it’s wise to develop your organic reach through inbound marketing as well.

How Does Mobile Marketing Relate to Digital Marketing?

Mobile marketing is an important aspect to consider when creating your digital marketing strategy. Recent statistics have found that, across the globe, 52% of website views occur on smart mobile devices, while just 45% of website views originate on desktops. Because your content will likely be viewed on a smartphone, it is extremely important that you optimize all of your digital assets, including images for social media, web pages, and digital ads for mobile devices.

Though creating a mobile application is an effective form of digital marketing that allows users to shop your brand’s products and engage with your company, it’s important that online engagements with your company provide the same positive experience that they would if they were using a desktop or application. By using responsive website design, you can ensure that your content is user-friendly regardless of the device that your audience is using. Aside from appearing more polished and seamless, mobile-friendly designs can also create an experience that is hassle-free, ultimately reducing the amount of time it takes to generate leads.

You can optimize your digital marketing assets for mobile users using a variety of strategies. Any time you create content, remember to focus on how it will translate across all devices and platforms. For example, social media images need to have smaller dimensions to ensure that they don’t get cut off, so you should capture and use social media images that adhere to the dimensions necessary for mobile devices. Doing so will ensure that the digital experiences you are creating are made for your audience, allowing you to achieve the outcomes that you need.

Technological advances have created a culture that primarily lives online, so it only makes sense to adapt your marketing strategies to meet your audience where they are. Digital marketing is an effective, and arguably imperative, form of marketing that will allow you to reach your audience, generate leads, and track the results of your efforts better than any traditional marketing solution. As such, it’s important that you commit to learning about and developing digital content that will enrich the experience of your audience and yield measurable results.

Author Image - Jill Conway
Jill Conway

CopyPress writer

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