What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing by definition encompasses the different ways that businesses market their products and services to consumers using digital outlets like social media and emails. Businesses use digital marketing to gain traction, target specific customers they think will be interested in their services and products and grow their customer base. It also helps businesses to keep track of how many people their ads are reaching and whether or not that’s resulting in more business.


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So, what is digital marketing in comparison to traditional marketing? Traditional marketing consists of mediums such as magazine advertisements, billboards, TV commercials, etc. Digital marketing (in its many forms) can potentially reach millions of people each day, plus the number of interactions and page visits can be tracked automatically. Search engine optimization (SEO) may be used to make digital marketing rank higher on search engines like Google. 

In the following sections, we’ll get into more details about this fast-evolving discipline.

Types of Digital Marketing

There are a few different types of digital marketing, but it’s typically divided into either 7 or 11 categories. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the seven common types, which are categorized mainly by the methods they use to gain and evaluate website traffic. The means of generating revenue may differ between each type of marketing strategy, as well as the level of personalization and relationship-building they prioritize. Becoming a digital marketer might allow you to explore several different aspects of digital marketing, which may then enable you to gain a wide range of skills and knowledge of digital advertising. 

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Social media marketing is one of the seven common types of digital marketing that utilizes online social media platforms such as InstagramTwitterFacebookSnapchat and YouTube to place advertisements on people’s screens. This type of marketing helps  connect the target audience with the business in a way that’s interactive. With more than half of the world’s population on social media, this form of marketing allows businesses to reach millions of people a day– increasing brand awareness, gaining new customers and fostering trust. 

Although it seems simple, there may be several components involved in social media marketing, including the factors to consider when coming up with a campaign. Digital marketers are often creative, strategic and specific in the way they’re using social media to promote their business. For example, a new restaurant may market their business via Instagram, posting photos of their unique space and pictures of their delicious food. Putting this information on a platform like Instagram may help to increase the likelihood that it will reach a large audience and encourage them to check out the restaurant. While the content on their Facebook and Twitter accounts may look a little different, the goal of pulling in customers is generally the same.

Influencer Marketing

Marketing research company Global Web Index (GWI) reports that the average internet user has an average of 5.54 social media accounts. So, what does this mean for brands—both small and big—in the world of digital marketing? They may turn to influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a type of digital marketing where brands utilize an individual or account with a large social media presence to promote their products or services. Brands seek out a relevant individual who has a following consisting of the targeted audience. They pay these accounts to post about their products or services typically on a regular basis, to help sell their goods and services. The goal is to leverage the authenticity and trust these influencers have built with their audience to make profits. 

According to HypeAuditor, the Instagram influencer market reached $5.24 billion in 2019more than double the global spend on influencer marketing in 2017. According to a 2019 HuffPost article, lifestyle influencers with anywhere between 12,000 and 135,000 followers may earn a couple thousand dollars to $200,000. Of course, how much an influencer earns per post may have changed since then and will rely on a variety of factors. 

Relationships are important in marketing and influencers present an opportunity for brands to expand their clientele and build stronger relationships. It’s important to note that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship since both influencers and brands can enhance business and foster meaningful interactions and conversations.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post listed Britney Turner and Nastia Liukin among the influencers taking on the conversation on racial injustice and police brutality head on. Think about who you follow on social media. How have their posts inspired you or encouraged you to buy a particular product or service?

Email Marketing

What does this type of digital marketing entail? Email marketing refers to the practice of reaching targeted audiences via their email inbox. Through newsletters, personalized content and intriguing ads, automated emails land right in front of the audience’s eyes. A common  goal of email marketing is to stand out from the various other emails an individual will receive in a day and make them want to open your email first. For this reason, the content within the email ad is designed to be attention-grabbing and encourage the individual to click on a link or check out a product for further details, hopefully choosing to spend their money on whatever is being advertised. 

For example, during the holiday season, companies might bombard email inboxes with alerts about their holiday deals. This gives the potential buyer just enough information to draw them in, but in order to dive deeper they’ll usually have to click a link. This can help to build customer engagement and may lead to higher profits.  

Content Marketing

Content marketing is where a company provides the audience with useful information rather than advertising a specific product or service. This can include newsletters, educational videos and articles. The purpose of this type of digital marketing is to address a situation, current event, etc. that is relevant to the company and the kind of products or services they provide. It doesn’t intend to sell anything specifically—rather it’s designed to make the customer feel like they can seek out that particular company should they find themselves in a situation where they might need the kind of help or services it offers.

For example, a car insurance company might send out an educational resource about how to prepare your car for the icy winter months. The article wouldn’t promote a particular product or service of theirs, but it would provide comprehensive, useful information which makes the consumer feel comfortable and able to trust the company doing the advertising. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Marketing

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a type of digital marketing strategy where the goal is to increase website traffic based on organic search results. When a user searches a platform like Google, information is collected and categorized from pages on the internet. The information goes through an algorithm that attempts to match someone’s search with the right information. 

By making your content user and search friendly, your page is likely to show up for the user—maybe even as the first result—enticing them to visit your site, resulting in increased web traffic. With SEO marketing, analytics matter and you’ll learn to keep track of and evaluate your metrics, improving overtime. You’ll want to feel confident that the SEO marketing you’re doing is actually working. 

Pay-per-click (PPC) / Paid Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising is when businesses pay a fee every time someone clicks on their ads. One common form of PPC is paying for your content to show up when a user searches for something in a search engine. Advertisers bid on keywords users might search when looking for specific information. This prompts their content to appear as one of the main search results. This content is usually labeled as an ad and presented like a product listing, in an effort to not deceive the consumer. Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all offer PPC advertising. 

To carry out this type of digital marketing, you may want to develop an understanding of analytics and website conversion/optimization. You want to be able to understand what you’re doing and whether or not it’s an effective marketing strategy for you and your business. 

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is when brands pay individuals money to promote their business and bring in customers—a similar process to influencer marketing. Individuals paid by the advertisers are asked to discuss a given product or service on whatever their primary platform is—Twitter, Instagram, a blog page or YouTube channel. The affiliate will provide links or discount codes for the consumers and any time someone uses it, the affiliate gets paid. 

There’s an art to this type of marketing. Affiliates may have success when it doesn’t seem like they’re selling a product and it’s presented in a casual manner. Consumers trust these affiliates for a reason, and they have to market the advertiser’s goods in a way that appears to be genuine and not just for money. 

Why is Digital Marketing Important?

So, why is digital marketing important today? There are several reasons why businesses may consider employing one or more of the strategies discussed above. While they may all be effective, companies will often take time and hire experts in the field to figure out which strategies best align with their goals, products and budget. 

While we mentioned some of the benefits of digital marketing in the previous sections, we’ve summarized a few more below.  

  • Identify customers. Digital marketing allows businesses to create customer segments (based on geography, demographics and other factors) and target each group accordingly. 

  • Know the customer. Digital marketing enables businesses to track customer behavior throughout the buying stage. 

  • Grow customer loyalty and engagement with frequent communications. Digital marketing can help businesses build long-standing, meaningful relationships with customers, as they better understand their needs and provide more personalized services.

  • Cut costs (where possible). Digital marketing may be more cost-effective than traditional marketing methods like TV, which are generally more costly.

  • Provide real-time results and measurable performance data to optimize marketing campaigns. Digital marketing allows businesses to look at metrics to determine how well their marketing strategies are working and adjust them along the way, to improve ROI.

  • Larger potential customer database. Digital marketing has the potential to reach millions of consumers every day, whereas traditional marketing is generally limited to those who may come across advertisements in their day-to-day life via TV, newspapers, etc. 

How to Get Involved in Digital Marketing

There are some common steps you may take to get involved in digital marketing—no single course or certification required for those seeking to enter this field. Everyone’s path is different. While some people take the traditional route of obtaining a degree, there are other ways you can get there.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work in advertising, promotions or marketing management positions, you’ll typically want to complete a bachelor’s degree program—preferably in advertising or journalism. However, having relevant marketing courses under your belt may suffice. You may also choose to complete earn a master’s degree in marketing or a related discipline. Depending on your employer and the nature and complexity of your work, additional courses may be required in order to develop adequate skills in digital marketing topics such as SEO and evaluating web traffic.

For those who are unsure of committing to a full degree program, there are online digital marketing courses that can help you obtain relevant knowledge. These classes take less time to complete and generally give you a foundational understanding of digital marketing. Some are designed to help you build on your degree too. Most of these courses discuss basic tools and techniques for beginners, but there are some more advanced classes for students who are ready to dive deeper. 

Online digital marketing bootcamps also provide you with an opportunity to gain useful digital marketing skills and knowledge without the commitment of pursuing a degree. They take less time to complete (sometimes weeks) and allow you to gain skills in analytics and reporting, content marketing, SEO and more.   

Last updated: January 2021