A 20,000 Feet Above-Sea-Level Overview on What Digital Marketing Is

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Feeling overwhelmed with what digital marketing is and how it all fits together? 

In the beginning, Webbit’s marketing became paralyzed for fear of wasting time doing the wrong things. Back then, it was just me and the cat, Alfie, who listened as best he could but clearly had no idea what I was talking about. 

Progress was slow from wading through vast amounts of information online whilst not having anyone to bounce ideas off. As a result, it was stressful at a time when the pressure to make money was already very high.

Having a simplified map of the digital landscape helps combat this. It makes it possible to plot a course then learn, improve and evolve as your journey unfolds. 

These days, this is called a marketing plan.

First, a little house keeping

The term digital marketing is actually defined as ‘both online and offline marketing efforts that involve electronic devices’. 

For completeness, here are the 4 main ‘offline’ categories even though they’re irrelevant to most of us:

  • Enhanced offline marketing
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Phone

According to Neil Patel, enhanced offline marketing has nothing to do with the internet and is performed using electronic devices. Think of an Apple store where potential customers get to play with the products before buying. 

Most of us will never commission a television or radio advert, and no one reacts well to cold calls or text message advertising. Safe to say, the offline side of digital marketing can be overlooked at least until money is no object.

Conversely, this is why online marketing (a.k.a internet marketing) is where all the action is.

The 4 pillars of online marketing

The internet is driven by content and fuelled by search engines like Google, Facebook and YouTube. 

‘Hold on, they’re social media platforms!’ you’re thinking to yourself.

Yes, but underneath the user-generated profiles and selfies lay hugely powerful search algorithms. Much like Google, these are continually evolving so more people find even more of what they want.

Getting started with all this might seem impossible, let alone staying on top of it. The good news is that’s not true. 

Whilst online marketing is fluid and progressive in nature, the four pillars that everything rests upon remain unchanged. 

1 – content marketing

All human interaction involves content of some kind because that’s how people engage and converse. Content marketing is simply the act of sharing content that is informative, interesting and useful to people. 


Simple – to stimulate interest in what you do. Content drives engagement, and engagement drives sales.

Three forms of content exist:

  • Text
  • Audio
  • Visual (video & imagery)

In marketing, it’s easier to think of content as anything that communicates a message to potential customers (a.k.a. your target audience). Not just blog posts or Facebook ads; content is every communication in every format.

Content must always be valuable. There’s no point putting out material that no-one pays attention to or finds useful. 

Effective content marketing is learning to communicate the right information, to the right people, in the right way.

After consistently providing advice that solves their problems people will consider you an expert that they can rely on. Once this happens, it’s only a matter of time before ‘trusting followers’ convert into ‘loyal customers’.

2 – search engine marketing

Most people have heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) but far less have come across the umbrella term Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

SEM focuses on driving website traffic from search engines using either: 

  • Paid advertising;
  • Organic ranking.

The paid option sees adverts appear at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – look for ‘Ad’ next to the top results. These Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads can be either purely text-based or include imagery of the product being advertised.

PPC can be highly effective, especially in eCommerce. Ever used Google search to find the best place to make a purchase? 

Having a product in front of people at the precise time they’re wanting to buy it is unique to PPC type ads. No other advertising medium offers this which is why this side of SEM is big business.

Organic ranking, on the other hand, works differently. 

Clicks and traffic are not paid for; instead, a page can earn a ‘free’ spot in the SERPs by having the most relevant content for a given search query.

Does ranking organically sound more uncertain?

It should because it is, and relies entirely on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. These are split between on-site (changes to your website), and off-site (links from other sites to your website).

Whilst there’s no direct cost to rank on page one of Google using SEO practices, there are associated costs. For example, creating ‘optimized’ content takes a lot of time and, if done properly, requires SEO software to conduct keyword research.

In summary:

  • Inorganic SEM (i.e. pay-per-click ads) can have immediate results and high initial costs;
  • Organic SEO (i.e. natural ranking in SERPs) takes much longer to see results but has very low direct costs.

3 – email marketing

First things first, forget email newsletters that waste time and piss you off with spammy sales pitches. Email marketing is not about beating people into digital submission, or ‘spraying and praying’. 

It’s about an exchange of value – the receiver gives up their valuable time for your valuable content. Good email marketing deepens the connection with your audience and is highly effective at converting prospects to customers. 

There are two reasons:

  • Firstly, an email is a direct communication that’s guaranteed to be seen;
  • Secondly, emails are looked at a lot!

Over 4 billion people have an email address and, even more interestingly, they spend an average of 5 hours per day using it. No other digital channel can compete with this number of eyes.

This is why email marketing is 40 times better at sales conversions than social media. It’s also why it still remains the best Return On Investment (ROI) of any marketing spend – $1 spend equals $44 back.

Effective email marketing utilises specialist software but ultimately relies on two things: 

  • consistent website traffic so you can grow your email list
  • engaging content to convert subscribers into customers. 

4 – social media marketing

If search engines enable people to find content, social media platforms allow content to find people. 

Social media marketing is about tailoring content so it attracts attention, gets shared and engages your target audience. It tends to revolve around ‘reach’ – i.e. how many people see your post. 

In theory, more reach means more exposure which, in theory, leads to increased traffic in return. Simple, right? 

If only.

Whilst setting up a profile and getting some ‘likes’ is easy enough, driving sales and growing revenues is not. 

Effective social media marketing requires platform-specific knowledge and feature expertise. What works on Facebook won’t necessarily work on Twitter, and may, or may not, do the trick on YouTube. Furthermore, most techniques for advertising successfully rely on experienced content and audience insights.

Mastering a platform is the difference between successful social media marketing with high ROI and a complete waste of time and money.  

So, with all that in mind, don’t consider social media marketing until you have:

  • Some understanding about your target audience;
  • And, the resources to learn a platform properly, preferably with a professional.

Plotting a course

Ok, we’ve got the 4 pillars down but how do they fit together? Where should you start? And, where are you heading with it?

The skills and knowledge required for effective digital marketing are the same regardless of an enterprise’s size. In other words, this isn’t a diluted, low-budget version because you’re starting out. 

Webbit is built on these 4 pillars of online marketing.

It’s entirely possible to have big aspirations and achieve them with limited resources. It just comes down to applying the right knowledge in the right way so you make tangible progress and remain enthused.

The good news is we’ve already got started – notice how the pillars are in a certain order?

The pillars don’t just underpin your digital marketing – they underpin each other.

Here’s the 4 pillars again including the high level objectives they each represent:

  1. Content marketing = create content that helps people (share expertise)
  2. SEM = use SEO to drive organic traffic (attract people)
  3. Email marketing = engage with your subscribers (build an audience that trusts you)
  4. Social media marketing = expand your online presence (grow your audience & brand)

Having an audience that trusts you as their expert because you helped them first means you won’t just make sales, you’ll have customers for life. Not only that, they’ll promote your business and be your best brand advocates which is when the magic happens.

This is the course your online marketing needs to take for it to be really successful. 

Let me make it easier for you

If you’re in the early stages of your venture the chances are you work alone or have a limited budget to outsource this stuff.  I should know – both applied to me. 

This means you have to box clever and use your time wisely. So, if I were you (which wasn’t that long ago) I’d continue my education with:

And when you’re done, there’s much more where that came from. Browse away or hop on the newsletter for handpicked, path-relevant content straight to your inbox.

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Gav Stevens Webbit

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