Online marketing, also known as digital marketing, is the practice of leveraging web-based channels to spread a message about a company’s brand, products, or services to its potential customers. The methods and techniques used for online marketing include email campaigns, social media, advertising, search engine optimization (SEO) and more. The objective of marketing is to reach potential customers through the channels where they already spend their time reading, searching, shopping and socializing online. In short, go where the customers is.
There are also many benefits and challenges inherent to online marketing, which uses primarily digital mediums to attract, engage and convert virtual visitors into actual customers.
Offline marketing is different from online marketing, because it uses alternative mediums for running campaigns. With traditional offline marketing work historically using mediums like print, billboards, television and radio advertisements, it can be difficult to convert those customers online as it involves switching mediums to something like a website.
Before online marketing channels emerged, the cost to market products or services was often prohibitively expensive, and difficult to measure. Think of TV ad campaigns, which are measured through consumer focus groups to determine levels of brand awareness. Today, anyone with a business can participate in online marketing and build customer acquisition campaigns at little to no cost. The best online marketing products and services also have the ability to experiment and optimize your campaigns to fine-tune their efficiency and increase return on investment (ROI).
Benefits of online marketing
A key benefit of using digital channels for marketing a business or product is the ability to measure the impact of any given campaign, as well as how visitors acquired through different digital marketing channels interact with a digital experience. The visitors that convert into paying customers, can be analyzed further to determine where and how their online journey concluded in a purchase.
Analytics tools for websites or mobile apps can help determine the following:
- Which digital marketing channels and campaigns are the most cost-effective at acquiring customers, based on the conversion rate of visitors to customers, and the cost of those visitors
- Which channels are effective at acquiring and driving higher lifetime value for customers — such as email marketing or social media, which are good channels for driving repeat purchases and keeping customers engaged
- Which cohorts of customers exhibit strong engagement behavior and high potential for upsells — such as with software or mobile apps, where typically it’s easier to sell more (expensive) products to customers with higher engagement as they would be more familiar with your brand already
Common online marketing tools
There are a number of tools that can be used to build and maintain a robust digital marketing program:
- Email marketing or marketing automation
- Social media marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Online events & webinars
- A/B testing & website optimization
- Content marketing
- Web analytics like Google Analytics 4
- Customer relationship management (CRM) like Salesforce
- Content management system (CMS)
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising like Google Ads or Linkedin Ads
- Affiliate marketing
Examples of online marketing
Some examples of digital marketing campaigns include:
- Canon advertises for search keywords related to “photography” on Google and Bing search engines to market their cameras to a relevant audience to drive traffic to a specific webpage.
- Whole Foods collects email addresses on their website to create email lists that can be used to advertise new products, sales, and events in their stores.
- Dove creates video advertisements and shares them with their audience on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to promote favorable conversation about their brand and products.
- Bite Beauty partners with influencers to promote a new lipstick to their target audience of high-quality, beauty enthusiasts.
Although digital marketing creates many opportunities for online businesses to grow their presence via the internet and build their audiences, there are also inherent challenges with these methods of marketing. First, the marketing can become impersonal, due to the virtual nature of message and content delivery to a desired audience. Marketers must inform their digital marketing strategy for online marketing with a strong understanding of their customer’s needs and preferences.
Online marketing can also be crowded and competitive. Although the opportunities to provide goods and services in both local and far-reaching markets is empowering, the competition can be significant. Companies investing in digital marketing may find visitors’ attention is difficult to capture due to the number of business marketing their products and services online. Marketers must develop a balance of building a unique value proposition (UVP) and brand voice as they test and build marketing campaigns on various channels. It is important to communicate learnings about your audience and marketing campaigns to your marketing management team in an effort to build widespread support among teams.
How to start marketing online
The first step to getting started with online marketing is to evaluate your business goals and make sure they are measurable. Are you hoping to sign up 100 new customers? Generate 1,000 leads to fuel your B2B sales process? Gain 10,000 followers on social media channels? You need a way to keep track of how you’re progressing towards the set goals.
After that, you need to make a choice about how to construct an online presence that will help you achieve that goal and create corresponding a digital marketing strategy for these channels.
Here’s a couple of fundamentals to consider:
- Set up an ecommerce site to start selling or even just listing your products online
- A great way to drive awareness and subscribers is setting up a blog or podcast and strategizing on how to create great content and optimizing it for search engines (SEO) so it can be found easily
- Partner with a customer that is willing to evangelize your products by creating a case study or infographic. It can be powerful social proofing as new customers are evaluating your company.
- Build a simple landing page with a lead capture form where you can help you start developing your brand and generating traffic. Typically B2B companies take this approach
A basic analytics platform (like Google Analytics 4, which is free) can help you start to measure how you are tracking your marketing efforts towards your initial goal.
When you’re ready to start with online marketing, getting your team members and marketing management team on board and keeping track of all the work can be a hassle. Consider using a (free) Content Marketing Platform to keep track of all the tasks and help publishing some of the needed content.
How to start with web analytics
Any good digital marketing plan doesn’t just start with outlining goals, but also specifies a way to keep track of progress towards those goals. It’s important to think about metrics before starting, as it’s typically not possible to import historical data in or go back and measure online behavior after the fact.
- Set up a measurement plan. Specify out which actions a (potential) customer could take on your website and preferably plot those actions along a customer journey. Common actions are clicking to your website on a search engine results page or filling in a form
- Set up a (free) web tracking tool to start measuring those actions. which Over half of all known sites already use Google Analytics so that might be a tool you want to consider. It is easy to set up and can help keep track of web metrics without much setup
- Start using web analytics to analyze customer behavior, do market research and look at your visitor demographics. Web data can help inform smart marketing decisions like pricing and assist with planning campaigns for the right audiences
To take that one step further, techniques like surveys, user testing and in-person conversations can be used to understand the overall user experience beyond standard web analytics tools. Whereas techniques like personalization and segmenting audiences can make the collected data actionable for business owners.
Optimizing your online marketing
Because you have so much control over the digital experience when marketing online, it’s uniquely suited to optimize and measure performance, where that’s much more difficult offline.
Typically, business optimize their digital campaigns for search engines (SEO) by taking data about visitor like search traffic and demographics and use that to write better content. It’s good practice to optimize for the reader, not just for the search engine. Search engines are pretty good at figuring out what sites best answer queries and should not be gamed to avoid penalties like lower ranking.
Depending on those customer demographics, you might decide to promote your business and products using social media campaigns. There, it’s important to focus on engagement with your audience and demonstrating how products function. Because social sites are, well, social, they’re also a great place to ask customers for feedback or even have them endorse your products with reviews.
As you’re making changes to optimize your online marketing campaigns, it’s a good idea to keep track of how those changes impacted the buyer journey. Tools like A/B testing can help you measure those changes more effectively and give certainty about how they’re impacting your customers behavior.
Also consider combining all of these ideas together with offline marketing. While online customer behavior can be wildly different from in-store or offline marketing, many businesses have seen success bridging the gap between the two and marketing in-store promotions online and visa-versa.
Digital marketing in short
Online marketing is also known as internet marketing, web marketing, digital marketing and search engine marketing (SEM). Online advertising and internet advertising are techniques involved with online marketing, but are not synonymous with online marketing.