What is digital marketing? A complete guide

digital marketing guide

Digital marketing has become the go-to marketing strategy for small businesses and enterprises alike. You’ve probably heard about digital marketing before, but it encompasses many different strategies for businesses.

Digital marketing is a vast umbrella term that covers multiple areas, from SEO to blog writing and distribution channels to budgets. This post will cover everything you need to know about digital marketing, including its benefits, the various types, and how to embrace it in your own business.

This guide will discuss:

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is the use of digital channels to market products. Also known as online marketing, digital marketing promotes brands and connects them to potential customers via the internet. It takes many forms, including:

Digital marketing uses the same principles as traditional offline marketing but in a digital space. It relies on consumer data to find a business’s target audience and deliver the most relevant messaging possible. This is effective, but digital marketing is so popular that the biggest challenge today is learning how to stand out from the crowd.

Your company’s use of digital marketing depends on its model. Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell to other businesses, which requires a longer, more strategic approach. Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies sell directly to everyday customers, which requires shorter sales cycles and a larger audience. The main differences between B2B and B2C include:

Fortunately, digital marketing works for both approaches. Whether you’re targeting businesses or consumers, digital marketing will help you streamline the marketing process for results.

The benefits of digital marketing

Regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, digital marketing helps businesses better understand their customers and deliver tailored experiences across every channel.

Digital marketing can help you get to know your audience, understand their pain points, and provide metrics that will give your marketing team credibility. Digital marketing has several benefits.

Reach a large demographic

Digital marketing allows you to reach a wider customer base with less effort. When you post an ad online, it can reach anyone, regardless of their location. You can connect with customers on the other side of the world, in multiple time zones, as seamlessly as though you were taking out an ad in the local newspaper. You can expand your market reach and grow your business in ways that would have seemed impossible before.

Cost efficiency

Traditional marketing channels like TV, radio, and print media typically have higher costs than digital channels. Posting on social media and creating blogs doesn’t have a cost beyond the time you spend producing the content. You can create a slick, professional website for a relatively low cost by using one of the many templated systems or paying more for a bespoke creation. You can create social media accounts for free, and partner with an email service provider (ESP) for a competitive price.

Plus, digital channels remain on the internet for as long as you maintain them. People will continue to find your content again and again long after you’ve posted it. This amounts to greater staying power than a temporary TV ad.

Regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, digital marketing helps businesses better understand their customers and deliver tailored experiences across every channel.

Traditional marketing is more ephemeral because it only plays at certain times — and usually outside of your control — before it’s gone forever. A newspaper ad doesn’t run continuously unless you keep paying for it, and then it disappears when people recycle the paper or toss it in the trash.

Whether you have a small business or you work at a big business that’s trying to cut costs, digital marketing is the way to go.

Results are measurable

Digital marketing comes with a host of analytics opportunities that traditional marketing just can’t match. You can track the number of conversions and leads, visits to your website, and much more — giving you plenty of valuable insight to help grow your business. For example, digital marketing allows you to:

Traditional marketing doesn’t allow for further engagement and only allows for one-way communication. But digital marketing gives you the opportunity to chat one-on-one with customers. You can engage with them directly on a blog or social media post to learn how they found you, what they think, and what they need. This gives you both quantitative and qualitative information on your marketing efforts, which is worth its weight in gold.

Easier personalization for customers

Customer data is the foundation of digital marketing. Because it requires so much data, businesses naturally learn a lot about their ideal customers during a digital marketing campaign. Thanks to this data, it’s never been easier to personalize your marketing campaigns.

For example, businesses use customer data to:

Opportunity to engage with customers at various stages

Digital marketing is more cost-effective, which means you can engage with customers at several points during the buying process. For example, you can create a paid advertising campaign and then follow up with those leads after they’ve made a purchase. This could be as simple as saying thank you, or using it as an opportunity to upsell with related items or a subscription. A traditional TV ad can’t do that.

Easy and convenient conversions

Thanks to its cross-channel connectivity, digital marketing makes it a cinch to increase conversions. Shoppers can move from a social media platform to your ecommerce store to make a purchase in just a few taps. Digital marketing also allows for automation, so if customers don’t make a purchase right away, you can quickly follow up with them to recapture their business before they forget about you.

Types of digital marketing

Digital marketing is so beneficial because of its flexibility. It comes in various forms, which gives businesses more opportunities than ever before to connect with their target audiences. Let’s look at the 12 key types of digital marketing.

Content marketing

Content marketing is a type of digital marketing that aims to educate and share value to readers instead of promoting a product or service. It isn’t outwardly promotional in nature, but establishes your business as a thought leader and a trustworthy source of information.

Businesses use content marketing to attract leads and convert them into loyal customers. It’s also an effective strategy because it offers potential customers something for free, which entices them into (hopefully) making a purchase at some point.

content marketing industry worth projection 2026

Like digital marketing, content marketing also comes in many forms, including:

Content marketing is not only affordable, but it’s also effective. In 2022, 80% of marketers thought their content marketing strategy was very successful. It’s no wonder why the content marketing industry is projected to be worth $107 billion by 2026.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process of optimizing the content, technical setup, and reach of your website so your pages appear at the top of a search engine result page for a specific set of keyword terms. With SEO, businesses analyze their website’s performance, score it against competitors, and create a data-backed strategy to improve their rankings over time.

In digital marketing, the goal is to get your content to the top of the search engine results page (SERP). This is important because 67.6% of organic traffic clicks come from the first five results on the SERP. Most businesses boost their rankings on the SERPs by:

Businesses also have to consider on-page and off-page SEO, as well as technical SEO. On-page SEO focuses on optimizing aspects of your website that users engage with. This facet of SEO leans heavily into keyword research. With the right list of target keywords, you can optimize your web copy to answer your audience’s most important questions.

Off-page SEO, on the other hand, is the practice of optimizing activity outside of your website that could affect your rankings. With off-page SEO, you look at all the ways you can garner external attention to your website. This generally focuses on gathering quality backlinks to your site, which can affect your rankings in the long term.

Finally, technical SEO looks at the back end of your website and the coding of each page. Search engines crawl the back end of your site code to determine SERP rankings, so you’ll need programming knowledge to optimize this. With technical SEO, you’ll look at page speed, image compression, and metadata to ensure you’re set up for SERP success.

Search engine marketing (SEM)

Not to be confused with SEO, SEM revolves around paid ads that display in the SERPs. Paid search typically refers to the sponsored result on the top or side of a SERP. These ads appear when users enter a certain search term. As the advertiser, you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. The two most popular SEM platforms are Google Ads and Bing Ads.

SEM works because 68% of online experiences start with organic and paid searches. By promoting your brand at the source of most online experiences, you can attract more interested leads to your site.

68% of online experience begin with search engine marketing

Social media marketing

Social media marketing involves promoting your business organically through various social networks. But this isn’t just a promotional channel — social media is effective for digital marketing because it gives businesses the power to chat with their most engaged followers one-on-one.

Social media is everywhere, so your business must be active on different platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are the most popular social platforms right now. But depending on your industry and target audience, LinkedIn can also be a lucrative platform. However, the key to effective social media marketing goes far beyond simply having a few social media accounts.

Many social networks, like Instagram, allow your followers to make direct purchases within the app, although sales alone might not be your goal. Companies often use social media marketing to start conversations with their audience. It’s also a fantastic tool for promoting your content marketing pieces to a wider audience.

Follow these best practices to increase your reach on social media:

The goal of social media marketing is to engage with your followers. The more your audience is inspired to engage with your content, the more likely they are to share it, potentially inspiring their peers to become customers as well.

Pay per click (PPC)

Pay-per-click advertising is a type of digital marketing where you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. With PPC, you only pay when someone interacts with your ads. PPC is similar to search engine marketing, but businesses can do PPC on both search engines and social media platforms.

Google Ads is the most popular PPC platform for search engines, but Bing Ads is the second most popular. Facebook Ads, YouTube Ads, and even Amazon Ads are also valuable platforms for PPC.

PPC is a paid digital marketing strategy, so it’s critical to make every cent count by optimizing your campaigns. Follow these quick best practices to get more out of your paid ads:

PPC can generate results almost instantly, but it isn’t without its risks. Ad prices vary a lot, and without a solid plan and experience, PPC can become very expensive. Make sure you understand the nuances of bidding on your PPC platform of choice, and that you’re tracking the right metrics along the way to ensure return on investment (ROI).

Digital marketing can help you get to know your audience, understand their pain points, and provide metrics that will give your marketing team credibility.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is a strategy that recruits affiliates to promote a business’s product or service to their followers. When a customer makes a purchase through that affiliate, the affiliate earns either a percentage commission or a flat-rate finder’s fee. Affiliate marketing overlaps with influencer marketing, but the main difference is that you only pay affiliates an agreed-upon amount if someone makes a purchase based on their referral.

With affiliate marketing, you’re promoting your business through someone with an established platform and connections to your target audience. The affiliate’s audience already trusts them, and if the affiliate recommends your brand, their audience is more likely to trust your business by association.

Affiliate marketing comes in different forms. For example, some affiliates will do reviews or unboxing videos for products. Other affiliates might use your products and will link to your company in their content.

Affiliates often insert promotions within helpful content, which increases the odds that your target audience will pay attention to the messaging. That might look like a mixologist on YouTube promoting a barware company’s goods, or a makeup content creator on TikTok reviewing the durability of different eyeliners. More often than not, these affiliates will share a unique code or URL provided by you to track their sales.

Native advertising

Native advertising is a type of paid advertising that creates ads that mimic the look and feel of a platform. The goal is to make the ads not seem like advertising, but as just another piece of content. Native ads blend in with their surrounding environment, so it’s not immediately obvious that you’re advertising something.

More businesses embraced native ads because users are so skeptical of mainstream paid ads. Shoppers assume paid ads are biased and ignore them, so native ads are advertisers’ answer to declining conversion rates.

Native ads attempt to circumvent consumer cynicism with entertaining and informative content, or by downplaying the promotional nature of the content. For example, a business with a native ad might design it to look like a typical Facebook post, or a business might write a sponsored article on a news site.

Native ads are tricky because they mimic the look and feel of organic content, but advertisers still need to be transparent about the fact that these are ads. Native ads usually include qualifiers like “sponsored” or “promoted” so it’s clear that it’s paid content. Even though they’re ads, users tend to react better to native ads because they appear to be less intrusive than traditional paid ads.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a digital marketing strategy that streamlines marketing tasks by automating them. This type of digital marketing uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) software to power digital marketing campaigns. While it isn’t a replacement for human labor, marketing automation handles mundane and repetitive tasks so marketers can focus on high-level strategy and creativity instead.

Marketing automation tools can handle a lot of work for small or overwhelmed marketing teams, including:

marketing automation tools

With automation, you can analyze larger amounts of customer data in no time at all. Use these insights to create better, more personalized campaigns that increase the odds of conversions and sales.

Email marketing

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing where you reach out to your customers through strategic email messages. After more than two decades, email is still the quickest and most direct way to reach customers. However, to avoid getting buried by competing content in your subscribers’ inboxes, your content needs to be incredibly engaging, relevant, informative, and entertaining.

Email marketing can take many forms, but these are the more common types of emails businesses send:

Email might be the oldest form of digital marketing, but it’s kept up with the times. Follow these best practices to get even more out of your email marketing campaigns:

Mobile marketing

Mobile marketing, which is also called SMS marketing, is a type of digital marketing tailored to mobile devices and mobile users. It engages your target audience on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, as well as wearables like smartwatches.

With mobile marketing, businesses reach out to subscribers via SMS messaging. Since most of us have our phones on us 24/7 no matter where we are, mobile marketing makes it possible for businesses to send timely messages. Like email marketing, mobile marketing gives you a one-on-one connection with your customers. It’s no wonder why companies report a 102% ROI on SMS marketing.

Video marketing

Video marketing is a type of digital marketing where you promote your business through either long-form or short-form video. Video content allows you to communicate more information in less time, so it’s no surprise that many platforms allow — and even encourage — video marketing.

YouTube is the most obvious place to do video marketing, but social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are also great for promoting your brand with videos.

If you want to go all-in on YouTube, remember that this isn’t primarily a social network — it’s

actually a search engine. In fact, 70% of shoppers have made a purchase after seeing a brand on YouTube. While the majority of people stream TV shows and movies online, 46% also watch videos on YouTube or Facebook for entertainment.

Video content is valuable to so many users, so tap into this growing area of digital marketing. If you have a smartphone, you have the capability to make quality videos for your company’s website, social media, email campaigns, and paid ads.

70% of shoppers purchase after YouTube

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a digital marketing strategy that brands use to promote their products or services through popular content creators. Influencer marketing is similar to affiliate marketing in that you can capitalize on an established, captive audience that inherently trusts the influencer.

While many of us think of influencer marketing as a B2C tactic for selling consumer goods, it can also work for B2B companies selling office supplies, SaaS subscriptions, and nearly anything else. It just comes down to partnering with the right influencer for your audience.

Influencer marketing is different from affiliate marketing because it doesn’t involve profit sharing. Instead, you typically pay the influencer a flat fee in exchange for promoting your product. With this digital marketing strategy, the influencer is paid regardless of sales related to their promotion. You can certainly add an affiliate spin to the arrangement to incentivize sales, but it isn’t necessary.

With an average engagement rate of nearly 16% on platforms like TikTok, it’s no wonder why more brands are embracing influencer marketing. However, you need the right strategy to glean value from these partnerships. Follow these tips to make the most of influencer marketing:

How to do digital marketing

Digital marketing can take so many forms that it can feel overwhelming to choose from all the options. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to pair digital marketing with your overall business strategy.

Regardless of your industry or business model, you can follow this six-step process to strategically embrace digital marketing.

Define your goals

Goals are a necessary part of any marketing strategy, and digital marketing is no exception. The first step is to define measurable, achievable, and relevant goals for your digital marketing campaigns that align with your company’s objectives.

Think of your goals as the guiding principles that shape your approach to digital marketing. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, maybe you invest in social media marketing to get the word out.

You should back up every goal with metrics, too. This makes it easier to determine whether your campaigns are on track or if you need to course-correct. Important metrics include:

There are also the back-end metrics like return on investment (ROI), return on ad spend (ROAS), first-touch and multitouch attribution, and customer lifetime value (CLV).

Regardless of the goals you set, it’s easier to develop effective digital marketing strategies when you have realistic goals first. This ensures your marketing activities will actually make a difference for your business.

Identify your target audience

Now that you know your goals, you need to define your target audience. These are the people your campaign will reach. Every audience is different, so it’s critical to understand the people consuming your messaging. Plus, the target audience varies from channel to channel, so put in the effort to understand your followers on every platform.

Digital marketing helps you reach more people, minimize costs, and better engage with your target audience.

Set a budget for each digital channel

Setting a budget helps you allocate resources appropriately. This is especially important if you’re using a mix of organic and paid advertising — you don’t want your paid channels using too much of your budget.

Generally speaking, B2B companies have a longer buying cycle, so they might need a bigger marketing budget. Your goals, target metrics, and existing costs will also have a big impact on your budget.

If you have a variable budget, assign a percentage of your budget — instead of a flat dollar amount — to each digital marketing strategy. This way, you can invest in the digital strategies that are important to you without breaking the bank.

Select your digital marketing channels

With a budget in place, it’s time to decide which channels you’ll focus your digital marketing efforts on. The goal is to strike a balance between paid and organic channels. While paid strategies like PPC can garner immediate results, organic strategies like SEO come with long-term gains. Pursuing both types of strategies will set you up for digital marketing success.

Since you know your target audience at this stage, opt for the channels they use the most. For example, if you’re targeting Gen Z college students, you would go for platforms like TikTok instead of Facebook. By going where your audience already is, you’ll increase your odds of connecting with the right people.

Optimize your digital assets for mobile

In Q1 of 2023, mobile traffic accounted for 45.49% of all internet traffic in the United States. Mobile traffic is on track to outpace desktop traffic in the coming years, so make sure all of your marketing content performs well on mobile devices, too — even if it was designed for a traditional browser. It’s also important to design a seamless experience between mobile and desktop so you don’t lose users moving between the two.

Refine your marketing efforts

Digital marketing is never truly done. It evolves over time, which is why it’s so important to monitor and analyze your performance. Consumers and trends are never static, so you’ll need to use data to constantly refine your strategy and remain current. Review your social media metrics, email marketing data, and site analytics to become a leader in this high-impact, high-demand space.

Rely on a powerful platform for your digital marketing efforts

Since digital marketing channels are so accessible and affordable, marketing your business on these platforms will give you a wider reach. Digital marketing helps you reach more people, minimize costs, and better engage with your target audience. While there are many forms of digital marketing available to businesses today, this variety makes it easier than ever to see results from your marketing efforts.

When you’re ready to get started, evaluate your current marketing platform to see if it can handle multifaceted digital marketing campaigns. These campaigns can get complicated, but tools like Adobe Marketo Engage help businesses reduce complexity and increase ROI.

Marketo Engage specializes in customer engagement for complex B2B buying journeys. As a complete solution for lead management, it brings marketing and sales together to nurture leads, orchestrate personalized experiences, optimize content, and measure business impact across every channel.

Start your digital marketing campaigns on the right foot. Watch the Adobe Marketo Engage overview video or take an interactive product tour now.