What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital Marketing is Marketing, Evolved.

This article will give you a solid understanding of the fundamentals of digital marketing. Let’s take a look at the methods used in traditional marketing and see how digital marketing compares (spoiler alert: the latter is better!) 

Danville Digital Marketing Experts - Boomcycle of San Ramon California

Apples and Oranges

Digital marketing is simply the most effective way to market in 2020 and beyond. But how do we know for sure? What are the ways we can measure the effectiveness of traditional marketing vs. digital marketing? To best illustrate, it’s useful to look at the methods used in traditional marketing and see how digital marketing compares.

Traditional Media Marketing

The old-school “Big Three” marketing channels are print, radio and TV. You can put the commercials people see before movies at the theater in that list as well. Through most of the previous century, these channels were the only ways to advertise your products or services. The Big Three are all examples of outbound, broadcast marketing. Traditional media marketing is a one-way message to (hopefully, some of) your prospects. There is no way to tell exactly who is absorbing your advertising message. As if that weren’t bad enough, these entrenched broadcasting channels are the most expensive by far of all the marketing methods.

A Real-Life Traditional Media Business Disaster

A recent client prospect told me that he currently pays $750 per month to appear in a glossy local magazine for a neighborhood with less than 10,000 residents here in Northern California. So far in two months of ads, he had received just one lead. He had not yet closed that lead. Unfortunately for his business, this gentleman signed a deal with the publisher for 36 months(!) If held to his agreement, he will have paid $27,000 for 18 leads, a cost of $1500 per lead! During our conversation, he confided in me that this publisher was a great salesman. You’d have to be, to make this model make sense in this day and age. More recently, I was told by the person who sold this guy his advertising package, that the gentleman closed his business and moved to Los Angeles.  This guy was a young, energetic and good-looking kid, and in addition to his once-a-month print ad, he was knocking on doors — not a lazy person’s pursuit by any stretch of the imagination.  His mistake was to place his bet on print advertising and “good old fashioned”, roll-up-the-sleeves, door-to-door sales.  But people don’t like to be interrupted and bothered at home on their doorstep. Especially during a global pandemic!  And the odds that anyone will see your print ad, right at the precise moment they’re considering whatever it is that you sell, are vanishingly small.

Print Media: Then & Now

I worked for a trade publication in the 1980s while I was in college. Fire Protection Contractor magazine was created for folks in the fire sprinkler industry. Person reading newspaper submitted article would essentially be free advertising, we would tell them. We would literally beg people, typically the business owners, to write for us. Their  We needed the written content to place our ads in a way that made it appear that our magazine was first and foremost about delivering valuable content to our readers. Of course, paid advertising is the very lifeblood of print media. However, very few businesses took us up on our offer to publish their articles for free. It was (and still is!) a lot of trouble to stare at a blank page and write a lengthy article. Recently, I offered to provide free valuable business-oriented content to a Pleasanton weekly newspaper. They sent me back a media kit and a price sheet to submit an article. The price to do the work, and write the article was $500! Yes, they wanted me to pay them to do the work to create the content which they would surround with other paid advertising. But I have my own publishing machine, and so do you: a business website and Google.

The Dawn of Digital Marketing

Email was really the first digital marketing channel, and boy, was it ever effective. In 1978, when a salesman with Digital Computer Corporation sent out an “email blast” announcing the new VAX computer, marketers realized that a targeted list of people they knew to be prospects was a super cost-effective and efficient way to get their message out. Email marketing was so effective, that spam became a big problem in the 1990s and remains so to this day, with an estimated 85% of all emails sent being unsolicited advertisements. But let’s not be too hasty to consign email marketing to a bygone era. Big email systems like Google’s Gmail are extremely effective at weeding out spam, and email is actually quite useful again, if you’re on Gmail. I’m on Gmail and I love it! Living life nearly 100% spam-free has made my email useful again.

Web Marketing

 Web Marketing took off in earnest in the 1990s. As the internet grew, a few bright people realized that it was difficult to find what you were looking for. These visionaries created large data-driven websites called search engines. Websites with old-tymey names like AltaVista, Excite, “Ask Jeeves” and InfoSeek became sensations, and searchers found it easy to navigate the increasingly large data set known as “the web”. Then Google was born in 1998. Slowly but surely, Google became the world’s top search engine, finally surpassing the use of AOL and Yahoo in 2004. I recall the moment working at a web startup in Pleasanton when a light bulb went off in my head: “Instead of memorizing technical trivialities, I can just look it up in real-time on Google!” Now anyone could find what they were looking for, and websites that were best “optimized” (search engines could read the site easily and understand what it was) were rewarded with the highest visibility, or rankings, on Google. A lower-numbered “ranking” means you rank higher in the search results. Like in the record biz, a #1 is ranked higher than a #64, #2 is higher than #5, etc. A Google page that shows the information for a search performed is called the Search Result Page, or SERP. Users began exploring the web in earnest. Mostly what users found was useful information surrounded by banner ads. Banner ads were often junky-looking image-based advertisements placed within or around the content of a popular web page. And popularity meant a lot of eyeballs ended up on the web page. Often those eyeballs would drift over to the advertiser’s ad. Click! Ideally, a user would click on the ads, which led to a page on the advertiser’s website, which encouraged the user to buy, or convert. Early on, marketers learned that if you took a prospect to a page with a lot of extra baggage such as menus, headlines, articles or other distractions, the user would often become distracted by all the other shiny objects and never buy the product or service. Thus landing pages or squeeze pages were born. The job of a landing page is singular: drive the prospect to buy. A good landing page contains zero distractions, and usually offers only a single action that they can take: BUY the product or service. Landing pages are still a hot and useful component of any good website that offers a product or service for sale.

Google: Organic Search Results & Other Results

A particular website’s ranking in Google determined which websites would show up highest in the organic (unpaid) search results for a given search term or “keyword” (a misnomer when it’s more than one word, but no one seems to say “key phrase”, so we’ll go with it). In ranking, as in golf, a lower score is better. To illustrate how rank works, it’s helpful to give a few examples:
  • A page with a ranking of 1 shows up first in the organic search results.
  • A page with a ranking of 9 shows up last in the organic results, on the 1st page.
  • A page with a ranking of 10 shows up as the first result on the 2nd page, and a rank of 11 means of course, the 2nd result on the 2nd page.
  • Similarly, a page with a ranking of 64 shows up as the fourth results on the 7th page.
Aside from the organic results, there are lots of other search bells and whistles present in 2020:
  • Google My Business Listings
  • “People Also Ask” questions and snippet answers
  • Images and videos related to the search
  • Related Searches – Other search terms that people have typed, related to the user’s search terms.

Paid Search: Google Ads

In October of 2000, Google realized that advertisers who didn’t have the best websites still wanted to be seen.  And boy, could that generate some revenue. Thus, paid search engine marketing (SEM) and Google Adwords was born. Adwords surfaced the advertiser’s website listing in a variety of places on the Google SERPs to encourage the searcher to click on the ad.  Google gets paid when a searcher clicks on an advertiser’s ad. Google has experimented from the beginning to optimize their SERPs to weave in Adwords advertisements among the “organic” (unpaid) search results. As of this writing, for a search with results that include paid and organic listings, the paid listings appear in the first few slots above everything else. Some searches show no advertisers (meaning, no one is advertising using the term you searched for), some show as many as 3 or 4 advertisers who have bid on the keyword you searched for. Shown next, is the Google map pack, click the link to learn about what that is. The first organic results are found below the map pack. Organic results aren’t as valuable to Google as ads, obviously. Nonetheless, organic results must be shown as users would stop using Google if everything it surfaced was an advertisement. Google does a delicate and ever-changing dance to give searchers the most relevant and useful information. Even the paid ads must be seen by Google as valuable and “relevant” to the user.  Having an ad with a high relevancy score will allow the advertiser to pay less per click. And “How much does Google charge per click”?  AdWords is an auction, and what your competition pays (as well as ad relevancy) primarily determines what you’ll pay.  If a competitor with a high relevancy score pays $10/click, and you bid $9/click for your ad with a similar relevancy score, the advertiser who pays more will generally rank higher. In 2018, over 85% of Google’s revenues came from paid advertising services.

Modern Digital Marketing Channels

Social Media Management servicesWith the explosion of devices beyond desktop, such as smartphones and tablets, modern digital marketing has truly come into its own. In addition to the online marketing systems discussed above, digital marketing now includes:
  • Organic Search Marketing (SEO) – Also known as Content Marketing.
  • Social Media Marketing – Placing ads on Facebook,  Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
  • YouTube / Video Marketing – Advertising on YouTube is huge, and the monetization possibilities of original video content are staggering.
  • Affiliate Marketing – Advertising a 3rd party’s products/services and getting paid each time you get a click.
  • Influencer Marketing – Getting nationally or locally influential bloggers/vloggers to talk about your product or service.
  • Viral Marketing – Similar to influencer marketing, the idea is to get your advertisement to spread organically via a remarkable statement, topic or offer.
  • Mobile Phone Ads – You’ve probably seen these on Waze, when an ad pops up for a local eatery on your route or nearby. This uses a technique known as geofencing, where an ad only appears to viewers within a certain distance of the advertiser.
Each of these marketing modalities gets (and deserves) plenty of “virtual ink”.  I will be writing more on each of these topics on this website in the near future (I hope I remember to update this sentence when I do!)  If you want to learn more now, a search for any of these topics on Google sends you down a rabbit hole of more shiny marketing objects. My own explorations have taught me that I can easily lose an entire afternoon on any one of the above-listed sub-topics.  You have been warned. 

The Best Parts of Digital Marketing

Because digital marketing is such an involved and ever-changing topic, I almost left out the absolute best parts: Targeting, Reporting and ROI Analysis.
  • Targeting is determining and setting up the audience that you want to reach.
  • Reporting is how you know you reached who you wanted to reach, and what they did after you reached them.
  • ROI Analysis or “Attribution” is how you know which digital marketing initiatives are working best, and at which times. 

Targeting

Is your product a great fit for millennials living in Livermore with a median income between $50K – $100K? Find them all day on Facebook and Instagram. Advertising a local microbrewery to bearded hipsters? Use Facebook Audience Insights to find the perfect match for your tasty IPA. Do you sell a B2B service for folks in the biotechnology industry working in Chapel Hill, NC? Build helpful and great content, and let your ideal prospects find you with organic search engine optimization (hint: this is absolutely the best way to market: “inbound”.) By now, you get my point: targeting allows you to reach out to your ideal prospects, at exactly the moment you want, eliminating the massive waste of time and marketing “real-estate” incurred when doing shotgun-style traditional media advertising.

Reporting

What good would targeting be if we couldn’t see the people that we’d reached and the actions that they’d taken? Using systems such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console, as well as a variety of other reporting tools, we can see who has visited our web properties and what they’ve done when they got there. By using UTM parameters in your advertising campaign, you can easily track where users came from and report on it in a meaningful and colorful way in Google Analytics. With Analytics and Search Console, you can answer questions like these:
  • How many searchers found you organically using a particular search term? 
  • Want to know how many users visit your website using a smartphone? On a iPhone 6? 
  • What was the average cost to get a visitor to your website from your Google Ads campaign?
  • What was my ROI on last year’s SEO campaign?
So what is the most effective way to spend your marketing dollar? There are so many ways to look at your data in Analytics and Search Console, it’s dizzying. These reports give you extremely powerful tools that are simply not available to you when doing print, radio or TV advertising. 

The ROI of Digital Marketing

Given all the ways there are to report, you’d think tying ROI to digital marketing would be a snap. Well, it’s not quite a “snap”, but it’s at least possible, and easier than it used to be.  Profit Attribution Analysis systems and tools make this process much simpler than in years past.  Systems produced by companies such as DemandJump, Hubspot, Pardot, Marketo and many others allow CMOs and business owners insight into which digital marketing initiatives are most effective and at which times. 

Digital Marketing for Your Product or Service

Honestly, I have no idea how anyone thinks they can run their business and do a good job of digital marketing. There’s so much to know, and it changes all the time.  If you’re trying to figure out your digital marketing priorities, let’s talk.  The only thing about Boomcycle that’s old-fashioned is our customer service. I believe there’s no substitute for a personal relationship and accountability. The only way we’ll keep your business is by delivering outstanding results and value. If you’re confused about which type of digital marketing is right for your business, I would be happy to speak with you. Please contact me for a complimentary consultation to see if we’re a good fit for each other.

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About David Victor​

Since 2003, David and his team have helped SMBs throughout the United States increase the value of their business by improving their online visibility to drive sales.

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