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What Is Digital Marketing? Definition, Benefits, and Top Categories

Digital marketing has grown leaps and bounds since the term was first used in the 1990s. And it isn't showing any signs of slowing down.

But what is digital marketing?

Before you start thinking of digital marketing strategies, you must first learn the basics. We're here to help you start small and work your way up.

Contrary to what you believe, digital marketing isn't rocket science. In this guide, we'll first talk about what digital marketing is. Then we'll discuss why using digital marketing is highly beneficial in today’s economy. Plus, we'll list the top categories you should focus on.

Ready to get started?

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing involves marketing a product or service through electronic devices or the internet. Marketers use these channels to connect with customers and prospects.

It's not limited to the use of online channels like social media, email, and websites. This strategy can be used both online and offline.

For this reason, it opens a plethora of touchpoint opportunities.

But why is digital marketing more prevalent online?

It's because of the growing number of online users. According to a survey conducted in 2019, 28% of American adults say they are "almost constantly" online.

And with the internet becoming more accessible, it has changed the way we consume content. Offline marketing isn't as effective anymore. So digital marketers adapted to these changes.

Why? Because customers are online.

As a marketer, you need to connect with your audience in the right place and time. This means, staying visible and accessible on the internet.

Depending on your business goals, you can come up with a large-scale campaign.

For example, you can create a series of blog posts to guide your prospects through your buyer's journey. Then you can use social media to promote these posts. Or create an email campaign to further entice prospects to know more about your company.

We'll discuss the top digital marketing categories in a minute. Let's first address the next pressing question:

Is Digital Marketing Fit for Any Business?

Digital marketing isn't only for large corporations. Regardless of the size of your business, you'll certainly benefit from a robust digital marketing strategy.

In fact, it doesn’t matter what you’re offering. The principles and framework are the same: 

  • You need to identify your target market.
  • Understand their needs.
  • And know which online channels they're in. 

But this doesn't mean that you can use the same strategy as other businesses.

For example, you're a company that sells online security software to other businesses. You need to focus your marketing efforts on online lead generation.

This means you'll need a website. Plus, you must use channels like LinkedIn since that's where most of your prospects are.

But if you're selling online courses, your marketing efforts should focus more on attracting customers. As a business-to-consumer company, your best channels will be through Facebook or Instagram.

Do you think digital marketing is the way to go for your business?

In a minute, we'll go into detail about the benefits of digital marketing. Plus, why it's an effective strategy to skyrocket your growth.

Why You Need a Digital Marketing Strategy

To compete with the ever-changing marketing trends, marketers need to take advantage of the resources and technologies available to them. And the internet tops the list.

That's why businesses are changing their business models. And why marketers are moving their efforts towards the digital market.

And why not?

Digital marketing gives them more opportunities to compete, survive, and scale their business.

Here are the top reasons why digital marketing matters:

Competitive Advantage

In the past, large corporations could easily wipe out small and medium enterprises. It's hard to gain recognition when competing with a huge brand.

Mainly because small businesses can't compete with their marketing and reputation management.

This is why digital marketing is highly beneficial.

Digital marketing allows small and medium businesses to hold a top position in their industry. All at a reasonable budget.


Digital marketing opens channels of engagement between the business and the target market.

Today, you don't have to be a large, multinational brand to be noticed.

With the right online marketing technique, you can effectively compete in the market. Most importantly, you can attract your target audience.

You can use social media, blog posts, emails, and other online resources for sales and marketing. Before, these resources were only available to large corporations.

Digital marketing widens your exposure at a more cost-effective budget. When done properly, you'll have more control over how you spend your budget.

Cost-Effective and Easy to Adapt

According to Gartner's CMO Spend Survey, there's an 11% drop in marketing budgets for the first time since 2014. Despite this, marketing leaders show no signs of slowing their digital ad spending. In fact, they're planning on increasing digital advertising next year.


First of all, you can use a variety of online marketing platforms. This means you can choose which channel will give you the best value for your money.

Secondly, digital marketing is much more cost-effective and easier to adapt than traditional marketing strategies.

Like any marketing strategy, you'll need to make an initial investment to get the ball rolling. Let’s say you want to start a social media campaign.

You can choose a daily budget for display ads and search ads. This gives you an idea of how much you spend daily for that campaign.

After publishing the campaign, you can instantly analyze the results. Plus, your ad will continue running even as you adjust your daily spending.

The social media campaign isn't working? You can end it anytime, no need to wait for the contract to expire.

Want to restart the campaign? You can without starting from scratch.

This is where digital marketing shines:

Giving you the ability to instantly analyze data and results. This allows you to quickly pivot your efforts and reduce wasted ad expenses.

Easy to Tack and Analyze

As mentioned above, digital marketing allows for easy tracking. You can instantly see the results of your campaign.

For instance, you can check whether your audience…

  • Interacted with your ad or campaign
  • Liked, engaged, or shared
  • Subscribed to an email list or registered to your website
  • Bought your product or availed your services

You can also pull data about the individuals who interacted with your campaign or ad:

  • What they like
  • Previous actions or products they last visited
  • Their demographics
  • The keywords they used to find your company
  • What lead them to your website

All these are easy to track. You can use a free analytic software like Google Analytics. Or you can choose a paid software to gain more insights.

Ability to Reach Your Audience Where They Are

Here's a quick rundown on this year's internet, mobile, and social media usage:

  • There are approximately 4.5 billion internet users.
  • A whopping 3.8 billion social media users.
  • The average internet usage is around 6 hours every day.

According to GlobalWebIndex, search engines are still the top source of discovery for new brands and products. Additionally, online shoppers use it to research brands, products, and services.

what is digital marketing

Do you see the trend?

An average person spends around 6 hours a day online. And they're using social media and search engines to look for products and services they need.

That's where your target market is at. So that's where you need to be.

Digital marketing gives you access to a wider audience. Instantly and with ease.

Excited yet?

But to reach them, you need a strategy that's useful in the digital arena. Don't stop at creating a website. Build your presence through SEO, email marketing, and other online marketing strategies.

In a minute, we'll discuss the top online marketing channels.

But before that, let's review what we know.

First, digital marketing gives you a competitive advantage. Plus, it's a cost-effective option over traditional marketing.

Secondly, it gives you access to a wider audience.

So what's next?

Use digital marketing to skyrocket conversions. 

Provide Better Conversion

Increase in website traffic isn't the only way to measure marketing success. You also need to factor in the leads, subscribers, and conversions made depending on your goals.

Without conversion or sales, your marketing efforts will be for nothing. And to convert, you need to target the right people.

How do you do that?

Hyper-Target Your Audience

Your ads or other campaigns must be curated for your audience.

For example, when you're campaigning for your newest product, you need to target the right people.

Digital marketing allows you to do just that and more. In fact, with online marketing, you can dissect your demographics and hyper-target a specific audience.

You can target people depending on their:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Profession
  • Buying behavior
  • And more

In doing so, you create a campaign that is valuable and relevant to your audience. Because of this, it allows for better engagement and connection than traditional advertising.

This gives you the ability to influence buyer decisions.

Personalized Interaction

Another benefit of digital marketing is the ability to connect with your audience on a more personal level. I provide more details in my Digital Marketing for Dummies article here.

For example, with email marketing, you can target specific customers. You can send email campaigns or use it to communicate with your audience.

How do you target specific customers?

Without going into too many details, some programs can collect names and other information to an email.

With this strategy, you can collect data about each subscriber. This allows you to send content that is valuable to each individual.

In doing so, you build trust and credibility. And when they trust you, they're more likely to subscribe or buy your products.

But if they don't find value in what you're offering, they'll simply unsubscribe.

Ready to find out more about the top digital marketing categories?

Top Channels of Digital Marketing

Here's an overview of the top channels used in digital marketing. Use it to learn more about your options so you can create a robust strategy.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

On average, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day.

And as we've stated before, internet users use search engines to know more about brands, products, and services. That's why you need to be at the top of the results page.

This can be a deciding factor for your business success.

But how can you achieve this feat? Through Search engine optimization.

The Opti- what?

Search engine optimization or SEO is the process of improving your website, blog posts, or content to rank higher in Google.

How exactly does it work?

In a nutshell, a search engine uses "crawler bots" which index the content available online. So when you search a keyword, the search engine will give you the most relevant results.

So if your website ranks high, it'll boost organic traffic to your website.

Here's how you can use search engine optimization to generate website traffic:

  • On-Page SEO: This type of SEO focuses more on the content in your website page. Here's a tip: research the keywords and phrases used by your audience. Use them in your blog posts or website copy. Another option is to answer questions for readers. These tips will help you rank higher on the search engine results page.
  • Off-Page SEO: These are SEO efforts taken outside of your website to improve its ranking. The most common off-page SEO technique is link building. It takes into account the authority of pages that are linking to your website.
  • Technical SEO: This process is part of on-page SEO. It involves making a website load faster and easier to understand for Google.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the process of creating, distributing, and promoting online materials. You create content to:

  • Attract
  • Inform
  • Entertain
  • Convert

It's the bread and butter of digital marketing. The key principle of content marketing is to guide the audience throughout their buyer's journey.

Content marketing comes in various formats including:

  • Blog posts: Writing and publishing articles on your company blog. This showcases your expertise in your industry. Plus it helps generate organic traffic for your business.
  • Infographics: This makes information more digestible for online users. It's a form of visual content that is shareable and can easily go viral.
  • EBooks: These are long-form content which aims to educate your prospects. It's an excellent lead magnet since it allows you to gather a prospect's contact info.
  • Videos: This includes how-to or tutorial videos that provide value to your audience.

It's important to understand that content marketing works hand-in-hand with other online marketing strategies. This includes social media marketing and SEO.

As stated above, SEO is the process of optimizing your blog posts or content to rank higher on search engines.

For best results, you need to combine content marketing with the best SEO practices.

Here's an example:

Let's say you want to rank for the keyword "best sales funnel". You need to create a blog post that answers your audience's common questions or problems. Use the keyword in all the relevant places in your content.

Ideally, when people search "best sales funnel", they'll see your content as a top search result. And when they find value in it, they'll explore your website for more content.

As a result, they'll learn more about your business. Hopefully, readers will turn into customers later on.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is a type of digital marketing that aims to build your online presence through social platforms. Here are the top platforms you can use:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

Social media marketing goals include:

  • Boosting brand awareness
  • Driving traffic
  • Engaging and connecting with your followers
  • Generating leads

For organic growth on social media, focus on establishing relationships with customers. In doing so, you build interest and customer loyalty.

Another option is paid social media advertising. This allows you to boost your social content and promote your business to a wider audience.

Most social media marketing is called "Pay-Per-Click" which we'll talk more in the next section.

Pay-Per-Click or PPC Advertising

This strategy involves paying a publisher every time a user clicks on your ad. The goal is to drive traffic to your website.

The most popular PPC advertising system is Google Ads. This platform allows marketers to create ads. These ads will then appear on Google's search engine.

For example, you want to advertise a "social listening tool". You need to bid for your ad to be displayed for the "social listening tool" keyword.

If you win the bid, your advertisement will come up in search results when someone searches for a "social listening tool".

social listening tool

Through this digital marketing, you can dominate the top slot on the results page. But everything comes at a price "per click".

Where else can you use PPC advertising?

Paid Ads on Facebook: Paid advertising on Facebook allows you to promote your business to a hyper-targeted audience. You can choose to publish it to the newsfeed of your buyer profile.

Twitter Ads campaign: This strategy allows you to publish posts or profile badges to the news feeds of your target audience. Do this if you want to: 

  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Increase followers
  • Boost app downloads

Send Messages on LinkedIn: You can also use PPC advertising to send messages directly to hyper-targeted LinkedIn users.

Other platforms also offer other forms of paid advertising:

Cost-per-impression: This means you'll pay every time your advertisement is viewed 1,000 times.

Cost-per-view: You'll pay for every instance that your video ad gets played.

Cost-per-action: This is a pricing model wherein you'll be charged for every instance a user takes a specific action. For example, if a customer chooses to submit a form, register, or subscribe through the ad, you'll be charged. 

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a strategy where you send direct marketing messages to your audience. This involves maintaining an email list of cold and warm contacts.

Here's what you can send in your email marketing campaign:

  • Distribute your latest blog posts through email
  • Newsletters
  • Onboarding new customers
  • Customer nurturing email like tips and how-to
  • Promotions and special offers to members

Online PR

This digital marketing technique is a form of earned media. This is when a third-party entity, such as an online publication, journalist, or blogs talk about your brand.

Here are other types of earned media:

  • News/Press release
  • Product reviews
  • Interviews
  • Influencer mentions
  • Organic or direct traffic

Remember, this type of online marketing is usually free. It’s a result of your brand's public relations, branding, and customer experience.

An example of online PR is when influencers or bloggers mention your brand through product reviews. 

Influencer Marketing

This is a strategy where brands work with influencers to promote their product or service.

Today, the word "influencers" is not limited to celebrities. In fact, brands today are collaborating with individuals with high engagement rates.

Influencers will then persuade their followers to follow, like, or buy the brand.

Influencer marketing exploded in 2017. And for the right reasons


Because when you partner with the right influencer, you can get your products/services in front of their audience. That's why you need to choose someone who:

  • Knows your target market
  • Has a similar follower profile as your target audience
  • Shares your brand values
  • Showcases your products or services in a visually creative way

As a marketer, consider working with micro influencers. These are individuals can range from 1,000 to 100,000 followers.

Why focus on the small guys? Because often times, micro-influencers perform better than big-name influencers.

Affiliate Marketing

Lastly, let's talk about affiliate marketing.

This strategy involves setting up a program where a business pays a commission to an influencer or third-party entity when they generate traffic or sales.

This is a highly popular type of digital marketing. In fact, online marketers and influencers use affiliate marketing to promote other brand's products or services.

Some of the best affiliate marketing channels include:

  • YouTube Partner Program where you can host video ads
  • Adding affiliate links to blog posts or social media accounts

Do You Think Digital Marketing Is
Invaluable to Your Business?

Online is where your customers are.

With that said, you need digital marketing to compete.

But that doesn't mean you can carelessly add commercials or pop-up ads on your website.

Today, people don’t have the patience to sit through commercials. Some flee from websites with pop-up ads.

They want to consume content without breaking eye-to-screen contact. Most importantly, they want to be valued and respected.

This is the beauty of digital marketing.

First, you can provide them with information to make informed decisions. Next you can engage and connect with them. Most importantly, you can offer products and services without being too salesy.

P.S. See my article here for tips on how to present a digital marketing strategy.