In the past decade, digital marketing has become a vital component in organizations' overall marketing strategy. It allows companies to tailor messages to reach a specific audience, making it possible to market directly to people who are likely to be interested in their product. Digital marketing encompasses a wide variety of marketing tactics and technologies used to reach consumers online. Two academic team members from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) spoke about how digital marketing aligns with traditional tactics and shared information on some of the types of digital marketing in practice now.
An associate dean of graduate business programs, Mark Hobson, Ph.D., said although digital marketing seems like a new world, in fact it is based in many of the principles familiar to traditional marketers and requires both foundational marketing knowledge and technical know-how.
Jessica Rogers, Ph.D., marketing faculty lead of a graduate business program, said the two disciplines serve to connect with distinct groups of consumers. "... Traditional media is a great way to reach a broad consumer base, whereas digital media has the ability to reach very specific audiences," she said "A key point is that depending on the target audience, some channels are more effective than others."
Types of Digital Marketing
Rogers talked about some of the most popular types of digital marketing, providing a brief overview of each:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The goal of SEO is to get a business to rank higher in Google search results, ultimately increasing search engine traffic to the business's website. To accomplish this, SEO marketers research words and phrases consumers are using to search for information online, and use those terms in their own content. According to leading SEO software company Moz's "Beginners Guide to SEO," SEO encompasses many elements, from the words on your web pages to the way other sites link to you on the web to how your website is structured. An SEO specialist can make around $56,000, according to Salary.com.
So, what are some things that can improve a site's SEO? It's important to understand that one of the things that makes SEO challenging is that the answer to this question always depends on Google and its most current algorithm. Keeping that in mind, here are a few of the most important things for SEO strategists and marketers in general to understand about how SEO works today, from Moz's Beginners Guide to SEO:
- Content Indexing - It is important to allow search engines to clearly "read" what your site content is, by doing things like adding alt text for images and text transcripts for video and audio content.
- Good Link Structure - It is important that search engines can "crawl" your site structure to easily find all the content on your site. There are many things that an SEO specialist can do to properly format links, URLs, and sitemaps to make them most accessible to site crawlers.
- Keywords and Keyword Targeting - Properly deploying your keywords - i.e. the search terms you want your site to be found for-in your content and headers is one of the fundamental building blocks of SEO. It is no longer good practice to "stuff" your content with as many keywords and keyword variations as possible. Writing high-quality content that uses keywords in the headers and a few times in the crawl-able page content is now considered better practice, and will make pages rank better in search results.
Pay-per-Click (PPC): Pay-per-click refers to paid advertisements and promoted search engine results. This is a short-term form of digital marketing, meaning that once you are no longer paying, the ad no longer exists. Like SEO, PPC is a way to increase search traffic to a business online.
Pay-per-click can refer to the advertisements you see at the top and sides of a page of search results, the ads you see while browsing the web, ads before YouTube videos and in ads in mobile apps.
One of the other things that differentiates pay-per-click from SEO is that you only pay for the results. In a typical PPC model like a Google AdWords campaign, you will pay only when someone clicks on your ad and lands on your website. You can spend just about any amount of money on pay-per-click advertising. Some companies may see results from investing just a few hundred dollars, but plenty of large companies spend tens of thousands a month on pay-per-click.
How much it costs to run and ad or promote your search results will depend primarily on how much competition there is for your keywords. High competition keywords (i.e. keywords that many people are searching for and that many sites are trying to be found for) will be more expensive and lower competition terms will likely cost less.
When you set up a pay-per-click campaign, you will also be able to choose whether you want your ad or promoted results to be shown to users all over the world, or only within a specific geographic area. If you are marketing a brick-and-mortar business, this ability to tailor by location helps you not waste ad dollars serving ads to users who don't live anywhere near your business, according to Google.
Social Media Marketing: This includes everything a business does via social media channels. Just about everyone is familiar with social media, but marketers must approach social with an integrated and strategic approach. Social media marketing goes far beyond simply creating posts for social channels and responding to comments.
To be effective, efforts must be coordinated and consistent rather than an afterthought. To help keep posts consistent, there are many online tools available to automate and schedule social media posts, although marketers only should use automation as a tool, not a "set it and forget it" solution. Users will figure it out quickly if there is no real person behind the posts.
Social media marketers should not be in a silo separate from other marketing functions. Social marketers need to work with the company's wider marketing team to coordinate their message across all platforms, online and off, so that every part of the brand is telling the same story.
A crucial part of social media marketing is analytics: Social media marketers must also be savvy at analyzing the performance of their posts, and creating strategies based on that data. Another reason for marketers to be consistently measuring and tracking their campaigns is that this data allows marketers to demonstrate to business leadership that their efforts are driving users to engage with the brand and eventually converting users into customers, therefore providing value to the company, according to Forbes contributor Jason DeMers.
In other words, social media marketing is a lot more complicated than managing your personal Facebook or Twitter profile. It requires a blend of creative thinking and objective, data-driven strategy, and may be a great fit for professionals who enjoy blending these two disciplines. A social media analyst with a bachelor's degree can earn about $60,000, according to Salary.com.
Content Marketing: Content marketing uses storytelling and information sharing to increase brand awareness. Ultimately, the goal is to have the reader take an action towards becoming a customer, such as requesting more information, signing up for an email list, or making a purchase. "Content" can mean blog posts, resources like white papers and e-books, digital video, podcasts, and much more. In general, it should first and foremost provide value to the consumer, not just advertise the brand or try to make a sale. Content marketing is about building a sustainable, trusting relationship with your customers that can potentially lead to many sales over time, not just making a single transaction.
Content marketing works in symbiosis with other types of digital marketing: It is a way to incorporate SEO search terms into fresh website content, and the content created can be shared as social media posts and in email marketing publications. Looking at the analytics for your content marketing can tell you a lot about your customers: what are they looking for when they land on your site? What kinds of content make them stay on the site longer and keep looking around? What kinds make them lose interest and navigate away?
Unlike a method such as PPC, content marketing is a long-term strategy. Over time, marketers build up a library of content (text, video, podcasts etc.) that will continue to bring users to the site via search engines, according to Marketo, a marketing automation company. This content library also helps promote knowledge of your brand and increases your profile as a resource for information. And, if users are visiting your site for information, ideally they will remember you as an authority when it's time to make a purchase.
Content marketing is a great avenue for people who enjoy writing and/or video and audio production. But as with digital marketing in general, it also calls for strong strategic and analytic skills. A content specialist can earn around $65,000, according to Salary.com.
Email Marketing: Even with the emergence of social media, mobile applications and other channels, email is still one of the most effective marketing techniques, Rogers said. It can be part of a content marketing strategy, providing value to consumers and over time convert an audience into customers. Email marketing pros not only know how to create compelling campaigns, they also understand optimal audience outreach and are skilled at analyzing customer interactions and data, and making strategic decisions based on that data, according to the American Marketing Association.
Email marketing software can offer many different analytical measures, but two that marketers are always striving to improve are the open rate -the percentage of recipients who opened the email - and the click through rate - the number of recipients who opened the email and clicked on a link in the email. According to leading email marketing software company Constant Contact, there are many things marketers can do to make their emails more appealing to users and more likely to be opened. These include:
- Create a Sense of Urgency - Writing email copy that lets your recipients know that time is running out to get a special deal or that there are only a limited number of the offer available, can increase the number of people clicking through to your website.
- Personalize Your Email - Setting your emails and subject lines up to incorporate the recipient's name is a proven way to increase open and click through rates. (A sample subject line: "Katie, a special offer just for you.")
- Let Recipients Set Their Preferences - Allowing users to specify how often they want to hear from you can help keep some of your email subscribers subscribed to your list and clicking on your emails.
Mobile Marketing: This digital marketing type is this focused on reaching your target audience on their smart phone or tablet. Mobile marketing reaches people through text messages, social media, websites, email and mobile applications. Marketers can tailor offers or special content to a geographic location or time, such as when a customer walks into a store or enters an event.
According to a recent TechCrunch article, consumers in the United States now spend five hours a day on their phones. This represents a 20% increase from the fourth quarter of 2015. Users are also spending much more of their time in apps rather than on mobile browsers. In 2017, users are spending much more time with apps than watching television. 15% of that app time is spent with entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu, 19% of it is spent on Facebook's mobile app, 12% on other social and messaging apps, and 11% in gaming apps, according to the TechCrunch article.
AdWeek reports that 45% of all shopping involves a mobile device in some way, whether it's used to do research, compare prices or make a purchase. For Millennials (defined by the Pew Research Center as people born between 1981 and 1997), that number is 57%. A 2016 Nielsen survey revealed that customers use their phones to both "showroom," visit a physical store while comparing prices online on their mobile device, and "webroom", research online and then buying in-store.
Marketers know that you need to take your message to where you customers are, and in 2017 it is very clear: your potential customers are on their phones.
Marketing Analytics: One of the major advantages of digital marketing is that it is highly trackable and measurable. Once, the only trackable marketing pieces were coupons and similar direct mail offers. If a customer used the coupon, you knew the message resonated. Today, analytics allow marketers to track user behavior at a highly detailed level: how many times they click on a link, how much time they spend on a web page, how often they open emails, and much more. But the vast amount of information available about digital marketing performance can feel like drinking from a fire hose, and marketers must be able to truly understand what the data mean and how they should inform strategy.
Not only does this allow marketers to learn what is successful with consumers and adapt their marketing messages moving forward, it also means they can demonstrate their value to the company. Understanding all of this data and using it to make strategic decisions is an important part of a digital marketer's work, and one that sets them apart from their traditional counterparts.
There are many tools available for measuring the success of digital marketing campaigns, and many marketers will use some combination of these tools, depending on their needs and their audience (Fortune magazine reported that many marketers are using over 100 applications in their total marketing process.) One of the most used tools for marketing analytics is Google Analytics, which can be customized in nearly endless ways to measure how your site is performing, which keywords are bringing users to your site, how users are navigating through your website, and much more.
Having good, accurate analytics and the know-how to interpret them can help marketers "fail fast," quickly cutting campaigns that aren't working and building better campaigns around concepts that have a proven track record of success. Over time, you won't just be using analytics to measure your campaigns - the analytics will also inform and improve your campaigns.
In a master's in digital marketing program you'll study a wide range of issues pertinent to your marketing career, including marketing analytics and customer behavior as well as ethical and legal issues in marketing and digital storytelling and branding. The job market is growing for advertisers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 10% increase in the number of advertising, promotions and marketing managers. In 2017, the median annual salary for those positions was $132,230, according to BLS.*
Digital Marketing Skills
Digital marketers support the wider marketing team and the strategic goals of the whole company by rolling out marketing strategies in the online environment, Hobson said. Digital marketers strive to be a voice for the customer and how they want to interact with a brand digitally, Rogers said. "(Marketers) strategically approach the brand's channels to maximize investments, drive traffic and conversions, as well as manage integrated digital content," she said.
The need to be where the customers are at all times means that digital marketers have a significant responsibility to be attuned to changes in technology, social media and software.
Technology changes quickly; the hot social media app of today may be all but abandoned by next year, but many of the foundational principles of marketing remain the same.
Chris Brogan, a leading social media marketer, author and CEO of Owner Media Group, said in an AMA article: "Gone are 'creatives' who just mark up poster board. You need Google Analytics skills, media-making skills and a whole host of other technological underpinnings."
However, some important pieces of the marketing puzzle have not changed since the days when companies primarily advertised in print, radio and TV. All marketers need strong communication skills and a strong basis in marketing principles.
"As marketing leaders collaborate more frequently with contacts within and outside their organization, having strong communication skills is crucial." Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, said in an AMA article. "While the ability to understand and utilize technology is increasingly necessary for marketing leaders, strong interpersonal, or soft skills, become just as crucial."
Since digital marketing is a rapidly changing space and it is imperative for companies to stay up to date on new and emerging strategies, Hobson said. There are many ways that companies do this, some of which are the responsibility of digital marketers and some of which is done by other departments.
"Staying ahead of the competition has never been more important," Rogers said. "The landscape for businesses is changing so rapidly, that is has become a key strategy to include looking to the competition to help inform your own digital strategy."
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/advertising-promotions-and-marketing-managers.htm (viewed online October 24, 2016). Cited projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.