According to 2018 research from Salesforce, 87% of people research products online before they buy them, even if they make that purchase in the store. That research can span days in some cases.

Customers are looking for you online and, more specifically, they are looking for quality information on your company and its products. If you don’t pay attention to your digital marketing, you’re losing the majority of your potential customers.

If you’re now asking, “what is digital marketing,” then take a breath. This guide will help introduce you to digital marketing. We’ll also show you three key mistakes to avoid when you get started.

What Is Digital Marketing? How to Get Started and Mistakes of Beginners

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is what it sounds like: using the internet, email, and now social media to promote your business or organization. But that definition still doesn’t quite answer the deeper question, “how does digital marketing work?”

The good news is many of the rules of marketing still apply. You need to focus on the Four Ps, frame your product or service in terms of the benefits to the customer, and create points of differentiation.

The bad news is that you’re now competing with everyone else online. You cannot use one-way broadcast marketing to target people, and customer behavior has changed; in many ways, dramatically.

In other words, your audience is no longer captive. They are searching for the information and content they need. Unless you can provide it to them, you’re already out of the game.

Plus, now that you need to operate across multiple channels (email, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, your site, etc.) creating a unified style, tone, and brand is paramount. It’s the only way to cut through the clutter.

Mistake #1: Underinvesting in Content

In his bestselling book The New Rules of Marketing and PR, David Meerman Scott explains what the shift to web marketing means for companies. He boils his advice down to a single maxim: think like a publisher.

The first of many common digital marketing mistakes is to undervalue content.

When online, content (whether articles, videos, lists, memes, pictures, whatever) is king. You need to think like a publisher and put out quality content that will entertain and inform your audience.

Before the internet, we operated in a supply-side content model. Major companies created content, and then people enjoyed that supply.

But now, there is infinite content on the internet and we’re in a demand-side model. People can pick from anything.

As a result, the only way to get noticed is to give your audience exactly what they are looking for. But creating that kind of content requires investing time and resources.

Don’t underinvest in your content, thinking any copy will work on your website. It won’t.

Be as Generous as You Can

Once you create it, content is an asset. It will draw customers to your site for years to come. But, paradoxically, content is an asset that only has value if you give it away for free.

Be as generous as you can with your content. Put the best information you have online for free, to inform your visitors. Make it easily shareable too so they can tell their friends.

One of the best things you can do for your business is to use your content to build a lead generator. Typically, that’s a knowledge product, like a how-to guide or a newsletter. Let people download it for free but collect their email addresses.

If you create a quality knowledge product that people want, you’ll establish your authority and build a robust list for future email campaigns.

Mistake #2: Keyword Stuffing

Of course, the best content in the world won’t matter if no one can find it.

While direct traffic is great, effective digital marketing requires making your site easy to find from search engines. At some point, you must address search engine optimization (SEO).

In the bad old days of the web, you could land on the first page of results just by stuffing keywords into your site. In fact, people would add white keywords to white backgrounds that the search engine algorithms could see but human visitors couldn’t.

Those days are gone. Search has evolved and jamming keywords into your site will only make you look disreputable and spammy. It may even hurt your rankings.

Resist SEO Snakeoil

The major search engines jealously guard the secrets about how their search algorithms work. Of course, we have a general idea (more on that in a second), but the nuts-and-bolts specifics are trade secrets.

That secrecy has opened the door for all manners of”SEO specialists” to slither out, touting their miraculous ability to land you in the top spot on Google. Each of them claims secret knowledge of how to use digital marketing to boost your ranking.

Resist this flimflam. The sad truth is improving your search rankings is much simpler, and harder, than that.

Search engine rankings are based on two factors: relevance and authority. Relevance is simple: does your site or page relate to the search query from the customer? Provided your content relates to what you’re selling, you should have relevance covered.

Authority is determined through link analysis; more specifically, backlinks. As other sites link to your site, they give you some authority based on how much authority they have. Get links from a whole bunch of authoritative sites, and you move up the rankings.

SEO can get a lot more complicated than that. But the best advice for improving your SEO is to improve your content.

Create articles that are interesting and authoritative, and other sites will want to link to them. You won’t have to ask.

Easy Tweaks for Your Website

Beyond creating great content, there are some other simple things you can do to improve your SEO. Mostly, you can make it easier for the automated programs (called crawlers or spiders) that search engines use to read your site.

For instance, you want a flat architecture for your site. That means you want visitors to be able to reach any page in a few clicks.

The bots like that, and so do human visitors. We assume pages closer to the home page are more important.

You shouldn’t be stuffing keywords anymore, but you do want them in a few pieces of key real estate. Your keywords for a particular page should always be in the headline, section headers, and the title tag of the page.

Also, whenever you upload an image, apply an alt tag to it. This is a text description of what is in the image. The bots cannot parse images, so adding the alt tag shows them the images are relevant.

These are just a few small hints. Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to tips for improving your SEO. But remember, the most important thing you can do for your SEO (and your visitors) is creating quality content.

Mistake #3: Hard Selling on Social

After your website, social media is the most important way to reach your customers online. However, too many companies treat it as another way to send out marketing blasts. Hard selling on social media will only drive your follower count down.

It’s fine to send out the occasional marketing message on social media. But you need to mix in such messages judiciously with other value-added content. In other words, you need to engage in the conversation.

You’ll want to pick the channels where most of your customers are, but we’ll use Twitter as an example. You want to tweet at least once a day, preferably more. If all those tweets were just the same ad over and over, people would stop paying attention.

Instead, follow other accounts in your industry. See what they and their followers are talking about and engage. This is about establishing yourself as an authority and voice in your field first.

One of the best ways to engage on social media is through curated content. Instead of only creating your own content, you can retweet or repost content from other sources that you think your audience would find interesting.

Just remember to always give credit to the original source, and to add your own valuable commentary. Curating content saves you trouble and shows you are up-to-date with what is going on in your industry.

Understanding Virality

One of the most powerful digital marketing benefits is the chance to go viral. If you expect every, or any, of your tweets or posts to go viral, you are probably in for a rude surprise. But understanding what drives virality can at least improve your chances.

In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger looks at what drives people to share viral phenomena. He came up with the STEPPS principle:

  • Social currency: people want to share things that make them look good
  • Triggers: as the environment triggers people to think about something, they will discuss it more
  • Emotion: people share content that creates feelings
  • Public: ideas/actions that are observable advertise themselves
  • Practical value: people share tips that will save time, money, or effort
  • Stories: embed your product or idea in a narrative

For a digital marketing novice, you can distill that advice into a single thought: tell stories that will spark emotions or share some practical tips. If you can incorporate the other principles, great. But at least telling good stories will give you a shot at going viral.

Think About What Your Customers Want

To return to our original question, “what is digital marketing,” the best advice seems simple. But you should think deeply about your customers and what they want to see. If you understand their needs and their search patterns, the rest is easy.

Build content that matches those needs and is easy to find so they come to you. It’s easier said than done, but it’s at least straightforward. You have a plan; now you just need to execute it.

We’re here to help with that. For advice on how to maximize each piece of this plan, from more on SEO to blogging tips, browse some of our other posts.


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