An Introduction to Online Marketing
The internet (and smartphones!) has drastically changed the way we live our lives. From watching movies to reading news, from booking flight tickets to buying grocery, from sending emails to making video calls, everything can just be done by flicking a few fingers on your phone screen. What started out as a convenience has now turned into an addiction, some would say.
Today, 54% of the world’s 7.6 billion population uses the internet. And this number is only going increase, as will the share of daily hours that an average user spends browsing online.
Quite understandably, this transition has significantly impacted the way marketers and businesses reach out and connect to their target audience. Marketing your business effectively online has become crucial for driving growth and achieving success, no matter how big or small you are.
If you are a business owner, a budding professional marketer or simply an aficionado, this introduction to online marketing guide should help you understand what online marketing is and what all it involves. So keep reading!
What is Online Marketing?
You might get a lot of technical jargons thrown at you about what online marketing is. But I will keep it simple by using what Neil Patel says online marketing is,
“Online marketing is any effort to spread the word about your company that uses the Internet to reach people.”
This basically means that any step you take to connect with people and educate them about your brand using an Internet medium/digital channel constitutes online marketing. These channels can include search engines, social media, email marketing, and mobile apps.
Keep in mind that online marketing is not exactly the same as digital marketing, but rather a subset of it. The umbrella of digital marketing also includes offline marketing such as radio marketing, television marketing and phone marketing, which might not necessarily use Internet-based channels but do employ other digital media.
Advantages of Online Marketing
The purpose of marketing has always been connecting with the right people at the right time and driving them towards your product. In this regard, online marketing offers several advantages over traditional marketing,
– The impact of online marketing is measurable. You get to know how many people saw your advertisement and how many of those actually purchased the service/product you advertised.
– Online marketing gives you much greater control over expenditure and is thus cost-effective. You can identify how many people you can target with a specific budget as well as adjust your advertisement spending at any point depending on whether you’re getting the desired output or not.
– Online marketing is faster and more efficient at reaching a large audience. You can target thousands of people from your computer screen as well as control how often you want them to see your ad and at what time of the day.
– You can provide maximum information about your company and its services through online marketing. It also lets you promote your brand in a phased manner and try and build a connection with your audience rather than just push your product/service to them. This helps in building a loyal customer base for your business.
Components of Online Marketing
OK, you get it! Online marketing offers several advantages. But how exactly do you market yourself online, you ask. What all does it involve?
To get a general lay of the land, take a look at this succinct infographic by Unbounce,
But if you find this chart a bit too overwhelming, don’t worry. I will be elaborating more on the 7 major categories of online marketing – search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), content marketing, social media marketing (SMM), pay-per-click advertising (PPC), affiliate marketing, and e-mail marketing.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In simple words, search engine optimization involves optimizing your online content in such a way that it is shown as one of the top results on search engines. Ranking high, ideally on the first page, is imperative for any business since it determines your visibility to the online audience and, in turn, builds trust regarding your brand.
To understand this, let us delve into the mind of the average internet user (that is, the majority of the world’s internet population). When the user is looking to avail service or product, the first thing he/she does is to search for it on Google (or any other search engine). They browse through the first page of the search results and select the top 3-4 results that match their criteria.
Some may go to the second page if they’re not satisfied with what they’ve been shown. But the likelihood of the user proceeding beyond the second page keeps falling with each subsequent page.
So if you’re not ranking highly on the search engine, you’re going to be lost in the millions of search results that no one cares about. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re looking to hide a dead body, you should hide it on the second page of Google.’
There are 2 major categories within SEO – On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.
On-Page SEO involves optimizing the content and structure of your web page in such a way that it meets Google’s ranking criteria. The content of your page needs to be fresh and descriptive with the appropriate use of targeted keywords. Bear in mind, it is not just a matter of quantity, the quality is of utmost importance too.
The HTML structure of your website needs to spot on with appropriate title tags, meta descriptions, schema and sub-heads. Page load speed and mobile friendliness also have a huge impact on how highly you rank. Cross-linking the pages within your website helps too, as it increases the relevance of your entire website’s content.
Off-Page SEO mainly concerns increasing the trust factor of your website so that Google knows that your website is not spammy and will add value to the user, and will thus rank it higher in the search results. Link building – getting a link back to your web page from other websites – is one major aspect of off-page SEO as it increases your domain and page authority.
Again, quality is as important as quantity, since Google will trust your website more if you have a good variety of quality backlinks from reputed websites. Social media posts about your products/services also contribute to off-page SEO activities as they drive traffic to your website, thereby increasing its relevance in the eyes of Google.
It would be fair to say that good search engine optimization (SEO) forms the backbone of any online marketing effort.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Making your website rank organically through the right SEO strategies can take months. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) offers an alternative to that by letting you buy your way to the top of the search results. As Neil Patel puts it,
“Search engine marketing is the paid cousin of SEO”
These paid ads are shown at the very top of the first page and it is highly likely that any user searching for the keyword that you have posted an advertisement for will click on the ad.
But each click will cost you money depending on how competitive the keyword is, i.e. how often users search for that particular keyword. For example, running a paid ad on ‘iPhone X cases’ is going to cost you more per click than running an ad on ‘iPhone 6 cases’.
Google Adwords is by far the most popular paid search platform that exists today, followed by Bing Ads and Yahoo Ads. That is understandable given that Google is the most popular search engine, as highlighted in the infographic below,
Running your ads on Google Adwords or any other platform is like participating in an auction – you place bids on the keywords you want to target and try to outbid other companies targeting those keywords.
Adopting the right bidding strategy is crucial since paid search engine ads can end up costing a lot of money with little ROI if not implemented in the correct manner. Another important thing to note here is that you should only use SEM if you have a paid product or service to advertise. Pushing out content-only ads to build an audience will hardly ever give you the return on investment.
Content is King. This is a phrase that is often used when people discuss online marketing, and rightly so! Creating and promoting a piece of good quality content has the power to etch you and your business in the minds of the people for a long time.
And promoting such content on a regular basis can ensure that you maintain your place there forever. And this is what content marketing is all about.
Simply put, content marketing is generating high-quality and engaging content for your audience that adds to value to them on a consistent basis – it helps you build that all-important trustworthy relationship with people and eventually turn them into a loyal customer base.
People will always associate with a brand more if they feel that it cares for them and they can relate to the brand on a personal level. The right content can form that connection and make your brand a part of their daily lives.
It can be said that content marketing is a part of SEO – you can use it to drive a large volume of relevant organic traffic to your webpage. Apart from being one of the top two ranking factors that Google uses to rank your website, a good piece of content on pertinent topics can help new users discover your page and convert them into regular visitors. Of course, the results won’t be quick but the relationship you will build with your users will give huge returns over the longer term.
Blog content creation is perhaps the most important tool in content marketing. People seek information regarding most of their queries on the internet and a good piece of content on those queries will definitely make your page stand out.
Not only can you optimize your individual blogs to rank high on Google but you can also promote them through social media channels as a means to attract new visitors. Content syndication – publishing your content on third-party websites – lets you leverage from their traffic and gain new users.
But blogs might not align with every business model since their products or services might call for other types of content. Video content is another effective way of engaging with the general public and developing credibility.
Lifestyle images can be used by businesses that rely on showcasing their products or services in real-life settings, such as interior lighting manufacturer. Infographics, case studies, forum posts, comics and visualisations, and podcasts are some other forms of content marketing materials.
Social Media Marketing
Social media has been the biggest thing on the internet since the internet itself. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube… the list goes on (it would take me an entire paragraph to name all the major social media sites).
The industry has boomed at a rapid pace and so has its potential as a medium to promote your business to millions of people.
Let’s talk numbers. As of the second quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.23 billion monthly active users. That means approximately a quarter of this planet’s population is on Facebook. I’m not even going to touch the usership of other social media platforms.
And let’s not forget, people are not using the social media platforms once in a month (as the statistics might mislead you to believe) but accessing their social media accounts multiple times in a day!
With this sheer wealth in numbers, it would be an incredible opportunity missed if you are not using social media to market your product or service online. Or let me put it this way – any online marketing effort without an apt social media marketing strategy will be a waste.
Pushing out content that strikes a chord with the public will lead to high levels of user engagement and drive traffic to your website. A good social media strategy is all about going viral. The content you produce should be engaging enough that users want to share with their friends and make you trend.
But it is not just about the content you are creating. The context of that content is equally, if not more, important. Every social media channel has a different context to it and you have to tailor your content accordingly. What works on Facebook might not work on Twitter and vice versa. In the words of social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuk, “Content is King, but context is God”. This infographic by CoSchedule perfectly highlights that,
Facebook, for example, gives you a lot of freedom in the type of content you can post. Text, images, videos – all work. But it is not a platform for promoting long-form content. Your content needs to be crisp and catchy. Short videos garner a lot of engagement, curated content works well, and links to long-form content such as blogs can also be a source of driving traffic to your website.
Instagram is mostly about pictures – they could be of your products, behind-the-scenes action, user-generated content or even inspiring quotes. The aesthetic quality of Instagram posts is of utmost importance. As Facebook puts it,
‘Images will ideally be beautiful, thoughtfully composed and artfully presented.’
Instagram Stories and IGTV allow you to experiment a bit more with your content, letting you promote videos, multiple images or GIFs. This can be beneficial for sharing how-to tutorials, news and updates, or giveaways. Instagram has the highest user engagement out of all the social media channels and can be a vital cog in your online marketing efforts.
Pinterest is another great visual platform, which can be especially useful for vertical images and infographics. Twitter is suitable for sharing news, blogs, curated content and GIFs. LinkedIn is more of a professional platform and content such as company news, company articles, and career news works best on it.
This was just the tip of the humongous iceberg that is social media marketing. But it should give you a fair idea about how important getting your social media strategy right can be for your online success.
Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)
As the name suggests, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a form of internet marketing wherein you pay each time a user clicks on your ad. It is a means of buying your way to your target audience rather than reaching them organically.
You might say that PPC sounds an awful lot like search engine marketing. And you are correct. In fact, search engine marketing is actually a subset of PPC, and the most popular one. Other forms of PPC include Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Twitter ads, LinkedIn ads, Youtube ads, and the list goes on.
Google Adwords is hands down the most widely used form of PPC, so much so that a fair share of people use the terms interchangeably. And this is because, as mentioned earlier in the post, Google is the most popular search engine on the planet with an unparalleled user base strength.
If your product or service can be the top result on the Google search network, you have hit the jackpot! Of course, a lot of research needs to go into the keywords to target and the appropriate bid to place but if you can work this out, the returns are immense.
Google search network is not the only place where you can place ads through Adwords. There are also Display Network ads that allow you to post image-based ads on Google partner sites and leverage from millions of users visiting those websites.
Facebook ads are the second most popular form of PPC. The ads you push out are shown just like regular status updates on the Facebook news feed of the user. The ads can also be placed on the right-hand column of the news feed, sent directly to the user’s Facebook inbox or even pushed to the user’s Instagram feed.
The level of targeting that you can do on Facebook is one of the platform’s biggest strength. You can filter your target audience on the basis of demographics, location, interests, and online behaviour, among other options. You can literally target a 35-year-old man sitting in London who is interested in buying an accessory for his car.
Advertisements on other social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc. might not offer the same level of detailed targeting but are very useful PPC advertising options, nevertheless.
The one thing you should keep in mind is that ads on social media channels are majorly used for brand promotion and retargeting your website visitors. They won’t get you the same level of conversions as Google ads since people on Google who come across your ad are most likely looking for the service or product you advertise.
Affiliate marketing is the process of advertising another company’s products on your page and earning a commission for every sale made. It is based on a revenue-sharing model. Amazon is perhaps the biggest example of the affiliate marketing model out there.
If you’re a product owner, you get to target the traffic on another party’s web page. The only downside is that you have the pay a commission to this other party for every sale made through their website.
On the other hand, if you run a blog or content-only website with high traffic volume, you could tie up with merchants offering affiliate marketing programs and create an extra source of income for yourself.
This brings us to the final tool in the online marketing locker – email marketing. It has been around much longer than the other modes of internet marketing and still remains one of the most effective methods of converting a lead into a customer. This is highlighted by the fact that email marketing has the highest conversion rate of 66% when compared to social media, direct mail and other modes.
The definition is in the name. Email marketing is simply the process of promoting your products and services through emails directly sent to your current or potential customers’ inbox. Apart from high conversion rates, email marketing also helps you maintain long-term contact with users since people stick to their email addresses for a long time.
Given its direct nature, a lot of care and thought needs to go in formulating the right email marketing campaign. First and foremost, your emails need to be relevant to the topic you’re looking to address and trustworthy. If people are not reading your emails and deleting them on a regular basis, your emails will start ending up in their junk/spam folder.
Personalization goes a long way in ensuring the success of your email campaign. I’m going to say it again – people love it when you show that you care about them. Addressing your audience by name, mentioning their usage history (if they’re already your customers) or referencing their interests can lead to much higher open and conversion rates.
A prime example of this is Uber. They send regular emails highlighting the number of trips you have taken, the distance you have covered and the amount you have spent. And along with all this information, they include offers and deals which you just won’t miss.
MailChimp is the most popular email marketing tool. It has got a great reputation and deliverability, which makes sure your campaign emails land right into your target’s inbox. MailChimp also has readily available templates and designs for different kinds of email campaigns. The dashboard lets you manage and track your campaigns, and also gives recommendations based on that.
I hope this introduction to online marketing guide has managed to convince you how useful and how important online marketing can be. In addition to giving you great control over your marketing campaigns, it is incredibly easy to access. You can literally get started sitting on your living room couch with coffee in one hand and laptop in the other!