What is digital marketing?

Don’t know your SERPs (search engine results pages) from your PPC (pay per click)? Not sure when you should be favouriting on Instagram or pinning on Pinterest? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

Digital marketing is an umbrella term that refers to the promotion of products and brands via electronic media. It’s how a brand uses its social profiles, websites and apps to promote itself.

So what are the different types of digital media you might use and how can you use them? These tools can be split into often interchangeable sectors, including search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, display ads and email marketing.

Email marketing

We're all familiar with promotional emails that land in our inbox, but it’s not as simple as throwing email addresses and some offers into an email distribution tool (such as Mailchimp) and hoping for the best. The people who do this well segment their audience to make every email relevant to the group that receives it. They’re experts at data collection and they know lots about heat maps, which track the percentage of people who have interacted with different parts of a webpage - and open rates, which show what percentage of the people who received your email have opened it.

Display advertising

Display ads are part of the paid branch of digital marketing. They are image and, often, audio-­led ads that pop up on web pages. They can be effective but need to be used carefully – you don’t want to annoy your customers.

Social media marketing

Social media marketing can take two distinct forms: paid and organic. Paid marketing includes Facebook and Twitter promoted posts and ads. Facebook can be a particularly effective tool as you can be very specific with targetting, choosing who sees your ads or promoted posts on their Facebook feed based on their age, gender, interests and the type of device they use. Most social media platforms have some form of paid promotion like this.

Content marketing

This can be done using paid media such as display ads, social ads, Google ads, earned media (relationships you build with others who help promote your content) and owned media (your website, app and social media channels). The content can take many forms – text, images, gifs, video – and the form it takes will play a huge part in where you place it.

Search engine optimisation

SEO is probably the most misunderstood element of digital marketing. In the past it has always been interchangeable with content marketing (or what was known as link building - a key part of SEO). This is still the case to an extent, but the two are starting to separate.

SEO is optimising your site to rank as highly as possible in search engines. Google, in determining where your site ranks, takes into account 200­ or so factors, including site speed, backlinks (links pointing to your site), social media signals and site usability.


The sheer number of factors Google considers for site ranking goes some way to illustrate the complexity of SEO. However, a well-structured, user-friendly website with high quality, regularly updated content will always be beneficial to search engine rankings. 

This is adapted from an article that appeared in The Guardian Small Business Network.  Read the full article here.

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