Digital Marketing Basics

Many business and startup owners I talked with, they know in this digital age, they want to get business online. They think online marketing (or digital marketing) will help their business, but not sure where to start.

Here I’m going to give an overview of the basics, hopefully achieving these goals:

  • allow you to understand if digital marketing will really help your business
  • allow you to decide if you want to study further and actually do some of these yourself
  • if you want to hire help to do digital marketing, allow you to understand what you are looking for

If you are business/startup owner and want to increase traffic, revenue, and profit for your business, please read on!

Strategy vs. Tactic

A mistake I see business owners getting into digital marketing make, is they want to know all their options, learn the ‘how-to’, and they want to do them all. I want to emphasize here, before teaching any ‘how-tos’, planning before doing!

It’s important to first have a marketing strategy for your business, before you carry out any marketing tactic. That means, you understand first why digital marketing works, how each piece fits together, and plan out step-by-step what you should do to start getting results.

What Digital Marketing is NOT

First I have to talk about what most people misunderstood about digital marketing, because if you misunderstood it, you won’t be able to use it correctly to drive business results (revenue and profit). You’ll be chasing meaningless ‘results’, which will be counter-productive to your ultimate goal.

Digital marketing is NOT:

  • simply getting to first page, or result #1 of google of your word choice (sometime that’ll work, a lot of times it won’t)
  • get rich quick or quick fix to get business
  • get as many ‘likes’ as possible
  • something only ‘experts’ can do and work on

What Digital Marketing IS

  • ranking for many different keywords and phrases, adding value to google and searchers by providing good answers and valuable information to things that people are looking for
  • a long term, iterative, repeated process to slowly but surely increase traffic, revenue and profit for your business
  • gaining attention, trust and loyalty from your audience, potential customers, and past customers, which drives new business, repeated business, and referral business
  • an expert can really help in getting you started in the right direction, but most work can be done by normal, non-technical people, without years of marketing experience

Why Digital Marketing works

Digital marketing works for many business, and will likely for for you, because businesses are using it to increase value provided to the world. People pay attention, trust, and give business to those who provide high value to them.

When looking at each piece of the digital marketing pieces below, focus on thinking about how your business can utilize these tools to provide more values to your audience, potential customers and past customers.

Approach Digital Marketing as ‘Investment’

One more thing to understand before getting started, is to approach all digital marketing effort as an ‘investment’. All of them definitely takes time, and some will take money as well.

One of the main advantage about digital marketing is the results can be clearly tracked. If I spent $100 on google ads, I can see how many clicks I got, how many of them converted to customers, and with some effort, even precisely how much those people spent and how much revenue increased.

It’s important to understand this because you are striving for a positive ‘ROI’ on all the marketing effort you try. Meaning if you spend $100 on ads, you should get maybe $200-300 in revenue back. Also don’t forget to count time cost, either in terms of salary to employees, or your own time, that could be spent on working on other productive things.

How to approach getting started

First thing about getting started with digital marketing is, don’t do them all at once! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the different tools and methods you can use, and overspend resources without knowing what worked and what didn’t.

Most likely some of them will work for you, some of them will not. But you should try them one at a time, try to get the most out of it, and either set up a system to continue, or discard it if no results, before moving on.

The wrong way:

excited -> try A,B,C,D,E -> spent a lot of money and resources ->

didn’t really get much results, got overwhelmed ->

decided ‘digital marketing’ as a whole does not work, give up on it

The right way:

excited -> try A -> spend a little money and time -> no results ->

try B -> spend a little money and time -> some results -> improve B -> invest little more -> more results -> setup a system to continue B ->

try C ….

Digital Marketing Toolbox

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Probably the most well known, and most misunderstood tool in the toolbox. Like I previously mentioned, it is NOT simply ranking page 1, #1 for your chosen keyword. This is what I call ‘blind keyword chase‘.

There are two problems with the approach above:

  • Competition: One of my clients’ main services is commercial loan brokerage. If he tries to rank for ‘commercial loan’, the top results are HSBC, Bank of China, Citibank, etc. These are companies with billions of dollars, millions in marketing budget, and it’ll be complete waste of effort to try to rank for that keyword.
  • Volume: Many of my web design clients provide a list of keywords to me that they want to go after. After basic research, usually around 70-80% of keywords have practically NO traffic. You can rank #1 in google for ‘xywfionjl’, but if nobody is searching for it, it’s worthless, and you’d have wasted time optimizing for that keyword

So how to do it correctly:

  1. keyword research: looking at how many people are searching for what words, and looking at whether the competition is beatable
  2. form keyword list for various pages: go after medium traffic, low competition keywords
  3. analytics: install different analytic tools to track results, measure ROI
  4. on-page optimization: using various tags within the code, and different tactics, to signal to google that your page is relevant and valuable for your targeted keywords

SEM (Search Engine Marketing, paid ads)

The brother of SEO, this is paying google to rank on top. For the most part, the more you pay, the higher you rank, and it’s more or less guaranteed unless your relevancy is low (like accounting trying to rank for ‘web design’)

The steps should still be somewhat like doing SEO, except you’ll pay, and get higher rankings, more traffic. But it’s expensive traffic.

I usually say this is worth trying, but expect it to be hard to get a positive ROI (return on investment)

Content Marketing

This is writing up useful content, like this post you are reading, to provide value to the readers and gain attention.

This is tightly related to SEO as well since you’ll want people to read your content. So doing basic keyword research, finding what topics are trending, and write things that will provide good value to searchers.

Nevertheless, any business should have a blog, and regularly write about stuff that’ll be interest and value to their audience and customers.

Social Media

As mentioned before, this is not about opening a facebook page and getting as many likes as you can.

It’s actually tightly related to content marketing, where you provide valuable content to your audience and customers. Using social media can help you extend your reach and attention, by sharing your content to people who ‘liked’ you, and allowing them to easily share that content with others.

As you can imagine, the more valuable the content, the more shares it’ll get, so it’s important to develop a strategy of how to provide valuable content in an on-going basis.

Email Marketing and automation

This is more for engaging with current customers and audience who already knows you.

Again more-or-less tying into content marketing, you want to email them highly valuable things that they want to open, read, and share.

The advantage about email is you can even setup a system where you can send emails to people on an interval basis, like 3 days after signup, 10 days after, and so on.

Conversion optimization

This is also for engaging better with people who already came to you.

After a person visit your website, or read your email, he’ll decide whether this is the thing he’s looking for, whether this is likely to provide value to him or not.

And it’s critical that you communicate to him clearly why you will provide value to him, or he’ll leave to look in other places.

This include your website text, messages, images, call-to-actions, forms, etc. Using split tests and controlled variation, testing different parts and trying to increase engagement, and ultimately conversions and revenue/profit.

Get started NOW

Thank you for reading this far, and hopefully this post gave you a good initial understanding of what digital marketing is.

Of course I didn’t tell you exactly how to do each of these, because that’ll definitely be too overwhelming for one post.

Moving on from here, below are some recommendations of how to get started NOW:

  • Start learning more in-depth how to do one of the things above. Like I mentioned, don’t try them all at once! I’d recommend getting started with either basic SEO, or content marketing, and move on from there. Feel free to reach out to me and I can give some free, basic advise on where to look. I will try to make more posts on in-depth tutorials in the future if enough people are asking for them.
  • Hire a digital marketing consultant (myself is available) to take a look at your particular business, formulate a strategy and get you started in the right direction

Like I said, digital marketing is really not exclusive, expert-only thing, and I’m confident it can help your business grow.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email at I’m also looking for new ideas to blog on, so any questions will really help me get some ideas!

2 thoughts on “Digital Marketing Basics

  1. Hey Stephen,

    Great overview here. I love how you pointed out the importance of iteration. Nothing in digital marketing can be learned without testing and improvement. I’m sure you’ll be helping many confused business owners take a step in the right direction with the information you’ve provided.
    p.s. Do you have share buttons for social media?

    I copied and pasted this link to add it to twitter.

    Have a good one.

    • Hey Ayodeji, Thanks for your kind words and share!

      This is actually more of a personal blog, so I wasn’t expecting too much traffic ^_^

      And unfortunately I’ll be sharing much more of this kind of stuff on my Chinese blog. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll post some tibids of things here and there … will add some social sharing buttons soon too!

      Thanks again!

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