As a business owner, you have so many options for increasing your online presence that creating a digital business strategy might seem intimidating. Should you make videos? Send email blasts? Focus solely on search engine optimization?
If you struggle with a clear digital marketing strategy, these suggestions from experts will help you focus on the essentials.
What is a digital strategy?
A digital strategy is a plan for how you market your business online. Your approach will depend on your business, your budget, and your goals.
John Bedford, founder and editor of Viva Flavor, an online food and drink business, says that, in general, "a digital marketing strategy is designed to leverage the online world to draw attention to your products or services, which may or may not be based online themselves."
Digital marketing has become essential for most small businesses. But deciding how to effectively market your business online can be overwhelming. Without a clear strategy and specific guidelines, you may spend a lot of time and money with little to show for it.
A digital marketing plan helps you focus your energy and maximize your marketing budget. It outlines your marketing goals and identifies the channels you'll use to meet those goals. But to get the full benefit of your strategy, you'll also need a detailed digital marketing plan.
What is a digital marketing plan?
A digital marketing plan is a step-by-step guide for marketing your business on the internet. It is customized to your business and includes your goals, the specific methods you'll use to achieve them, when and how you'll use them, and the ways you'll measure your progress.
Benefits of a digital marketing plan include a better understanding of your target audience, more efficient use of marketing time and money and better coordination of efforts across departments and people in your organization. In addition, you may be more likely to follow through on marketing tasks when you've got a specific guide for when to do what.
Types of digital marketing
There are several types of digital marketing. If you're a small business with limited resources, experts recommend focusing on just a few strategies to avoid getting overwhelmed and burned out. Consider these choices:
- Search engine optimization. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the science of helping your website rank prominently when someone conducts a search on Google or another search engine.
- Advertising. Advertising can consist of internet advertising, social media advertising, or programmatic advertising in which you participate in automated bidding for digital ad space.
- Paid search. This involves paying to have your website featured prominently in search results on Google or Bing.
- Social media marketing. Marketing on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
- Email marketing. Sending targeted emails directly to customers or subscribers.
- Content marketing. Marketing via the content you post on your website or elsewhere online, including videos, webinars, podcasts, blogs, articles, and white papers.
- Reputation marketing. Enhancing your brand's reputation by soliciting reviews and testimonials.
- Mobile marketing. Marketing that's designed to reach potential customers on their mobile devices. This includes optimizing your website and content so it can easily be viewed on mobile devices and mobile-specific marketing tactics like SMS marketing.
The strategies you choose and how you execute them will depend on the type of business you have, your customers, and your budget.
How to create a digital marketing plan
Before making a digital marketing plan, take a deep dive into your business's strengths and weaknesses, assess the competition and identify your business goals for the future. A marketing plan should always tie into your overarching goals and your place in the market.
Your digital marketing plan should include:
- Business goals. Describe the goals you want to achieve through your digital marketing.
- Your audience. Develop buyer personas to represent your target customers and include information about where these customers spend time on the internet and how they find and choose goods or services like yours.
- Your timeline. Decide when you'll launch your marketing initiatives and how long you'll continue them.
- Your budget. Think in terms of both money and staff time. Consider the skill set of yourself and your staff, what you can reasonably do in-house, and where you'll need to hire help. Factor in freelancer and agency fees and subscription services. A digital marketing plan can only be successful if you have the resources to carry it out.
- The specific types of marketing channels you'll use and your goal for each. Goals should always be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely—aka "SMART." For example, "getting more customers" isn't a SMART goal, but "getting 30 new positive reviews on Yelp over the next three months by emailing each of my regular customers and offering a coupon in exchange for a review" is.
- Measurement. The ways you'll measure your progress and when you'll do that.
A digital marketing plan template can help you create your plan. You can find a template for free online, often in the form of a spreadsheet or Gantt chart that allows you to visually track your marketing projects over time. There are also digital marketing agencies that can assist you with developing and carrying out your plan.
Review and repeat
A digital marketing plan isn't meant to be a static document. Based on your results, your business goals, and the changing competitive and digital landscape, you'll want to revisit your plan regularly and update it as needed.
Research your competitors
Before throwing a lot of money at a digital marking plan in order to increase your online presence, research how your competitors interact with your target audience.
"Identify gaps and areas where you could do better," suggests Elena Parial, founder and senior consultant at Why Marketing. “Whittle down what digital channels appear to draw the most engagement and the type of content shared."
Alex Boyd, founder and CEO of RevenueZen, a startup growth agency, shares his favorite trick for digital strategy. “Pretend you're a customer searching on Google for what it is you do," he says. “Look at the top two to four results that come up. Every week, post an article on your website that's at least twice as good as whatever is on the first page of Google for that search query."
Maximize your digital marketing time and dollars
While larger businesses might have the hours and financial flexibility to explore many digital strategy avenues at a time to discover what works best, Bedford suggests small businesses conserve their resources and stay focused on fewer marketing strategies.
"Focusing this way will help you develop expertise and achieve faster, positive feedback from the results," Bedford says. "Doing everything at once will lead to much slower progress overall than if you'd tackled one or two elements, leaving you burned out and demotivated."
Flexibility and frequent review of your digital marketing strategy will also save you time and money long term. Parial says that while you may conduct extensive research and planning, you will still need to tweak your digital strategy and continually revise your online presence.
"No one gets it right straight out of the gate because markets evolve and behaviors change over time," she says. "There's no blueprint."
A digital strategy is vital, and because of its importance in your business, can feel overwhelming. Stay focused on one or two digital marketing efforts and you will see a favorable return on your time and financial investments.