digital marketing automationWhen Henry Ford was selling automobiles in the early 20th century, all he had to do was assemble the cars and get them into show rooms as quickly as possible. By the time the cars were in the show room, there were several customers in line waiting to buy them.

Wouldn’t it be great if business were like that today?

Unfortunately, it’s not. Today, there’s much more competition, so we have to 1) attract prospects, 2) drop them in to the top of a sales funnel, then 3) nurture them so we can convert them into customers.

If we don’t use that approach with our sales funnels, then our competitors will – and our business will suffer as a result.

How to Use Digital Marketing to Add Prospects to Your Sales Funnel

One of the best ways to add people into your sales funnel is to use digital marketing to drive them to your website.

The tools in the digital marketing toolbox include websites; search engine marketing (SEM) – which is an umbrella term that includes search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search – as well as online display advertising; social media marketing; mobile marketing; and email marketing.

While this may seem like a lot of channels, it’s also what makes digital marketing so powerful. With digital marketing, you have multiple touch points where you can engage prospects and deepen your relationship with them across the board.

There’s another reason to love digital marketing – it gives you the ability to see how audiences interact with your brand and react to your marketing. Within hours of launching a campaign, you can gauge whether it’s working by analyzing the metrics you see with your analytics tools.

The bottom line is that digital marketing is one of the biggest things to happen to marketing in the past 100 years, which is why we’re devoting several blog posts to the topic.

In this post, we’ll cover the essentials of digital marketing so that you can have a rock-solid foundation upon which to build your next campaign. In future posts, we’ll take a deeper dive into some of the specifics behind each tactic.

Sound like a plan? Great, let’s get started!

1. Responsive Websites

Image from Google
The same site displayed without responsive design, left; and with responsive design, right. Image from Google’s page on responsive design (click the image to go there).

By now, you’ve had a website for quite some time, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a post about digital marketing, right? But we want to make sure your website is optimized for mobile Why? Because 15% to 40% (or more) of your website visits are going to be via mobile device.

You’ve got choices: You can do a dedicated mobile site, or a responsive site. Most experts believe it’s best to have a responsive website which uses media queries to determine the screen size of the device accessing their content, and automatically adjust to fit the screen.

If you haven’t already updated your website so that it’s mobile-friendly, make sure you ask your web design team to get started on that right away. After all, studies show that businesses that have well-executed mobile websites are more likely to attract prospects than businesses that don’t.

2. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

As you know, a search engine is a web-based tool that scours the World Wide Web to help users find the information they’re looking for. Search engine marketing encompasses any activity that attempts to increase your ranking on these search engines.

SEM includes two activities: search engine optimization (SEO) which involves earning visibility within search engine results, and paid search which involves paying to be visible within search engine results.

Both activities have the same objective – to increase visibility by occupying the top spot within search results – however the methods used to attain this goal greatly differ.


To launch an effective SEO campaign, start by conducting keyword research that identifies which keywords your prospects are using on the web. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to use those keywords across various sections of your website, particularly your blog. In addition, you’ll want to organize the structure of your website so that it is search engine friendly. (For more indepth guides on SEO, check out our resources on this page of the Act-On website.)

Google, of course, is the largest search engine in the world. That said, 20% of searches in the United States are conducted on Bing, and 13% are conducted on Yahoo, so don’t ignore these other two viable search engines. Depending on your target audience, either could be important to you.

Paid Search

If you want to launch a paid search campaign, you’ll usually use the same set of keywords as you did on your organic search campaign. The majority of paid search campaigns are run on commercial search engine platforms, with the top three being Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Paid search operates on a pay-per-click model, where the advertiser pays only when someone clicks on their ad. Search engine algorithms determine where your ads will be displayed based on what you’re paying for the ad (your bid) as well as the ad’s quality score (which is based on a number of factors including how many people clicked on the ad, and the relevancy of the landing page to the keyword).

As is the case with all digital advertising, paid search campaigns can be optimized in real time based on how audiences interact with your ads. What’s more, you can use search engine data to uncover a wealth of information about your audience, such as their location, gender, and what time of day they’re likely to search for your product or service category.

Isn’t that great? Not only can you reach customers as they’re searching for you, but you can also gather key insights about your customers to scale and optimize campaigns!

3. Online Display Advertising

display advertisingOnline display advertising is, in many ways, a throwback to traditional advertising. In the old days, you would run an ad in a magazine or newspaper to provide information about your product or service. Today, you can use display advertising to accomplish the same thing. However, unlike traditional advertising, digital advertising comes in several different forms such as banner ads, video ads, interactive ads, and rich media ads.

With display advertising, marketers have the benefit of targeting audiences based on website content, geography, and device types. Furthermore, developments in the display ad buying process now allow marketers to pre-define their target audiences based on demographics and psychographics (e.g., tastes, attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria) As an added bonus, you can target your prospects as they move from device to device.

To launch an online display campaign, you’ll begin by determining your goals and objectives. Is the goal of the campaign to increase awareness about a new product or service? Or are you interested in getting people who have visited your website in the past to come back again? Answering questions like these questions will help you identify clear goals and develop a sound approach.

Next, you’ll choose key performance indicators (KPIs), which will help you determine whether the campaign is a success. Typical KPIs for display ad campaigns include impressions served, click-through-rates (CTRs), cost-per-click (CPC), and conversion rates. (Note: If these terms sound a little unfamiliar to you, you’ll want to read this post on the Act-On blog which includes a glossary of many of the terms we’re talking about here.)

Once you’ve established your KPIs, you’re ready to move on to the next step, which is to define your target audience. You’ll start with all the basics – age, gender, income level, etc. But don’t hesitate to go much deeper and get into behaviors and psychographics. For example, are members of your target audience sports fanatics? Do they drink wine? Are they responsible for a global enterprise, or a small local company? Do they sell to government? What’s risky or trendy in their industry right now? You can use all that information (and more) to fine-tune the targeting of your online display campaign.

Once you’ve completed the targeting exercise, you’ll want to buy ads that will be seen by your prospects and customers. Display campaigns are typically priced on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis, which denotes the amount you’ll pay for 1,000 ad impressions.

Once these steps are complete, you’re ready to launch the campaign. Just like paid search, display advertising allows you to measure campaign performance and optimize its performance in real time. Often, the data collected through display advertising is used to create remarketing campaigns and lookalike audiences.

We’ll be talking more about digital advertising in an upcoming blog post, so if you’re interested in delving deeper into this topic, be sure to read the next blog in this series.

4. Video

video advertisingThe most common form of video advertising can be found on platforms such as YouTube and Dailymotion. A video ad typically plays before, during or after the content an audience intends to watch. You can make the video ads clickable so that they drive more traffic to your website.

In addition to paying to run ads on Dailymotion, YouTube, and similar venues, marketers can also create and distribute their own videos as part of their content marketing strategy. In fact, one study found that 80% of site visitors will watch a video, while only 20% will read a full blog post.

For step-by-step instructions on creating your own video content, check out this guide on the Act-On blog about how to get started in video marketing.

5. Social Media

If you’re like most people, you probably have profiles on multiple social networking platforms and have engaged with your favorite (and at times, not-so-favorite) brands on those platforms.

Over the past couple of years, social networking platforms have also evolved into robust advertising platforms. This means you have the ability to run extremely targeted campaigns on these platforms, and ensure that no advertising dollar is wasted.

The most popular websites for both earned and paid marketing are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Each one of these tools has its strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to review your objectives before launching a campaign on any of these platforms.

To find out more about marketing on these platforms, check out Act-On’s social media marketing toolkit here.

6. Mobile Marketing

mobile marketingMobile marketing, a subset of digital marketing, encompasses any marketing activity that targets users on mobile devices such as a tablets or smartphones.

Many marketers feel that developing a mobile app is absolutely essential to reaching and engaging with their customers via mobile. However, there are easier and far more effective channels to reach your target audience on their mobile devices.

These channels could include:

  • A mobile website
  • Mobile search
  • Mobile display ads
  • In-app display advertising

Implemented together, these make the perfect starting point for any mobile marketing campaign. Just as is the case with desktop paid search and display campaigns, mobile campaigns can be tracked and optimized in real-time.

Another burgeoning form of mobile marketing is proximity marketing. As the name suggests, proximity marketing involves wirelessly delivering marketing messages to a mobile device within a specified space. Apple’s iBeacon, Samsung’s Proximity and Hotspot Revenue’s TalkingWiFi are good examples of proximity marketing platforms.

When running a mobile marketing campaign, you’ll have the choice of different technologies to reach consumers. These include SMS, MMS, Bluetooth, mobile applications, the mobile Internet, and social media.

Short MessageService (commonly referred to as SMS or text messaging), which is particularly popular among retailers who use it to send customers promotional offers, app development, and push notifications in text, which display messages on top of a user’s mobile screen. Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) lets you add multimedia to the ad mix.

7. Email Marketing

emaildeliverabilitySome marketers and industry pundits downplay the importance of email marketing; however, it turns out, that email is more central to marketing today than ever before. This is mainly because email is the most personal way brands can communicate with customers.

In addition, email marketing can be targeted to prospects based on where they are in your sales funnel. Prospects in the top of the sales funnel would get different messages than those in the middle of the funnel, and prospects in the bottom of the funnel would get still different messages.

To learn more running successful email marketing campaigns, check out The Amazingly Effective Email Guide.

Action Steps for You

There’s no point in getting all the way to the bottom of an in-depth blog post unless you walk away with action steps, right?

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you leverage digital marketing as much as possible for your business:

  • Dive in: The best way to understand digital marketing is to use digital marketing. So, the next time you see an online display ad, or a video ad, or a mobile display ad, click through and analyze the experience. Did you walk away with a better impression of the brand? Did you fill out a form on a landing page? Track your results and see what you like and don’t like about each experience.
  • Start slowly: If it’s your first time using online display, paid search, video ads, or any other form of digital marketing, start slowly. You’ll learn a lot with each campaign, so be sure to take your time and analyze your results.
  • Test your way to success: One of the best things about digital marketing is that it’s all measurable. Given that, you can track the results of each campaign, make adjustments, and optimize the campaign moving forward. Over time, your results will improve and you’ll be able to generate an increasingly robust ROI.

Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series, “Getting Started with Display Advertising.” In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below or ask me a question about Act-On or digital marketing on Twitter @AskJamieTurner.

If you’re ready to take on digital marketing, dive in with our free toolkit: Digital Marketing Funnel Essentials. You can learn more about generating sales leads via your website, tracking online body language, funnel optimization techniques, and key performance indicators to track.