I’m teaching an MBA class in digital marketing this semester at the University of Maryland and I’m discovering an uncomfortable reality — there’s just no good place to start because there’s a wheel of digital marketing.

Well, obviously teaching the basics of marketing would be the first place to go — segmentation, positioning, marketing mix, etc, — but these are all marketing students, so they know the basics.

Once you get beyond the basics of marketing, do you go to email marketing, content marketing, SEO, SMM … The wheel of digital marketing reflects the fact that all these activities are interconnected and you need them all — at once.

For instance, doing just SEO can’t work any more because search engines, like Google, now use ranking factors heavily weighted toward content.

If you do content marketing first, what about an optimized website, with the right design, plugins, and basic information that is mobile-ready.

You could set up SMM and market via social networks, but how do you get posts on social sites to convert without landing pages and then we’re back at an optimized website.

Elements in the wheel of digital marketing

I love this NOOB guide I got from unbounce and it’s what got me started thinking about digital marketing as a wheel. And, I really like the elements they added to the guide, so I’ll go through them with my own advice for what to include:

Social media marketing

SMM is a must in today’s digital world. It’s a great tool for creating awareness, building engagement, and even doing customer service.

Start with building branded platforms on sites where your target market hangs out — Snapchat if it’s a young crowd, Pinterest if it’s female, Linkedin if it’s B2B … you get the idea.

You’ll need content, and that means curating content from others, as well as creating content specifically for your social profiles. I use a paid Buffer account and curate content from websites I think my target market might enjoy. So, for Market Maven, I get content from sites like Google analytics, Kissmetrics, Social Media Today, Mashable … Buffer makes it easy to set up (and optimize) a schedule for sharing content and I just have to worry about keeping it topped off. Sometimes, I hand schedule content so it fits my specific needs. Of course you’ll craft original content for these sites, as well.

Beyond content, you’ll need to build engagement which often means doing a tit-for-tat — follow folks on Twitter, for instance, to get more followers. Also, include links to join your network everywhere — in you email signature, on your website …

Even offline, I try to build my network. For instance, I include my twitter handle @MarketingLetter on my name badge.

Finally, think about contests or other campaigns designed to build your networks or engagement on them.

wheel of digital marketing

Image courtesy of fresh lime

Email marketing

Email marketing remains one of the best tools in the wheel of digital marketing. Here, you have two related goals:

  • build your list
  • energize your list to action

Building your list involves offering incentives to subscribers. I find free content works really well for this, but I’ve also used ad campaigns an effective tool. List building is a never-ending task as you want more subscribers and you constantly have to replace worn out members who unsubscribe.

Creating email campaigns that get opened and drive action is challenging, especially since gmail and other email programs are segregating out promotional content from personal content. You need:

  • A clean, branded template for your email messages
  • A snappy headline that gets opened
  • Clean message body with images
  • Buttons that easily drive action

A/B testing helps ensure you choose the best options for these elements and helps you messaging get better over time. You also want to think about segmenting your list and creating messages that target the various segments.


Just a few years ago you could hire a great programmer to get you on the first page of Google. Now, you need content marketers in addition to other marketing and web design elements to get there. That’s because the Google Algorithm that determines where your links show up in a customer’s search is complex and serves as a pattern for other search engines.

seo checklist

No one is quite sure WHAT is in the Google algorithm, although Google sends out hints all the time. Plus, it changes the algorithm frequently — sometimes just a tweak, sometimes a massive change.

Here are a few things we know are in the algorithm:

  1. valuable content produced on a consistent basis > 1/ week
    • value is assessed objectively based on shares, comments, and other social signals
    • value is also judged based on backlinks from other great websites to your content — buying backlinks or getting irrelevant backlinks will now hurt your SEO efforts
  2. mobile — sites that aren’t responsive lose points
  3. security with https sites getting some extra SEO love
  4. page speed or how fast a site loads
  5. length of content, with posts close to 2000 words ranking on page one much more frequently than shorter posts
  6. images — you need at least 1 image
  7. hyperlinks to authoritative sites. Just like in traditional content, citing good folks means you’ve done your research and your stuff is better.
  8. shorter URLs
  9. and, a host of other factors — maybe as many as 200 that you can find here


Although it’s not really a marketing tactic, the wheel of digital marketing relies on analytics to grease the wheels. If you don’t know what’s working (and what’s not) or who, what, and where you’re getting traffic, then you can’t optimize your campaigns.

If you’re new to analytics, I’ve written some great content on the topic that you can find here.

Content marketing

Content is King, but you need great content, not just anything. And, you need a schedule.

wheel of digital marketing

Image courtesy of Kissmetrics

For my money, generating and sharing content is the most time-consuming spoke in the wheel of digital marketing.

A content calendar helps keep content flowing smoothly. It’s a place to schedule posts (both curated and created), along with the assets necessary to develop great content. Google even provides a bunch of templates for creating a content calendar. Look for one that has room for headlines, a place to insert links for references, a place to put links to images, and, if your organization uses them, places for folks to sign off before content gets published.

You also need to share content. I share mine with my social networks (not once, but several times over a couple of months — see this guide from Kissmetrics), in my email newsletters, and with a list of influencers. My content is also syndicated on Business2Community, NewsCred, Social Media Today, and periodically on other sites.

Lead generation/ sales

Content is an important tool for generating leads or making sales and here’s a great demonstration of that from Hubspot. The graphic shows that bloggers need tcontent marketingo publish at least 1X per week to gain customers.

But, beyond that, the digital marketing train isn’t really driving sales. That’s really a function of the rest of your marketing program in terms of positioning, advertising, and pricing.

Digital advertising and PPC

PPC or pay-per-click advertising isn’t the only options out there, and maybe not even the best option. I generally like Facebook advertising for its great ability to target based on demographics and lifestyle.

Another option for advertising is using affiliate marketing and let them advertise for you — in exchange for a revenue share.

Managing the wheel of digital marketing

So, let’s accept that there’s no one place to start on your journey around the wheel of digital marketing. What’s the solution for managing the wheel?

I’m not sure there is a right answer to this question, but my strategy has been to start with a little of everything, then build out each component of the wheel of digital marketing over time. Alternatively, you could focus on just one element at a time, but I don’t think that’s gonna work for you. So, I start with a website, integrate in my social media and set up an email subscription form — I think of these as the basics.

Great, but I’m not gonna generate sales or leads from this minimal effort. It’s just a start to get me going.

Now that I have my foundation, I start building up each element a little at a time, layer upon layer, just as a builder starts with the first row of bricks, then adds the next and the next until he has his structure.

So, to my website I add landing pages and a blog. I start curating content to my social networks, and add inducements, like ebooks or templates to encourage folks to sign up as subscribers. Beef up my analytics by creating dashboards and implement A/B testing on my emails.

Once I have a firm structure, I start building out the inside with custom graphics, videos, and data displays. I’ll build influencer lists and begin guest blogging to expand my networks. I’ll also add guest bloggers to my sites as a way to engage their social networks. At this stage, you’re really adding functionality and design to the structure you built.

wheel of digital marketing

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