There’s marketing … and then there’s digital marketing. While there’s a fair amount of overlap between these two realms, there are also huge differences.

Knowing what they are, when to make use of them, and how to use them can be a game changer for small businesses and startups. Your future customers as well as your competition are online, so getting more mobile and knowing the best practices for digital marketing is the only way you can stay ahead.

Don’t be intimidated or assume you need a marketing degree to make this work (although that certainly wouldn’t hurt). It’s actually fairly easy to implement key digital marketing strategies, no matter what kind of business you have.

Start by establishing goals that will help you define how your business can grow. What exactly do you want right now, anyway?

Goal setting via marketing channels

Maybe you’re looking for more recognition, a surge in customers, or to get a leg up on the competition. Having feasible goals in writing (or on your tablet, since we’re speaking digitally) is the first step toward a more successful operation.

A blind approach is more likely to result in lack of direction and ultimate failure. Focus is key with both digital and traditional marketing, and skipping this step can be fatal.

Once you have goals in place, you need to muster up a marketing funnel, which means you understand a customer’s experience from total stranger to satisfied client. This should enable you to implement strategies that will move people through the funnel as quickly and effectively as possible.

You can include opt-in offers, calls to action, and lead magnets as part of this process. Marketing pros cite four aspects to a marketing funnel, which consist of awareness, interest, desire, and action.

Be a CTA “magnet”

Calls to action (CTAs) are typically the second phase in the funnel (following lead magnets). They can be the most confusing step for business owners because they sound so easy.

A good CTA is a text or image that prompts potential customers to make a move, whether it’s requesting a product demonstration or subscribing to a newsletter. CTAs are meant to increase conversions: that magic process through which a website lurker becomes a sale.

Of course, this requires that your website is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and sticks to the musts of 2014, such as responsive design and mobile-readiness.

The more CTAs your website or other online presence contains, the better your odds of conversion … as long as they’re presented organically and don’t read as spam.

You can improve your chances by starting with a lead magnet that works. The magnet’s task is to lead people to the funnel, perhaps by offering them a product or service they truly want or need. What you offer becomes a way to gather data about a customer while simultaneously drawing him or her deeper into the funnel.

Traffic management

A good lead magnet might, on the surface, give customers something for free (such as a white paper). But to actually obtain the freebie, the person may have to complete a form.

The data you pick up there is priceless, because it gives you the opportunity to interact further and possibly build a relationship. It all comes down to driving traffic, of course, but that requires promising visitors in the funnel. This part of the process gives you the most wiggle room for creativity.

You need quality content, from press releases to blogs or articles. Quality links are also a must because they are the building blocks for your online reputation. A good keyword strategy as part of your search engine optimization (SEO) activities can work wonders.

Effective and proper use of social media by having a strategy in place can help engage your audience. Following the best practices of 2014, and maybe a bit of trial and error, can set your small business up for success.