The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in 2021

The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in 2021
Jay Gross

Digital marketing main picture

Are you new to digital marketing?

Maybe you’ve been at it for a while?

Or maybe you’re trying to wrap your head around just what it even is.

There is so much to it: so many tactics, so many avenues, and so much to know.

Regardless of what stage you’re in, it can be overwhelming.

We get that.

I mean, we’ve recently done articles on content marketing, social media marketing, Facebook marketing, and more – and guess what?

They are all forms of digital marketing.

Digital marketing is the whole kit and caboodle, the whole shebang, the whole enchilada.

And it’s also all that and a bag of chips.


(I apologize to you, my dear readers, for my dated references.)

So you want it, and if you run a business of any size, shape, or color, you need it. But yeah – it’s a lot to take in.

Well, fear not my friends, because as always, we at Digital Marketing Tools have got your back.

Note: Speaking of having your back, check back in the coming weeks for a cool announcement.

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed – because you don’t have to know everything to be good at digital marketing.

You just have to know the right things to get started.

Read on and we’ll show you the ropes.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Digital Marketing Table of Contents

We know y’all are in different places in your journey, so if you want to jump around a little, go right ahead…

Contents hide

What is Digital Marketing?

It’s…marketing. Just digitally :).

Neil Patel says it best (as he often does):

Digital marketing is any form of marketing products or services that involves electronic devices.

Google, email, podcasts, social media – you name it.

One distinction that I want to make that confuses some (or, at least it confused me – but hey, I’m easily confused) – don’t think of marketing in terms of paid advertising. While that is a piece, digital marketing is a lot more than just advertising. 

The times, they say, are a’changin. And sometime throughout the digital marketing era, organic marketing became just as, if not more, important than the paid piece of the marketing pie.

And the future outlook? Let’s just say if you ordered a sweet strawberry pie and you wanted the bigger piece, you would do well to choose the ‘content marketing’ slice over the ‘paid marketing’ slice.

We will help to unpack all that as you read on.

How Does Digital Marketing Work?

The key to any successful marketing campaign is knowing where your potential clients hang out.

And, while I can still catch my parents reading the Sunday paper (and clipping coupons) with their morning coffee, I don’t know many others who do the same.

Like me, you’re probably more apt to be reading the morning news from your computer, tablet, or smartphone while sipping your morning cup of joe.

Whether checking emails, reading the latest and greatest on their favorite websites, or checking their social media feeds to see what’s happening in the world today, everyone is online. 

And that, my friends, is why digital marketing is where you should focus your time and energy. 

There are many types of digital marketing, but all roads lead to one common goal:

Create awareness, generate traffic, and convert leads (followers, readers, etc.) into loyal customers for your business. 

Why is Digital Marketing Important for Small Businesses

Let me clear this up right away: The benefits of digital marketing are important for any business.

But for small businesses, digital marketing can be the key to their success.

So why is digital marketing so important for small businesses?

Because you can reach an enormous audience in a big way that is effective, cost-effective, and easily measurable.

So what are some benefits of digital marketing?

  • Interact with leads and customers directly, so you know how they feel and what they are looking for.
  • Reach people globally – no more are you constrained to a particular zip code.
  • Traditional marketing vs. digital marketing? The latter is cheaper, more precise, and can have a larger long-term impact.
  • Measure and track responses easily and in no time.
  • Do it all right, and you can build a tribe – a group that follows your every move and eventually does word-of-mouth marketing for you (and you know how much we love word-of-mouth marketing).

If you’re a big business, you want this. If you’re a small business, you NEED this – no if’s and’s or but’s about it. And yet, I know so many small businesses that continue to push this to the side.

That’s a travesty.

If you’re reading this, no matter your situation, become a digital marketer. Create a plan, find your audience, and reap the rewards.

Read on to see how.

What Does a Digital Marketer Do?

If we piggy-back off Neil’s definition, then

a digital marketer is anyone who develops marketing products or services involving electronic devices. 

What does ‘electronic device’ entail?

  • Email
  • Text messages
  • Search (Google)
  • Social media
  • Messaging apps
  • Video 
  • Electronic billboards
  • And much more

So the role of a digital marketer is the same as a traditional marketer – but expanded. 

What are the Types of Digital Marketing

There are two key pillars:

  1. Online digital marketing 
  2. Offline digital marketing

We are focusing on online digital marketing because that’s where most of you will want to focus, but for the sake of being complete, let’s talk briefly about the latter.

Offline Digital Marketing

What in the world is ‘offline’ digital marketing? It seems counterintuitive, right? Well, the fact is – it’s been around for quite a while.

There are four key types:

  1. Enhanced offline marketing – This is still marketing with electronic devices, just offline. For example, have you ever been driving and your attention gets pulled to an electronic billboard that changes graphics and text every so often? Or dined at a restaurant that uses iPads to create their orders?
  2. Radio – Radio gave us the ability to advertise to a much larger (yet not precise) audience. You know what I’m talking about – those annoying ads that repeat their phone number 10x, just in case you didn’t get it the first nine.  
  3. Television – And TV gave us the ability to shout out to a broad audience, but visually. 
  4. Phone – Yes – I mean cold calling:

    But there is a new wave of phone marketing – text messaging. A text message is almost a guaranteed read, and many times we ‘opt-in’ by texting a company for a ‘deal.’ So while we’re not going to delve into this, it may be worth us planting a flag here for a later conversation.

And that’s a wrap – now onto the good stuff.

Online Digital Marketing

We break this down into nine categories for you:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization & digital marketing

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about getting results organically. 

Which is the daunting task of getting your website, or other content, to appear, magically, towards the top of the first page of a specific search engine (typically Google).

This is not referring to the paid spots at the top (which we discuss below). 

It’s not easy, but if you can rank on the first page, then you’re getting views, you’re getting clicks, and your audience is seeing what you want to show them.

You do this by creating valuable information that your audience wants to see, and can find via a Google search using keywords your audience searches for.

The excellent news about SEO? It’s free! And who doesn’t like free? Oh, and people view it as more ‘authentic’ if it’s naturally occurring, rather than paid.

The bad news? While it may be free, it’s the long play. It takes an excellent strategy and plenty of time and effort to rank where you need to be to win at this game.

Search for streaming services organic results

These are the Google organic search results for ‘streaming services’ – in Digital Marketing, the higher your rank, the more clicks you get.

But worth it? Of that, there is no question. If you can rank in the top half of the first page of Google, you’re not just making it; you could be thriving.

An excellent digital marketing strategy has some SEO and some of what’s next on this list.

Search Engine Marketing

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM), then?

In a word – cheating.

laughing about joking about SEM being cheating in digital marketing

Image by Poison_Ivy from Pixabay

We like to joke around here, and this is one of those times because, in truth, SEM can be extremely beneficial.

If SEO is the long play, then SEM is the short play.

With SEM, you get shown at the top (in the form of an ad) for a specifically searched keyword right away. But you have to pay for it.

And it will bring people to wherever you want them to go. You just have to make sure that where they’re going is going to be a worthwhile stop.

Let’s use the same example as above, but I will scroll to the top to show you the part I left out. What do you see?

search engine marketing results for 'streaming services' on Google

These are the SEM results for ‘streaming services’ on Google.

Do you see the ‘Ad’? Yep, that very first ‘ranking’ is actually a paid ad or SEM. And that could be you if you spent on the keyword ‘streaming services’.

Note: At one point, SEM encapsulated both PPC (below) and SEO. More recently, they have started breaking into their own categories as things have changed and continue to expand in digital marketing.

So if you’re a little confused at the crossover, don’t worry, it’s not just you. It’s all of us.

Content Marketing

For an in-depth look at content marketing, check out our Ultimate Guide for Content Marketing in 2020.

In short? Content marketing is creating content for your audience and customers. Content that adds value by helping them or answering a question they’re asking.

How and where? Well, this is where the fun part comes in. 

Because the only limit is your imagination. 

The only rules you have to abide by? Make it engaging, valuable, and creative.

Do you enjoy writing? Write blog posts or newsletter to share on a website. Like to talk? Get on a podcast, or create your own. Enjoy creating videos? Create someYouTubee videos.

Or maybe you just enjoy spending time on a particular social media platform. Use that experience to your advantage by creating content that people love right there.

This content can be in the form of texts, pictures, graphics, audio, or videos. 

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Social media marketing is the process of using social media platforms to share engaging and helpful content to attract traffic and get attention.

Social media is one of the best ways to build meaningful relationships with your audience.

To do that, be consistent, helpful, have an outstanding brand personality, and engage with your audience through those platforms.

Post content that will get people talking (in a good way) and to engage with them when they comment, like, or share your posts.

Want to know more? Our Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing covers everything from strategy to implementation and beyond.

Note: Yes, you can also pay for social media advertising, sometimes referred to as paid social media marketing. We touch on this briefly below.

Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)

Sure, you could lump this in with SEM, but it can also encompass other advertising platforms, such as paid social media marketing. 

The concept is this: You advertise based on keyword(s), demographics, and geographic location, and the results either put you at the top of the search results within a search engine or in the feed of your favorite social media platform. 

You see these advertisements a lot on Google, Facebook, and Instagram.

The beauty of PPC is that, as the name implies, you only pay if someone clicks. And that click leads them wherever you want them to go.

It’s critical to send them somewhere worthwhile because when done right, the PPC fee is negligible – because the visit is worth more than what you pay for that click.

For example: If you pay $2 for that click, but it results in a $200 sale, who cares about the $2 fee?

Sure, not everyone will buy, but a click already means the interest is there, so the odds are higher than someone just coming across your advertisement elsewhere.

Affiliate Marketing

Passive income is the new thing that’s got everyone talking.  

You know, the ‘make money while you sleep’ crowd. 

And affiliate marketing is a popular way people do it. 

You outsource to an individual or a company, who will then promote your product for a commission. 

Think of it this way: The affiliate will promote your product or service on their website. When a customer clicks on the link to your website or page and buys, they will receive a commission from that purchase for driving that sale.

It’s especially popular within the blogging and e-commerce communities. In fact, Amazon has an Amazon affiliate program dedicated to it. 

Email Marketing

Poor email marketing. Once, it was the most popular kid at the dance. And now it’s overlooked and pushed aside for the shiny new kids. Ok – my analogies need some work.

How about this – Think Woody in Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear is the shiny new toy that everyone likes. Oh he comes in and steals all the glory, and poor ol’ Woody just kinda gets tossed to the side.

Only, is Woody really that bad? Nah. I would even argue that he is, in some ways, cooler than Buzz himself.

Woody is email marketing in this analogy. Because while it’s now often (criminally) overlooked, this old-school tactic has some tricks up its sleeve, and it also looks pretty darn cool in a cowboy hat.

So don’t be like the rest, there’s plenty of reasons to look to email marketing.

The number of email users worldwide is 3.9 billion – and still growing.

How about return on investment?

Get a load of this:

return on investment for email marketing

Or how about that the average open rate for a welcome email is 82%.

You can use email marketing to sell something directly (almost like an advertisement). You can use it to build relationships with your audience by providing useful content (content marketing style). You can even email someone if they abandon their cart at your online shop.

One thing is for sure: Don’t make the mistake that so many do, and overlook email marketing for something newer and fancier. It may have a few dings and scratches, but it still gets a lot of people where they need to be.

Instant Messaging Marketing

The newest trend in digital marketing, and frankly, it’s exploding.

It’s more personal, and people are much more likely to trust information sent via a messaging service than email or SMS, which are more prone to spam.

Using instant messaging, you can make highly personalized messages directed towards a single person and you can even target via location (geo-fencing – which we discuss more below).

Display Advertising

You know, those banner ads that pop up and seem to have some kind of ESP, because it’s an advertisement for the shoes you were just thinking about this morning? (Or did you log a quick search for them on your phone before you conked out last night?).

Display advertising is like the print ads you saw while flipping through a magazine, but now they are ‘smart.’ With the technology to use algorithms and re-target – like the shoes you looked up once, yet will follow you to every website you visit until the end of time.

How to Create a Digital Marketing Strategy in 8 Steps

Sure, everyone talks about it, but how do you best create a digital marketing strategy?

Just follow the steps below and you’ll have one in no time.

1. Who’s Your Ideal Customer?

Creating a customer persona (or two) of your ideal customer is extremely important. 

If your plan is to just blanket everyone, it’s a big no-no. You’ll waste a lot of time, a lot of money, and add unneeded stress to your life.

Start at the beginning, identify your ideal customer avatar (ICA) and go forward knowing precisely who you’re marketing to.

2. Identify your Goals

Once you identify your ideal customer, create your specific goals, and what you will do to get there.

3. Blogging Can Be Key

Creating quality content is key to any digital marketing strategy. If you can produce quality and engaging content, that can be enough to drive traffic to your site. But you can also use the content you create for other digital marketing avenues, such as social media posts.

4. Choose a Social Media Platform – but Choose Wisely

social media platforms to choose for your digital marketing strategy

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Social media, of some sort, is a must in your digital marketing strategy. 

Which platform does your audience hang out in most? Start there.

Create a social media marketing strategy as part of your digital marketing strategy.

5. What about Mobile?

It’s almost a foregone conclusion today, but just to be safe, make sure your website is mobile-friendly.

Make sure everything you do is optimized for a mobile experience.

Everyone uses their mobile for reading, shopping, and more. Heck, I have a friend who does marketing for clients – he works primarily off his mobile phone.

Yep, that’s a thing.

6. Make it Easy for People to Reach You

Don’t make it unnecessarily hard for your audience to reach you. 

In fact, you should attempt to reach out to them. And when they reach out to you in the form of a share, like, retweet, or comment, you should respond kindly and promptly.

Engagement with your audience makes you human and more than just a business to them, and that makes them much more likely to buy from you in the future.

7. Research Your Competition – Be the Same, but Different

The cool thing about digital marketing? For any business, it’s just out there to see. 

That’s right, including your competition: You can visit their website, their social media channels, their blog posts. You can even sign up for their email lists to see what’s got everyone so interested.

Take advantage of that. See what’s working and what’s not.

And then implement that into your strategy. 

Use what’s working, notice what’s not, and optimize it.

I want to be precise – I’m not advocating you copy their strategy to a ‘T.’ But if something’s working for someone else, there’s a reason for it. Especially if you’re targeting the same audience.

But you also have to have flair. Be different. Make sure you are just different enough to stick out (in a good way) and have an outstanding brand personality.

8. Research Your Strategy and Optimize…More

Speaking of research – once you’ve implemented your very own digital marketing strategy and you’ve run with it for a while, it’s time to step back to see what’s working and what’s not. 

There are plenty of ways to track your digital marketing strategy.

Once you have data to back it up, double down on what is working and change-up what’s not.

Some Digital Marketing Tools You Need

There are tools for every road, dirt trail, and hidden path leading to and from digital marketing. There are tools for every platform, every channel, and every measurable you can come up with. There are even tools for all of your tools (somehow, I think.) 

I could write about digital marketing tools forever, but luckily for you (and me), we both have better things to do with our time.

So, here I’m just going to touch on some essential tools that we use day in and day out.


Trello is my go-to ‘to-do’ tool. 

While it’s my personal organizational tool of choice – it’s also so much more than that. 

It’s a kanban-style project management system that you can share with others and work with your team.

You can all get together, assign tasks, and track progress in this sophisticated yet straightforward tool.

Check it out.


Are you going to try that old trick called email marketing? Look into MailChimp – it’s an email marketing and social advertising tool that can automate and orchestrate campaigns for you.

It’s a great way to email your list(s) and engage with your audience.

And so much more.


Once you know your niche and have an eye on your competition, BuzzSumo should be the next logical step.

If you take to heart what we always preach – to research and know your competition – then this is a tool you should check out.

It will help you understand your competition, learn what type of content performs best with search engines, and even what kind of content performs best with your audience.

All of which is valuable information to have at your fingertips.

Google Analytics

It would be weird to talk about digital marketing and not mention Google Analytics.

Use it to create and alter your strategy accordingly, oh, and it’s free.

With it, you can find out what’s driving your traffic, where it’s coming from, what’s working, and what’s not.

Add the analytics code to your website early on so you can start tracking your traffic.

All in One SEO Pack

Your website and everything you do on it, from your ‘about page’ to your blog, should be optimized for SEO – it’s a game-winner.

And if your website is WordPress based, you could do worse than All in One SEO Pack plugin.

It will help you always make good SEO based decisions regarding your content, and the basics are free. Oh – and it’s easy to use.


UberSuggest is a free SEO tool from none other than Neil Patel. It can help you with website optimization, research, and keyword ideas for current or future content.

Since taking it over, Neil continues to fill it out with additional features. And while it is freemium, there is plenty in the free version to get you where you need to be.

Google AdWords

Want to pay to market? Look no further than Google Adwords, it’s one of the most popular pay-per-click models, and there’s a reason for that. 

We touched on it earlier, but you know those ‘ads’ at the top of your Google search results? That’s where you will be. And people do click on them.

Just do your keyword research, set a monthly fee, and watch as it drives people to your website. 


Are you looking for specific tools to help you with something that we didn’t cover here? Leave a comment in the comment section, and we will see how we can help.

The Future of Digital Marketing

Digital innovation is the name of the game here, and let’s be honest – the innovations come at us fast

So it’s never too early to jump on the upcoming trends.

Below are some trends we see building sooner rather than later. So the sooner you can start brainstorm some of these into your digital marketing strategy, the better.

Personalize their Experience

make digital marketing personal

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

People want to be recognized and not “just another number.” Nowhere is that more apparent than in digital marketing.

63% of consumers get annoyed with generic advertising blasts, 80% say they would rather do business with a company that offers personalized experiences, and 90% find personalization appealing (who wouldn’t?).

The good news? With the likes of Facebook, Google, and more, collecting mountains of data every day, personal targeting for ads is becoming easier and more accessible every day.

Because of this, it’s never been more important to know exactly who your ideal customer is

Don’t Think Video has Reached its Peak

Why do I continue to put video in the ‘future of’ sections, when it’s clear that video is now? 

Because while it’s now, it’s not really here, if you know what I’m saying? At least not yet.

“We believe that in 2020, YouTube is going to be the place where business owners thrive most. Contrary to the over-saturated and expensive ad platform over at Facebook, YouTube video ads are relatively an untapped goldmine. Additionally, because it’s video, there is a much better ROI for business owners if they can create catchy, quality, engaging video content.”

~Brian Fanale, My Lead Systems Pro

There is still plenty of untapped potential in video and it will continue growing. Finding a way to incorporate it into your digital marketing strategy will pay dividends far into your future.

Influence the Influencers

Influencers are people who can affect others’ purchasing decisions because of their authority, knowledge, or relationship with their audience. They are typically in a distinct niche on a particular social platform and have many followers who respect their opinions.

Influencers are a little like modern-day celebrities. They will endorse a product or service that they like on their main platform and their followers will then purchase it.

The key to influencer marketing is that, while they get paid, they only endorse products they believe in. They’re not an A-list celebrity that will endorse anything for a paycheck, so their followers trust them.

And they have to keep that up, or they will lose their influencer status quickly.

People respect and respond to honest opinions more than celebrity opinions because they are genuine.

What does that mean for you? To have an influencer work with you, you have to influence them into seeing your product for how exceptional it really is.

But if you do, it can be well worth the time and money you spend. An honest influencer with a large following can boost your sales overnight.

Are Social Messaging Apps Here to Stay?

Social messaging apps aren’t just for keeping up with your friends and sending emojis describing your mood anymore. 

With 1.3 billion monthly users and 10 billion messages sent between businesses and consumers on Facebook Messenger alone, the trend is skyrocketing.

We already discussed the advantages above, but just know this is just the beginning. With popular platforms such as Facebook putting piles of cash into their social messaging apps, there’s no stopping this train.

A New Way to Search

Oh, I bucked it for the longest time, yet here I am, just like everyone else, smart speaker in my kitchen.

Not that you can get away from it anyway, every smartphone now has a variation of the feature.

And TVs, and computers, and alarm clocks, and…well, where will it end?

The point is – voice search is everywhere.

Consider this:

55% of all homes will own a smart speaker by 2022, and 72% of people who own one say they use them in their daily routines.

Add it all up, and what do you get? Voice shopping is estimated to jump to $40 Billion by 2022.

Now’s the time to jump into it yourself.

An Even Newer Way to Search

use visual search for digital marketing

Photo by Kayla Farmer on Unsplash

Google Lens

Enough said.

In all reality, it was only a matter of time before visual searches became a thing. Along with Google Lens, Pinterest has a visual search tool, Bing has a visual search tool, and CamFind is a visual search app.

As per Social Media Today:

  • 62% of Millennials are more interested in visual search capabilities than any other new technology
  • There are over 600 million visual searches on Pinterest each month

There’s clearly a growing market here, so while your competitors are ignoring the growth, maybe it’s time you jumped in with both feet and got ahead of the curve?

Target Your Audience via Geo-Fencing

What’s geo-fencing? It allows real-time targeting based on a user’s location.

So say, within a mile of a specific store or restaurant, a user can receive a push notification with a coupon or deal to their smartphone.

15% of users convert from a broadcast message, whereas 54% of users convert when using targeted geo-fencing.

Chatbots are Taking Over

The benefits of chatbots in the current digital marketing world are huge, just a few of the things they bring to the table are:

  • 24-hour service
  • Instant responses to inquiries
  • Instant answers to simple questions

Additionally, it’s estimated that they will save businesses more than $8 billion per year by 2022.

Most online businesses already have them, because while they’re cool now, like a fine wine, they’re just going to get better with age.

So…what are you waiting for? Get your chatbot already!

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation

Honestly, we could write an entire article on how AI will impact (and is changing) the future of digital marketing.

(Don’t put it past us.)

That said, I will try to keep this brief. 

According to Techgrabyte:

Artificial intelligence is the biggest commercial opportunity for companies, industries, and nations over the next few decades” and “will increase global GDP by up to 14% between now and 2030,” which means that “AI latecomers will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage within the next several years.”

Some ways AI will help us?

  • Predict the behavior of your customer with predictive analytics
  • AI-Powered chatbots will improve user experience
  • Leverage the power of audience insights to boost search ads
  • AI-Generated content to scale up your content marketing
  • Deliver a very personalized website experience to each visitor
  • Optimize for voice search 
  • Identify “hot leads”
  • Reduce cart abandonment
  • Target customers across different channels
  • Upsell and cross-sell to customers
  • Improve blogger outreach
  • Automatically suggest personalized content to visitors
  • Identify bottlenecks in your sales pipeline
  • Measure the performance of your marketing campaigns
  • Maintain a central hub for all your marketing activities
  • Cut costs and save time

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Long story, short? AI and automation will continue to grow while increasing your ability to increase sales and decrease time spent.


Stop Putting Off Digital Marketing


The benefits of digital marketing don’t leave you with much of a choice:

You need a digital marketing strategy, stat.

But what are you supposed to do? What path do you take? Which types of digital marketing do you focus on?

All fair questions. Here’s the thing to remember – you don’t have to know everything.

So take a step back, don’t get overwhelmed, and walk through the steps to create yourself a great digital marketing strategy.

Just start out with one goal, and when you’re successful with that, rest easy.

resting easy after having a digital marketing plan

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

And when you want to know more, c’mon back, there’s more for you right here.

Congrats and good luck.


Can’t find what you’re looking for? Leave a comment after the post or reach out to us another way. We will be happy to help!

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