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At a glance: What is online marketing?

At a glance: What is online marketing?

The internet creeps into almost every facet of our lives: Google Maps gets us from A to B, weather apps (sometimes) help us to dress for the conditions, and Uber Eats ensures we never go hungry, even when we’re feeling lazy.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that online marketing is central to success for the majority of businesses in 2019. Last year, Australians spent an eye-watering AU$21.3 billion online (Australia Post), up 18.7 per cent from the previous 12 months. Meanwhile 83 per cent of Kiwis are expected to use the internet for shopping by 2026 (Nielsen).

To the casual eye, the concept of online marketing may appear straight forward, However, as this article will show, there’s more to this idea than you may think. Today, we’ll nail a definition for online marketing (and how it differs from digital marketing), demonstrate its importance, and give you some actionable tips for success in this sphere.

At a glance: What is online marketing?

What is online marketing?

Online marketing refers to all the promotion and selling activities a business does using internet enabled media channels.

The term is often used interchangeably with ‘digital marketing’. While this is no great crime, the two aren’t one and the same. Digital marketing involves the use of computerised communication devices – while this includes internet media it can also, for example, mean SMS messaging. Online marketing, therefore, represents a subcategory of digital marketing that pertains specifically to … being online.

Conversely you have offline marketing. This is your more traditional form of advertising including print, radio and television. Today, due to the importance of the internet, it’s common to see offline marketing that points readers or listeners back to web channels. Think about it – how many pamphlets do you see that don’t have a website URL or social media handle included at the end of the text?

Components of online marketing

Under the umbrella of online marketing are:

  • Your website – Common elements across websites include landing pages (where people enter your site from a search engine), contact information, an online store and (hopefully) a blog. This last element is vital to content marketing, a tactic at the heart of online marketing, and one we’ll explore more in the next section.
  • Search engine optimisation – SEO is all about getting more, and better qualified, traffic to your website from organic (unpaid) search.
  • Search engine marketing – SEM refers to paid advertising on search engine results pages (SERPs). This includes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
  • Social media marketing – No matter whether you’re B2C or B2B, social media is a vital part of contemporary online marketing.
  • Marketing automation – This is the use of technologies such as CRM software to automate repetitive tasks like responding to customer queries.

Why is online marketing important?

We’ve already seen that internet shopping is growing in both Australia and New Zealand. If getting some of that action wasn’t enough to convince you of the importance of online marketing, here are some more reasons why your business needs to get online:

1. It allows customers to find you…

Even if they ultimately don’t make the purchase online, there’s a good chance customers will have researched you (and your competitors) before making a trip to the shops.

This phenomenon is so common as to warrant its own acronym, ROBO – research online, buy offline. A 2017 report from BazaarVoice shows that 45 per cent of brick and mortar buyers consult

reviews prior to purchasing. If you’re not visible during the customer research phase, you risk losing out.

2. …and allows you to reach them

Unless you’re trying to sell to uncontacted Amazonian tribes(always a toughie), your business’ reach can be extended to just about anywhere in the world using digital marketing.

As we’ll see, businesses can tailor SEM to target specific demographics and geographic areas, allowing them to market tactically on a global scale.

3. It enables personalisation

Traditional, offline marketing is very monolithic – it appears to everyone in the same format, shouting at them from billboards, flyers or their TV.

Online marketing, however, allows you to personlise your marketing efforts to suit an individual’s preferences, based on their online activity.

Remarketing is a perfect example of this. Say you sell handbags. If a user shows an interest in a specific model, gets to the checkout and then doesn’t convert (arrrghh!), you can use remarketing to position ads for that person as they browse other sites, reminding them of the item in which they showed interest.

4. It creates an ongoing relationship

The cost of customer acquisition has risen by 50 per cent in the last five years, according to Hubspot. Hanging on to customers following initial conversion is, therefore, essential to long-term business success.

Online marketing offers easy ways to create a community of loyal customers and fans, and engage with them regularly. Nowhere is this more evident than social media – discovering what conversations your target audience is having allows you to get involved, ask questions and provide solutions to any pain points they have.

5. It’s easy to track

Return on investment (ROI) is never far from your mind. However, it can often be hard to track whether a specific TV ad or pamphlet is really bringing home the bacon.

Conversely, many of the most common online marketing avenues make it easy to measure ROI. For example, Google Analytics allow you to determine which posts on your blog site are leading to the greatest numbers of click-throughs to relevant landing pages.

As well as the gratification that comes with producing content that resonates with its intended audience, this information informs future adjustments that can provide even better ROI in the future.

Now, on the subject of content…

What role does content play in online marketing?

The goal of online marketing is to attract, engage and convert someone, somewhere out there in cyberspace. Initially, this may seem a tall order, but content marketing can help you cross many hurdles.

But how?

Content marketing centres around producing and promoting value-heavy, relevant content to draw in and engage a predefined target audience, with the ultimate goal of encouraging desirable customer actions.

This contributes to your online marketing by:

  • Helping you know your audience – Producing and analysing the success of content helps you learn what your audience is interested in, and how they like to be addressed. This enables you to build closer relationships with prospects.
  • Allowing you to reach more people – A quarter of the Australian population uses ad blockers, according to the IAB, but organic content that showcases your brand’s expertise or products allows you to bypass these obstacles to reach searchers.
  • Giving you greater visibility – Organic content ranking on page one of Google’s SERP receive 71.3 per cent of all clicks, according to Moz. Without content, you miss out on these website visits.
  • Fuelling your social platforms – Setting up social is a good first step, but your posts need to engage and excite viewers. Content, especially videos and infographics, is perfect thumb-stopping social fodder
  • Pleasing your prospects – The more content out there, the easier it is for customers to conduct their pre-purchase research. As long as your output is quality, customers are hungry for it. For example, Hubspot found that 51 per cent of consumers in the Asia Pacific region want to see more videos from brands, and 32 per cent want greater amounts of research content.

How can you succeed in online marketing?

Now for some actionable tips.

1. Strategise

The first step to good online marketing is careful planning. An ad hoc approach to social posting, SEM or blogging may have some one-off hits, but is unlikely to deliver long-term success.

Many businesses appoint strategists, or turn to agencies to aid in this planning, as an experienced hand is needed to properly lay the foundations of your online strategy.

Crucial elements of strategising include:

  • Defining your target audience – Regardless of whether you’re focussing on organic, SEM, social or a mixture of everything (hint – do the last one), you need to know your target audience. User personas are integral to this, and should include info such as:
    • Age
    • Values
    • Location
    • Pain points
    • Income
  • SEO auditing  – Before you can amend your site to improve its search ranking, you need to establish where you’re going wrong. An SEO audit analyses every aspect of your site that search engines examine when determining rank. This is everything from your chosen keywords to your metatags. You can also use this opportunity to analyse competitors’ SEO activities, and establish link building opportunities that could benefit your performance in the future.
  • User experience reports – You need to review how your site functions for users. An outdated design, illogical navigation and hard-to-read content are among the top reasons a visitor may leave your site (Hubspot). This is your chance to find areas of weakness and make the experience of visiting your site easier and more enjoyable.

2. Produce

With this preparation complete, you can start creating your marketing materials.

Here are some important tips for getting this right:

Don’t ‘set and forget’ your strategy

It’s all too easy to do the hard planning work, think, “Cool, job done”, and promptly forget about it.

To avoid this create documents such as brand guidelines for imagery, or tone and style advice for written content. These should be living files that can be added to and amended as necessary, and enable you to make your strategy derived learnings actionable.

Add value at every step

Both people and Google are more adept than you think at separating the sheep from the goats when analysing content: Value is the name of the game these days. Poorly researched or badly written material will stand out like a sore thumb, and have the opposite effect to what you desire. You should trust your writers, graphic designers and the rest of your production team to manufacture compelling content that will have readers coming back for more.

Review, review, review

I wrote that word three times, signifying importance.

As you venture into online marketing, you’ll soon learn that nothing stands still for long. If you aren’t constantly reviewing how your efforts are being received, you’re taking your finger of this irregular pulse and risk falling behind.

3. Promote

The final stage (before yet more reviewing) is to market your marketing materials.

Two principle methods of amplification exist – social media and paid search engine ad campaigns.

Social media promotion

The benefits of social media promotion include:

  • Cost-effectiveness – Most platforms are free to sign up to, and any paid promotion you choose to do thereafter are generally at minimal cost.
  • The engagement factor – Social media offers a rare opportunity to talk directly to your target audience and learn their opinions on your offerings. This can help inform other aspects of your online marketing approach.
  • It’s easy to calculate ROI from social – Especially when you have this handy guide dedicated to the subject.
  • Increased brand awareness – According to Hootsuite, 90 per cent of brands use social media to increase awareness of their brand.


There are two features of paid search ads that make them appealing to online marketers:

1. Precision targeting

SEM platforms such as Google Ads allow you to choose who sees your ads based on:

  • Keywords – Targeting relevant words or phrases means your ads will appear at the moment someone expresses interest in what you do.
  • Device – If you know your target audience prefers searching on phones over laptops, you can adjust your ads accordingly.
  • When they appear – You can set how many times per day your ads appear, and when these times are.
  • Language, age and location – This will be based on the information gathered at your strategising stage

2. Value for money

Placing TV or newspaper ads is an expensive business. However, with SEM, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad – which, ultimately, is mission accomplished.

The importance of compelling content in social media success

Al Hall
Al Hall About the author