What Is Digital Marketing? Explanations, Strategies, Freelancing

January 16, 2024 | By Sam Pelton
Icons representing different areas of digital marketing: Email, SMS, Google, Facebook, an icon representing a document on a computer

Imagine waking up tomorrow to a world where your favorite brands have vanished from online searches, social media feeds, and even your email inbox.

Poof, gone!

Sounds apocalyptic, right?

Yet that's the fate awaiting businesses who neglect the potent force of digital marketing—the importance of which hardly even needs to be stated in today's digital landscape.

For example, it’s reported that overall, 26.9% of the world’s business is conducted online. Even if people don’t make their final purchase online, they still use digital means to research and learn about companies. And almost everyone is online a large chunk of the time: people spend 6.4 hours per day online (that’s over a third of each day’s waking hours).

Obviously, then, digital marketing has enormous potential. As a SaaS company offering a digital marketing tool (SMS), digital marketing is our bread and butter, so we know its power to really help businesses succeed.

Here we’ll get into all the in’s and out’s of digital marketing in 2024—whether you’re trying to figure out how to use it for your business, looking into hiring an agency, considering working as a digital marketer, or are just curious.

So, ready to unlock the secrets of digital domination? Let’s dive in!

What Is Digital Marketing?

(Video from Simplilearn)

Digital marketing is the promotion of products or services via digital channels, such as email, social media, text messages, and search engines.

This is in contrast to traditional physical forms of marketing such as billboards, newspaper ads, and the like.

Think of it this way…

Let’s say you whip out your phone to search for a new pair of running shoes. But the first thing you see in Google are ads from brands related to your search. When you check your social media account, you then see ads for running shoes in your social media feed and inbox. You tap on one and end up providing your email address in a popup in exchange for a 25% discount on your first purchase—so now you’ve also signed up for future emails.

Welcome to the world of digital marketing, where every corner of the online universe is a potential canvas for capturing your attention and converting you into a customer!

The number of potential digital marketing channels is vast, but here are a few of the most major ones…

Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most common forms of marketing because, in our experience, it is inexpensive, generally reliable, and easily trackable.

Although it seems to be true that less and less people are checking emails, it still remains one of the more reliable methods of marketing. And since the cost is very minimal, businesses would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Email marketing involves collecting email leads through various means (whether through offering incentives, through interest forms, through free trials, or any other method)—and then staying in touch with those leads via email using an email service provider such as Customer.io or Mailchimp.

SMS Marketing

SMS marketing is getting more and more common as well, particularly since it has such high open rates compared to other forms of marketing (even email).

SMS marketing is functionally very similar to and closely corresponds with email marketing. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to combine the two in a complementary way—for example, sending the same message via both email and SMS, or using SMS to point people to an email you’ve sent.

Though people are more reluctant to give out their phone number than they are of their email (and though it costs quite a bit more per message to send than email), since the open rates are so high, it’s able to make a significant impact as a digital marketing channel.

Platforms such as Mobile Text Alerts allow you to implement SMS marketing into your toolkit.

Search Engine Advertising

Search engines, particularly Google, hold a lot of potential to help get traffic for your website and eyes on your product or service.

One of the primary ways they do this is through paid advertising.

Search engine advertising is both an art and a science but can have very promising results. We’ve found search engine advertising to be one of our top sources of qualified leads.

This kind of advertising allows you to target search engine keywords that are highly relevant to your brand so that you can bring in the traffic you’re looking for. However, competition for those keywords can be fierce.

Pricing for search engine advertising is typically pay-per-click, and higher competition keywords will be charged more per click. So in order to maintain a positive ROI, you’ll need to find a strategic balance between going after high-intent keywords and budget constraints that make sense for your situation.

We would recommend getting started with Google Ads when you’re first getting into search engine advertising.


SEO is a tricky form of digital marketing.

It’s something that everyone says you should do and yet there’s no exact science behind it and it’s constantly changing.

SEO is “search engine optimization” and it involves structuring your webpages and creating your web content in a way that helps it gain traction in organic search engine results.

In other words, the better “SEO” you have, the more you will show up in search engines and the more traffic you will get (theoretically).

Depending on your business, SEO can be a very vital part of your digital marketing. It can also be inexpensive (because the traffic it brings in is totally organic, unlike paid search engine ads).

Doing well with SEO involves doing keyword research to figure out which keywords you want to target that will be more likely to rank in the search engines. Then it involves creating content that will satisfy the search intent of people who are searching that term.

SEO also involves making sure your visitors have a quality site experience, such as by having fast site speeds, and many other little “rules” that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.

SEO is a hit-or-miss type of strategy and often the results aren’t seen immediately but happen over a period of time. Some businesses will benefit more from SEO than others, but every business should implement it to some extent.

Content Marketing

Content marketing corresponds closely to SEO but focuses specifically on the actual content that you create.

It involves creating pieces of content—whether blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc.—that provide value to your audience without much “agenda” behind it. In other words, you’re not creating an advertisement that puts a lot of pressure to purchase but content that your audience is interested in consuming in order to learn more about something they’re interested in.

This content has SEO value and you can also use it for other marketing purposes across the spectrum. For example…

  • You can send out emails and SMS pointing people to your content, driving more traffic to your site.
  • You can create whitepapers out of the content that the sales team can use in their outreach.
  • You can share the content on social media in order to boost your social presence.
  • You can provide the content to current customers, helping to increase retention and customer loyalty.

The benefit of content marketing is why you see so many businesses with blogs and podcasts now.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing also holds a lot of potential but can be hit-or-miss.

With social media, your potential audience is almost limitless. At the same time, unless you have a very large following, organic social media posts can have miniscule reach and paid social posts can be expensive.

So with social media, you’ll just need to know your audience in order to determine how much effort and resources you want to put into it.

As a SaaS service, we’ve found that our current audience hasn’t responded much to social efforts. We currently have put paid social efforts on hold.

However, your own audience may thrive on social media, so we would recommend giving it a good go to see how it performs for you.

Affiliate Marketing & Influencer Marketing

With affiliate marketing, you partner with brands who may have similar audiences as you.

You’ll set up some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement in which one or both of you promote each other’s product or service, in exchange for payment or for some other form of compensation.

If you find the right affiliates, this type of arrangement can be hugely beneficial with minimal risk.

You’ll want to look for affiliates whose product or service complements yours, so that you can combine resources and audiences in order to reach more people.

Or another approach would be to simply leave it up to the affiliates to do as much promotion of your brand as they can in exchange for a cut of the sales—almost like hiring a salesperson but without actually needing to hire another employee.

This type of marketing is actually how our customer base almost doubled in the span of one year. We were able to get the right affiliates in a particular industry which led to an explosion of growth coming from customers within that industry.

And all of that growth came without costing us an extra dime, other than a percentage of revenue paid out to the affiliates for the sales they brought in (which is revenue we wouldn’t have had anyway without them).

Influencer marketing is a specific type of affiliate marketing in which you rely on a particular social media influencer to promote your brand. If you find the right influencer, this can also be a lucrative opportunity.

What Is Digital Marketing? with the subheadings above and corresponding icons

So there’s a brief overview of many of the primary forms of digital marketing.

Not all of these will be equally beneficial for every business, so you’ll need to evaluate and determine the avenues that are best for your own business to focus on.

At the same time, you don’t want to neglect more traditional forms of marketing that could potentially be beneficial for your business.

Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing: Benefits and Challenges

While we don’t want to discount the power of traditional marketing (there’s a reason why it’s still being used, after all), digital marketing does have several unique facets that differentiate it…

Wide Reach

While traditional marketing methods can only reach so many people, the potential reach for digital marketing messages is staggering, since the internet opens the door to millions upon millions of people.

This is both a benefit and a challenge of digital marketing—how do you narrow down your audience to the people who would actually be interested in your product or service?

Thankfully, depending on your marketing channel, there are targeting tools and techniques that help you zero in on the data or demographics pertaining to the people you want to reach.

For example, in many cases you can pinpoint your ideal audience based on demographics, interests, online behavior, and even the websites they visit.

That’s something you can’t do with, say, a billboard!


While traditional marketing tends to be one-sided—for example, how often do you respond to a piece of marketing you receive in the mail?—digital marketing has much more potential for 2-way interaction.

If someone sees an ad on social media, they can DM the company directly. If someone receives an SMS marketing blast, they can shoot a text reply right back.

This type of potential for engagement opens the door for new campaign possibilities as you brainstorm ways to really engage with your audience.

Not to mention, there’s more of an opportunity to receive valuable feedback.

All of this potential interactivity does pose its own challenges, however. If you don’t have the resources to monitor every marketing channel for responses and outreaches from your audience, you could leave bad a taste in your audience’s mouth.

So make sure you’re not giving your audience a reason to be irritated with you.

More Precise Analytics

Due to the plethora of online tools available, there is an abundance of data out there to help you get more insight into your audience and their behavior.

While many traditional marketing methods can be something of a shot in the dark, with digital marketing, that’s not the case.

The challenge is to sort out what’s actually important through all of that data and use it to take real action steps toward improvement in your marketing.

These are just a few of the major elements that set digital marketing apart. Your goal is not necessarily to abandon traditional marketing but to recognize the potential of digital marketing and maximize it as much as you can.

(Video from WISE Digital Partners)

How to Do Digital Marketing

“Digital marketing” is such a broad concept that it could be a bit overwhelming. Where do you even get started? What should you focus on?

Odds are that you’re already doing digital marketing to some extent. But here are some general tips to help you grow in your digital marketing initiatives.

Hone In on Key Channels

One key is that you just can’t start on everything at once. You’ll want to hone in on the avenues that you think will be most successful for your business.

This will vary widely depending on your business, your product/service, and your audience. Where does your audience “live”? Are they active on social media? Do they primarily find you via Google searches? Are they younger, middle-aged, older? A mix?

Answering these types of questions will help inform your decisions on which channels to primarily focus on.

You could first focus on a couple of key digital marketing areas that nearly all businesses should be pursuing (or at least considering):

  • Email (and SMS) marketing
  • Google Ads
  • SEO

Once you have a good strategy for those 3 areas, you could branch out into other channels.

Establish Ownership of Those Channels

Once you’ve determined a digital marketing channel to focus on, you’ll then want to establish who on your team has ownership of that channel.

You can collectively make decisions and contribute, but if there’s not a particular person in charge of a channel, it’s unlikely that your initiatives are going to be seen to the end. They may start out strong, but they’ll likely fizzle.

You need someone to take ownership of each channel and to keep up on making sure things are moving forward in regards to your strategies.

Of Course… Analyze Data

When it comes to marketing, it should be a no-brainer that you’ll need to make sure to analyze data.

But in case you need a refresher—in order to analyze data, you need to first have a KPI that you’re hoping to measure, and you’ll need a way to actually measure that KPI.

Different digital marketing channels will have different KPIs that help you evaluate their success. Some of those KPIs might be:

  • ROI (return on investment)
  • Conversion rates
  • Click rates
  • Click-to-open rates
  • Response rates
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Web traffic
  • Impressions

And seeing the data trends will help you determine what actions to take regarding your digital marketing strategies.

Agency for Digital Marketing

If all of the different digital marketing channels sound overwhelming to you, you’re not alone.

Many businesses want help with some or all of their digital marketing channels.

And this is where having an agency for digital marketing may come into play.

The first question to ask is…

Should I Hire an Agency for Digital Marketing?

The question of whether or not you should hire an agency for digital marketing depends on a few factors:

  • Do you have enough in-house talent to handle digital marketing?
  • Do you have enough in-house resources to handle digital marketing?
  • Do you have enough budget to afford outsourcing digital marketing?

Here are some of the pros and cons of outsourcing some or all of your digital marketing to an agency…


  • Expertise and experience: Agencies usually have dedicated teams of specialists with in-depth knowledge of different digital marketing facets.
  • Comprehensiveness: Agencies can tackle the full range of digital marketing, including SEO, social media, content creation, and more—all under one roof.
  • Time and resource saving: Outsourcing frees up your valuable time to focus on core business operations while the agency handles your online presence.
  • Strategic approach: Agencies bring a fresh perspective and data-driven strategies, possibly identifying opportunities you might have missed.


  • Expense: Agencies can cost a pretty penny, and the ROI is often difficult to measure.
  • Less dedication: Agencies are simply not going to care about your business in the same way that you or a full time in-house employee might. They may be very well-intentioned, but in the end, you are usually just one of their many clients.
  • Internal knowledge gap: Agencies don’t have in-depth knowledge, first hand experience, or historical context for your business.

We have hired a few agencies in the past and have personally found that in-house experts have been a better investment for us.

We’ve found that agencies haven’t delivered the ROI we were looking for. We’ve found similar results to the efforts of digital marketing agencies with our own in-house team. And with an in-house team, you have a lot more dedication and a lot more knowledge and context for the business. With an in-house team, there’s less of a disconnect.

That’s not to say we are against trying agencies again in the future, or that agencies are never the right choice for any business.

You would have to weigh the pros and cons for your own business and determine what’s the best option for you.

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Should I Hire an Agency for Digital Marketing? with the pros and cons listed in the section above and visually appealing icons or geometric shapes

Top Digital Marketing Agencies

If you do decide to give a digital marketing agency a try, below are a few of the top ones you could consider.

Note that we are not affiliated with nor can we endorse any of the following agencies. Also note that different agencies may specialize in different types of digital marketing, so you’ll want to be aware of your company’s needs as you look into different services.

  1. WebFX
  2. SmartSites
  3. Ignite Visibility
  4. Disruptive Advertising
  5. Belkins

A couple other digital marketing companies you may want to look into would be Neil Patel Digital (NPD) and The Hoth.

While we hired out NPD several years back and weren’t too happy with the results, it has been several years since then and we have since benefited greatly from the free resources Neil Patel puts out regularly. We also regularly use the paid version of the NPD-affiliated tool UberSuggest for our own SEO planning and it has been invaluable.

The Hoth is a lesser-known company that I’ve worked with minimally and have found their insight to be quite valuable. I can’t vouch for them as a full-fledged service but my small amount of experience with them has been very positive with measurable results.

Freelance for Digital Marketing

What if you want to be a digital marketing freelancer?

What do you need to know? How can you get started?

Here are some tips…

1. Gain Experience and Knowledge

In order to successfully freelance in any industry, digital marketing included, you need to be able to know how to “do the thing.”

So you’ll need to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to do well.

Whether it's content writing, SEO wizardry, or paid advertising mastery, identify your strengths and dedicate time to sharpening them.

When you’re first starting out, you can do this by working in-house for an existing company, or by offering to do free services for a period of time while you build your skills and portfolio. You can also take courses, read up on reputable digital marketing blogs, listen to podcasts, go to conferences—anything you can do to become an expert in the digital marketing field.

2. Narrow Your Focus

As a digital marketing freelancer, especially just starting out, you don’t want to try to do everything.

In fact, if you try to do everything, you probably won’t succeed very well at anything.

Instead, hone in on just a few aspects of digital marketing—maybe it’s SEO or PPC or content marketing or social media. Whatever you’re good at and interested in, become the best you can be at that thing.

You can consider going even more laser-focused. For example:

  • Instead of focusing on “SEO” broadly, you could specialize in link building.
  • Instead of focusing on “PPC” broadly, you could specialize in Google Ads.
  • Instead of focusing on “content marketing” broadly, you could specialize in blog strategy.

Going narrow will help you flourish in your chosen niche and will also help prospective clients know that you’re the right choice for them because you address exactly the problem they’re trying to solve.

(There is a balance here. If you go too narrow, it may be difficult to find enough clients in your niche. But generally speaking, most people’s problem is trying to go too broad.)

3. Network

Don’t be a “lone ranger” freelancer.

Network with other people—in your industry in particular but also other industries. These kinds of connections can lead to “word-of-mouth” referrals, which can become the best clients.

Networking allows you to bring in more clients and also gives you an opportunity to learn from the unique experiences and wisdom of a wide variety of professionals.

You’ll never be as successful as you could be if you try to go it alone.

4. Do “The Hustle”

Especially when you’re first starting out, you’re going to have to do “the hustle” of putting yourself out there and finding clients.

At first, you may have to do more convincing and/or offer lower (or even free) prices.

As you build up your portfolio, social proof (such as reviews from satisfied clients), and credibility, you’ll hopefully be able to loosen up and enjoy some of the fruits of your labor. But particularly in the beginning, you may feel like quitting.

But don’t give up! While there’s no guarantee of success in any venture, if you don’t put in the work, there’s no reason to expect any results at all.

5. Always Be Learning

Don’t forget to invest time learning and growing as a freelancer and a marketer.

The digital marketing landscape is always changing, so you want to make sure you’re on top of the latest trends and data.

Continue to best serve your clients by being knowledgeable about their problems and how to help them be successful.

(Video from Rich + Niche)

Digital Marketing Pay

If you want to be a digital marketing freelancer or work in-house as a digital marketer, what can you expect to get paid? And what factors impact how much you’re paid?

How Much Do Digital Marketers Make?

Indeed reports that the average salary for a digital marketer in the United States is $63,648, the low end being $36,794 and the high end being $110,101.

For freelancing, the average annual earnings is reported as $87,719 per year, with the low end being $36,500 and the high end being $138,500.

So it seems that in terms of income, if you’re interested in being a fulltime digital marketer, freelancing would offer greater income opportunities.

(But also keep in mind that “digital marketing” is a broad term. A digital marketer may actually have a different title or specialty, such as “PPC Specialist” or “Content Marketing Manager,” so the salary averages could be different across different specialties.)

What Factors Impact Income for Digital Marketers?

There would be several factors impacting income for digital marketers, both in-house and freelancing.

Some of these would include:

  • Experience: Obviously, the more years you spend honing your digital marketing skills, navigating trends, and delivering results, the more valuable you become. Entry-level positions naturally lead to lower salaries, while seasoned veterans with proven track records command significantly higher figures.
  • Demand: How much you’re able to charge or make may depend on the niche that you choose. If you choose a digital marketing specialty that’s higher in demand, you may be able to earn more.
  • Results: The skillset and results you bring to the table can make a big impact on how much you’re able to earn. In fact, if you’re a freelancer, one strategy to gain client trust is to tie in your fees directly to the results you provide—if you’re in-house, there may be bonuses or incentives to providing provable results.
  • Education & Certifications: While less important than actual experience and results, sometimes having education and certifications can help establish authority, thereby enabling you to have higher freelancing fees or request a higher salary.
  • Negotiation: You can use all of the above (and more) in your favor when negotiating fees or salary. If you’re able to make a good case based on one or more of the criteria above, you may be able to convince your potential employer or client that your work is worth more.

Which Digital Marketing Niches Earn the Most Money?

Here are some of the highest-paying digital marketing niches based on data from ZipRecruiter.

  • Email Marketing Manager (high end $159,000 in-house)
  • Facebook Marketing Manager (high end $145,500 in-house)
  • Influencer Marketing Manager (high end $145,500 in-house)
  • Affiliate Marketing Manager (high end $141,500 in-house)
  • SEO Manager (high end $134,500 in-house)
  • Content Marketing Manager (high end $129,500 in-house)
  • PPC Manager (high end $119,000 in-house)
  • TikTok Manager (high end $117,500 in-house)
  • Social Media Marketing Manager (high end $109,500 in-house)

What Does Someone in Digital Marketing Do?

A digital marketer’s job would be to manage the digital marketing strategy and channels for the company or client he or she is working for.

Note that these tasks may vary depending on whether the digital marketer has a particular specialty he or she was specifically hired for.

The tasks would include:

  • Helping the company develop a robust digital marketing strategy—this would include recommending what marketing channels to use, what KPIs to measure, what kind of content and ad copy to create, etc.
  • Taking the lead in executing the company’s digital marketing strategy
  • Continuing to take ownership to make sure the strategy is being implemented according to plan
  • Analyzing the results of the digital marketing initiatives
  • Making changes in the strategy and/or execution as necessary

Depending on how big the team is, a digital marketer may have primarily a strategizing and overseeing role, or they may be involved in the nitty-gritty of writing copy, creating graphic assets, scheduling social media posts, or whatever else may be involved.

The specific tasks may vary from company to company and from role to role.

Digital Marketing FAQ

Here are some answers to some other frequently asked questions about digital marketing. (Some of this is summarizing some of the answers already given above.)

What Does Digital Marketing Include?

Digital marketing includes any marketing initiative that takes advantage of digital (rather than traditional) channels.

This would include (but is not limited to):

  • Email marketing
  • SMS marketing
  • Search engine advertising
  • SEO
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Affiliate/influencer marketing

What Does a Digital Marketing Agency Do?

A digital marketing agency will handle some or all of your digital marketing efforts on your behalf. The scope to which an agency will help depends on the terms of your contract with the agency.

The agency’s involvement can range from getting backlinks for the benefit of your company’s SEO to taking over management of all digital marketing aspects.

Why Digital Marketing Is Important…

Digital marketing is important because of the vast number of people who are able to be reached via digital channels. With so many people constantly using their phones and computers, a company would be remiss not to see the high importance of digital marketing for their business growth.

Does Digital Marketing Pay Well?

Digital marketing is not always the most lucrative of careers but it’s also not one of the lowest-paying.

While the averages are around $50,000 per year, It’s possible to earn up to $159,000, particularly for freelancers with a niche skill (i.e., email marketing, Facebook marketing, or SEO).

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