The Digital Marketing Landscape

While there are infinite strands of digital marketing, to my mind there are only five main pillars of digital marketing:

  • Search
  • Social
  • Email
  • Display
  • Analytics

There are, of course, many other digital marketing disciplines too, but as far as I am concerned these are the main five things you need to have down to count as a digital marketer.


The Digital Marketing Landscape



From search engines, you can either earn or pay for traffic. These two channels are amongst the most popular and effective types of digital marketing.

To earn your traffic from search engines, you (usually) need to undertake some sort of SEO activity. Nominally free, SEO is the top dog for digital marketing. It is by far the most effective and necessary part of any digital marketers arsenal. This is because more traffic comes via search engines than any other channel. If you can get your pages ranking highly in Google, then it can provide a huge long term source of traffic that makes all other traffic sources pale in comparison. It is a complex discipline with many strands, however, which make it not for the faint of heart. It is also a long term commitment, as SEO wins usually don’t come over-night (6 months is not an unreasonable time frame for SEO activities to really kick in).

Paid Search (still sometimes called PPC) is an effective addition to SEO. Like it’s unpaid counterpart, paid search can also be very complex as there are a huge amount of targeting options that come with it, and an incredible amount of advanced strategies to take advantage of too. However, the results from it can be pretty instant, and there are ways of running basic yet effective campaigns. This makes paid search a strong counter punch to SEO, and also a useful tool in its own right.



Like with Search, there is a paid and organic version of social media.

Organic Social seems on the surface like a gift from the digital marketing gods. It’s free and easy to use, and everyone has a basic grasp of how it works from their personal lives. Amazing right? Wrong!

Organic social is an exceptionally time consuming and low ROI form of Digital Marketing. However, as it is free to get started and can have huge branding benefits when done right almost every business out there uses this channel. It can be especially frustrating for professionals as people use social media in their personal lives and so cannot see what is so difficult about it as a job. And in a way they are right – being bad at social media isn’t difficult – but being great at it is a real skill that not many people have, and for those people (or at least the companies that employ them) the rewards can be immense.

Paid Social (or SMA) is a similar, but also very different type of digital marketing to organic social. You can simply pay to “boost” your posts on most social media platforms, meaning you effectively are bypassing the need to gain popularity by paying money. So far, so advertising. However, if you want to dive into it, the complexities of social media advertising far outweigh even Paid Search. There are endless targeting options, and the combinations of them are vital to make sure your paid social has a good ROI. If you do everything right however, the ROI can be very high indeed (although not usually as high as Paid Search).




Email marketing is the oldest, and yet still the most effective form of digital marketing out there. It is low cost, and when you email your list you are hitting an audience that has already expressed interest in what you have to say meaning that results are usually strong. Plus there are no distractions built into your email – it’s just you and them in their inbox (as opposed to social or search where you are always competing with other noise).

The main problem with email marketing is getting a good list of people to contact going in the first place. Lead generation is a whole part of digital marketing on its own really – one that not everyone needs to concern themselves with. However, as a precursor to email marketing, it is a vital skill. Wording your email sign up form just right to maximise the likelihood of people signing up might seem like child’s play, but it is not.

Email Marketing is something every business should do, and every business has the potential to do well. It is also the most important place for honesty in digital marketing. They are letting you into their inbox, so don’t abuse that trust.



Display Advertising funds much of the internet. Many websites are free at the point of use because they have ads on them. Never mind that most people don’t actually look at those ads, and rarely click on them – it’s a system that works *most* of the time. It’s relatively easy to add ads to a site or app, and almost as easy to stay on the right side of privacy laws.

Using display advertising to advertise your business, on the other hand, can be more difficult. Where Search Ads are just words, and Social Media Ads have a limited set of formats, display ads are a blank canvas. You can do anything you want – the only limiting factor is the amount of space you can take up. Because of this – there are a lot of terrible ads out there. And in the same vein – there is a lot of wasted ad spend out there.

However, if you have a designer who can make good ads and you have a budget and the patience to do some testing, Display Ads can get you some next-level results. It can take a while to find your stride with them, but Display ads are where the big kids play in digital advertising. You can ignore them for now, but eventually, that’s where everyone ends up.



Analytics isn’t a type of digital marketing. It is, however, how you know if your digital marketing is working – and if you don’t know if it’s working, then what is even the point.

Before digital marketing, people used to run ads and then watch to see if they could notice any change in their sales (or whatever). This was a ridiculous system, that would work only some of the time, and only for some people. Most people were spending money on advertising and had no idea if they had chosen well, or had straight-up been conned out of their money.

With Digital Marketing, the reverse is true. You get stats galore. Too many stats possibly. However, if you focus on the important ones and understand how to read them, it can mean the difference between throwing your advertising budget directly in the bin and having a great ROI.

Analytics is the engine that runs the machine. If you don’t check your stats and try to understand and improve based on them, you are a making a huge mistake.


In Conclusion

If you want me to lay the digital marketing out any further then please consult this picture I have drawn of the digital marketing landscape in full. I hope it’s helpful.

Feel free to share!


The Digital Marketing LandscapeClick to enlarge