A beginners guide to online marketing

1 February 2023

10 min read

Please be aware that this is a guide only and you may wish to seek specific advice based on your business*

What is online marketing?

Online marketing is using the internet to communicate or promote your brand, products or services to your potential customers using online marketing tools and techniques. Online marketing can also be referred to as internet marketing or web marketing.

With the internet now a huge part of everyday life, using online marketing can be an effective way of reaching your customers when they are online. Online marketing can also be cost effective and deliver returns you can measure so you can see how well it's working for you and your business.

To those new to the world of marketing, online marketing can seem intimidating because there are lots of online marketing channels you can use. Here at The Co-operative Bank, we want to help your business to grow online so we've put together a guide to online marketing including some of the most popular online marketing techniques.

How does online marketing work?

Online marketing is using the internet or web-based channels to reach potential or existing customers when they are on the internet. This could be when they are browsing websites, using social media, searching on Google, reading emails or watching online videos.

An online marketing campaign can be as simple as creating a Facebook page for your business to a more complex strategy that uses a combination of marketing techniques.

Difference between online marketing vs traditional marketing

Whereas online marketing uses the internet to reach potential customers, traditional marketing is using offline media such as TV, radio and newspapers. Offline marketing is still a big part of many business's marketing strategy and you can read our guide to offline marketing.

What online marketing strategy is right for your business?

It's important to identify your business objectives and goals before you choose which online marketing channels to use. Understanding who your target customers are, how and where they make purchases, how much budget you have and your internal skills and resources will help you determine the strategy you should use.

It can be tempting to look at competitors and want to copy their marketing strategy, but staying focused on your business goals will help you determine the right marketing channels to use.

We cover setting your marketing strategy in our guide to online and offline marketing which gives an overview to both online and offline marketing.

Types of online marketing

To help you learn more about online marketing, we've covered some of the most popular online marketing techniques along with their pros and cons.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) / Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is using paid ads on search engines to increase visitors to your website from those using search engines such as Google Search and Bing. It can also be referred to as 'paid search' or 'pay-per-click advertising' (PPC).

With search engines now a huge part of people's research and shopping habits, being visible on them is important if one of your goals is getting people to your website and generating sales.

There are different types of search engine ads, but one of the most common are text ads or pay-per-click ads which appear when someone is searching for a keyword or phrase. This is particularly important if the search is a commercial one and the searcher is looking to buy based on the keywords they are using.

Paid search can be an effective way of reaching your customers on search engines without investing the time into Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), but if you want to target keywords that are more competitive it can become a costly investment.

Google has great training courses that can help you learn about PPC and how to use the Google Ads platform to run paid search campaigns.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is also known as search engine optimisation and is the process of improving a website to help grow customer traffic to your website from search engines via the organic listings (which are the search engine results that are not paid for). The better your web pages rank on search engines the more organic traffic you drive to your website.

Search engines review websites on the internet and build an index of the web pages related to certain keywords. When someone searches for that keyword, the search engine will try and provide web page results that are the most useful and relevant to the searcher.

If you rank highly on a search engine for a keyword related to your business, dependent on how popular the keyword is you could have a lot of people visit your website.

There are lots of factors that go into having your website appear for a particular search term. This includes creating web pages with content related to the keywords you want to appear for and making sure your website provides a good experience for the visitor such as loading as fast as possible.

Others websites talking about your website and using your website link because you’ve provided something useful and relevant is also important to search engines because it can show that you are a good source in a certain area. The more of these ‘ranking factors’ a website has, the more likely it is to appear for a relevant keyword.

SEO can be a cost effective marketing approach because if you rank highly enough in search engines you can gain a large amount of traffic without paying for it. However, SEO is very competitive and it can take a long time to appear in search engines for certain keywords, especially if you are a new business.

If you want to expand your knowledge on SEO, you can find a great beginners guide here.

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Social media marketing (SMM) is using social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok to reach potential customers. SMM can be split into either organic (not paid for) or paid (using ads) dependent on the method of reaching people on social media.

Organic SMM is using your own business pages to build a community, growing followers and engagement over time as opposed to paying for it. You can do this by creating content that encourages people to respond via the currency of that social media platform such as a like, share or follow.

Paid social media is using ads to reach certain audiences on social media. Different platforms can offer different paid opportunities with Facebook for example offering the ability to create a dedicated Facebook ad that is shown to the customer types that you choose. You can also 'boost' an organic post, which is taking a post that is on your business's social media feed and paying for more people to see it.

If you're looking to learn more about social media marketing, Hubspot has a great guide from creating a social media strategy to planning out content.

Email marketing

Email marketing is using email addresses to send communications to existing and potential customers. Any time your business would send an email that’s not an order confirmation or responding to customer queries, it would be classed as email marketing.

One of the big advantages of email marketing is that it can be a low cost way of reaching a lot of people, if you have their email addresses. You can use emails to share offers, new launches and company news to encourage customers to return to your website or store. Email can also be personalised by using the customer’s name and sectioning up audiences so you can share different messages with different customers.

However, if you think about the amount of emails you receive from companies, it can also be annoying for the customer and hard for you to cut through the amount of emails and spam a customer can get.

Remember that when carrying out direct marketing (sending emails, letters or making calls) you need to make sure that you are doing this compliantly. Usually you will need the permission of an individual to market to them. For further information about making sure that you market in a compliant manner check out the Information Commissioners advice here.

If you’d like to learn more about email marketing, Hubspot have a useful guide on how to get the most out of it.

Display marketing

Display marketing is using graphics, texts or video ads that appear on other websites and apps to encourage the audience to take an action, such as a click to your website.

Display ads can come in lots of shapes and sizes from the popular 'banner ads' which are graphics that appear on other websites, to more interactive formats such as videos or forms that capture data.

Display marketing has the potential to be seen by a large amount of people and ads can also be targeted to certain audiences. However, with more people now using ad blockers which block display ads when browsing the internet, it can be harder to reach the same amount of people using display ads than in previous years. Display ads can also be annoying to the user as they can interrupt their internet browsing experience.

You can learn more about creating and managing Google display ads on the Google Skillshop.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is using another website to market your product or service and then paying the website a commission of the sale. The sales are tracked by an ‘affiliate link’ which is a website link with a unique code that you can use to identify a specific website.

Affiliates can range from individuals to large publications, and using affiliates can help you to reach more people, dependent on the audience size of the affiliate website.

Affiliates can sometimes be confused with influencer marketing as affiliates can be individuals and some influencers do use affiliate commission schemes. However, affiliate marketing typically is partnering with a website that promotes your product or service to generate sales whereas influencer marketing can be more focused on boosting your brands popularity and engagement.

A lot of affiliate marketing is done via affiliate networks which are companies that act as a middle man between your business and the affiliate website with a fee being paid to the network to manage the partnership. This also means you can find more affiliate opportunities if you’re using a popular network.  

If you want to learn more about how affiliate marketing can help your business, check out this guide.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing strategy where businesses collaborate with influential people to promote their products or services for a compensation. Influencers are high profile individuals, experts in their field, hold high authority, have huge fan followings on social media, and have the power to influence buying decisions.

Influencer marketing will involve you reaching out to the influencer for them to market your product or service. Influencers can also be used to boost the awareness of a business as opposed to a specific product.

Influencers will typically have a range of fees dependent on the service you require which can be anything from a social media post about your product to using them on your own content.

Influencers are typically trusted by their audiences, so those using your product could offer a big boost to your sales and depending on their audience size, could help your business be seen by a lot of people.

However, influencer marketing is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) so influencers need to declare when they are been paid to promote a product using terms such as 'AD' or 'paid promotion' which can lose the appeal as their audiences will see that they have been paid to talk about the product.

You can learn more about influencer marketing and how to build an influencer strategy here.

Measuring the results of online marketing

It's important to measure the results of your online marketing by making sure you're tracking your marketing activity.

Making sure you have analytics set up for your website using a program such as Google Analytics can help you to see which marketing channels are driving traffic and sales to your website by collecting data.

One of the significant benefits of an online marketing campaign is the ability to measure the result. There are a numbers of paid as well as free tools and software available online that let you track performance of marketing activities. With the help of these tools, you can see what's working and what's not for your business.

You can then use that data to make informed decisions such as improving your website, changing the communication, and more. For example, Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool offered by Google to help you track website traffic, better understand your customers, and measure your marketing effectiveness.

To learn more about how to use online marketing effectively for your business Google offers online courses and training on the Google Analytics Academy.

Get started with online marketing

We've now covered some of the most popular online marketing techniques that you could use to grow your business. It's important to remember who your customers are, where they spend their time online and what will encourage them to buy your product so you can make an informed decision over which channels are likely to work for you.

You should also make sure you're tracking the results of your online marketing so you can learn what is and isn't working.

If you'd like to learn more about marketing for your business, The Co-operative Bank Business Exchange has further resources to help you build your skills.

You can also learn more about offline marketing and how it can work alongside online marketing with our handy offline marketing guide.

*While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by The Co-operative Bank for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances. This is merely a guide and each business is unique in its requirements. Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.