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Introduction to Digital Marketing – Getting Started

If you want to learn more about getting started in the world of online advertising, you’ve come to the right place. Our introduction to digital marketing looks at everything you need to know.

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In the modern world, we are surrounded by digital media. We use our smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs and games consoles to access the internet for all kinds of reasons. And, as we’ll explore in our introduction to digital marketing, this constant connectivity is a goldmine for marketers. 

If you’ve always fancied getting started in digital marketing, this is the article for you. We take a look at what exactly it is, why it’s important, what different types there are, and how you can get a job in the industry.

What is digital marketing?

The first step in our introduction to digital marketing is to determine what it is exactly. Essentially, it’s a term used to describe any marketing efforts that take place on the internet or on a digital device. There are many different channels that businesses use to entice customers into buying their products and services. 

As we’ll see, there are many elements that go into digital marketing, as well as a host of different devices businesses can market on. It’s a practice that goes from the subtle to the obvious, and it often takes a variety of specialisations working together to be effective.

>> Discover our collection of online marketing degrees

Why digital marketing is important

There are many stats that highlight the importance of digital marketing. With global eCommerce sales expected to reach $4.5 trillion by 2021, it’s clear that there’s significant potential for online promotional activity. What’s more, 51% of shoppers research their purchases on Google before making them. 

With around 4.5 billion internet users worldwide, digital marketing gives businesses the chance to reach people on platforms where they spend a lot of time and money. It also gives smaller companies an opportunity to compete with their huge rivals, allowing them to use data and insights to target customers. 

We’ve also seen how vital online shopping is in the first half of 2020. At the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, online orders were up 200% compared to the previous year. For all kinds of companies, digital marketing and the sales it generated were a lifeline when stores were closed.

How much do companies spend on digital marketing?

Online marketing is big business. Data from 2019 shows that marketing budgets make up, on average, 11.2% of companies’ revenue. In the US, this equates to an annual industry spend of over $196 billion. In the UK, this figure stands at $24.21 billion. 

For those looking to get an introduction to digital marketing spending, there are no hard and fast rules on how much you should spend and what you should spend it on. However, as with many decisions related to the subject, web analytics can give you the insight needed to make decisions on budgets and spending.

What are the types of digital marketing?

Digital marketing is often a collective effort, where professionals working across several different areas combine their knowledge and resources to meet the goals of the business. The next step in our introduction to digital marketing is to outline what these different areas are. 

It’s important to remember that not every company will necessarily use all of these methods. However, each channel presents an opportunity for a business to expand its brand reach and increase sales. We’ve highlighted some of the most frequently used types of digital marketing skills and what they entail.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

When you use a search engine such as Google or Bing, you type in your query and get a list of results. Often, the page you’re looking for appears in the top few links. But how does the search engine know which results to bring you? Well, it looks at a wide range of features on the website to determine how relevant it is. This includes things like the links to and from other web pages, the content of the page, the keywords and how they’re used, the number of other people who access/share the page, and more. 

Search Engine Optimisation is the art of understanding how sites like Google index data, and optimising the page and its content to increase quality web traffic (visitors). The goal of SEO is often to make a page or website appear as high as possible in search engine results pages without having to pay for it.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

While SEO focuses on unpaid methods of boosting visibility in search results, Search Engine Marketing relies on paid options. If you’ve ever Googled something and seen the ‘Ad’ text next to the top results, you’ve seen SEM at work. It’s a practice also sometimes referred to as paid search or PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. Sometimes, people include SEO under the same banner of SEM. 

With this form of digital marketing, keywords are crucial. These are the popular terms that people search for in relation to a particular product or service. With SEM, you can then bid to have your ad appear in the top results when people search for that term.

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

As we explored in our post on the top 50 social media FAQs, social media is big business nowadays. Not only does it help individuals connect and network, but it also gives companies the opportunity to expand their brand reach and user base. Using digital media analytics, marketers can gain insight into how their customers act online, what they respond to, and what actions they should take. 

As well as activities such as posting updates, images, and videos, brands can use social media for paid advertising. Their goal is to drive engagement and clicks, trying to get customers to respond to their messaging while building brand loyalty. An effective social media marketing campaign consists of many different elements.


Any ‘introduction to digital marketing article’ from the last 20 years will show the importance of emails. This emphasis comes as little surprise – data shows that, as of 2018, there were around 111.1 billion consumer emails sent and received each day. Email marketing focuses on driving engagement by sending emails to existing and potential customers. 

Given that 99% of consumers check their email daily, it’s no surprise that it’s still such a popular way of marketing. Professionals in this area focus on building mailing lists, segmenting customers, targeting and personalising emails, and improving open and click-through rates. When it comes to embracing digital technology for marketing, email remains one of the top skills to know.

Online ads

Online ads and paid media are just about everywhere you look on the internet. As well as the SEM and social media advertising mentioned above, there are also things like banner ads, Google display ads, retargeting ads, and more. 

As with many of the methods mentioned so far in our introduction to digital marketing, online ads require a considerable amount of insight and planning. Many people use ad blockers to silence adverts on web pages, but networks such as Google Display Network and Facebook’s Audience Network mean ads are once again relevant and less intrusive.


Affiliate marketing has become incredibly popular over the last few years. Essentially, this method encourages people to promote other people’s products. When this promotion results in a sale, the affiliate gains a small amount of commission. 

It’s a technique that benefits everyone involved. For those with a product to sell, you have a network of people promoting it. Those who want to make money without a product, shifting someone else’s can bring a passive income.  There are whole networks of affiliates that businesses can make use of, focusing on a wide variety of niches.


Our introduction to digital marketing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning content. One thing that’s consistent across digital marketing is that each approach requires some form of it. Producing high-quality, entertaining, informative content is at the heart of any marketing strategy. Whether it’s blog or social media posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, ads, or webpages, content is king

Content marketing focuses on creating great content and getting it in front of the right audience. It’s about strategy, planning, creativity and analysis. Check out our course on how to create great online content to find out more. We also have one on the fundamentals of content design.


An estimated 3.5 billion people around the world have a smartphone. These devices have changed the way we think about marketing, opening up countless opportunities to reach potential customers. Mobile marketing focuses on using a variety of methods to advertise and promote products and services. 

This type of marketing often makes use of some of the other methods mentioned so far. Along with email, social, and website advertising, there are opportunities such as SMS, MMS, and mobile app marketing. It’s not just phones, either – tablets, wearable technology, and other devices all present marketing potential. Our course on mobile digital skills explores this topic in more detail.


Of all of the methods in our introduction to digital marketing, this is the hardest one to pin down. At its core, viral marketing refers to a type of promotion that relies on the audience to generate buzz. Once a marketing campaign goes beyond its target audience to be widely shared, it’s considered to have ‘gone viral’. 

These campaigns often tap into the zeitgeist, leveraging things like memes and popular media culture to stand out. However, it’s not usually something that can be forced. Viral marketing relies on the organic spread of content, often on social media channels.

Other roles

There are many other jobs that directly relate to digital marketing. Roles such as video production, marketing automation, web development and design, data analytics and business strategy all play a part. It’s a far-reaching industry with a lot of potential.

How to get a job in digital marketing

So far, our introduction to digital marketing has focused on what it is. But what if you’re wondering how you can start a career in digital marketing? It’s an industry that continues to grow, and the demand for skilled and talented digital marketers is only increasing. So where do you start? 

The field of digital marketing has many routes into it. Whether you already have an existing skill set or are hoping to build one, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. Below, we’ve outlined some of the things to bear in mind when you’re considering a career:

What area do you want to go into?

The first thing to decide is which area of digital marketing you want to focus on. Of course, an all-round knowledge is always going to be beneficial, but when you’re first starting out, a more in-depth understanding of one area can help. 

For example, if you’re interested in the web design and development side of things, you might want to improve your coding and programming knowledge. On the other hand, if you think social media is where you want to specialise, you can start building your understanding of the various channels.

What skills do you need?

One of the reasons why there is such a demand for digital marketing professionals is that there is a skills gap in the industry. It’s hard to find people with the right set of digital skills, as well as the other hard and soft skills needed to be a part of a successful team. So, what is it that employers are looking for? 

Hard skills

Hard skills are the tangible and measurable abilities that allow us to do things. They can be taught and often require some technical knowledge or training. Here are some of the useful hard skills for working in digital marketing:

  • Copywriting. Copywriting is one of the skills that’s often needed in digital marketing. The ability to craft compelling and convincing content goes a long way in this field. In a recent blog article, we looked at how to become a freelance writer
  • Analysis. The ability to understand marketing analytics can help you identify the trends, customers, and opportunities you should be targeting with your marketing. 
  • Coding. Learning to code for the web will give you one of the most sought-after skills at the moment. With this knowledge, you can get involved in many different areas of digital marketing.
  • Sales skills. Marketing, at the end of the day, is ultimately about selling. Having a firm understanding of sales skills can make you stand out from the crowd.

Soft skills

Soft skills are those abilities that relate more to habits and personality traits. They’re the non-technical skills that are required for a professional to work well within a team and business. These soft skills are highly sought-after across many industries, including in digital marketing:

  • Creativity. One thing you’ve no doubt learned from our introduction to digital marketing is that you have to be quite creative. Not only do you need to create compelling content, but you also have to think of unique and interesting ways to market it. 
  • Problem-solving. Using your creativity to solve problems is a unique talent, and is one that employers of all kinds look for. 
  • Collaboration. As we outlined earlier, digital marketing requires the collective efforts of many different professionals. As such, those with strong collaboration skills will find they excel in the industry.
  • Leadership. The ability to manage others and show strong leadership qualities is universally needed. With this skill, you bring out the best in yourself and others around you.

What qualifications do you need?

Digital marketing is a field where experience is often just as valuable as a recognised qualification. However, that’s not to say that something such as a degree isn’t useful. A bachelor’s degree in a field related to digital marketing will teach you some of the technical and conceptual skills you’ll need. 

Check out this online MBA with a Specialism in Marketing for a chance to develop some of your skills specifically for a business environment.

How can you get experience?

One of the questions often asked is how you can start gaining some digital marketing experience. In reality, there are a few ways you can do so:

  • Keep up-to-date. The digital marketing industry moves at a rapid pace, as new technologies and techniques are introduced. It’s important to have an understanding of the latest trends and best practices, so check out blogs, publications, and seminars related to the field. 
  • Create your own. With things like social media, copywriting, and coding, you can work on your own projects to gain experience. The most important thing during the recruitment process is that you can show you have a working knowledge of digital marketing. 
  • Freelance. If you already have the skills and some experience, you can put this to use working on a freelance basis. Not only does this build your marketable skills, but it also helps you earn money on the side.
  • Look for internships. There are plenty of marketing internships out there. Although they’re competitive, they present an excellent introduction to the industry and can give valuable experience.

Looking for jobs

There is a lot of demand for skilled digital marketing professionals at the moment. However, it can sometimes seem difficult to find these opportunities. As well as standard job applications, here are some avenues worth exploring:

  • Graduate schemes. If you’ve recently completed your formal education, a graduate scheme can be a fantastic place to get started with your career. 
  • Networking. Effective networking is a central part of any successful career. It can really help to know the right people in the industry you’re hoping to join.
  • Speculative applications. If you’ve seen a company that you’d absolutely love to work for, but they aren’t advertising a role, you could still send them your details. It can help make you stand out from the crowd, and keep you in mind for any future opportunities.

Introduction to digital marketing – final thoughts

So, that concludes our introduction to digital marketing. We’ve covered some of the main areas you need to know about if you’re interested in working in this fascinating field. What’s clear is that it’s an industry that’s rapidly growing and developing. With this progress come plenty of opportunities for skilled individuals. 

If you’re hoping to work in digital marketing, then developing your knowledge and abilities in the relevant areas can be highly beneficial. At FutureLearn, we offer a broad range of courses that can help you do exactly that.

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