Difference between Digital Marketing & Online Marketing

Picture of Hafiz M. Ali

Hafiz M. Ali

online marketing vs digital marketing

It’s easy to confuse the terms digital marketing and online marketing, in particular with the boom in Internet traffic over the past decade.

However, there are distinct differences between these two terms that have implications for any marketing plan. Digital marketing is an umbrella term that covers all types of marketing that involve electronic media, and it’s been around since the invention of the radio in 1896.

Digital marketing has grown and changed to include a multitude of channels, which according to SAS include:
  • Phone Apps
  • Podcasts & Radio
  • Electronic Billboards
  • TV
  • Online Marketing

One of the biggest advantages of digital marketing is the vast amount of data available to you regarding what is working and what is not; typically with most forms of digital marketing, a company can see exactly which pieces of their marketing plan are attracting attention and converting those viewers into consumers. Using this data, you can fine-tune your marketing plans to respond quickly to the ever-changing needs of consumers.

Online marketing is the one subset of the digital marketing realm as a whole and includes:
  • Websites
  • Social Media
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Content Marketing

This particular subset of digital marketing is growing at an unprecedented rate. Change in the online marketing world happens quickly, and savvy marketers must stay on top of the latest trends and changes to continue to attract new customers and retain current customers.

While online marketing has indeed become a central focus, it’s vital for you to develop a marketing plan that includes more than just online marketing. You must reach customers across a wide array of platforms since it frequently requires more than one interaction with a business or product for a person to become a customer. A comprehensive marketing plan will reach customers both online and offline, utilizing both digital marketing and one of its subsets, online marketing.

Digital Marketing: the Big Picture


Apparently, digital marketing has changed drastically since the invention of the radio in 1896, but the radio is still a major player in the digital marketing world, even more so with the massive rise in popularity of podcasts in the last few years. Radio advertising has both advantages and disadvantages; it’s geographically and demographically targeted to a particular population in a given area. This can make it very easy for you to reach a niche, geographic group; however, if you are targeting a broader audience, radio very quickly becomes too expensive. Securing enough spots on a variety of radio channels can quickly eat up your budget. Similarly, podcasts tend to have a niche group of listeners; if a product or business is targeted at a very select group of people radio and podcasts might be the perfect place to advertise.

Electronic Billboards

Electronic billboards are another great way to reach a geographically concentrated population. As far as outdoor advertising (signs, billboards, banners, etc.), electronic billboards are the most time-sensitive and responsive. You can quickly update or change them, and they tend to attract the eye more so than a traditional billboards. You can even purchase time slots at high-traffic times of day to increase the number of impressions your advertisement will receive. However, as mentioned in Square 2 Marketing electronic billboards can quickly become costly, and there’s no truly accurate way to measure their effectiveness.


Television and commercials have always been a powerful marketing tool. According to Kissmetrics, consumers trust “TV ads an average of 15 percent more than online videos ads”. While online marketing has been making significant inroads, having a presence on TV is still an essential part of most large company’s marketing plans. In fact, TV ads should always work in conjunction with a robust online campaign; for many consumers, their first instinct after seeing an exciting product or company on TV is to go online to check out their social media, website and other online marketing channels. But the TV commercial was the instigator, the part of a digital marketing strategy that helped elevate their voice over that of the competition. There are many factors to take into consideration before you jump into TV advertising: demographics, the customer’s lifetime value, cost, etc. However, quality, well-placed TV spot remains to be one of the best ways to get your name out there among the competition.

Phone Apps

Phone apps are a newer form of marketing that has skyrocketed in popularity right alongside mobile phones. According to Forbes, “53% of marketing executives designing and deploying mobile apps, both internal- and external-facing, as part of their marketing and business development strategies.” As mentioned, apps can either be customer-facing for consumer use or internal-facing to improve staff efficiency and experience within a company. You should keep in mind that a user won’t continue to use an app simply because it’s a mobile version of the same website; it needs to bring something extra and a personalized experience to the customer that they can’t get through a website to be a successful marketing tool. According to Forbes, building and maintaining a positive customer experience to keep customers returning to the app is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers in this arena.

The Online Customer

These are just a few of the platforms available for you when it comes to digital marketing; as a whole, digital marketing is a mix of new and old mediums where customers interact with you across a wide variety of platforms for different experiences. However, the fastest-growing subcategory of digital marketing is online marketing. In fact, many digital marketing strategies now aim to drive those customers online. A TV ad may direct viewers to a website; an electronic billboard may encourage viewers to find them on social media. According to a Forbes survey of retailers in 2016, 82 percent of customers do online research before making a purchase, whether that purchase is completed online or in stores. Apparently, it has become vital for you to have an active online presence by implementing a multitude of strategies meant to reach customers on a variety of online platforms.

A Website Cornerstone

The starting point for any online marketing strategy is your website. Designing and implementing a fantastic marketing plan can drive a lot of traffic to your site, but if it’s outdated and difficult to use, your customers will simply switch to a competitor. Websites should be visually appealing yet easy to use, and it is becoming increasingly vital that they be mobile friendly as well. According to Small Business Trends, 60 percent of all internet traffic is now mobile. A website that is difficult to use on a phone or tablet will quickly lose customers to the more mobile-friendly competition.

SEO v. Content Marketing

Of course, a good website begins with good content. Previously, many marketers used a variety of SEO (search engine optimization) tactics to bump their results up in a search engine’s algorithm. These tactics included using certain keywords and link building, which creates links back to a website so that Google or another search engine will prioritize that site in their search results. However, since Google’s algorithm has improved exponentially at weeding out false link-backs and online consumers have become savvier overall, content marketing has taken the place of SEO. As stated by Reliable Soft, companies are focusing instead on having high-quality content in conjunction with the SEO keyword strategies. While many SEO tactics in isolation may have helped in the short term, content marketing creates a reliable brand and a loyal group of customers for long-term success. One strategy that is especially useful among niche groups is to act as an information resource and social hub for those niche customers. For example, a company that sells specialized hiking gear may also host blogs and articles on backpacking or act as a social media gathering point for hikers. In the end, good content marketing makes for long-term, loyal customers.

Social Media

Social media is the one form of digital marketing that has received the lion’s share of attention over the past decade, due especially to the low-cost appeal of this platform. While social media is a vital part of any online marketing plan, it must be paired with a robust website, quality content marketing, and other marketing strategies to be successful. Traditionally, social media was a “free” platform for marketers, and in some cases, this remains true. However, platforms like Facebook are moving increasingly to a “pay to play” format. Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm now works to remove your business content from its users’ newsfeed unless you pay for space, very similar to traditional advertising on TV, radio or billboards. This does not mean that you should ignore Facebook and other “pay to play” platforms; however, you should take the limitations into consideration when developing your marketing plans.

Sites like Instagram and Twitter haven’t taken these steps yet to reduce the number of advertising in their users’ feeds. Still, savvy marketers must take the sheer volume of advertisers that use these sites into account; without an efficient, consistent strategy for using Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media platforms, it’s easy to be drowned out.

Social media is also an important platform for engaging with your customers in a visible way. Managing what customers are saying about you online is another important component of online marketing; potential consumers are much more likely to believe the reviews, comments, and complaints of another regular person than they are to accept an ad. Social media platforms can be used to address criticism and respond to customer complaints in a way that other potential consumers see that you are concerned about them and their experience. Through social media, a business can make itself seem more human and personal by responding in a real way to its customers in the online space.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is an older but still a very viable form of online marketing when done right. Remember that with email lists, potential or current customers have given you permission to contact them, so treat that relationship with respect. One way to to do this is to set and abide by mutual expectations; if a customer asks to be emailed once a week, you should only email them once a week. If you create a monthly newsletter, that newsletter should be consistent. In the end, the customer is in control of their email experience. After setting these expectations, you must then determine the appropriate time to send out a call to action. Similar to content marketing, it’s important to intersperse good, informational content with pitch emails to not lose potential customers by a high volume of sales pitches.

These are just a handful of the available digital and online marketing platforms. While digital marketing, especially the online marketing sector, has changed drastically over the past decade, the core principals of marketing remain the same. Any good marketing strategy is going to involve a multitude of platforms to connect with your potential customers across all segments of their life, both online and offline. Equal parts planning and responsiveness are the key ingredients to developing your plan across all aspects of digital marketing, especially in the online world.


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