What is digital marketing?

In order to execute the perfect marketing strategy for your business, you first need to understand exactly what digital marketing is, and why it is a vital component of any startup's success.

About Us

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:

Over 89% of the UK’s population goes online daily, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they enter one of the top three visited websites in the world – either Google, YouTube, or Facebook.

Considering this, if we asked you to choose between marketing your business in the Yellow Pages (Gen Zs are thinking “the what?”) or on Facebook, the answer is simple.

You’re going to advertise on Facebook because digital, or online, marketing is a far more effective way of reaching your audience than offline marketing is in this day and age.

But what actually is digital marketing? Why is it more successful than offline marketing? And how can you get the most out of it?

These are some of the burning questions small business owners need answers to before embarking on their marketing journey. So read on to learn everything you need to know about online marketing and more.

Or if you’re serious about marketing your business, why not get support from a digital marketing agency? Not only will they be able to assist you with your marketing strategy, but many agencies also support their clients with brand building and content creation.

To save you the hassle of analysing the UK’s 7,200-plus agencies, we recommend you use our free, and simple, digital marketing agency cost comparison tool to get quotes from the UK’s most trusted providers – and find support in minutes!

Or read on to find out more about our own top agency picks both for digital and social media marketing in the UK.

What exactly is digital marketing?

Digital marketing, also called online marketing, refers to any form of marketing via digital means. That could be to promote your product/service, maintain healthy customer relationships, or build brand awareness.

Any marketing campaign that occurs on the internet is digital – using online communication to forge a bond between customer and company.

Considering how connected we all are now (what with the plethora of devices we’ve come to depend upon), creating and nurturing a customer/business bond has never been easier.

However, digital marketing is a many-stringed bow. There are lots of advantageous ways to use technology when it comes to marketing, but not every digital marketing method is suitable for every business.

You can read on to find out about the different digital marketing channels, including a breakdown of what each is most suitable for, and how you can use each channel to promote your business.

But first, let’s look at the key reasons why digital marketing is so important for all small businesses.

Why should you market digitally?

There are countless reasons why online marketing is the way forward for any startup. Even if you still want to use some traditional marketing methods to advertise your business, the benefits of marketing digitally are not to be underestimated.

We’ve listed some of these benefits below:

Huge reach

2.91 billion monthly users on Facebook, over 1.5 billion monthly users on Instagram, and a cheeky 1 billion monthly users on TikTok.

These user stats alone are testament to the massive audience at your fingertips when marketing your brand online and in particular, on social media platforms.

And the best part is there are no geographical barriers stopping you from marketing your brand anywhere in the world. When you post an ad online, you reach audiences everywhere.

To find out more about marketing on social media, check out our what is social media marketing article.

Cost efficiency

Digital marketing is one of the most cost effective ways of building excitement around your brand.

Traditional marketing (i.e printed, physical, and outbound marketing) is expensive, and the landscape is often monopolised by the bigger brands with budgets to match – making it hard for small businesses to compete.

But in the digital world, you get a lot more bang for your marketing buck – making it an affordable alternative.

While traditional marketing tactics can often have a hidden price tag, digital marketing is relatively cheap and the costs are transparent. However, what it will cost you is a lot of time and patience.

Organic and predominantly free tactics, such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and social media marketing, take time to gain enough traction to have an impact.

So save yourself time by using some clever social media management tools.

And, you can also speed things up with methods such as pay-per-click, display, and social media advertising, which will come at a small cost but deliver results more quickly.

Measurable, quantifiable impact

Imagine you have a killer campaign with brilliant graphics and stellar copy, but no way of knowing if it’s actually had an impact when it comes to sales (or if anyone’s seen the campaign, for that matter).

With digital marketing, this scenario is completely avoided. There are always analytics tools that will tell you exactly how many people your marketing campaign has reached, how many people engaged with the brand as a result, and how many conversions it generated.

Analytic tactics take the mystery out of marketing. You can see the direct impact of each and every campaign – brilliant for making smarter, more targeted marketing moves in the future.

Streamlined, targeted approach

In the digital world, every search, browse, and purchase has a purpose.

Digital marketing allows your brand to suit the purpose of its audience. You can position your product/service so that it appears in relevant Google searches via SEO, pay for targeted social media ad placements to reach the right audience, and use demographic information and insights to target those who are statistically most likely to be interested in your brand.

With minimum spend, you can have maximum impact, unlike traditional marketing, in which you could end up casting a huge, expensive net into the entirely wrong ocean.

Connect with customers

Because of the nature of digital marketing, you can communicate with your customers in real-time, and they can communicate with you.

The ability to respond to a user comment on Instagram, or reply to a customer inquiry via email in seconds, allows you to build those all important relationships with your customers.

The better the relationship with your customers, the more likely they are to buy from you again, and recommend your brand to others.

To find out more about the exciting and innovative ways you can connect with your customers online, visit our dedicated digital marketing trends guide.

Flexibility and adaptability

Imagine printing out 10,000 leaflets to post through customers’ letterboxes, only to find that you can’t afford the 20% welcome offer you’ve got plastered all over them?

Well, it isn’t so easy to change 10,000 already printed leaflets that are likely gathering dust in the recycling bin.

But the beauty of marketing online is that you have the flexibility to change things, including messaging, quickly and easily.

You also have the ability to change your whole marketing strategy with ease, adapting to changes in consumer behaviour, and business priorities, in just a few clicks.

Types of digital marketing

The term “digital marketing” covers a broad spectrum of digital strategies, and there are many elements to consider when designing your digital marketing plan.

We’ve collated a quick-fire list that details the essentials, and explains some of the terminologies you’re likely to encounter on your digital marketing journey.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO Google E A T

An easy way to increase traffic to your website is by improving your site’s visibility.

This involves bumping up your website’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) status, so you’re landing right where customers can see you – in other words, at the top of their Google search.

How? By using high search volume keyword phrases, and making sure your content is top notch and fits perfectly into Google’s latest algorithm update – which rewards content full of E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust).

Amanda Walls, director at Cedarwood Digital, on the topic of trust and expertise, says:

“Having good E-A-T is not only important for search engines, but also for users. By showcasing these key characteristics, you are helping to improve user conversion by giving them a more trusted, expertise-driven experience which could assist them to convert and will also reassure them of the expertise and trustworthiness of your brand.”

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

As you may have guessed, you’re going to have to pay for this one. PPC means that every time someone clicks on an advertiser’s advert, they must pay the publisher (or the social media platform your ad has been placed on).

For example, when you see ads appear on the right hand side of your search engine results page, such ads are operating on a PPC model – the advertiser (in this case, the business) will pay the publisher (let’s say Google) each time a customer clicks on the ad to be taken to the business’ website.

Some digital marketing agencies (such as ClickDo) specialise in PPC consultancy and management and can help your business get a higher ROI than if you marketed in-house. To find out more, visit our dedicated review of the top digital marketing agencies in the UK.

Display advertising

The billboards of the social media world, display advertising refers to a type of paid digital marketing that you’re probably very used to seeing on your own newsfeeds. It encompasses those ads and banners that pop up when you’re habitually meandering through Instagram or surveying the day’s Twitter feed.

Comprising text, images, flash, video, and audio, display advertising is designed to deliver a branded message that increases awareness via popular digital platforms.

For more information, our what is display advertising page gives a comprehensive definition of display ads and explains how to use them effectively.

Social media (organic)

Organic social media marketing refers to social media activity and promotion that arises without having to be paid for. Think of a post that hasn’t been ‘boosted’ financially, but has simply risen to popularity via likes and shares.

Note that the term ‘organic’ pops up quite a lot in the digital marketing world. It means that something’s presence hasn’t been paid for – it’s become ‘naturally’ popular if you like.

Organic marketing is without a doubt the most cost effective way to promote your business, but it is also one of the most difficult. Due to algorithm updates, the saturation of markets, and the rise of influencer marketing, organic posts achieved just 0.07% engagement on Facebook last year.

But if you do organic social media marketing right, the rewards can be huge.

Instagram is one of the best social media platforms to use for business.

Check out our dedicated step-by-step guide to using Instagram for business to find out everything you need to know.

Paid (social) media

Paid media is more closely aligned with traditional marketing methods, and refers to when you pay a third party to promote your message (for example, display advertising is a type of paid social media marketing).

TikTok is an incredibly exciting place for paid media advertising right now due to its impressive margins, so be sure to consider marketing your business on the platform.

Becky Bottle, head of emerging paid media at MVF, believes this is why so many brands are starting to advertise on the platform. She says:

“The real reason TikTok ads give us incredible margins is because conversion rates and action rates are so much higher than on platforms like Facebook (up to 2x higher in some cases).

“This is because the ads appear so much more native to the TikTok platform compared to other socials. People tend to shut down when they feel like they are being sold to but on TikTok, successful ads blend in with native content.”

Email marketing (CRM)

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) refers to the organisation, automation, and synchronisation of business processes via email.

It keeps your business directly in contact with customers via their inboxes, allowing you to keep your customers up to date with newsletters, offers, and opportunities.

At the same time, you can keep track of which customers engage with your emails and click-through to your website via any in-email links.

There are lots of great options available for small businesses, be sure to visit our in depth review of the best CRM systems for small businesses to learn more.

Influencer marketing

Influencers are one of the hottest trends in the marketing world and their popularity isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Influencer marketing uses social media to tap into the following of a specific individual (or organisation) to promote a product that relates to the interests of the already dedicated audience – thus increasing visibility, and (hopefully) sales.

To be considered ‘influential’ an influencer would traditionally have a following of approximately 10,000 users. However in recent years, the use of nano and micro influencers has become more beneficial and way more affordable.

To find out more about influencer marketing, visit our digital marketing trends guide.

And to find out more about AI marketing, which is becoming increasingly popular in the startup community, read our guide to AI marketing.

Inbound marketing vs digital: what’s the difference?

To be clear, digital marketing is not the same as inbound marketing. Although this is a hotly debated topic amongst the digital marketer community, there are clear differences between these two types of marketing – and it’s important you can differentiate between the two.

Although they both use similar tools to connect with customers including email (CRM) marketing, and online content – digital marketing involves all sorts of digital communication, including outbound marketing.

To summarise:

  • Digital marketing implements different tools to convert potential customers. This can be exercised across multiple platforms or focus on one or two channels and includes outbound tactics such as banner ads.
  • Inbound marketing considers the goal of the campaign before deciding on which tool is most suitable to use to convert prospects. It considers the current stage of the sales funnel potential customers are at and uses only the most appropriate channels to reach those customers.

Marketing professionals often use the two marketing strategies in unison, as the rigorous structure of inbound marketing provides a solid base for effective digital marketing efforts.

Do I need to outsource my digital marketing?

This depends entirely on the budget you’ve got at your disposal. If money is tight, we would recommend you market in-house to save on costs.

However, if you’ve got the budget to spend, outsourcing is a sure-fire way to guarantee your marketing campaigns are a success – especially if you pick the right agency with specific expertise in the channels you want to tackle.

Use our cost comparison tool to help you find the right digital marketing agency for you and your marketing strategy.

However for startups and micro businesses just starting out, you might be better off marketing yourself to get the ball rolling. Here are three easy DIY tips to get you started:

1. SEO

Use an app or programme, like Semrush, or Keywords Everywhere, to conduct your own SEO research. Look up what’s being searched for in your industry, and tailor your website content to the demands of the customer.

2. Social media

Most people use some form of social media, and your business should be no different. Set your business up on the main social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) and start gathering a following. Engage with your audience, and get some good-looking pictures up on your Instagram.

Check out our guide on how to use Instagram for business for tons of tips.

3. Get Google savvy

Google has some fantastic digital marketing services on offer. Google Ads is a great place to start, and Google My Business will provide you with a business account, meaning that customers can find you on Google Maps and in quick local searches.

Best digital marketing agencies in the UK

With over 7,200 digital marketing agencies to choose from, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of digital marketing agencies available in the UK.

Lucky for you, we’ve used our expertise to spend time researching agencies across the country, putting together an extensive review of the best agencies in the UK for small businesses.

You can read our top digital marketing agency’s review here, or check out the providers in the table below.

Swipe right to see more
0 out of 0

Pearl Lemon


Loud Mouth Media




Reload Digital


The Social Shepherd




Web Choice UK



Best for

Small businesses wanting to smash their SEO strategy out of the ballpark

Best for

A fully managed digital marketing service

Best for

Small, local businesses that need tailored, channel-specific marketing support

Best for

Mid-sized retail and ecommerce brands

Best for

Paid social campaigns and social media management

Best for

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing

Best for

A customer-centric, supportive SEO and web design solution

Best for

Being connected and advertised across Yell’s online network

Services offered
  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Content writing
  • Inbound marketing
Services offered
  • SEO
  • Social Media Marketing
  • PPC
  • Video
  • Performance Creative
Services offered
  • SEO
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Cross media optimisation
  • Website design
Services offered
  • Digital strategy
  • Content marketing
  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Social media marketing
Services offered
  • Social media management
  • Influencer marketing
  • Paid social
  • Video
Services offered
  • PPC
  • SEO
  • PR and distribution
  • Social media
  • Web design
Services offered
  • Social media marketing
  • SEO
  • Copywriting
  • Web design
Services offered
  • PPC
  • Video
  • Social media advertising
  • SEO

Best social media marketing agencies in the UK

We’ve also put together a comprehensive list of the best social media marketing agencies in the UK – although similar to digital marketing agencies, they specialise in social media marketing strategy and support.

Check out our in depth review for more information on why these agencies made the cut, or take a look at a brief overview of the providers in the table below.

Swipe right to see more
0 out of 0

Spin Brands


We Are Social


Digital Media Team


One Umbrella


Burst Digital


Prohibition PR


Atomic Digital Marketing


Our Own Brands





Best for

Managing every aspect of your social media marketing with vast expertise and experience

Best for

Thumb-stopping, creative social campaigns

Best for

Businesses wanting to get the highest returns out of their paid social strategy

Best for

Businesses that want quick paid social results and a friendly, communicative relationship with their agency

Best for

Engaging with your customers through socials

Best for

Businesses that want strong PR messaging throughout their social campaigns

Best for

New businesses that need affordable assistance in setting up social accounts

Best for

Creating a bold brand identity and showcasing it through social media campaigns

Best for

Multi-channel advertising on social media

Best for

Businesses that want to boss TikTok social campaigns

Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner
Meta business partner

The cost of outsourcing your digital or social media marketing depends entirely on the nature of your business, which is why most companies will only provide pricing information once you’ve requested a quote directly.

Fortunately, we’ve developed a free, quick, and easy marketing agency quote comparison tool that’ll match you with agencies perfectly aligned to your business.

Simply fill out a few details and we will match you with some of the UK’s top agencies – it really is that simple!

B2C vs B2B marketing: which one is right for my business?

You can market your brand to other businesses or consumers incredibly easily via digital marketing.

However there are significant differences in the way you will market, so it is important to know before you begin strategising and planning your campaigns, whether you are marketing B2C or B2B.

To help, we’ve put together a checklist for both:

B2B digital marketing:
  • Consists of customer lead generation - the primary aim is to move them down the funnel to speak to a salesperson
  • Strong, laser focused marketing strategy and targeting to attract high quality leads
  • Very LinkedIn focused and centered round networking and building relationships
  • Typically a longer sales funnels - more deliberation time as purchasing decisions are higher risk - a business may need more convincing
  • More than one person's input - marketing materials need to be downloadable and shareable
  • More heavily focused on content marketing - need to build up E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust) to attract decision makers and appeal to the right audience
B2C digital marketing:
  • There is no requirement to speak to a salesperson - or become a ‘qualified’ lead - so you can cast the net wider
  • Quicker, simpler transactions and shorter sales funnels - meaning marketing can be more simplified and streamlined
  • Doesn’t have to be a conversion in terms of a sale - can be quantified in other ways - a like, share, website visit
  • The aim is to accelerate buyer journeys - make it easy for customers to purchase with minimal fuss - for example including ‘shop now’ links on social media posts
  • Very heavily Instagram and Pinterest focused
  • Higher use of influencer marketing to help customers make buying decisions

Tips for choosing the right digital marketing agency for you

When making an executive decision about which digital marketing agency you want to work with, it’s important to consider the following…

What makes a good agency and what is it I’m looking for?

  • Competitive, affordable pricing – this is hard to find online, but our cost comparison tool can help
  • Proven track record of results – be sure to check the agency’s website for real-life case studies that showcase positive results
  • Awards – with over 7,000 digital marketing agencies operating in the UK, a great way to identify the best of the bunch is through any prestigious and reputable awards they’ve won
  • Experience and specialism in a particular industry – think about the industry you operate in and find an agency that is focused on growing businesses in that industry
  • Services – check what services the agency offers. Does it cater to all of the channels you need? Is it well-versed in a particular solution that your business needs support with, such as SEO or paid social media?
  • Reliable, transparent data and insights – an agency is only as good as its reporting. Make sure you have constant access to insights and reports so you know how the agency is performing and can monitor the success of any marketing campaigns
  • Collaboration and communication – the most highly regarded and successful agencies have open and honest working relationships with their clients

As well as the above points, also consider asking the following questions during your initial consultation with any agencies:

“Can I see some previous campaign examples?”
(This will indicate what the agency is able to produce).

“Will you provide a dedicated account manager?”
(Knowing you will have someone handling your account will ensure you have constant contact and support from the agency).

“How long do clients typically stay with you?”
(A marketing agency that has long-term loyal clients shows it’s doing something right).

How much do digital marketing services cost?

In general, an agency will charge per hour, per project. The cost of the overall service will, of course, depend on:

  • The type of marketing campaign you need – agencies can charge different rates for different services
  • The length of the project – the longer and more complex the project, the more you’ll be charged for an agencies services
  • The KPIs and targets set – more complex and robust marketing campaigns may require more resource – which could affect costs
  • The agencies profile and reputation – typically, the higher profile the agency and the bigger its clients, the more it can charge for its services

On average, you’ll be looking at these price ranges when working with a digital or social media marketing agency:

Swipe right to see more
0 out of 0
Agency size

1-10 employees

Agency size

10-50 employees

Agency size

50-plus employees

Average hourly rate

£20-£40 per hour

Average hourly rate

£50-£80 per hour

Average hourly rate

£80-£130 per hour

Average minimum project cost


Average minimum project cost


Average minimum project cost


In terms of marketing through the placement of ads on social media, you can check out dedicated guides to how much Instagram ads cost and how much Facebook ads cost for more detailed information.

All of the figures above are a rough guide, and your average costs will vary from agency to agency. The best way to find out the actual price of working with an agency is to use our free cost comparison tool.

It takes just minutes to complete and we will send you quotes from the UK’s top providers to compare.

Next steps: find out more about the top digital marketing agencies in the UK

To recap, digital marketing can be defined as:

Any form of marketing via digital (online) means. That promotes your product/service, maintains healthy customer relationships, or builds brand awareness.

There are countless reasons why marketing your business online is a significant lever to grow your brand into a successful startup.

The main issue is having the knowledge and expertise to run successful marketing campaigns. This is why we would suggest if you have the budget, that you consider receiving support from a digital marketing agency.

Visit our review of the top 8 digital marketing agencies in the UK to find out more about how each agency can help you across multiple marketing channels.

Or if time is of the essence and you want to receive quotes as quickly as possible, simply complete our free, easy to use digital marketing agency cost comparison tool and compare prices.

Written by:
Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website. Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Condé Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism. Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.
Back to Top