How Is Digital Marketing Different From SEO?

digital marketing plan versus seo

A couple weeks ago, someone called me because she was looking for someone to build a website for her. We briefly discussed what she was looking for, and then she wanted to come in with her husband to meet me (they’re in business together).

At our meeting, after getting a little more details about what they’re looking for, I finally said, “You don’t need me to build you a website. Anyone can do that. What you need is a marketing system.”

I explained that the website is just a tool. They have to create content (lots of it), share it on social media, put it in their email newsletter, thus getting people to the website to opt into their system (whatever that system is). They need a system to attract their ideal buying audience and get them to opt in when they’re ready to purchase.

She said, “That sounds like a lot of work, and it’s kind of overwhelming. Is all that really necessary?”


It’s interesting to me how the digital marketing world has changed a lot in the last few years, but people’s ideas about online marketing are still the same: Build a website, apply some magic SEO juice, and the hordes will come a’knockin’.

Wishing on it will get you about as far, unfortunately.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about how SEO has lost a lot of its luster and isn’t really a primary way to get found for most small businesses (which the vast majority of us are).

What Is Digital Marketing?

Again, in the “olden” days (maybe less than 10 years ago), the website was the primary way to get yourself found online. We didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ (maybe you had a LinkedIn account). It was fairly easy to get found for certain key phrases by doing just a modicum of search engine optimization, since no one else knew how to do it.

Today, we have a long list of ways to get found, and our customers are in all of them. We have a ton of competition for the coveted “top position” on Google, and Google keeps changing the rules. In order to market effectively to your specific target market, you have to be found in all those places and work to really nurture those leads.

  • Social media – Are your customers hanging out on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, or SnapChat?
  • Email – No email is not dead. It’s probably the most effective tool to get the attention of your potential buyer, but only if done correctly.
  • Online ads – Google? Bing? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? So many to choose from.
  • Video – 75% of all traffic on Facebook is video consumed on mobile devices.
  • Search engine optimization – Get found globally or locally or both?
  • Online reputation management – What they say about you can influence your buyers.

I could go on.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices you have, as my potential client was feeling. David Meerman Scott has been talking about this in his book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” for many years now, and I recommend that ALL business owners read it (I even give copies away when I give talks).

Putting Digital Marketing Systems In Place

If you just throw stuff at the wind without a plan, you will have put a lot of energy and possibly money into a wasted effort. You’ll come away frustrated and convinced that “digital marketing just doesn’t work”.

Instead, by putting in a systematic process to generate leads over time, you’ll grow your database of potential clients, and sales will follow. There is no magic “push this button” and money falls out the other side. I’m sorry, but to answer my client’s question above, “Is all that really necessary?”, hell yes, it is.

People are not going to whip out their wallet the instant they stumble across your website. Today’s buyers are far more sophisticated and skeptical of marketing hype. They have to get to know, like and trust you before they’ll even consider doing business with you. It’s a repeatable process that is easy to learn, but it takes work – a lot of it.

Whether you outsource the mechanics of it to a virtual assistant or an employee, you have to have the processes in place to:

  1.  Attract your ideal buyer (SEO, “lead magnets” or other free information)
  2. In exchange for more great stuff, they have to give you their email address (or phone number). Anonymous visitors to your website don’t buy stuff. But leads do.
  3. Nurture those leads through a series of rich content (blogs, videos, webinars and email) to build trust and a virtual relationship.
  4. Provide them an offer that may be of interest.
  5. Repeat.

It’s work. By having a repeatable process, you can turn the crank and build a following. But you have to measure it. If your efforts aren’t generating business, then you need to shift.

So yes, it can be very overwhelming.

  • Where do you start?
  • What do you do first?
  • What do you ignore?

Hire an expert in digital marketing and its nuances, or take a digital marketing class from someone (like me) who can help you get your processes in place. By getting an expert involved, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and wasted effort.

Coincidentally, just as I was writing this article, my friend Chuck posted this excellent article, Digital Marketing: Who’s in Charge of this Thing?. His subheadline is so fitting: “Having a website is not a strategy. Neither is hope.

Yup. Hope marketing doesn’t work either.

The world has shifted, and you have to shift with it. A website – even a website with SEO – is not a marketing strategy. You have to put processes in place and train yourself and your staff how to manage it. This, my friend, is digital marketing.

About Thomas Petty

Thomas Petty has been a Master SEO trainer with the Bay Area Search Engine Academy since 2008. He teaches SEO classes in the San Francisco, California Bay Area, and is President of an SEO consulting services company. He is an HFI Certified Usability Analyst™ from Human Factors International.


  1. Thanks for the great article, Thomas Petty.

    Nice list of places and tasks that need priority attention to really nurture leads. This can help many businesses avoid frustrations and see positive results sooner versus later. Engaging SEO with a skilled digital marketing person is at the helm is the way to go for a small and medium sized business. Most teams we encounter are already heavily tasked and the learning curve / time demanded is so high.

    Hiring your (or someone’s) expertise is probably a money saver in the long run.

    Last class with you, I mentioned my post on how to use the Google Search Console’s latest report features. If helpful to your readers, here it is: SEO Tools in Your Google Search Console

  2. Good to see a fellow Bay Area Internet Marketer or at least someone who can teach! I think People are confused of what SEO really is. To me it’s a website that you can be built and is highly optimized for SEO. Namely WordPress is the tool. Of course Linking, Social Media, Citations, and Off-Page Optimization is Important. As I’m commenting, it’s Fall of 2016. It’s all about On-Page Content and Optimization. Quality! But Linking (1/5 of SEO) and Social / Other (1/5 of SEO) and On-Page (3/5) but I’d put PBN’s and Citations in a different Category, still trying to figure that one out.Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing, can be done today with authentic hard work. Thanks for your well Rounded SEO Tips and information. You have great info throughout the site and hit me up to share ideas if you’d like!

  3. A lot of people thing that digital marketing is like magic. They just don’t realize how complicated and time consuming it can be. There’s a reason that those firms charge so much for it, but at the end of the day, the results and the profits will be greater than the costs.

  4. The least that a small business can do, is develop a strong social media presence. All it takes is posting something useful every day or so. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be original, you can just share stuff that you think your customers / followers will find useful or fun. If you don’t have the time to THAT, then you definitely need to hire an expert to handle your digital marketing.

  5. It is sad that many people are still completely unaware of SEO , digital marketing and the diverse options each of these offer to a business owner. Thanks for sharing this post as I am sure many have been benefited by it.

  6. At DigitalKul, we offer trainings for various Digital Marketing Products. We welcome all individuals or group of people through in –classroom training at our Noida, Ghaziabad Center.Joining Digitalkul is best decision of my life. Really thankful to trainers for imparting amazing knowledge and practical examples.

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