Beginners Guide to Digital Marketing

A Practical Checklist for Beginners to Identify the Elements of a Successful Digital Marketing Strategy


How To Build a Successful Digital Marketing Strategy

We’ve created a beginners guide to digital marketing for those who are new to the idea and will benefit from a practical checklist of the elements that should be part of any successful digital marketing strategy.

Our Beginners Guide to Digital Marketing

You probably wouldn’t be reading this unless you realize you need a successful digital marketing strategy.  But you may not have a clear idea how to proceed with that goal.

Marketing a small business has become more and more complex in the past decade.  It’s hard to wade through all the things you “could do,” and isolate on the things you “should do.”  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

So this beginners guide to digital marketing takes you through a checklist of 5 core elements to any successful digital marketing strategy:

    1. Set Business Growth Goals
    2. Understand the Metrics You Need to Track
    3. Focus on the Digital Basics First
    4. Follow a Structure
    5. Be Data-Driven

Our company was founded on a core set of principles, two of which include leading with education and investing in our clients before they invest in us.  We offer free digital marketing workshops if you’d like to explore these concepts in more depth.  We also offer a free initial marketing consultation.  Please consider connecting with us in these ways.

Begin With the End in Mind

There’s no point embarking on a successful digital marketing strategy unless you know what success looks like.  So begin with the end in mind.

Set clear goals for the growth of your business.  Then let the strategy flow from those goals.

Here is our favorite structure for building goals.  It’s called the SMART system.  And this link will show you some examples.  SMART stands for:

SPECIFIC.  Goals should be specific, not vague.

MEASURABLE.  Goals should be easily measured.  Did we hit it?  Did we not?

ACHIEVABLE.  Goals should be attainable; not “pie in the sky.”

RELEVANT.  Goals should move you toward fulfilling your mission.

TIME-BOUND.  Goals should have a deadline.

For most small businesses, we recommend having at least 1 SMART goal at all times, but not more than 3 at once.  Too many smart goals will leave you and your resources spread too thin.

If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It

You cannot manage what you cannot measure.  So as you’re building the digital platform of your business, consider how you will track everything that’s happening.

The core tools readily available to most small businesses for measurement include:

GOOGLE ANALYTICS.  A free product from Google, Google Analytics is an essential tool for any successful digital marketing strategy.  Google is in the midst of making a transition from the original Universal Analytics to the new GA4 platform, which incorporates advanced tracking with Google Tag Manager.

GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE.  Another free product from Google, and part of the Google Marketing Platform, Google Search Console helps you communicate who you are, what you do, where you do it, and other essential information Google needs to properly understand your business and show you in relevant search results.

GOOGLE DATA STUDIO.  Also part of the Google Marketing Platform is Google Data Studio — a tool for visualizing your data and generating reports that communicate your progress toward your goals.

We recommend these tracking and reporting platforms because for most small businesses the free versions readily available from Google save time and money that’s better spent on your tactical execution.

Get the Basics Right Before You Start Any Digital Marketing

You’ve heard the phrase, “Ready.  Fire.  Aim.”  That’s the most common mistake beginners make in digital marketing.

We’ll address planning in the next section.  But before you build a plan that includes outbound digital marketing, you’ve got to make sure your basic digital footprint is healthy and ready to point prospective customers your way effectively and efficiently.

What’s the digital footprint of your business?  We think of it as the minimum every business should be doing on-line to be findable and capture actionable leads / make sales that drive your business growth goals.  It can also be thought of as growing your on-line authority.

On-line authority is like the Internet equivalent of a credit score for your business.  Whichever business has the greatest on-line authority will be the preferred response from Google and other search engines.

Here are the main elements of the digital footprint of any business:

MAJOR DIRECTORIES.  The modern day version of the yellow pages is a small set of global business directories that drive almost all search results.

SEARCH.  Google has to know you to show you.  From the design of your website to the way you interact with search engines (SEO), you impact Google’s understanding of your business.

SOCIAL MEDIA & EMAIL.  As you create content to grow your on-line authority, a clear posting strategy that includes social media and other locations is essential.  Also, how you communicate on an ongoing business with prospects via these channels can play an important role in your overall strategy.

REVIEWS & REPUTATION.  Importance varies wildly by industry and other factors, but on-line reviews and reputation are also core components of your digital footprint.  For some potential customers, these are important decision-making factors.

Curious about your digital footprint?  We offer a free digital footprint audit.

A Structure for the Planning & Execution of Successful Digital Marketing Strategy

We hear all the time, “We’ve tried digital marketing and it didn’t work.”  That’s the natural outcome when there are so many choices and so many salespeople coming at you with tactical ideas.

As part of our beginners guide to digital marketing, we’re sharing our basic digital marketing formula:


We recently published a 5-part series called Marketing Formula 101.  Before you embark on developing your own plans, read that.

TARGETING.  Who are you talking to?

MESSAGING.  What do you want to say to them?

REACH.  Where and when is the best time to communicate it?  You want them to be able to absorb what you’re saying and engage with it…

RESULTS.  What do you want them to do?  How will you track that?

There is also an element of frequency associated with reach.  We call that re-targeting, and we explore it in our series.

Successful Digital Marketers are Like Scientists in a Lab

One of the best things about the evolution of marketing into the digital realm is that while core, fundamental marketing theory still applies — how we create awareness and how prospects progress through the journey to becoming customers has seen dramatic shifts.


Successful digital marketers become data-driven.  Digital marketing allows for low-budget testing of plausible ideas to see what happens.  Tracking provides greater accountability.

As you develop your growth funnel, you must have a structure to test your ideas and optimize them along the way.

We developed our unique Bullseye Digital Marketing Method to provide such a structure.  In short, it’s a plan to approach the first 90-120 days of any digital marketing strategy to avoid large-scale failure and find a path to long-term success.

THE FIRST 30 DAYS.  You begin with your 3-7 most plausible ideas and test them.

THE SECOND 30 DAYS.  You throw out what didn’t work at all, and concentrate your efforts on the 1-3 best-performing ideas.  You iterate those, often with A/B testing, to find the best combination of TARGETING, MESSAGING, and REACH for optimal RESULTS.

THE THIRD 30 DAYS.  You hone in on the strongest marketing ROI by iterating again to optimize the best versions of your best ideas.

Sometimes you hit the bullseye sooner; sometimes it takes a little longer.  But having a structure to get you to your optimal results — and knowing how to calculate the ROI and determine success or failure makes all the difference.

Once you know what’s working and making you money, marketing decisions are no longer complex or worrysome.  They’re no-brainers that you can feel confident about, yes or no.

We’re Here to Help

That’s our beginners guide to digital marketing.  We hope you find it useful.

We are always willing to invest in potential clients before they invest in us.  So if you’d like to talk more about what a successful digital marketing strategy might look like for your business specifically, we’re willing to invest in that conversation.

Just contact us.  We’re here to help grow your business.  In fact, we’re pretty obsessed about it…




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After 3 decades as a professional marketer, serial entrepreneur and business consultant Steven Ludwig shares his best practices for small business marketing for owners, managers, and marketers with limited time, money, and expertise. Steven started his professional marketing career in broadcasting in the early ‘90s in Chicago after attending Valparaiso University. After a brief stint at an advertising agency specializing in entertainment and sports marketing where he worked with radio and television stations, movie theatre companies, record labels, musicians, and professional sports teams, he moved to Nashville to form The Marketing Group with his long-time business partner, Jim Wood. Having worked with some of the largest brands in the world, in 2010 he returned to local marketing primarily out of an interest and excitement for working with small business owners to build stronger companies. That desire comes out of early days in radio, where he worked closely with everything from car dealerships to restaurants, insurance and real estate agents, banks, home services companies, and specialty retailers of all kinds. Over the past decade, he has been on the bleeding edge of digital marketing technology, constantly seeking to understand complex strategies employed by giant corporations and then translate those capabilities into tactics small businesses can execute at a local level. Today, in addition to other business ventures with his wife and other long-time business partners, he still lives outside Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee and currently serves as Executive Chairman of EmpowerLocal, a digital marketing company building a nationwide network of digital, hyperlocal news and lifestyle publishers to provide efficient advertising opportunities for local, regional, and national brands.


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