What goes into an effective digital marketing plan?

Digital marketing has become one of the most effective ways to communicate because you can connect with your customers in their preferred channels. A digital marketing plan defines the goals you will accomplish in a given time frame and how you will measure your efforts.

When creating a digital marketing plan, it is important to remember that marketing is still about communicating the benefits of your product or service in a way that resonates with customers. So your plan should focus on the marketing tactics that will help your company engage your target audience with a cohesive experience.

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The importance of digital marketing

Every marketing plan today includes a digital strategy. This is because marketing goals usually put a focus on how the business can reach more potential customers, retain existing customers, and increase sales. And today, your customers are online.

But the broad range of digital marketing options can make it overwhelming to know where to focus. Organizations that want to set themselves apart in the market understand that effectively reaching and engaging with potential customers matters most. This means using creative ways to connect with the right people in the right place and delivering a compelling message that helps them decide if a product might meet their needs.

One of the benefits of digital marketing is that you can test different approaches and quickly adjust your plan based on what is working and what is not. There are many different areas that often get umbrellaed under the term “digital marketing.”

A strategic goals matrix in Aha! software with a marketing team's goals mapped out


Components of a digital marketing plan

From marketing automation and research to tactical activities such as pay-per-click ads, there are many different components to a digital marketing plan.


Online advertising involves bidding and buying relevant ad units on third-party sites, such as display ads on blogs, forums, and other relevant websites. Types of ads include images, text, pop-ups, banners, and video. Retargeting is an important aspect of online advertising. Retargeting requires code that adds an anonymous browser cookie to track new visitors to your site. Then, as that visitor goes to other sites, you can serve them ads for your product or service. This focuses your advertising efforts on people who have already shown interest in your company.

Content marketing

Content marketing is an important strategy for attracting potential customers. Publishing a regular cadence of high-quality, relevant content online will help establish thought leadership. It can educate target customers about the problems your product can help them resolve, as well as boost SEO rankings. Content can include blog posts, case studies, whitepapers, and other materials that provide value to your target audience. These digital content assets can then be used to acquire customers through organic and paid efforts.

Email marketing

Email is a direct marketing method that involves sending promotional messages to a segmented group of prospects or customers. Email marketing continues to be an effective approach for sending personalized messages that target customers’ needs and interests. It is most popular for e-commerce business as a way of staying top of mind for consumers.

Mobile marketing

Mobile marketing is the promotion of products or services specifically via mobile phones and devices. This includes mobile advertising through text messages or advertising in downloaded apps. However, a comprehensive mobile marketing approach also includes optimizing websites, landing pages, emails, and content for an optimal experience on mobile devices.

Paid search increases search engine visibility by allowing companies to bid for certain keywords and purchase advertising space in the search engine results. Ads are only shown to users who are actively searching for the keywords you have selected. There are two main types of paid search advertising — pay per click (PPC) and cost per mille (CPM). With PPC, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. With CPM, you pay based on the number of impressions. Google Adwords is the most widely used paid search advertising platform; however, other search engines like Bing also have paid programs.

Programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising is an automated way of bidding for digital advertising. Each time someone visits a web page, profile data is used to auction the ad impression to competing advertisers. Programmatic advertising provides greater control over what sites your advertisements are displayed on and who is seeing them so you can better target your campaigns.

Reputation marketing

Reputation marketing focuses on gathering and promoting positive online reviews. Reading online reviews can influence customer buying decisions and is an important component of your overall brand and product reputation. An online reputation marketing strategy encourages customers to leave positive reviews on sites where potential customers search for reviews. Many of these review sites also offer native advertising that allows companies to place ads on competitor profiles.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on improving organic traffic to your website. SEO activities encompass technical and creative tactics to improve rankings and increase awareness in search engines. The most widely used search engines include Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Digital marketing managers focus on optimizing levers — such as keywords, crosslinks, backlinks, and original content — to maintain a strong ranking.

Social media marketing

Social media marketing is a key component of digital marketing. Platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and even YouTube provide digital marketing managers with paid opportunities to reach and interact with potential customers. Digital marketing campaigns often combine organic efforts with sponsored content and paid advertising promotions on key social media channels to reach a larger audience and increase brand lift.

Video marketing

Video marketing enables companies to connect with customers in a more visually engaging and interactive way. You can showcase product launches, events, and special announcements, as well as provide educational content and testimonies. YouTube and Vimeo are the most commonly used platforms for sharing and advertising videos. Pre-roll ads (which are shown for the first 5–10 seconds before a video) are another way digital marketing managers can reach audiences on video platforms.

Web analytics

Analytics allow marketing managers to track online user activity. Capturing and analyzing this data is foundational to digital marketing because it gives companies insights into online customer behavior and their preferences. The most widely used tool for analyzing website traffic is Google Analytics, however other tools include Adobe Analytics, Coremetrics, Crazy Egg, and more.


Webinars are virtual events that allow companies to interact with potential and existing customers no matter where they are located. Webinars are an effective way to present relevant content — such as a product demonstration or seminar — to a targeted audience in real time. Engaging directly with your audience in this way gives your company an opportunity to demonstrate deep subject matter expertise. Many companies leverage attendee lists in other marketing programs (email and retargeting advertisements) to generate new leads and strengthen existing relationships.

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How to create a digital marketing plan

Digital marketing methods provide a wide variety of ways for marketing managers to engage potential customers. However, it is important to invest in the channels and media that help you acquire, grow, and retain customers.

The following questions can help marketing teams understand the right digital activities to pursue:

  • What are your business and marketing goals?

  • What is your digital marketing budget?

  • Who are your target customers?

  • Can you describe your audience with discrete buyer personas?

  • Which online channels does your audience use?

  • What customer outcomes do you want to achieve?

  • What benefits are you going to promote?

  • What alternative solutions are your potential customers selecting?

  • What change is needed to improve the customer experience?

  • How would digital marketing methods improve the experience?

  • What data does your company need to better understand customer behavior and preferences?

  • How will success be measured?

  • Who do you need to share your plan with?

Use these marketing plan templates to help you define which digital marketing programs to invest in. As you learn more about where your customers go online and their digital preferences, you can incrementally adjust your plan to improve the results.

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