If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my 10+ years in digital marketing it’s that there’s a lot of jargon to become familiar with and keep up with as things evolve. After all, change is the only constant in marketing.
So I’ve compiled a list of some of the top digital marketing terms and phrases you need to know to help you do your job better these days. I’ve learned them along the way as I got my start at AOL, obtained my MBA in marketing, grew into senior digital marketing roles at the New York City Marathon and two healthcare startups, and set up my own shop as a marketing consultant and content marketing writer for enterprise MarTech companies (see #27 below), digital marketing agencies, and brands like Adobe and Pinterest.
These terms are helpful to know if you’re just getting started pursuing a career in digital marketing or are branching out from traditional marketing into digital marketing, but they’re also great to familiarize yourself with if you’re part of a team that frequently collaborates with marketers.
Who You’re Trying to Market To
As any marketer knows, you can’t have a (viable) product or service if you don’t have customers. That’s why some of the most important terms to learn relate to who your company is trying to reach.
1. Target Audience
This is the group of people you believe are most likely to be interested in and potentially engage with your company’s products or services. Marketers who advertise via digital channels like websites, social media, and digital TV and radio are able to define the target audience they want to reach—say individuals within a certain age range living in select ZIP codes, and their ads will be shown to individuals who meet these criteria. For instance—when I worked for a clinical research company, we set up our ads to be shown to the target audience that matched the criteria required to participate in a given study, such as people living in a certain state between the ages of 21 and 45.
Marketers whose target audiences are other companies—or key decision makers at these companies—are known as business-to-business (B2B) marketers. I work as a B2B marketing writer for several technology companies, helping them articulate why their software can help solve prospective clients’ business needs—whether that’s helping companies get work done faster, more efficiently, or more strategically.
Marketers whose target audiences are individual customers are known as business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers. When I worked in marketing for Queens Public Library and the New York City Marathon, for example, I was responsible for growing both nonprofits’ social media followers and engaging directly with library patrons and runners in the comments.
4. Marketing Funnel
Another important way to think about who you’re trying to reach is whether you’re looking to reach and engage with potential customers for the first time, loyal customers for the thousandth time, or people who fall somewhere in between. That is, which stage of the marketing funnel are you trying to grow?
A marketing funnel is generally visualized as an inverted pyramid, with the top of the funnel (the widest part) made up of the broadest possible target audience in what’s referred to as the awareness stage. These are people your company wants to make aware of your brand—even if many of them never end up buying something or taking another action. Further down the funnel, people may advance to a consideration stage (where they may spend more time thinking about purchasing your products or services). From there, a smaller group of people are those who actually convert—download your app, sign up for an account with your website, become a paid subscriber, or take whatever other action you’re hoping they’ll take. Some customers are known as one-and-dones, but others become repeat customers, with the very tip of the inverted pyramid representing loyal fans and brand advocates who keep coming back.
How You’re Trying to Reach and Engage Your Audience
The ways companies reach audiences via digital marketing is continuously evolving. Here are some of the top terms to know about engaging with audiences.
It’s time to reach your audience, but how do you do it? Through a campaign—a form of marketing outreach with one unified message or goal, whether that’s to raise awareness of a given brand, promote a sale, or celebrate the launch of a new product or service. Campaigns can be as simple as finding some stock photos, thinking of a creative caption, defining your target audience, selecting your budget, and publishing a Twitter ad campaign—or as complex as producing a 60-second video with professional actors and videographers to launch internationally across tons of different types of channels. Whether it’s a series of online ads announcing a new TV show or a series of emails counting down to a holiday promotion, campaigns generally have a cohesive look and feel, consistent messaging, and a specific desired outcome—whether that’s to drive awareness of the show or deals during the holiday.
6. Call to Action (CTA)
No campaign is complete without a call to action (CTA). Simply put, a CTA tells customers what you want them to do after viewing your campaign—buy something, read something, sign something, you name it. These are often included as buttons on ads, videos, websites, apps, or email campaigns.
Once you have your audience defined and your campaign developed, you’ll deploy your campaign through channels, or outreach platforms. Marketing channels can include paid advertising, social media, email, your own website, and more.
8. Cross-Channel/Omni-Channel Marketing
Some marketing specialists focus on select channels (in some of my roles as a social media manager in the past, I’ve been responsible only for social channels, not the company’s email marketing). But marketing teams in general are responsible for cross-channel/omni-channel marketing, that is, connecting with customers across all channels—thinking about the best ways to engage your company’s app users, web visitors, email subscribers, social followers, and more.
9. Owned Channels
Your digital marketing channels generally fall into one of three categories. The first is owned—think channels you directly control, such as your website, email marketing, text marketing, and app.
10. Earned Channels
The second category is earned—think coverage about your brand that’s been earned through your company’s reputation, such as media or press mentions in publications and other outlets. For instance, when I worked for the New York City Marathon, we kept track of our owned social media followers and engagement with our accounts’ posts, but we also kept an eye on the number of social posts that mentioned our brand name or hashtags.
11. Paid Channels
The next major category is earned—think: marketing exposure that you have to pay for, such as digital display ads and sponsored posts on social media.
12. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
There are a growing number of paid marketing channels. Search engine marketing (SEM) is a popular option for ensuring your brand gets a prominent—sponsored—position in search engine results. (If you’ve ever Googled something, the top result is often a paid ad placement.) So let’s say you’re trying to promote your wine subscription service, you might pay for a sponsored position on the search results page for the term “wine delivery.”
13. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is another newer paid channel, where companies pay or otherwise compensate celebrities and individuals with engaged social media accounts (usually with a certain threshold of followers, say 50,000 or more) to post about their brand in exchange for money or goods. When I worked for the New York City Marathon, we had a social media ambassador program, where we recruited highly influential individuals from the running community to run in our races and post about them on social media in exchange for free races, free coaching, and other perks.
14. Affiliate Marketing
Another way to reach potential audiences is through a popular paid channel called affiliate marketing, a digital outreach avenue that’s similar to how sponsored product placements in TV shows and movies work (i.e. brands pay the show or film for exposure). In the case of affiliate marketing, however, marketers offer commission based on traffic or sales that come in from a link to their company’s products or services from a given digital platform, such as a website, app, or email newsletter.
For example, if you sell a product that’s helpful for new parents, you may try to get the word out about your brand through affiliate—or sponsored—links placed within an online parenting community or even a parenting podcast’s show page, paying those organizations a certain amount for each sale that was initiated via those links.
15. Organic Traffic
While companies can pay for traffic to their websites through some of the options described above, such as SEM, influencer marketing, digital ads, and paid social, most brands can’t sustain their growth without also cultivating organic—or unpaid—traffic. That means encouraging website visits through free efforts, like posting about your website on social media, including links to your website in email campaigns, and more.
16. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
One strategy for increasing organic traffic to your company’s website is through search engine optimization (SEO). At a high level, that involves researching the types of phrases people are typing in on search engines like Google and making sure your company’s website ranks well (or comes within the top spots on the first page of search results) for terms related to your brand. Over the last year I’ve worked with digital marketing agencies to ensure their clients rank well for terms relevant to their businesses, including a national car dealership that wanted to appear in search results for both the types of models they sell and the repair services they offer in the markets where they have locations.
How You’ll Measure Your Digital Marketing Performance
Digital marketing is the engine that drives growth, sales, and other key outcomes for businesses. But in order to deliver results, you need to be able to measure the impact of your efforts.
Whether you’re an email marketer, social media manager, or digital marketing generalist, a good portion of your time will be spent not only creating campaigns, but also evaluating the results. And to do that you’ll spend a lot of time looking at your analytics, or the data that measures key marketing outcomes, such as the number of times a given email campaign has been opened, the number of new social media followers in a set timeframe, or the number of times a particular YouTube video has been viewed.
A count of the number of times a given campaign or item has been seen, impressions are one of the most common digital marketing metrics. This top-of-the-funnel engagement metric, indicating reach or awareness, is used in the PR context (how many times a given article may have been seen), social media realm (how many times an individual post or piece of content may have been seen), and in advertising (how many times a given ad may have been seen).
19. Clicks and Click-Through Rate (CTR)
Further down the funnel beyond impressions are clicks, a measure of the number of times a given campaign element has been clicked. Click-through rate is a measure of the total number of times an email, ad, or social post is clicked divided by the potential audience. For example, out of all the subscribers who received an email you sent, how many clicked on a link inside the email?
20. Conversions and Conversion Rate
Ultimately, whether a campaign is conducted through paid advertising, email, or organic social media posts, the metric, or measurement, most brands care about is the number of conversions, or how many people take the desired action—such as complete a purchase or register for a webinar. The conversion rate measures how many people took that action out of all the people who have potentially seen a landing page, email, ad, social media post, or video. As a digital marketer, you might be responsible for conversion rate optimization (CRO), or, to put it simply, finding ways to increase conversion rates for your company.
While top-of-the-funnel metrics like ad impressions or clicks are often called “vanity metrics” (because they tend to be bigger numbers that sound impressive), some metrics like conversions are considered key performance indicators (KPIs) because they have a direct impact on business performance in the form of sales or other high-value outcomes. The kinds of KPIs your organization sets and prioritizes will vary depending on the industry you’re in, the type of product or service you offer, and the specific ways in which leadership wants to grow the company. For instance, when I worked for the clinical research company, we had a high volume of people who were interested in participating in our trials, but we had a much lower number of qualified sign-ups (that is, people who were interested and met our participation criteria), so for us qualified sign-ups was our top KPI.
22. Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) or Cost Per Conversion (CPC)
It’s also important for marketers to pay attention to how much they’re spending to acquire new customers and get them to convert. That means tracking another KPI: your brand’s cost per acquisition (CPA) or cost per conversion (CPC). At the clinical trials company, the need to find people who were not only interested, but also met the eligibility criteria drove up our CPC.
23. Engagement and Engagement Rates
Engagement and engagement rates are also important digital marketing KPIs. Engagement can be measured at the campaign and individual levels. As an example, let’s say a social media post is seen by 100 people and receives two clicks and three comments (or five total engagements), then it has a 5% engagement rate. At an individual level, a given email subscriber may be considered “engaged” if they’ve opened at least one of a given brand’s email campaigns within the last three to six months. (If they haven’t, they may be considered lapsing or churned.)
24. Customer Lifetime Value
Researchers have found that it costs anywhere from five to 25 times more to acquire new customers than it does to hang onto existing ones. And that’s why perhaps one of the most important KPIs is customer lifetime value (CLV or LTV). While this can be calculated in a variety of different ways, at a high level this is, as the name suggests, a measure of the value a given customer will bring over their lifetime of engaging with a given brand. If your company sells organic dog treats, you’ll want to have an understanding of how many organic dog treats the average customer is going to buy from your organization in their lifetime and how much revenue that will bring in.
How to Improve Your Digital Marketing Performance
One of the most exciting things about working in digital marketing is getting instant feedback about the work you’re doing. It’s almost always possible to measure how you’re doing, see what’s working (and what’s not), and find room for improvement.
25. A/B Testing
Testing is a critical part of any marketing effort. Like scientists, marketers should create hypotheses and experiment to see what approaches are working (and which aren’t). A/B testing is one common way to experiment by changing just one element of a campaign to see which version—A or B—has better outcomes and then act on the result. For example, you can compare the effectiveness of one email subject line to another, testing the two options with 20% of recipients before deploying a full campaign using the winning subject line.
26. User Experience (UX)
Depending on the size of the company, entire teams may be responsible for identifying ways to enhance the user experience of your company’s products and services, or improve how customers feel about engaging with and navigating them. This includes thinking about design, instructions, workflow, and processes. For example, testing email campaigns, websites, and apps across devices and browsers, to make sure everything loads properly is one way to improve the user experience. When I worked for the New York City Marathon, creating clear event signage and a mobile app loaded with helpful interactive maps was an important part of ensuring a positive user experience by guiding runners and spectators to wherever they needed to be.
Today most marketers use a range of tools known as marketing technology (or MarTech) platforms, such as social publishing and listening tools (e.g. Hootsuite), email marketing platforms (e.g. Mailchimp), and customer relationship management (CRM) tools (e.g. Salesforce) to automate tasks like scheduling campaigns, creating reports, and more.
28. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
These days, everything from advertising platforms to SEO tools use artificial intelligence to offer recommendations that guide marketers to optimize their campaigns and content for maximum performance. For example, Facebook advertising uses artificial intelligence to identify which images are performing better for ads and show these images more often. And SEO tools powered by AI recommend which keywords to use (and how many times to use them) for content to rank even higher in search engines.
If you work in marketing long enough, you’ll realize there will always be new ways to think about, reach, and engage audiences—and ultimately measure how well you’re doing all of the above. That means that this list is likely to grow and evolve over time, and so are you.