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Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Explaining the Difference, Examples, and Definition

Digital marketing vs. content marketing.

Knowing one from the other can mean the difference between success and failure in your online marketing endeavors.

Because yes, you can be hugely successful when you market online.

For instance, consider Buffer.

What Buffer did in its initial growth period was to publish quality content on highly visible sites. This tactic gained them their first 100,000 users.

Buffer also worked hard on its own blog. With unique, highly-sharable blog posts, it soon grew into a successful brand with almost 400,000 users and millions of followers across the globe. Amazing!

Yes, we all want to experience Buffer’s success.

But first: did Buffer use digital marketing or content marketing?

Is there really a difference between the two?

If so, which one is the right fit for your brand?

Because it can get confusing, I’ve created an in-depth guide to help you truly understand digital marketing vs. content marketing.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • The true difference between digital marketing and content marketing.
  • Nine common forms of digital marketing.
  • How to do content marketing right.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

Differences between digital marketing vs content marketing

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference? – Table of Contents

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: The Definitions and Differences

What is Digital Marketing?

What is Content Marketing?

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Which One is Right for Your Brand?

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: The Definitions and Differences

Here’s how Hubspot defines digital marketing:

what is digital marketing definition

So, digital marketing is marketing done using electronic devices.

It’s different from traditional forms of marketing: billboards, flyers, and posters.

Here are nine common forms of digital marketing:

  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • SEM (search engine marketing)
  • Content Marketing
  • Pay Per Click (PPC ads)
  • Social Media Marketing (SMM)
  • Email Marketing
  • Online PR
  • Native Advertising
  • Affiliate Marketing

Notice #2?

Yup! It’s content marketing.

So, is content marketing simply one facet of digital marketing, like PPC and SEO?

Yes, and no.

Because email and social media posts (part of digital marketing) can also be part of content marketing.

Here’s how Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing:

what is content marketing definition

The key to learning the difference between digital marketing vs. content marketing is to look at the goal behind the marketing action.

Digital marketing: Any form of marketing using electronic devices. Includes content marketing, email marketing, SEO, SEM, PPC, and more.

Content marketing: A marketing approach based on the creation and distribution of relevant and useful content that improves people’s lives. Includes blogs, email content, social media posts, and more.

Learn about allll the terms in the marketing industry in our content marketing glossary.

enroll in the Content Strategy and Marketing Course

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Examples

Yes, digital marketing and content marketing can overlap.

For example, there’s email.

Is email marketing digital marketing or content marketing?

Well, it can be both. As the saying goes, “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.”

Let’s look at an example.

digital marketing vs content marketing example

Source: email from Tiger Gems

This email is part of a digital marketing campaign. It uses electronic mail to deliver a sales message to prospects.

But is it content marketing?

Answer the following two questions to find out:

  • Is the content relevant and useful, created to improve people’s lives?
  • Is the email part of a promotion plan to get quality content in front of an audience?

If the answer is no to both, then it’s not content marketing.

Now, look at this email.

digital marketing or content marketing email

Source: email from Great Escape Publishing

This email is different:

  • It’s not salesy.
  • It’s packed with relevant advice for people who want to get published.

Content marketing? Definitely.

But how about emails like this one?

content marketing and digital marketing - which is it?

Source: email from Smart Blogger

No, the email doesn’t provide content that improves people’s lives.

But what it does provide is a link to a value-rich podcast episode (quality content).

So yes, digital marketing vs. content marketing is potentially confusing.

The lines often blur between the two.

But it’s not your job to scrutinize each one and put each marketing material into a box.

That’s not what garners success.

What you need to do is gain a clear understanding of each one, then pick the one that works best for your business.

Read on below to start.

What Is Digital Marketing?

Earlier, I mentioned nine common forms of digital marketing.

Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Content Marketing

The goal of content marketing is to establish trust with consumers so they eventually buy what you’re selling. (More on content marketing later.)

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

In short, SEO is the art of ranking highly in the unpaid section of Google.

For example, let’s look at results for “black forest cake.”

Google results for black forest cake

Source: google.com

As you can see here, the top three spots on Google’s SERPs go to Liv for Cake, Allrecipes, and Natasha’s Kitchen.

So, what do sites like these do right to make it to Google’s top organic spots?

Well, a ton of things. Here are five that matter:

  • Optimized web page design
  • Relevant, low-competition, long-tail keywords
  • Useful content
  • High-quality links
  • High domain authority

3. SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM is the process of gaining website traffic through purchasing paid ads.

These ads can be:

  • PPC (pay per click)
  • CPC (cost per click)
  • Paid search ads

So, how does SEM work?

It’s simple. You pay Google (or whatever search engine you’re using), to show your ads in its SERPs.

Just like SEO, keywords form the foundation of SEM. The main difference is SEO is for organic search, and SEM is for paid search.

4. Pay Per Click (PPC)

PPC is a system of paid advertising in which you bid for ad space on a search engine.

With pay per click advertising, you only pay the search engine whenever a user clicks on your ad. This means your ROI largely depends on whether clicks lead to sales.

For instance, you pay a search engine $2 for each click. If you make a $200 sale for every 10 clicks, your PPC campaign is working! However, if your audience is just clicking and not buying, you should do something to ramp up your campaign.

A PPC campaign can be a part of search engine marketing (SEM). When you look at it closely, it’s a lot like SEO as well.

This is because of how PPC works:

  • You create a campaign based on relevant, well-researched keywords.
  • You bid for ad spots on Google’s SERPs.
  • Google looks through the bunch of ad bids and selects the most relevant ones. If yours is picked, you get a spot in Google’s paid results for a certain keyword.
  • A user clicks your ad and it takes him to an optimized landing page.
  • The user buys your product.

So, what does a paid ad look like on Google’s SERPs?

Here’s an example of an ad for the keyword “best resort in Florida.”

paid ad in Google SERP

Source: google.com

5. Social Media Marketing (SMM)

With 3.8 billion users, social media is the perfect place to gain exposure for your brand.

Here’s how it works:

  • You create a page on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • You figure out your main goal. Is it brand awareness? Sales? Increased web traffic?
  • You craft and curate relevant, helpful content for your target audience.
  • You attach metrics to all your efforts to see where you’re winning and where you need improvement.

The trick with social media marketing is to stand out above the noise on social platforms.

You need to compete with posts from friends and family, so knowing your audience and what they’re interested in is a must.

For instance, here’s a post from Emirates that garnered 3,500 likes, 1,100 comments, and 870 shares.

digital marketing on social media

Why? Because it’s timely, relevant, and shows Emirates cares.

Profitable Content Marketer Cheat Sheet cta

6. Email Marketing

Email marketing is highly effective because the people you’re talking to have chosen to subscribe to your email list.

In fact, email is 40x more effective than social media.

So, how does email marketing work?

A. Build Your Email List

Don’t do anything spammy like buying an email list. Instead, offer prospects free goodies in exchange for their email: fun updates, an email newsletter, or a premium downloadable item like an ebook.

B. Send Irresistible Emails

Your prospects didn’t subscribe to your email list to be bombarded with salesy content.

They subscribed because they expected something from you.

Make sure to fulfil those expectations, and they’ll continue opening your emails.

When you do pitch a product, do it in a way that shows readers how they’re lives will improve with this product.

C. Measure, Measure, Measure

Constantly analyze your email marketing success (or failure). Here are three important metrics to look out for:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Unsubscribe rate

7. Online PR

Here’s how HubSpot defines PR:

digital marketing - what is PR

To do online PR, you start by writing a press release. If your press release is chosen by big media sites like CNN or Business Insider, you can see your Google rank climb to the first page in 48 hours.

8. Native Advertising

Native advertising is paid content that “fits in.”

Unlike paid ads, native advertisements don’t interrupt user experience. In fact, the ads users see are based on their interest and search intent.

For instance, look at this post from The Economist.

digital marketing - native advertising

9. Affiliate Marketing

When you do affiliate marketing, you promote someone else’s products and get commission for sales.

It’s the smart way to earn money in your sleep.

So, how does it work?

  • Select an affiliate program. Amazon’s affiliate program is the largest and most successful today.
  • Choose from millions of products from Amazon to promote to your audience.
  • Generate affiliate links and earn a percentage of the sale each time someone buys using your link.

What Is Content Marketing? Plus, How to Do it Right

As mentioned above, content marketing is the creation and distribution of quality content to create brand awareness, drive leads, and gain sales.

But not all content marketing works.

You can’t simply create random pieces of quality content and hope people will come flocking to your website.

Doing this is like going on a trip without a destination and without a map.

So, how can you do content marketing right?

You need content strategy.

What Is Content Strategy and How Does It Work for Content Marketing?

Your content strategy “governs, manages, and guides the principles of your overall content marketing.” (Practical Content Strategy & Marketing)

This means your content strategy is the blueprint behind all your content marketing efforts.

It’s the foundation beneath successful marketing.

Here are six steps to a great content strategy.

1. Lay Your Foundation

  • Know your content goals. Don’t simply write and publish something because it inspires you. Attach a goal behind it. Is the goal to get someone’s email? To compel people to buy your product? To get them to contact you?
  • Establish your CDF. Figure out what sets your content apart from all the content online today.
  • Align your topics with your content marketing goals. To product relevant content every single time, make sure the piece you’re writing fits into one of these three buckets: SEO, sales and connections, or brand awareness.

2. Know (And Write For) Your Audience

With your content strategy in mind, build buyer personas. Make them as detailed as you can, adding your audience’s fears, problems, desires, and dreams.

Remember, there are three stages in the buyer journey: awareness, consideration, and decision. Create relevant content for your audience at each of these stages.

3. Focus on Good SEO

Optimizing your content with long-tail (3-5 words) keywords will help you reach your ideal customers.

4. Build Your Authority with a Content House

Here’s what a solid content house looks like.

content house diagram

Focus first on building content on your own website. Guest posting and social media posting are secondary.

5. Create Stellar Content

Keeping your goals in mind, craft content that gets your audience excited.

Solve their problems and improve their lives, but in a fun, engaging way.

6. Get a Maintenance Plan Going

This involves coming up with a budget for consistent, quality content.

If things get too overwhelming, it’s an excellent idea to hire expert writers to create and curate amazing content for you.

How to Get into Content Strategy

The good news is, you can learn content strategy.

And you don’t need to graduate with a BS in journalism or marketing.

Here are three things you can do to become a content strategist.

1. Pay Attention to Good Content

Visits websites you admire and ask yourself, “Why?” for every piece of content they’ve published.

Why did they publish this piece? What’s its goal? Tone? How does it fit the brand’s audience?

2. Search for Excellent Free Materials Online

If you know how to look, there’s tons of material you can learn from online without paying a cent.

For instance, there’s The Profitable Content Marketer Skills Cheat Sheet. This guide shows you 30 skills and 11 tools you need for successful content marketing.

Or, you can access my guide: What Is a Content Strategist?

3. Enroll in My Content Marketing and Strategy Course

Of course, there’s a difference between paid and free resources.

Just as there’s a difference between getting that free cup of coffee at a cafeteria and paying $10 for premium brewed coffee with Arabica beans.

So if you don’t want to spend months (or even years) digging up free resources and learning on your own from scratch, take my Content Marketing and Strategy Course.

In just six weeks, you’ll get all the knowledge it took me years to figure out.

You’ll get access to the roadmap I used to grow my company Express Writers from a $75 startup to a company that earns over $4 million in sales.

The Content Marketing and Strategy Course is your shortcut to learning content strategy.

Digital Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Which One is Right for Your Brand?

We’ve seen how different digital marketing is from content marketing.

So, which one is right for your business?

The answer is, you don’t have to choose one from the other.

Digital marketing and content marketing work flawlessly together to put your brand in front of your audience.

Enroll in the Content Strategy and Marketing Course
Digital marketing vs content marketing

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