Alida Arteaga, Regional Coordinator

1 June 2021

What Does a Digital Marketing Specialist Do?

If you’re reading this article, chances are our digital marketing specialist brought you here. But is directly driving people to web pages the only thing that digital marketers do? Let’s find out.

Search Engine Optimization

The Premise

Wouldn't it be awesome if clients could find you without any paid advertisement? Certainly so, especially from the perspective of less knowledgeable marketing clients. They already pay marketing professionals their fee, how come they need more money to burn on ads? Well, Search Engine Optimization is certainly the answer, but it does come cheap.

SEO refers to a number of practices and tools used to increase a website's ranking on search engines. The higher the ranking, the higher the spot when potential visitors run search queries on their burning questions and needs. This niche practically revolves around Google thanks to its market share, but there are also knowledge-sharing communities around regional leaders (e.g. Yandex, which boasts 56.6% of the search traffic in Russia).

The NItty-Gritty

Generally, improving your search engine optimization to rank up is a three-part effort:

  1. Create relevant content
  2. Optimize it to Google’s known preferences*
  3. Let Google know you have optimized content for users to see

*Conscious content creation usually incorporates best SEO practices and does not require additional optimization

As for creating relevant content, there are two ways you can go about it. The risky way (i.e. you put time and effort that may never pay off) is trying to predict a trend and start covering that. For example, The Verge’s editor who decided to write a piece on Non-Fungible Tokens in early March certainly struck gold. When you Google “what is NFT?”, their article shows up in the top spot—higher than Wikipedia entries and Ethereum’s article (their blockchain infrastructure is what enables the tokens). 

The reactive approach to content creation would be looking at trends and trying to fit in. The Google Trends tool allows you to see niches that interest people within certain topics. For example, the brief resurgence of flip phones was a trending topic concerning phones, part of a much bigger Tech cluster. How-to articles utilize this approach particularly well: Apple-focused websites (such as 9to5mac and macrumors) were showering in traffic when they laid out updating AirPods firmware better than Apple managed at the time. Their article still shows up higher than Apple’s own knowledge base entry on the process.

Optimizing content is a two-fold matter, as there are objective things that Google looks for and mysterious bits that may or may not help your page rank up. For example, we definitely know that articles without proper headings (H1 as title, H2 for sections, and H3 for subsections) are penalized. We also know that ranking up on particular search queries requires using them in the article. This is referred to as keywords. Using relevant terminology (such as mentioning multiple Apple devices that can update AirPods’s firmware) helps discovery as well.

On the other hand, some practices stem from subjective experience or are outright urban legends. We know that 700 words are the sweet spot for regular articles and exhausting pieces should exceed the 2,000-word mark, but Google does not provide exact numbers and their influence. A good example of an outright false claim would be the need for updating pages just so Google considers them fresh. While updating the date of publication for guides is helpful to show they are still relevant (so is actually revisiting the content), edits for the sake of Google noticing these edits are useless. 

Showing Google the content is optimized used to be rather technical, but modern Content Management Systems make it trivial. Basically, the web page for your content needs additional fields that are hidden from the reader’s eye but recognizable by Google’s website crawler. Here is what you can communicate this way:

  1. Page/article name (can be different from what users see)
  2. Meta description (short text that shows up under page name on Google)
  3. Alt Text (textual description of images in case they won’t load)

There are more advanced things that you can do to make the infamous Google algorithm favor you. They are called schemas, pieces of structured data designed specifically for search engines’ website crawlers. Table of Contents is a natural part of the package, since it can be auto-generated based on headings (provided they are used properly). 

Some schemas can show up directly in search results. The most notable one is the FAQ schema. When looking up popular questions, you see similar questions and answers in the dropdown menu—and this block comes before regular links to websites. E-commerce websites can use a related schema to have product cards show up when users are searching for particular goods. 

Remember that clueless client who can’t fathom the idea of paying for ads? Well, they will still have to stock up—on patience that is. Search Engine Optimization is a long con, and it may take months and years to become relevant in contested niches. This, however, should not be a deterrent from following basic SEO practices. Should your industry, general usage habits, or the state of advertising increase the relevancy of organic traffic, catching up on years of negligence will be that much more difficult. 

Advertisement

Landscape

Advertisement is the most expensive way of promotion but it can get you results pretty quickly. In earlier days of the internet, web ads were quite similar to TV ads: you only went where your users were. These days, you can set up ads to chase users where they go, not make them wait for the users to open the page.

Similarly, modern website ads are placed in one of the two ways. Big giants like Facebook, reddit, Twitter, as well as certain industry leaders prefer to handle advertisements themselves. They offer a variety of spots for advertisers to showcase themselves, and the advertisers place bids to occupy these spots. The process is usually automated and does not actually resemble a marketplace despite being one. The advertiser (e.g. Samsung Sweden) simply enters what and to whom they would like to promote and get a quote based on similar demand from their competition (e.g. Huawei Sweden).

Smaller websites prefer to lend their advertisement space for the kind of ads that chase you. Most websites with any resemblance of an audience weaponize third-party cookies to show you ads based on your browsing history. Perhaps the biggest example here would be newspapers that went digital. While negotiating traditional placements for the printed version, The Daily Mail would rather automatically show me ads for IKEA tables since I’ve been looking for a workspace upgrade. Many publications are like that.

Forbes continues the cross-website bombardment from CuriosityStream while using an ad spot on the right to promote their own video

Interestingly enough, Facebook and Google are big players in both scenarios. Showing ads on their properties earns these companies billions of dollars every year. They also, however, enjoy the luxury of enabling others to display ads through Google and Facebook. These companies offer enhanced tracking solutions, Facebook Pixel and Google Tag Manager. Without going into too much detail, both allow cross-tracking users to analyze their patterns and show the most relevant ads. This comes in handy for advertising clients, who can opt to have their ads shown on Google and Facebook’s partner properties. These are mostly mobile applications as well as websites that don’t fill out advertisement spots themselves.

Key Ad Components

Despite popular belief, digital advertisement does not come down to the simple text of the ads. Let’s look at what makes up paid advertisement effort.

Copy (the industry term for texts) is usually the most prominent part of the ad. Most advertising platforms utilize a few headings and a description expanding upon them. You’ll usually have to make a few sets of these so that the platform’s algorithm can test which is received better by your target audience. 

Images/videos help capture the attention of the audience and seed the right associations with your ad before they even get to the text. Nailing them helps a lot, especially if we’re talking about media-centric platforms like Instagram. Most platforms prefer that you don’t put too much text on images (Facebook is notoriously restrictive here) and request assets in multiple resolutions. They do that so you can have decent-looking ads on web, mobile, and different sections of the platform. 

Facebook is happy to provide recommendations for dozens of their ad placements

Targeting is what arguably makes or breaks advertising campaigns. Your personal data from Facebook and your internet habits make up a pretty precise digital footprint, which Google, Facebook, and others can then utilize for precise targeting. Advertisers can feed ads to people of a certain age, gender, marital status, education, location and attachment to it. Most importantly, one can target people by their interest, which is quite precise due to the invasive nature of third-party cookies: everyone shares supposedly anonymized information with everyone.

Signal recently made waves with FB/IG ads that listed targeting features initially used to serve these ads

Interestingly enough, Google has recently listened to privacy enthusiasts who time and again argue against third-party cookies. The company has already started testing a less personal solution that should phase out third-party cookies by 2022. Instead of sending anonymized information about your habits to partners, Google analyzes your browsing history and assigns you a cohort. It’s these cohorts that advertisers can opt to show ads to. The company also insists that the new system (titled Federated Learning of Cohorts) does not actually send your browsing history over the internet: the calculation to determine your cohort is done on the device. At the moment, it’s hard to tell whether FLoC will stick: privacy advocates believe this is not enough, while Google’s partners are not quite jumping at the opportunity to get data that’s less precise.

Visualization of FLoC

Bidding is crucial when it comes to scaling creative ads targeting the right audience. Platforms provide a varying degree of flexibility when it comes to payments, but here are just some payment models:

  1. Pay per impression (user saw the ad)
  2. Pay per click (user clicked the ad)
  3. Pay per conversion (user became a lead)
  4. Fixed spot (your ad occupies a spot for x number of days irrespective of the user interaction)

Somewhat part of the bidding process is also the time when your ads are active. It’s generally not worth the money to run ads for a B2B product on Saturday or Sunday—at least not on the Monday-Friday budget. Similarly, a cafe may decide that advertising when the establishment is closed is not worth it compared to ad performance in the afternoon. Delivery-oriented restaurants may distribute the budget to peak around lunchtime and dinner hours.

Last but not least, some platforms allow you to further specify how important it is for you to show up higher in the advertisement block. Google uses your max bid as only one of the criteria to give you a spot, but some smaller competitors allow advertisers to place precise bids for a particular spot among the ads. This is quite an exciting part of marketeer’s work: how much money do I save by placing my ad earlier vs how many clients I missed out on because they stick to the first link. After all, digital marketing is creativity meeting optimization.