Digital marketing is a powerful tool for business growth, but only if you have the right strategies in place.

Without a digital marketing strategy customized to the needs of your business, you’re essentially gambling with every dollar you pour into those marketing efforts. You don’t have a clear reason for the choices you make. You don’t have a system for measuring the effectiveness of those decisions. And—if you’re like a lot of businesses—you don’t have a method for determining your return on investment.

If this sort of scenario feels all-too-familiar, at least be assured you’re not alone. Many businesses go into digital marketing blind. They work with freelancers or agencies who might be experts at creating content or designing a brand, but those outside professionals are essentially starting in the middle—focused on creation without having done the research needed to guarantee their creative efforts will have fruitful results.

Even more frustrating, they don’t have the data to show you your ROI. You have no idea how well—or even if—your investment is paying off.

Whether you choose to work with a digital marketing agency or you prefer to have your own in-house team, just remember one thing:

Strategy is everything.

Without strategy, digital marketing is money and time wasted.

Here are all the steps every business should take to build an effective and measurable digital marketing strategy.

Phase One: Strategy Research

This is one of the most overlooked phases in digital strategy. That’s a shame, because it’s also absolutely essential to designing a profitable digital marketing strategy.

Digital strategy research can open a business’s eyes to the strengths and weaknesses of past efforts, overlooked opportunities to extend their reach, and trends within their field. Major elements of this phase include:

Business Analysis

In order to set clear priorities in your digital marketing strategy, you first need a clear picture of how your business is already performing online. A thorough internal review will reveal priceless information about the health of your current digital status, from website traffic to your social media presence. This step helps you answer essential questions, including: What is the primary source of traffic to our website? Are our SEO efforts working? What are the open and click-through rates for our email campaigns? Taking the time for this step helps you identify weaknesses and reveals where you can double down on what’s already working.

Competitive Analysis

Digital marketing is one area where it actually does pay to compare yourself to others. A strong digital marketing strategy includes a deep dive into your competitor’s online performance. You want to find out how they’re doing on social media, who’s talking about them, which keywords they use, where and how they connect with buyers, and whether their strategy is actually helping them achieve their objectives.

When you know what’s working for your competitor, you know how to keep up. When you learn how they think, you can stay one step ahead. And when you discover their weaknesses, you can avoid the same mistakes.

Target Audience

Digital marketing is an effective way to connect with buyers not just because everyone is online, but also because digital marketing enables you to target and retarget you perfect audience in ways no other method of marketing can. With so much data at your fingertips, you can reach out to prospects who fit specific demographics, interests, and geographical specifications. You can reconnect with buyers who have engaged with your social media content or browsed your website. But you can’t do any of these things successfully without first doing the work to define your customer persona and determine which type of buyer is already responsive to your digital marketing efforts.

Digital Marketing Strategy Design and Infrastructure Setup

So now you know your own status, your competitors’ strategies, and who your buyers are and where to find them. Before you run full speed ahead into content and ad creation, you need to sit down and turn all this hard-earned knowledge into a carefully thought-out strategy. You should know exactly how you’re going to focus your digital marketing efforts, which buyers you’re going to prioritize, and what platforms give you the best shot at increasing your visibility online.

This step should also take into account the Digital Marketing Funnel. The funnel refers to a buyer’s organic journey from prospect to loyal customer and advocate. A truly successful digital marketing strategy is designed to guide an audience through the phases of Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion.

Perhaps most importantly, this is the step where you also make a plan for measuring the success of this strategy. Select your ideal tools for analytics and install tracking codes and tags. Make sure all your tools and materials are in place, then you’re ready to get this show on the road.

Phase Two: Content Development

If you’ve been working with a freelancer or agency, this is often where their work begins . . . which means they’re working with far, far less information than they could be. However, if you’ve done all the necessary strategy research, you now know which content marketing efforts are already succeeding, where you could use improvement, which content most inspires audience engagement, and what’s working for your competitors. Use this information to guide every aspect of content development, from ad design to social media to video marketing.

Phase Three: Execution

Most businesses owners would say this is where the fun begins. You know what you’re doing. You know why you’re doing it. Now all you have to do is take those final steps toward clicking “publish,” “post,” and “send.”

The execution phase can look different for a lot of businesses. You may hire outside contractors to draft copy, shoot video, or manage social media. You may choose to tackle execution in-house, using your own creative team and a handful of the many excellent content tools available to small businesses. Or you may hand everything over to a full-service digital marketing firm that already helped you design your strategy.

Thanks to modern technology, there are tons of options for strategy execution, no matter your budget. The important thing is that your execution follows the strategy you designed, so you have the best chance at success and can clearly evaluate the efficacy of your efforts.

Phase Four: Monitoring and Optimization

Thanks to all that hard work you did to set up your analytics tools in the first phase, you’re now able to see exactly how well your strategy is performing. You can use these tools to monitor social media, video marketing, and your own website. You can see which ads are converting most successfully, which content is inspiring user engagement, and which buyers and influencers are talking about your brand. This information helps you do two very important things.

First, it tells you what you most need to know: Your ROI.

Second, your analytics help you continuously improve and optimize your strategy. All the research you did in the beginning should already be paying off. Even so, digital marketing is like any other endeavor—there are constantly new opportunities to learn and improve. Not to mention,culture and technology are changing every day. Monitoring your online performance is essential to staying ahead of the curve.

These steps may seem overwhelming. But this day in age, you can’t afford to bypass strategy research. You can’t afford to disregard analytics. And you can’t afford to opt out of digital marketing altogether.

The good news is that once you do the heavy lifting of setting up a truly profitable digital marketing strategy, you’ll not only see better profits more quickly, but you’ll also have systems in place to enhance that strategy more smoothly going forward. And you don’t have to tackle this process alone. Please feel free to contact us for support and assistance.