5 Steps for a Data-Driven Online Marketing Strategy

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A good online marketing strategy can boost your business. Here's how to craft a data-driven strategy in five simple steps.

[featured image] Two blond women stand looking at a laptop screen.

People have been practicing marketing for centuries, promoting brands, products, and services to attract and engage customers. Traditional marketing, like print, broadcast, or direct mail, recently gave way to digital marketing, which meets customers where they are—on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. 

With the rise of the internet, marketers realized the potential for digital and online marketing. Now, they could target consumers with advertisements in Google search results, online shopping, blog posts, and YouTube videos. Over 84 percent of global web traffic comes from Google searches, images, and maps [1]. Data could be generated immediately: How many people clicked on the ad? What percentage of shoppers are females who run marathons? Analyzing this data helps marketers optimize their efforts. 

This article offers an overview of online marketing, its work, and five simple steps for crafting a data-driven strategy.

What is online marketing?

Online marketing uses web-based channels and platforms to sell a brand, product, or service to potential and existing customers. It involves developing the right strategies for your target audience to translate into sales. The beauty of online marketing is that companies can readily analyze data to measure a campaign’s success and adjust accordingly.

Online marketing falls under the umbrella of digital marketing, meaning it applies only to what consumers see and hear online. It includes the following:

  • SEO and content marketing

  • Pay-per-click (PPC)

  • Display advertising (text, image, video, and shopping ads)

  • Email marketing

  • Social media marketing

  • Website design

Along with the above, digital marketing includes marketing that reaches customers on electronic devices, such as podcasts, billboards, phone apps, and SMS texts.

How online marketing works

Online marketing spreads brand messaging through images, text, or video to reach users who may resonate with it. Sometimes, brands curate an integrated strategy that involves a robust presence with a website, blog, and social media, in addition to using a constant stream of targeted ads and email newsletters to draw users to these sites. Other times, an Instagram post on Sunday night detailing a list of events for the week ahead is enough for a jazz bar.

These days, it’s not uncommon for companies to use a multi-prong strategy to reach diverse audiences with multiple channels. The data collected from click-through rates, purchases, and scrolls helps marketers monitor success and modify their content as necessary.

Crafting an online marketing strategy right for your business or organization may require trial and error. The internet evolves with its users, so big players like Google, Meta, and Amazon continually adjust algorithms and search displays to win your attention. Your business’s ability to reach the right audience will likely depend on a keen understanding of demographics, purchasing habits, and the resources you’re willing to put toward capturing that data.

Craft a winning, data-driven marketing strategy 

Companies that benefit most from online marketing tend to have a presence and purpose online. For example, clothing brands with international shipping benefit from targeting on Instagram, and localized food or grocery delivery start-ups can leverage location-based targeting—an email reminder from DoorDash about a pizza promo can boost sales on Friday evenings.

Turn data analytics into a career

Using data to drive business decisions can be rewarding, especially when it results in sales conversions. If you enjoy sorting and analyzing data, you might be interested in a career as a marketing analyst.

With a Professional Certificate in marketing analytics from Facebook, you can learn essential tools like Python and SQL to turn data into profitable marketing strategies. 


Here’s how to use data to craft an online marketing strategy for your business. 

1. Create buyer personas.

As with any marketing strategy, it is necessary to cultivate an understanding of your target market. Based on market research or previous sales data, you can create buyer personas to build fictional representations of your consumers by elaborating on their lifestyles, buying habits, and demographics. 

Questions for creating buyer personas

Place yourself in your imagined customer’s shoes. Detail how they use the internet by considering these questions, which can form the basis of a survey or focus group:

• Does your buyer use social media? If so, what platforms?

• How often do they use social media? For what purpose? 

• Does your buyer define their identity through social media? If so, how?

• Does your buyer use Google search? What do they search for? How often?

• What websites does your buyer frequent? Do they intentionally go to these sites, or did they click on an ad?


Trace your buyer’s roadmap of internet usage. The more accurate it is, the more agile and effective your online marketing strategy.

2. Apply the digital sales funnel. 

The digital sales funnel is a visualization for converting leads into customers from a marketing perspective. Each step represents a web visitor’s decisions leading up to a purchase. At the top of the funnel are awareness, interest, decision, and action.

Businesses typically use these online marketing strategies to attract customers at each stage:

  • Awareness: SEO and content marketing, social media marketing, paid advertising

  • Interest: Landing page, email newsletter

  • Decision: Email marketing, promotions on website

  • Action: Shopping cart (email reminders), reviews, referrals 

One or more strategies can be applied to your brand at the same time. This tactic can help you penetrate customers at different levels of their buying decisions.

Your brand may also have multiple goals. At times, you may want sales conversions, while at other times, you might want to improve brand recognition. These can co-occur on different platforms, too.

3. Map out your online marketing strategy.

With your buyer personas and digital sales funnel in mind, it’s time to map out your online marketing strategy. Here are some examples of each type of online marketing:

  • SEO and content marketing: Improving the quality and quantity of (unpaid) traffic to your website, usually through Google searches. Content marketing, such as articles and blogs written to reach top search results, typically accompanies SEO.

    • Craft marketplace Etsy’s blog contains easy, do-it-yourself (DIY) ideas to spruce up the home and gifts for friends or family [2].

  • Pay per click (PPC): With pay-per-click, advertisers pay the publisher (search engines or web page owners) each time a visitor clicks an ad. 

    • Global footwear brand Converse increased online engagement with teenagers by using Google AdWords to target search terms such as “first day of summer,” “how to talk to girls,” and “how to kiss” [3].

  • Display advertising: Display ads appear on websites or banner ads as text, images, and video to link to a brand’s website so customers can learn about and buy products (or services).

    • Hewlett-Packard (HP) promotes a printer with a display ad on websites targeting small business owners that says, “Make tax season less taxing with the HP OfficeJetPro” [4].

  • Email marketing: Using email to send messages to mass groups of potential customers to build brand awareness and loyalty.

    • Language learning app Duolingo emails users with the headline, “Learn a language with only 5 minutes per day” [5].

  • Social media marketing: Creating customized content for each platform to promote a business and engage users.

    • ILIA beauty brand features older women in make-up tutorials-turned-sponsored ads on Instagram [6].

  • Website design: A website’s user experience and the software and platform used to power the website can be optimized to convert sales. 

    • Virgin Atlantic Airlines’ website detects when customers have abandoned their shopping cart and sends an email reminder with their specific desired flight, saying, “[your name], you’re so close…” [7].

Multiple strategies can be used simultaneously on several channels for an integrated marketing strategy that targets potential customers at every stage of the buying process. 

Based on the six types of online marketing strategies above, think about your business model, the types of products or services you deliver, and your budget. Consider your competitors—where do you stand regarding price point and value compared to them? What are they doing to reach their audience? Are you focused on local geo-targeting, or are you a global brand that will rely on Google ads? Write down the options that suit your brand.

4. Plan and implement your strategy.

A strategy is just ideas without a plan. Create a campaign timeline once you have decided on your online marketing strategy. Your plan should include a calendar, the person responsible for executing each campaign, and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Before implementing your plan, you can run A/B testing (experimenting with different parts of a campaign to figure out what will work best). Once executed, it can take up to six months or a year to see the results of your implemented plan.

5. Analyze and adjust your plan to maximize ROI.

After your online marketing plan has been implemented for a year, analyze monthly sales. Based on data compiled and analyzed from your online marketing efforts, what was the return on investment (ROI)? 

If you used a multi-prong approach, your team might consider evaluating the ROI of each part of the strategy. For example, you might evaluate the percentage of sales generated from SEO and content, social media (broken down by platform), and display ads. Consider conducting your analysis monthly and troubleshooting as necessary.

Finally, revise your online marketing plan for the following year based on the first year’s data.

Use data to drive marketing.

Amplify your brand’s digital marketing by becoming an SEO expert. Learn how to optimize website content to capture search engine traffic in just five months with the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization offered by the University of California Irvine. 

If you love data, consider a career as a marketing analyst with in-demand technical skills and the Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate. No degree or experience is required. Upon completion, become job-ready in seven months and get exclusive access to Meta’s job search platform.

Article sources

1. Statista. “Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2015 to January 2024, https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines/#statisticContainer.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

2. Etsy. “Etsy Journal, https://www.etsy.com/ca/blog.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

3. Adzooma. “5 Successful PPC Advertising Campaign Examples, https://www.adzooma.com/blog/5-ppc-campaign-examples/.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

4. Dan Institute. “10 Inspirational Display Ad Ideas for 2022, https://daninstitute.com/blog/inspirational-display-ad-ideas/.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

5. Engage Bay. “25 Creative Email Subject Lines To Boost Open Rates For 2022, https://www.engagebay.com/blog/best-email-subject-lines/.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

6. Byrdie. “Makeup Brands: It’s Time to Start Showcasing Women Over 40, https://www.byrdie.com/ilia-beauty-campaign-features-women-over-40-5083000.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

7. HubSpot. “The 13 Best Abandoned Cart Emails To Win Back Customers,  https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/abandoned-cart-email.” Accessed July 8, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.