5 Steps for a Data-Driven Online Marketing Strategy

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about online marketing, what it is, and effective strategies and tools to drive marketing campaigns, boost traffic, and increase sales.

[Featured image] Man and woman look over marketing plan on computer

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

With the rise of the internet, marketers realised 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 85 per cent 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? Analysing this data helps marketers optimise their efforts. 

This article offers an overview of online marketing, how it works, and how to craft a data-driven strategy in five simple steps.

What is online marketing?

Online marketing is the practice of using 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 analyse 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 night cafe.

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 organisation 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 and purchasing habits and the number of resources you’re willing to put toward capturing that data.

Craft a winning, data-driven online marketing strategy 

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

Turn data analytics into a career

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

You can learn essential skills in marketing analytics to turn data into profitable marketing strategies with a Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate.


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

1. Create buyer personas.

As with any marketing strategy, cultivating an understanding of your target market is necessary. Based on market research or previous sales data, you can create buyer personas to build fictional representations of your consumer by elaborating on their lifestyle, 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 use Google search? What do they search for? How often?

• What websites does your buyer frequent? Do they intentionally go to these sites, 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 visualisation for converting leads into customers from a marketing perspective. Each step represents a web visitor’s decisions leading up to a purchase. It starts with awareness at the top of the funnel, followed by 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 a website

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

One or more strategies can be applied to your brand simultaneously. This tactic can help you penetrate customers at different levels of their buying decision.

Your brand may also have multiple goals in mind. At times, you may want sales conversions, whilst, at other times, your goal might be to improve brand recognition. These can occur simultaneously 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" and "spelling bee" [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). 

    • Samsung India used 3D Swirl to give customers a virtual experience with the Galaxy Note 20 series that let them explore the device from all angles — directly inside the advertisement [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 customised content for each social media platform to promote a business and engage users.

    • Shaz & Kiks beauty brand features hair care tips to highlight its Ayurvedic hair care products on its Instagram posts and reels [6].

  • Website design: A website’s user experience and the software and platform used to power the website can be optimised 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 digital marketing strategy.

A strategy is just ideas without a plan in place. 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 may wish to 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.

Read more: Marketing Strategy: What It Is and How to Create One

5. Analyse and adjust your plan to maximise ROI.

After your online marketing plan has been implemented for a year, analyse monthly sales. Based on data compiled and analysed 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, 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 or begin your career in online marketing by learning in-demand data-driven skills with the Google Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Digital Certificate. No degree or experience is required. Become job-ready in six months and learn how to use online marketing tools to drive marketing campaigns, such as Google Analytics and Google Ads. 

Article sources


Statista. “Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to January 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines/#:~:text=Google%20in%20the%20global%20market&text=Google%20has%20dominated%20the%20search,share%20as%20of%20June%202021.” Accessed August 22, 2023.

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