Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in South Africa

Written by
Luke Marthinusen

Digital Marketing is a fast-moving discipline that has the ability to make or break businesses in South Africa. Those that embrace it will thrive; those that don't will struggle. This guide breaks digital marketing into six components and highlights what you need to know to successfully market a business online.

The importance of digital marketing in your business

What is digital marketing?

“People don’t buy products or services, they buy brands”.

Digital marketing is used to sell brands. It encompasses all the efforts, techniques and tools used to sell brands via digital mediums and involves leveraging digital channels such as search engines, social media, email, and other websites to connect with existing and potential customers.

Why your business needs digital marketing

Digital media platforms have changed the way we communicate and access information by making it instant and direct. Consumers can now use search engines to find almost any information on most topics in a matter of seconds.

With everyone practically living online, digital marketing has quickly become the most cost-effective way to reach one’s target market instantly, removing time and place from the equation. With highly targeted ad options, search engine rankings, and mobile channels, a brand can reach a specific prospect in a matter of seconds - no matter where they are in the world.

As a result, it has become imperative to establish an online presence. Customers expect convenience and instant access to information, and remaining competitive means catering to those needs and demands.

Your target audience is active internet users and knowing where they will go or where they spend their time is where your business needs to position itself. There are no excuses not to have some type of digital marketing strategy implemented.

And if you don't have the time, reach out to a good digital agency that offers the digital marketing services you are looking for. There are a bunch of us in South Africa. 

Digital marketing trends


Thanks to advances in technology and machine learning, chatbots have become more popular than ever in recent years. Chatbots are giving users a feel for instant communication that doesn’t require them to go searching around your website. Chatbots are also giving brands the ability to generate leads quickly and provide a positive website experience. Chatbots can also positively contribute to a brand's image through clever design and good user experience.

Private messaging app integration

More likely than not, your prospects will own a smartphone and use some form of a private messaging app multiple times on a daily basis. Online platforms are now starting to integrate with these messaging apps, meaning that prospects and customers will be able to have conversations with brands directly - in the same way they would with friends or family.

Hyper-targeted advertising

Paid social and ad platforms are getting smarter. If you have a social media account, brands have access to tons of information about you, including your demographics, likes, dislikes, employment history and even your marital status. This means that you, as a brand, can target the exact prospect that meets your product/service requirements.

Personalisation with smart content

Marketing platforms such as HubSpot allow you as a digital marketer to showcase personalised content to viewers of your websites based on their IP address or if they have visited before. Smart content helps create personal experiences with prospective and existing customers and ultimately helps build trust.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation isn’t just cost-effective, it’s time-effective as well. By setting up automated campaigns, you and your team can focus on adding more value in other areas. Landing pages, forms, workflows and automated emails can help you cut through the clutter to deliver high-quality leads who have already met some level of qualification criteria.

More focus on customer retention

Creating evangelists (customers who promote your brand to others) has become a core focus in many companies’ digital marketing strategies. It is also easier and more cost-effective to up/cross-sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new customers.

Analytics: How does it benefit your digital marketing?

Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimising website traffic, click-through rates, lead generation campaigns, and can be measured using a variety of tools, extensions and HTML codes.

The benefits of using tools like Google Analytics

Google Analytics is one of the most used web analytics platforms available. The platform provides valuable information on metrics such as traffic, bounce rate, average time on page, click rate, and gives you a 360° view of how your website performs from both a back-end performance - as well as a front-end user-experience perspective.

By using a platform such as Google Analytics you will be able to optimise and improve your website for better results.

Implementing web analytics in your business

Platforms like Google Analytics can help your business remain agile, enabling you to adapt to the demands of your digital audience in real-time and, more importantly, ahead of your competitors. With web analytics, you can make certain that your website content and overall website user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are tailored to the behaviour and interests of your target audience.

From there, you are able to see when and where your audience is using social media, how they’re interacting on other digital channels such as email, and can monitor website activity and optimise your business’s website to appeal to the navigational tendencies of customers. This could mean updating CTAs, the placement of certain website UI elements or the position of imagery and the choice of font style.

From observing how people behave and interact with your website, you can easily formulate and update your digital marketing plan of action. Also, measuring ROI, noticing how sales trends are progressing and predicting future trends for your website are all made possible. Such is the power of data! Soon your business will have the upper hand in the online space.

SEO: Why is search engine optimisation important?

SEO has quickly become what many consider to be the holy grail when it comes to generating more leads from your website. But what does SEO actually entail, and what do you really need to be doing to get on the infamous first page of Google?

What is SEO?

According to MOZ (a leading SEO tool), Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.

When you break it down, SEO is all about the quantity and quality of traffic you generate to your website and where you rank in organic results. The main aim of SEO is to increase your ranking in search engines like Google by improving your website through positive user experience and relevant, quality content that is optimised around keywords that are relevant to the website you are optimising for.

This makes keyword research king. Ultimately, you want to attract your target audience to your website and have Google reward you handsomely for helping them find you.

How exactly do search engines function?

Search engines are designed to “discover, understand and organise the internet's content in order to offer the most relevant results to the questions searchers are asking”. (Moz)

Search engines function in 3 stages.

  1. Crawl: Here, search engines explore all the content on the internet and organise the content for each unique URL they come across.
  2. Index: This is where the content discovered during the crawl is saved and ready to be displayed in search results.
  3. Rank: Here, the indexed content is organised in order of relevance to answering the search query.

This is why you will hear many digital marketers trying to find the next best way to rank on Google (ideally closest to the top on the first page of search results).

Why is SEO important for your website?

SEO benefits you in the long term as quality traffic is gained from patience and best practice. If your website ranks high organically, it creates the perception that a website is an authority in a certain area if you are able to rank high enough.

You can improve your brand’s presence by optimising your content and web pages for search engines. SEO is far more stable than PPC (pay-per-click) platforms. When creating web content with SEO in mind, you are able to target your audience more precisely by building content around relevant keywords.

Social Media: Do you need it?

Social media is one of the most important voices your brand can have. Most of your prospects and customers are most likely on social media, providing your brand with an opportunity to engage with them daily. Social media offers the potential of free media reach to those on your social media platforms as well as highly-targeted paid ads that will reach your exact target market whether they are followers or not.

Whether you are operating a B2B or B2C company, there's a social platform for you to reach your potential customers. Social media will also serve as one of your biggest PR tools because it provides a direct line of communication between your brand and the public. Quick response rates, valuable content and insights as well as damage control, will all contribute to your brand’s sentiment in the eyes of the public.

Having a social media strategy means that you have an array of pre-planned posts as part of an overall campaign with a set objective made up of SMART goals. Having a clear objective that can be measured through a set of determining metrics will help you report on the return of your investment and the influenced revenue amount of your social campaign.

When it comes to lead generation, it’s hard to compete with some of the paid ads on social platforms and the options they provide. Put time and thought into your ads in terms of messaging, graphics, videos, links etc. If done correctly you can get click-through rates on your ads as high as 20% with a mere R2000 budget.

Marketing Technology: Marketing Automation and CRM systems


Having marketing automation and CRM software is not required to still have a well-conceived and effective digital marketing strategy, but it certainly helps.

Executing a multi-channel digital marketing campaign can require a lot of time, energy, and planning. Keeping track of leads and ensuring contacts are nurtured can consume hours of resources, which most companies don’t have.

Having a CRM to track and organise your contacts not only streamlines your database, but it allows you to segment your contacts in a way where you can target them with specialised content that is specific to who they are, where they work, and how far along they are in your buyer's journey.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can execute the above-mentioned strategy automatically for you without the need for an entire marketing team which saves you time and allows you to focus on other important matters. Workflows get set up in the background that automatically tracks and nurtures leads until they are ultimately sales-ready.

Digital Strategy: How do you create one?


It’s time to start planning your digital marketing strategy. You need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve through this strategy short, medium, and long-term. Is this strategy focused on brand awareness, lead generation or customer retention?

You might have specific products or services that will drive your strategy, or perhaps it’s a major event that you are trying to get RSVPs or vendor funding for? It’s important to set priorities and understand what the overall strategy is trying to accomplish.

Mapping out objectives and goals

Now that you have your overall strategy planned out, what are your specific goals? This is where SMART goals come into play. Think about what you did in the step before. Let’s say your goal is to make 50 new sales of your product for this quarter. What does your sales cycle look like?

Work backwards from Closed Deals Won to Lead and figure out exactly how many Leads, Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL’s), and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL’s), you need to achieve 50 new deals. If you set unrealistic goals or targets that are too low in the beginning, your campaign is destined to fail from the start.

Budget and time

Now for the most contentious question of all: what’s the budget?

The truth is that there’s no magic number. This comes with experience and testing. A great tip is to not start a campaign with your full budget from the get-go. Use a portion of your budget for about a quarter of the time you would run your full campaign for. At the end of the first quarter, see how much it has cost to either get a new lead from a chosen social platform or how many sessions your website has gotten if your goal is brand awareness and so on.

This figure will then give you an idea of what you can expect in terms of results by the end of the entire campaign, and if the results don’t look good, then the good news is that you still have 3 quarters left of your campaign where you can optimise or increase your budget.

Carefully select your digital marketing platforms

Selecting the right digital marketing platforms is an essential part of planning your strategy. Selecting a platform to use comes down largely to who your ideal customers are and where they are most likely to be.

Are you targeting the general public, or are you targeting businesses? Are you selling a product or a service? These are all questions you need to answer before picking your digital marketing platform.

Monitor and adapt your digital marketing strategy

Planning and strategising aren’t where the determined success of your campaign ends. It is just as important to make sure that you are regularly monitoring how your campaign is performing in terms of traffic, budget spending and other relevant metrics. You need to be A/B testing different content, adjusting audiences and reporting weekly on the results so that you can optimise your campaign for the best possible results.

Final Thoughts

A digital marketing strategy takes time to conceptualise, implement, measure and monitor for success. It’s an ongoing process that requires adaptability and plenty of resources. Make sure you keep up with the latest trends and do proper customer research so that your strategy is current, relevant and successful.


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