As Facebook’s second largest market, yielding just 6 million users to the US, India is definitely one of the most interesting economies to analyze. We decided to take an insider’s look at the state of digital marketing in India with the help of Rohan Ayyar of E2M Solutions, Jaydip Parikh of Tej SolPro and Malhar Barai of Tech Mahindra. Keep reading for insights into the marketing industry, country-specific techniques for lead generation and conversion, as well as tips on starting a career in digital marketing and conducting marketing research.

Digital marketing in India: facts and figures, challenges, and education

India has emerged as the fastest growing major economy in the world per the Central Statistics Organization and the International Monetary Fund. Today 34.8 percent of India’s population is using the Internet, and this figure is about to reach 55 percent or more by 2025. At the same time, the average age of an Internet user today is 24 years old or younger, which makes it obvious that only a minority of the working people in India use the Internet for business on a daily basis. This fact leads us to a logical conclusion: the GoldenAge of digital marketing in India is yet to come, although some very promising changes are occurring there. In 2016, about 19 percent of the average Indian marketers’ budget was allocated to online marketing activities. However a quarter of these marketers plan to increase their investment in digital marketing activities by more than 21 percent in 2017.

Here is what our guest experts think about the topic.

Biggest Digital Marketing Challenges in India

Rohan: In India, our challenges are not really different from the challenges digital marketers face everywhere else in the world. There are two main ones that are common for both agency and in-house marketers. One, of course, is budget, which nobody in India seems to have. The second and more important one is misinformation. Even if marketers read the right blogs and take the right courses, what they actually do is far removed from what they have learned. So their immediate priority, to me, should be stop using the same old tactics and start educating themselves instead. Attending more webinars and getting their information from responsible marketers will change the situation.

Malhar: The challenge I see is that we lack innovation in marketing; we don’t experiment much. This is probably what happens in India. When I look at my counterparts in other regions, they like to experiment with any new platforms that appear on the market (e.g., Pinterest). But when it comes to India, marketers traditionally go for Facebook or LinkedIn.

Jaydip: Experimenting might be tough when you are on a tight budget and not sure about the ROI you’re going to get from an experiment, so maybe the two challenges Rohan referred to are interconnected.

Infographics: Digital Marketing in India - Internet Users, Budgets and ROI

Source: Internet Live Stats, Social Beat, The Boston Consulting Group, Octane Research

If you want to deep-dive into the facts and figures on the state of digital marketing in India, we highly recommend that you check out these insightful reports:

Digital Marketing Education Institutions

Since the digital marketing industry is evolving, more and more people are interested in getting a quality education in this field. We asked our experts to share the names of the courses and institutions that have proven to train successful digital marketers.

Rohan: Digital marketing is a field that transitions every second. It is difficult for one to master such a fast-evolving subject by way of academic courses alone. So, the best way would be to read the top blogs and publications on SEO, PPC and CRO. However, when you are starting your career, you sometimes need a certification in addition to knowledge. If we’re talking about online certifications, I would suggest the HubSpot Free Inbound Marketing Certification — it will give you an understanding of the basic ideas and fundamentals. Then you can move onto Google Analytics and Adwords certifications too. Offline options include Ahmedabad University with its course on social media and communications. There are few institutions that teach marketing first, rather than digital marketing, but getting a marketing background is absolutely necessary when you want to start a career in digital marketing, so don’t neglect these options.

Malhar: Iwould recommend DIIM (Digital Institute of Internet Marketing) which offers digital marketing, SEO and social media courses in Ahmedabad. I am also pretty impressed by Digital Vidya, a training company that helps companies incorporate online marketing into their strategy and is the official partner of Google and Microsoft. As for certifications, I recommend checking out Udemy, which is now part of LinkedIn Academy — they have nice courses on digital marketing too.

Most Popular Digital Marketing Instruments, Tools and Techniques

Jaydip: Many people use SEMrush and HootSuite; these are two quite popular tools I can see people using in India. I also recommend that people use some landing page optimization tools, as conversion is the ultimate goal of any business.

The world is moving towards multi-channel digital marketing, so you can’t just focus your efforts on one specific channel or one specific platform.

Rohan: In addition to the tools Jaydip mentioned, we also use Ahrefs. Another thing is that 80 percent of traffic in India comes from the mobile devices, so in-app marketing and push notifications should be an essential part of any digital marketing strategy. That being said, the world is moving towards multi-channel digital marketing, so you can’t just focus your efforts on one specific channel or one specific platform. You have to follow your customers across all different channels and provide a consistent experience across every one of them. When it comes to tools, each platform has its own ready-made analytics tool that is the best for that platform, such as Search Console for Google and Facebook Insights for Facebook, as well as iTunes Connect for the AppStore. You need to make sure you get the most the accurate data possible out of these tools. If your data is inaccurate or if you are targeting the wrong metrics, then your insights become useless. You should explore and learn Google Analytics thoroughly, including all its built-in instruments such as Google Tag Manager, Google Data Studio, etc. If you’re getting the most out of Google Analytics, then you’re already ahead of the pack. Congratulations!

Tips on entering a foreign market

Jaydip: If Indian companies want to target some foreign market, say the US, there may be a language barrier. There are certain phrases that US companies use more frequently such as ‘customize’. But when we speak of the UK market, we should use the word ‘bespoke,’ as it is more common in the UK. Tools like SEMrush that do keyword analysis can give you insights into these differences. So you need to understand the mindset of your local market — this is how you need to develop content. And this is one of the biggest challenges when we speak of doing digital marketing targeted at an external market.

Rohan: When a company thinks of entering a new foreign market, this is where market research in the traditional sense comes in. You need to have people on your team who have a marketing background, who can research the industry, the market, product visibility, demographics or culture-specific trends before you enter a foreign market. Of course, all this information can’t be found in one place, and you have to consult an industry journal or a research organization. For example, PWC carries out studies on the state of retail and manufacturing in the US, and Experian publishes consumer and business credit reports. Fortunately, information is available today, at least for the US market. Pretty much all of this data can be found online — some is free, some costs money, but all is available — it just requires some persistent googling. India has a slight advantage over other countries, as we have a large English-speaking community, and the language and culture are certainly huge barriers, but it shouldn’t be very difficult to overcome them.

Companies to follow and the best practices to copy

Malhar: Here are some places that marketers should go to: Social Samosa and Lighthouse Insights. These two websites cover the majority of digital marketing campaigns run in India and provide a detailed overview of how they perform, what works and what doesn’t, as well as what is good and what is bad.

Rohan: Yeah, I agree that Social Samosa is a great website with all the campaigns analysis that it provides. Speaking of market leaders, I can’t say there is a clear leader that sits above the rest. Basically, there is a golden opportunity for Indian agencies to take this place at the top.

SEO best practices

Let’s have a look at the SEO techniques that work and bust some myths that prevent marketers from getting better results. But before we start, have a look at these facts describing the state of search engine marketing in India:

Digital Marketing in India - SEO

Source: Octane Research, Statista

What should your keyword density be these days?

Rohan: Keyword density along with meta-keywords is something I would say one should really forget about, as it doesn’t matter now. Nowadays a lot of experts play it safe and say that “it mattered more in the past and it doesn’t matter so much in these days.” Although you can sometimes see KD listed among Google’s ranking factors, it is all rubbish — after the Hummingbird and RankBrain algorithms were released, there is no evidence to suggest that Google still looks at keyword density as a ranking factor. On the contrary, stuffing your content with keywords may actually hurt you. According to Tim Soulo of Ahrefs, 75 percent of pages that rank in the Google top 10 don’t have even a single exact match keyword. Of course it is important to optimize your meta tags, but if you write content naturally, it doesn’t really matter how many times you use a keyword. If you want an expert’s recommendation,Eric Enge says “at Stone Temple Consulting, we don’t spend any time discussing keyword density with our clients.”

Jaydip: According to Google reports, 20 to 30 percent of all queries being asked every day are new and have never been seen before. If someone is looking for SEO training, they might search for ‘SEO classes’ or ‘SEO training,’ or ‘SEO learning’ — different variations of these keywords. For some longtail keywords there can be no volume at all, because they are specific to just one particular user. But, possibly, if you rank for this keyword, you can still have a conversion. So, rather than focusing on keyword density, try to focus on keywords and content that help your users, as well as search engines, better understand your message.

Malhar: You should also look at how voice SEO and semantic search are performing these days, because gone are the days of keyword stuffing. You should look at how voice SEO is done right now and how people are searching on their mobile devices. It is more contextual and location-specific, so that’s how content should be written. And finally, write for the reader, not for Google.

Backlinks and link building strategy

Rohan: Build as many link as you can and, whenever you can, build them consistently. But this aggressive approach shouldn’t be about the number of links, but about their quality. Remember that people who are genuinely interested in your product or service are not hanging out on article submission sites, they are hanging around sites that are relevant to your industry. So if you can get several links from product review websites or other publications in your industry, you should go ahead and build those links.

Malhar: Yes, I would also say that aggressive link building is a strict NO, it should be more natural, more contextual. I would go back to the word ‘contextual’ — the search is so much contextual these days; anything you do should be contextual, so that includes link-building activities as well. The backlinks should be from quality websites, so don’t just go back and pick any website and get a backlink from it. I also like the Skyscraper Technique offered by Backlinko’s Brian Dean — it is absolutely great!

What should be your ratio of dofollow to nofollow backlinks?

Rohan: When it comes to SEO, all ratios are bad; I hate the word ‘ratio.’ A ratio is not the same as balance, it is micro-focusing on small details that are not important. When you focus on the nofollow attribute value of a link, you forget that it is not just a link, it is also a referral. The site that is linking to your page is recommending you. All the links on Twitter are nofollow, but does it mean you don’t want any shares at all coming from Twitter? No. So, nofollow was created for a specific purpose. When you are linking out and if it is a sponsored link, or it is an affiliate link, or you just want to give an example of a bad website or when someone is doing something not good for you, then it is the right situation to use nofollow. But for editorial purposes, you shouldn’t use the nofollow links. If you are not sure about the quality of the target site, simply don’t link to it at all. When you’re building links, you should look at the quality of the website, instead of keeping in mind some dofollow vs. nofollow ratio. If the content is relevant to you and there is a possibility that your potential customers will find you via that link, you must go for it, even if it is nofollow. And if you are interested, there is a very good post on Search Engine Land about nofollow links.

If it is a good quality website, then don’t look at whether it is a dofollow or nofollow link. Just think of what kinds of customers and how many orders or enquiries it can bring you.

Guest posting: does it have any impact on ranking?

Rohan: How can you rank high in Google? By getting high-quality backlinks from relevant content. Once again, you need to have high-quality backlinks from relevant content posted on high-authority root domains. Getting 100 links from one high-quality domain is not the same as getting 100 links from 100 different low-quality, toxic domains. There is a technique you can use to build high-quality backlinks from quality websites. That technique is actually guest posting. This is the only technique that works well for building links. There is something that works better than guest posting for rankings -- if you have a piece of content (a landing page or a product page) that is so good that people link to it naturally. So, if you are that good, then you can go easy on the link building and focus on link earning. If you are the one who creates the news, then all you have to do is to cover the news. For the rest of us, guest posting is a win-win situation where you build the content for the site that links to you — it works very well for ranking.

Malhar: Guest posting — definitely yes. Again, it is all about quality. If you don’t have a quality content in this guest post, it is not worth posting it.

Jaydip: There is often a misunderstanding — some people think that high-quality content is the only thing you need to rank high in Google. The truth is that if you have problems with your UX, etc., it won’t work for you, so you should fix all on-page issues first prior to working on backlinks or guest posting.

Mobile First — is it actually trending in India?

Malhar: If you’re not doing mobile, you’re missing out on 80 percent of the Indian audience, so do it now!

Rohan: It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Marketers target mobile devices and produce mobile-friendly content. I think many marketers have adopted this trend — most companies in India have easy access to strong development teams, and it is not a big challenge for them to build mobile-friendly apps or websites. In fact, India is the only market in which a major retailer, Flipkart-Myntra, experimented with app-only access to their store. The experiment was not successful though, as they confused mobile first with mobile only. So the challenge for marketers here is to create trustworthy content for a more consistent experience across various mobile devices and screen sizes, if they want to achieve desktop conversion levels. But mobile first is certainly a way to get ahead.

89% of India marketers have adapted their email marketing and websites to accommodate the smartphone savvy customer.

Source: Octane Research

Malhar: A tip for companies that are still on the edge and thinking of creating a mobile app — I wouldn’t suggest doing it. You're better off optimizing your website for mobile devices, rather than taking the mobile app approach.

Most frequently triggered SERP features in India

Rohan: No precise data on this yet; however, I believe the features triggered by are pretty much the same as for other Google domains. This being said, companies should definitely concentrate on adding more structured data to their websites, create a free Google My Business listing if they are a locally operating business, and also focus on getting more reviews and citations from relevant websites. There is no certain formula that will allow you to trigger one of those features, you just do what you should do and hope for the best.

Voice search: how to optimize for it

Rohan: If you are focusing on keyword density, you are probably missing out on voice search, since VS is based on long tail search terms. When you ask a question instead of typing it, you generally use a longer phrase or a longer question as opposed to a couple of keywords.So my tip is to create content that will cover different questions on the same topic.

Malhar: Just a quick example of this difference — if you are searching on a desktop, you would type in ‘pasta recipe,’ whereas with VS your search term would be ‘how to cook pasta.’ So, your content should reflect this difference, i.e. a perfect header for a first search should contain the words ‘pasta recipe,’ and for a second, the whole phrase ‘how to cook pasta.’

Social Media

Social media marketing tops the list of marketing activities, that India digital marketers include in their strategies. This is not surprising, since this channel provides maximum customer engagement. Moreover, 93% of people use at least one of the social media platforms, so not taking advantage of this way to know your audience would be just careless.

Digital Marketing in India - Social Media

Source: Octane Research, Statista

Although most marketers agree that social media can benefit their businesses, they often are not sure about what social media platforms are the best to use. Here is what our experts have to say:

Which social networks provide a higher ROI?

Malhar: Definitely Facebook!

Jaydip: I am always asking a counter question, in which ROI stands for “return on ignorance”: if you are not on social media, what kinds of things you are not getting? As for the prevailing of a certain tool, here the general rule of marketing applies — go where your audience is. Of course, most Indians are on Facebook. If we’re talking about teenagers, their second hangout would be Instagram. Next, with a big difference in the amount of users, comes Twitter (some people are just on Twitter, not on Facebook).

Rohan:If you’re trying to tie clicks to your sales, it’s Facebook all the way. According to the latest stats, India has over 230 million active users monthly on Facebook, and 95 percent of these users are accessing Facebook via their mobile phones. On the other hand, if you are going for brand awareness, then YouTube is a very good channel to target, especially if you have a good budget. In India the YouTube channels with the largest number of subscribers all belong to TV channels. So, if you can do this as a multi-channel campaign and you’re provided with a good budget, YouTube is a very good channel to use for increasing your brand awareness. Twitter is also one of the most popular channels; however, advertising costs are too high, and it is difficult for marketers to justify the ROI. Instagram is catching up too, but it is still in its early days, so I suggest that you go slow there. LinkedIn is more suitable for a content-focused strategy, but, again, the advertising costs there are too high. So, Facebook beats all other social media.

Malhar: All of the above is fair for B2C businesses. As for a B2B perspective, LinkedIn is the most profitable channel for us, but it’s way too expensive for a regular brand to use. The other platform that I have seen picking up recently is Instagram — this is probably because it can be easily integrated with Facebook. I see more brands doing Instagram marketing now as well.

Is Instagram a good platform for online sales?

Jaydip: Instagram recently launched a ‘Shop Now’ option that offers online store functionality within the app. However, we haven’t experimented yet with any of our clients. Instagram can definitely help you get more visibility, but no data yet on its direct impact on sales.

Malhar: Instagram has good CTA buttons, so that probably helps people get higher conversion rates from the platform.

Types of ads that one should use on Facebook

Jaydip: Facebook offers various types of advertising. If you are an online or offline store, you may use the ‘Offers’ feature and interact with your users directly, rather than boosting a post. If you run a regular B2C business, you don’t need to generate any traffic to your website or conversions; you just need to push your information to as many users as possible. Then you may boost your posts. In boosted posts, there are some options. Concentrate on mobile devices rather than right-side ads — it will give you more conversions.

Rohan: Along with choosing the right format for an ad, it is also important to target users with the right interests. For Facebook, both organic posts and ads have the option of targeting the audience with the relevant interests.

Malhar: From the e-commerce side, I can say that carousel posts are used frequently, and they perform pretty well. And as Jaydip said, the right-side ads don’t perform well — go for ads in the feed and on mobile devices.

Viral marketing ideas

Jaydip: Your content must be very strong and/or very creative to become viral. Also, people never tell how many unsuccessful attempts they usually made before their content actually went viral, so keep experimenting and don’t give up!

Rohan: There is no formula or ratio, no generalized ideas. A viral campaign is when you offer the right content at the right time via the right channel. Don’t forget the critical factor here -- the right people. Who do you want to show your message to? OK, what if your content is seen by 15 million people, but none of them buys anything?What will you get out of this campaign then? Maybe viral content doesn’t fit all businesses and all industries.

B2B marketing: which techniques to use for lead generation and conversions

Malhar: What works for us is content marketing. So, any blog posts or infographics or videos perform well. The other thing we have done is to partner with the Wall Street Journal, and this is now part of our strategy — we produce content for them and we have a microsite hosted on their domain, that helps us get more traffic as well as leads. Finally, email marketing — this is also one of the best lead generation techniques for us from a B2B perspective.

If you are struggling with developing a content marketing strategy, read this Content marketing strategy Guide.

Jaydip: As mentioned before, LinkedIn is a good platform for B2B marketing; you can do ads there or use it for content publishing. As for other tips on content, again, use guest posting. In B2B, the sales cycle is pretty long, so if you are able to provide your leads with the appropriate content at every stage of this process, it will help you close the deal faster.

Rohan: Yes, as Jaydip said, the sales cycle is very long, and you need to understand whether it will take a month, four to six months, or even a year for customers to make a purchase. You have to match your content with your funnel and provide content for leads, prospects, customers even after they make a purchase, if you want them to become your brand advocates. The right time, the right context and the right content are very important!

Smart content planning with SEMrush — SEO Content Template

Malhar: Another technique that has worked very well for us is newsjacking. We are a tech company, so anything that happens in the tech industry fits the brief. If, say, Apple releases a new iPhone, we will writean article about it immediately and do some kind of overview or review. This kind of content provides us with the maximum number of views and improves our authority on the subject. Being an authority will automatically bring you more leads that will become caught in your funnel.


Digital marketing in India hasn’t fulfilled 100 percent of its potential yet. What industry pros can do to achieve more impressive results is to:

  • Embrace the omni-channel interaction with your customers — omni-channel is everything!

  • Create the content that is appropriate for a certain channel and a certain stage of the buyer’s journey.

  • Be innovative and experiment — although you might need to make several attempt before you succeed, becoming a pioneer always pays off!

  • Track your results and make the most of the built-in analytics tools like Facebook Insights, Google Tag Manager etc.

  • Always opt for the reliable sources of information, whether it is a blog, a research or a course.

Fellow marketers in India, please share the techniques that work for you! We appreciate your input.

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Xenia VolynchukSEMrush All Stars group admin and community education enthusiast. If you have questions or product feedback — fire away!
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