How can Small Businesses get Started with Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing 101

Even a few years ago small businesses might have been deterred by the mere concept of running their own marketing campaigns. Today, with increasingly flexible paid advertising and marketing automation solutions, small businesses can use digital marketing and distribute branded marketing with more ease and efficiency than ever before.

However, more options creates well, more options. And very few businesses take full advantage of those opportunities. Here is a short list of a few tried and true methods any sized business can use today.


Use Paid Online Advertising

Paid online advertising is widely demonized among small business owners, many of whom have tried briefly and declared, “it just didn’t work for us!” However more often than not, the challenge is more in how the tool is used rather than if it can work. Consider paid advertising as a matter of when, not if. And remember, it must be continuously tuned.

“When done correctly, paid advertising is extremely effective,” asserts Andrew Ruditser, co-founder of MAXBURST. “It’s not a set it and forget it event. A really effective paid strategy involves proper tweaking to the ads message, budget, and target landing page.”

In a 2015 survey by Clutch, small business owners were questioned on their use of social media marketing, SEO, and paid online advertising. While approximately half of those surveyed actively used SEO and social media in their small business Internet marketing, only 25% stated that they used paid online advertising. In addition, 25% stated they were unlikely to use SEO in the future. This is a relatively large figure, and it shows that many companies don’t realize how often their business is judged by their online presence.  

Because many small businesses have limited time and personnel for marketing, business owners usually favor fire-and-forget strategies with minimal upkeep over tools that require more regular monitoring. Andrew suggests that this is a mistake, saying, “Trends and other metrics change frequently so you must keep up to date with the campaign, but when a PPC strategy is done correctly it can be highly effective.”

Hint: Ken Braun, founder of New York-based Web design studio Lounge Lizard, shares, “Paid search advertising should be implemented at the start of an organic SEO campaign.” This allows for an early springboard for other marketing efforts, which can serve to heighten a website’s overall ranking in organic search results. “Getting high-ranking organic search listings on the first page of Google takes time,” Ken explains. “Having paid search results during this ramp up period is expensive, but at least there’s exposure.”


Develop Killer Content That Converts

We have heard, “content is king” almost too many times. Content is the material that is used on a website, social media posts, and email marketing campaigns. It’s the writing, pictures, videos, and infographics. It’s also the content produced off-site as well. But content for the sake of content is meaningless. It must be constructed strategically. In order to attract and convert more customers, one must first know who their customers are. By understanding the needs and wants of the personas that visit a business, one can strategize to better serve more useful and relevant content.

For example, if a business is a law firm, it makes sense to create content which directs audiences to resources that potential clients could use – to provide value. Remember, value is the most important aspect of content marketing. Write a blog post on a specific and relevant law, or create a page with a list of helpful links that lead to more information. Create content customers want to utilize and in the process, build trust, brand awareness and a position as a thought-leader while helping the target audience. It’s a great way to create targeted content, designed to resonate with key audiences with a relatively low soft-dollar figure.

Hint: Pay attention to current macro trends in content strategy, and to what competitors are offering. There might be a causal link to be made if a competitor appears to have a spike in interest online, and has a recent upsurge in infographics within the tutorial section of their website. Did a particular blog post or article published six months ago produce a positive response within web traffic? “Upcycle” that article, and turn the same content into an infographic, a slide show, or a YouTube video. Create relevant content for social media pages and mailing lists to point the members of  primary customer demographics towards the content on website.


Engage Through Inbound

While creating great content is in itself fantastic, the next step up is Inbound marketing. “Inbound” is a methodology which typically utilizes a system of content provisioning (rather than one-off content), is gaining steam within the field of Internet marketing, and is something in which any small business with a marketing budget can engage. While traditional marketing is based on the marketer’s convenience, inbound marketing is based on the customer’s needs. Instead of reaching out and convincing people that they should buy from a business, the business promotes their products or services through engaging and relevant content that makes them come to the business. Customers arrive at the website with a specific need for a service and product, and by providing useful content to them, businesses convince them of expertise and trustworthiness.

Richard Sedley is an international marketing consultant, currently a partner at EY-Seren. He asserts that engaging with customers is about more than just the individual sale or conversion. Richard says, “Customer engagement places conversions into a longer term, more strategic context. My own definition for customer engagement would be, ‘repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological, or physical investment which a customer has with a brand.’”

Hint: Engaging directly with customers is not only good for boosting conversion rate – it’s also good for ensuring that customers continue to patronize a business in the long term. Since customers are now more inclined than ever to share their brand loyalty with others, often through social media, this can lead to a substantial boost in brand awareness. Such interactions are accomplished through a variety of ways, including the direct solicitation of feedback from customers’ experiences. Other methods include offering personalized promotions, e-mail lists, and special discounts based upon prior interactions or purchases. These techniques make a customer feel as though their needs are being personally acknowledged by the business, and it leads them to feel as though their patronage truly matters.


If You Must Cut Back, Reduce Your Efforts in Sales

Crazy right? Blaspheme yes. However, many small business owners overspend in direct sales and advertising. Organic traffic is what we call “owned” traffic vs paid being “rented”. Consider that the bulk of the traffic arriving at a website is already interested in what they have to offer, so the focus now is delivering to their needs. With content that engages, informs, and entertains, the “sell” becomes softer, the pathway clearer for why a business or product is the right choice. With supporting content which speaks for itself, the need for a“yell and sell” sales team becomes reduced AND the content is owned, meaning it works 24×7 and continuously sells.

Hint: According to a 2014 study conducted by Advanced Web Ranking, on average, 71.33% of organic searches lead to a click on the first page of Google’s results. Among the results on the first page, 67.60% of the clicks were for the first 5 links. If a small business wants to get to the top but has a limited paid advertising budget to work with, solid content marketing will drive  sales efforts  and help bring the site to the top. By focusing efforts on getting found through search, one can minimize spend and time on direct sales and ads.

Of course these are just four tactics small businesses can use to improve their digital marketing efforts. There are many other trends to watch closely, for example the growth of social media marketing. Instagram and Snapchat, two popular apps, have begun finding ways to monetize their apps through content marketing and advertising.