TRYING to find the best ways to market your small business online is often a daunting task, whether you are a startup or even a more established company looking to grow and find new customers.
Just finding a starting point can be hard enough.
Which social media platforms should you focus on? Should you get into Google AdWords or stick to Facebook Ads for now? Do you need to bother with a blog?
Then there are budget considerations – how much do you need to spend to see a return?
The good news is that with the power of digital marketing these days you can get results even with budgets under £100 per month.
To help you get started here are 9 of the best ways to advertise your small business online using various digital marketing strategies, and like the title says 7 of them won’t even cost you a penny!
I will also include some of my top resources in each section for you to read later on.
*Still not sure exactly what digital marketing is in the first place? Click here for a rundown before you dig into the rest of the article*
1. Get listed properly on Google and with other local listings
It’s surprising how many businesses aren’t listed properly on Google for their local area.
Google listings missing opening hours, current information, phone numbers, up-to-date images etc are very common but fortunately easily rectified mistakes.
Plus, if you get yours corrected and your competitors still haven't done theirs, that puts you one step ahead of them already!
Getting your listings right makes it easier for potential customers to find you online - think of it as putting up signposts for your business all around your local area - and it also boosts your website’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), which makes you more likely to be found in the first place.
If you haven’t already, go to Google My Business and either set up your listing or make sure it has current information and images linked to it.
Apart from being free, this will only take you a few minutes to do!
Other listings sites you should also register your small business and website with include Yell, Yelp, Bing and Yahoo Local.
It’s also worth seeing if there are any others specific to your local area that it might pay off for you to get listed on as well.
Being invisible is never a good thing, so make it as easy as possible for people to find you!
2. Research your market
Before you even start to think about promoting your small business online, you need to know exactly who you are targeting.
Remember this from way back when you were doing your business plan? You need to take this to the next level online.
This is because now you can not only target potential customers based on their age and where they live; you can even target them based on what they drink, their marital status, which pages they like on Facebook, the websites they visit and much more.
Creating ‘buyer personas’ gives you an extraordinary ability to laser-target your audience and ensure you don’t waste money marketing to a whole load of people who would never buy from you in the first place.
Think about who your existing customers are, or who your target market is if you are a startup/new business.
Start with some of these basics, and then once you have run a few campaigns you can go even deeper when you are more familiar with the Facebook Ads audience targeting options:
- What are they looking for?
- Where do they look for this information? (e.g Google, books, Facebook, etc)
- What is important to them? (Is it price, quality, service, etc)
- Why would they choose you? (Your USP’s come in here)
- Which social media channels do they use (are they on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)?
- What problems do they face that you can help solve?
All these and more are included in your FREE customisable buyer persona template, get yours by clicking here!
Start off by downloading the template above, creating three main buyer personas and then as soon as you start marketing your small business online, treat each advert or post as if you are speaking directly to that person.
This really helps focus your marketing efforts and reduces the likelihood of wasting your precious budget, which is easily done on Facebook Ads and Google AdWords.
3. SEO your website
You do have a website, right?
The Internet; and more specifically, Google, has become the foundation of every purchasing decision, whether the product is online or offline.
From new fridges to restaurants, holidays and which accountant to use, 90% of customers search online before buying. Around 85% of these searches are via Google, with YouTube (owned by Google anyway!) a distant second at just under 4%.
If you don’t have an online presence, you may as well put a big blindfold on every potential customer outside a 2-mile radius of your business.
Even with an online presence, just having a website isn’t a ‘magic button’ that will suddenly flood you with hundreds of new customers.
I regularly see businesses who have spent thousands on a new website but 2-3 months later start panicking because they see more traffic crossing the road to get home than their shiny new site is getting.
As renowned SEO expert, Barry Adams, says; 'build it and they will come is simply not true online.'
First step (if you haven’t done this already) is adding your site to Google Search Console.
After that, just like your business, a website needs work to get noticed.
Following the other steps will help, but the core of all your non-technical SEO efforts is based on keywords.
Let’s go back to the buyer personas you created in Step 2. What search terms would they put into Google to search for your product?
It’s not just about getting visitors to your site, but the right kind of visitors.
Depending on your product or service and how competitive your market is you will need to be more specific than, for example; ‘men’s trainers’ or ‘women’s boots’ if you run a small local shoe store in Belfast and hope to get anywhere near the first page of the rankings, which will be dominated by the big brands.
Think more along the lines of ‘men’s tennis shoes in Belfast’ or ‘women’s ankle boots Belfast’ – ‘long-tail’ keywords that while they might not get as many searches, are more likely to lead to a sale if customers land on your website from a Google search.
Make sure that your website URL's are clear and relevant too, including keywords where it makes sense. So 'www.samsshoes.com/mens-tennis-shoes' rather than 'www.samsshoes.com/123/men/859shoes-?tennis'.
'Technical' SEO requires a lot more work and expertise, but you can at least make a start by basing your website content around your main keywords, which brings us onto number 4...
For more on keyword research and one of the top SEO resources on the net, check out MOZ
4. Start blogging
I know, I thought the same at first. Isn’t blogging just for geeks and fashionistas?
Actually, no. Some people make serious money from their blogs, but that’s another subject. For businesses, blogs are essential for several reasons.
The keywords we talked about above and your core product offering are vital elements to build blog content around for Google to hoover up and make available to the world.
Blogs also make great shareable content for your social media platforms. If you struggle to find good content, put some work into your blog and it gives you a ready-made source of material!
Just don’t overdo it by sharing the same posts every week and turning your audience off.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you build up a solid following, promote your posts right (make use of email too once you have built a list) and are patient; good content is possibly the best thing you can do in terms of SEO for your website.
In fact, a Hubspot study suggests that sites that blog enjoy 55% more website traffic than those that don’t.
Secondly, your blogs give other people and sites something to link to – this is referred to as ‘a backlink’ – and these are another crucial element of SEO and getting your website seen without having to line Google’s pockets (and empty your own).
The same Hubspot study above showed that blogging generates 97% more links!
If you struggle thinking of blog material, go back to your keywords and also see what your competitors are doing.
Did they post something that was popular on social media?
See what they wrote, then use it as inspiration to write something ten times better on the same subject and show your target audience how you are in a different class to the competition!
Failing that, why not document what you have been doing at work recently? You might be surprised how many people are actually interested to find out more about what you do as part of your daily life.
Starting to blog isn’t easy – you just have to do it and put yourself out there. I look back at some of my first blogs and there are loads of things I’d change now but you know what? All you can be is yourself.
Don't get the hump if you find blogging tough!
If you’ve still had a go and found you really can’t do it, you can hire people to blog for you relatively cheaply.
Make sure you get something new on your site at least once a month to keep it fresh on Google and promote this content at regular (but not too regular!) intervals.
SEO pays dividends – the top 10 search results on Google get 89% of all clicks (Smallbusinesscan.com).
5. Get active on social media
Social media has to be done properly. Be careful not to fall into the trap of getting over-excited and setting up a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn all at once – you simply won’t have enough time to make them all worthwhile.
Decide which will work best for you based on your goals, and be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to social media each week. This infographic might help:
To get modern day social media right, post scheduling is essential.
Leaving posts ‘until you have time’ invariably means something more important comes up, and it either gets left too late or doesn’t happen at all.
Facebook allows you to do this, or get a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite which lets you schedule and manage across multiple social media channels with ease.
One hour a week spent scheduling a few posts takes a huge amount of pressure off when it gets to Wednesday and you realise that between managing your business and trying to get a few hours free time to unwind, your business Twitter and Facebook have been completely neglected!
Post timing is also key. Check your audience insights to see when your followers are usually online, and also at which times your posts get the most engagement.
Timing your posts right doesn’t guarantee they will be seen by your followers but it gives you the best chance, and more engagement equals more visibility which makes your posts more attractive to Facebook’s algorithm.
Wondering how many times a week your business should post on social media? Check this out
One final point about social media, and Facebook, in particular, that might break your heart.
For all the hard work you put in to crafting amazing posts, on average nowadays less than 5% of your audience will see them unless you pay for the privilege.
The trick is not to lose faith – keep plugging away and with some paid ads sprinkled in, results will come.
Regular posting also ensures that when anyone does visit your page it doesn’t look about as ‘social’ as a ghost town!
6. Make use of Email
The poor old email has been almost forgotten about, as even at work people have WhatsApp groups, use tools like Slack, or these days contact each other via Facebook.
However, email is still a hugely productive form of marketing – with Campaign Monitor suggesting it actually provides the best ROI (Return on Investment) of any marketing channel, generating $38 for every $1 spent in the US!
A favourite for email marketers is MailChimp which has great, easy-to-use options for small businesses even on the free version.
Make use of your blog content and email subscribers regularly, in addition to using targeted offers to drive sales.
7. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly
According to Google, mobile devices now account for almost 60% of total search traffic, and over 36% of UK e-commerce spending comes via mobile.
As phones get ever-bigger (have you seen a Samsung S8 in the flesh?!) people spend more of their lives using them and doing things on them that they would previously have reserved for their laptop when they got home.
Increasingly, web designers are taking a ‘mobile-first’ approach – essentially reversing the way they would traditionally have built websites and designing them first for mobile, then for desktop.
A simple test for your site is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool which gives you an overall score for your site as well as suggestions for improvement.
As a rule, if your site takes any more than a few seconds to load up the impatient modern-day internet user is likely to abandon it – don’t spend all this time and effort marketing your small business online and getting visitors there only to fall at the final hurdle!
8. Start using Facebook Ads
Let’s go back to the buyer personas we used earlier – here’s where they really start paying off.
This is just a snippet of some of the hundreds of different interests you can target:
So, that new super-fast cow milking device you sell that produces 100 litres a minute? Make sure the ad you're running for it is shooting out to farmers in your local area, not stock traders in the City of London...
Once you have decided on your campaign objective, use your buyer personas to laser-target your ads at exactly the right kind of people – all the information on the buyer persona template (go back to point 2 to get yours if you haven't already) is relevant here, down to which books your audience might read.
In terms of budget try testing your ads first, before spending more on the ones that are bringing home the bacon and dumping the ones that aren’t.
Money spent optimizing strategy is never ‘wasted’ as long as you learn the lessons from it and are able to implement them successfully in the rest of the campaign.
Don’t just create one ad – do what’s called ‘A/B testing’ and create two that are broadly similar but with one main difference, you’d be amazed at the difference an alternative image, headline or CTA (Call To Action) can make.
Give it a few days and then review how the ads are performing, is one getting loads of engagement and clicks whilst the other sits there sadly just collecting impressions and eating up your budget? You know what to do...
Check out this from Hootsuite for more on maximising your Facebook Ads budget
9. Start using Google AdWords
In 2016, a total of $79.38bn was spent on Google Ads (statista.com) making it by far the biggest online advertising market.
Luckily, you don’t need billions, millions or even thousands a month in ad budget to get started; and as spots are allocated on an individual basis rather than based on who spends the most overall, even small businesses can make an impact.
AdWords can look complicated at first. There are two main AdWords domains – ‘Search’ (text ads that show on Google search results pages) and ‘Display’ (the image ads you get visiting websites during daily internet use).
Here is an example of the current standard AdWords dashboard:
What did I say about digital marketing being daunting sometimes?
However, Google provides a huge amount of useful resources and training that I would highly recommend you invest some time in before trying to build a campaign yourself.
It also helps by making recommendations based on your goals and can do some of the work for you (but only after your campaign has been running at least a couple of weeks or hit certain metrics to give it enough data).
So, how much should you spend on a Google AdWords campaign? Well, the cost of AdWords is entirely up to you.
There is no minimum spend so set a budget for yourself that you are comfortable with and be prepared for some initial trial-and-error because you will need to test how your keywords convert along with how much you need to ‘bid’ for them.
The beauty of AdWords is that you will always be able to see exactly how your campaigns perform, the results and their impact on your bottom line.
Once you have optimized your campaign and it has been running for a while you can then increase your spend if you like, safe in the knowledge that your returns should theoretically increase in line with it.
Similar to Facebook Ads, it’s easy to waste money on AdWords but when you get it right, there’s very little to touch it in terms of promoting your small business on the internet.
So there you have it, 9 great ways to advertise your small business online – with most of them only costing your time.
I hope you found this useful. If you have questions about any of the above be sure to ask me in the comments below and subscribe at the bottom of this page (click here on mobile) for more handy small business marketing tips each month!