Digital marketing encompasses many different channels, including company websites, email newsletters, social media, and online advertisements. Once considered a “nice-to-have,” changing consumer trends have made a digital marketing strategy increasingly important for both business-to-business and direct-to-consumer companies.
Many small business owners understand that their customers spend a lot of time online. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 81% of Americans go online every day; 28% percent reported going online “almost constantly.” While building a digital marketing strategy may feel intimidating for a small business, you don’t need to be a technical wunderkind to start tackling the fundamentals.
1. Launch a Website
Publishing a website is often the first step in a business’s digital marketing strategy. A website can allow you to sell or showcase your products and services online, book appointments, and tell your business’s story to consumers; it’s also where you’re likely to direct prospects if you choose to run paid ad campaigns.
Creating a website used to require specialized skills, but there are many services that make it easier for business owners to launch and manage a site without having a dedicated web developer on staff. You may also want to explore search engine optimization, or SEO, which is a set of best practices designed to help your site rank better in organic search results on sites like Google or Bing. Building a complete SEO strategy can be complicated, but you’ll want to make sure that you include your audience’s key use cases. These will end up being the terms that you’ll target outside of your brand terms. You might think of your website as the business’s home online, so don’t be afraid to spend some time getting it right.
2. Start an Email Newsletter
Email marketing can be an incredibly effective way to convert customers. It often works like this: a visitor to a website sees a message to sign up and receive offers or get updates. If they provide their email address and opt-in to messages, the business begins sending emails to them on a regular basis.
These newsletters might contain coupons or alerts about special events and sales. Sophisticated email marketing can promote personalized deals or send messages when a user takes an action, like abandoning an item in their online shopping cart. Even starting small can pay off, helping a business build a collection of qualified leads for online outreach. Note that there are strict laws about email marketing and how you can collect, use, and share information; be sure you understand the rules or contact an attorney before launching email marketing campaigns.
3. Sign-on to Social Media
Many people spend a significant portion of their online time browsing social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn. Maintaining profiles on networks relevant to your customers can provide yet another way to reach them with photos, videos, or updates.
Staking out a spot on social media is also important for launching ads on these networks, which can be accompanied by useful customer analytics. Finally, social media is another channel that may drive traffic back to your website.
4. Invest in Online Ads
There are multiple online advertising networks and ad types from which to choose. These include paid search ads from Google or display ads that can show up on third-party sites. Many allow you to target users based on search keywords, interests, publications, and other variables. When done well, your online ads should show up in front of people who are interested in the goods or services you offer.
Business owners should familiarize themselves with the many online advertising pricing models, including pay-per-click (PPC), cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM), and cost-per-action (CPA). As their names suggest, each charges the advertiser based on different factors. Ensuring that your online ad dollars are spent efficiently can be a complex endeavor. It’s important that you read up on the details, policies, and pricing structures of whichever ad network or platform you choose.
5. Verify Your Business with Google
Google My Business is a tool designed to help companies gain greater control over how their information is portrayed in Google search results. It’s especially important for local search marketing, where the searcher’s proximity to your location may be a ranking factor. When a business is verified with Google, it can submit important details like its formal name, address, phone number, and hours of operation. While there’s no guarantee Google will show what you want, it is one of the most direct ways to give your business’s information to the tech giant.
6. Make Sure Your Business Is Listed
There are a variety of business listing sites online that companies use to find new partners. Dun & Bradstreet has a directory where you can claim your listing or create one for your business for free. This and other directories help other business understand what your company does and how they can work with you.
7. Respond to Reviews
Everyone on the internet has a voice, and they won’t always say nice things about your business. Rather than bury your head in the sand, many marketers recommend monitoring and responding to reviews on sites like Yelp. In many cases business owners can confirm their identities and respond as the business, allowing them to try and rectify situations before too much damage is done. Even if the customer ends up disappointed, other readers will see that your business responded to their concerns rather than ignored them.
How a Digital Marketing Strategy Succeeds
The suggestions above can help you build the infrastructure to take advantage of digital marketing. It’s not necessary to tackle everything at once, and you may choose to ignore some options based on your customers’ behavior, your budget, or another business reason.
However, many strong digital marketing strategies rely on multiple techniques to generate results. A paid search ad may drive a visitor to your company’s website, where they decide to sign up for a newsletter. They receive that week’s newsletter and click a link to one of your social media profiles where they see a product they like. They then return to your website to make the purchase. You can see how complex--and important—a comprehensive digital marketing strategy can be to making a sale.
Small businesses usually have far fewer resources than household names, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use digital marketing to their advantage. Prioritize the approaches you think will make a difference for your company, learn how the tools or platforms work, and start competing online.