As the digital marketing landscape changes and evolves, what small business owners need to know in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Digital marketing is the practice of reaching out to potential and current customers online. It includes all marketing efforts that are used to reach these people, including social media, email, Google ads, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), blogs, online brochures, videos and connecting with other websites.
Let's break this down to make it a bit easier to understand.
Why digital marketing matters to small businesses
Small businesses can thrive using digital marketing. Competition among small businesses is fierce. Your need to stay in front of people and stand out from your competitors. Digital marketing can help you do just that.
Let's face it. People are online all the time. When you're marketing to someone, you need to find them where they are. When people look for a business, where do they look? For many people, Google is stop No. 1. How easy is it to find you there?
Basic digital marketing is relatively inexpensive. For just a few dollars you can create a Facebook ad or Google ad and reach many people in and around your community. That few dollars can go a long way toward your company's success.
Where to start your digital marketing efforts
When you're trying digital marketing for the first time, it can seem scary, intimidating and even confusing. What am I doing? How do I know I'm reaching the right people? What do I do first?
Here's the good news. Basic digital marketing isn't rocket science. With a little guidance and patience, you can learn the best marketing tactics for businesses and how to experiment the right way. Here are just a few tactics that work well for small businesses. These can get your digital marketing campaign up and running in no time, giving you positive results with little hassle.
Find and use keywords in everything
Keywords are words that describe your business. For example, if you’re a plumber, keywords might be "plumber," "clogged pipe," and "leaky faucet." The keywords are the words that a person uses in search engines (like Google or Bing) when looking for your services.
Take some time with a keyword planner, like Google Keyword Planner. Find the best words for your business, make a list and keep it nearby. Every time you do any digital marketing, use some of those keywords. When you write a blog, use the keywords within the text. If you make a video, use the keywords. If you update your website, use the keywords.
Don’t overuse your keywords. Google will notice that. Use them naturally and only as much as you need to, but do use them and use them often.
This is the single most important piece of any digital marketing campaign. If you don't put keywords into your marketing, no one will find you and that defeats the purpose of marketing.
Start a blog
Create informational, helpful content and publish it on your website and Facebook page. Content you share should make you look like an industry expert, giving you the upper hand. You always want to appear more knowledgeable and in control than your competitors. With solid, helpful content, your followers learn to trust you and they share that trust with their friends and family. Your brand becomes more than just a "store," and that transfers into loyal customers and more sales.
So what type of content engages people and causes them to share?
- Content that tells a story your customers can relate to and understand
- Content that brings out emotions
- Content that brings real value to your customers, like how-tos
Google prefers in-depth content and has let people know longer blog posts, between 1,500 and 2,000 words, are rewarded. But it has to be quality content in that 2,000 words. If you don't have 2,000 words to write that people will want to read, keep it shorter and high quality.
Use social media organically
Social media plays an important role in most people's personal lives. As such, it stands to reason it should also play an important role in your business. It's an easy way to expand your reach, it's a fantastic customer service tool and it's extremely inexpensive or completely free.
Practically everyone is on social media. When your business is not on social media, your potential customers immediately find you irrelevant. If they find your competitors on social media, they'll be likely to turn to them instead of you as the go-to source for their needs.
The key to social media is consistency. Find where your audience is hanging out, then share your content with them, be a part of their lives, offer information, be helpful and occasionally advertise. Sharing content will get you organic growth and create a long-term relationship with your followers. When your followers engage with your content, their friends see your content and your network grows.
Organic social media can seem like such a drop in the bucket, but it has big payback potential if you’re consistently working to share content and engage with your audience.
Here are a few things to consider when creating your social media channels:
- Choose the social media sites your potential customers are using. Pick one or two channels and focus on them. You don't need to be on every single social media channel that exists.
- Take advantage of the behind the scenes analytics. Major social media channels like Facebook and Twitter show you data as to how your posts are doing and how your page is doing. If you find something that works well, repurpose and reuse it. Don't reinvent the wheel.
- Find key influencers in your industry and engage with them. Eventually, people with a larger social media presence will start to share your content. But before that happens, you may need to do some relationship building. While you are waiting for them to friend or follow you, share their content.
- Use a social media tool to schedule your posts. Try Hootsuite, Buffer or SocialOomph. Some of them have free versions. Block off some time to get your social media posts together for the week, and then use one of these tools to schedule the posts. It looks like you are posting all week long, but the work is all done at once so you can focus on other things, like running your business.
Make and share a video
Video has recently become a driving force in digital marketing. As much as we shy away from talking to people, turning to the internet to shop and for customer service support, people still like to know who they are dealing with on the other end.
Video is a perfect way to share your company with people. A branded video delivers information, increases conversions and builds trust with your audience. It's more interesting than reading text. It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate.
Here’s how to get started:
- Get familiar with your smartphone camera. Most smartphone cameras are good enough as a first camera for filming marketing videos.
- Buy an inexpensive lapel mic.
- If you're brand new to video, check out some video making tips and keep things simple
Optimize your website
As a small business, you need to figure out how to reach the most prospects so you can turn them into customers. This means your customers need to be able to look at your website both on a computer and on a mobile device.
Delivering a fantastic customer experience on a desktop ensures your prospect stays on the site, looks around and takes the action you want them to take. Your website needs to be user-friendly in order to connect to your audience.
Mobile sites must be quick and efficient in every possible way. When people are on the go and looking at your site, they need immediate access and ease of use. They need to be able to find exactly what they are looking for without any confusion.
With both your mobile website and your desktop site, it's not only about the design of the site, but it's also about the experience, the ease of use and the speed of the site. The design is only a small piece of the big picture.
While taking the time to check your website, go through page by page. Are your keywords in the content? If not, now might be a good time to update your content.
Here are a few tips to help you with your website SEO:
- Set up a Google Search Console account. Register your domain name and follow the steps they have outlined. Google will give you tips on what needs to be addressed on your site.
- When creating your website content, remember to fill in the page title, metadata and all the other information Google asks for. If you have images on your website, add descriptions to your images. Google's bots cannot read pictures, just words.
- Use key phrases, not just keywords. Each page on your site should have a specific topic with related keywords and phrases. Be sure not to overuse the words though, as Google can penalize you for stuffing your pages. Keep it natural.
Build and utilize an email list
Email list building often gets overlooked by small businesses even though any experienced marketer will send you down this road first. A responsive email list will be your most valuable marketing asset, even more beneficial than your social media channels.
Email lists drive repeat sales, allow you to build solid relationships with your customers and potential customers, and keep you connected with your customers. They allow you to target your audience with specialized offers and give value to the people on the other end.
As outdated as email may seem compared to social media marketing, it's still one of the most successful marketing tools in the playbook. Marketing experts use this channel across the board. It's been proven to work. In fact, the conversion rate (that’s the number of people who do what you’re asking them to do) for emails is three times bigger than for social media campaigns.
Here's how you can get started with email marketing:
- Use the Contact Us form on your website to start collecting email addresses. Send a monthly newsletter. As with any other form of marketing, give your customers valuable information in an easy-to-read format.
- Send emails to let customers and prospects know about any sales, offers or specials. When you do this, always include an end date. Think about a coupon at a grocery store. It's only good this week so you go to the grocery store and buy that item and $100 worth of other items that you didn't need. If you have a special that ends "Friday," people will come to check it out.
Digital marketing is a key brand-building tool
Digital marketing doesn't have to be difficult. Remember, it isn't always about the sale. Digital marketing is about building a relationship with your audience and becoming their go-to for what they need in your industry. The sales will follow because they trust you.
Once a customer trusts you, they'll come back. And they'll send their family and friends to you, too. Keep your marketing simple. Keep it personal. And keep it real. People want real, solid information; they don't want to get the runaround.
Start with small steps. Get comfortable with one thing before moving on to the next form of marketing. Marketing takes time but if you spend the time, the rewards can be great and the ROI will be much more than what you expected.