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What Is Online Marketing? (Intro Guide for Small Business)

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For small businesses, online marketing is a must. According to research by Infusionsoft, only 15% of small businesses don’t plan to do any online marketing in 2018. This means that most businesses, including your competition, are likely to make efforts in online marketing.

But starting your online marketing efforts can seem overwhelming. After all, there are many components to an online marketing strategy, and the platforms and tools used are changing all the time. How do you know which online marketing channels to use? More importantly, how do you know if your strategies are working?

What is online marketing
Online marketing for small businesses is an important part of their marketing strategy. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

This tutorial can guide you through the process of choosing your strategies, setting your first online marketing goals, and analyzing your results. Let’s get started.

Online Marketing: A Definition

Before you pick the internet marketing strategies for your small business, be more familiar with the concept first. Basically, online marketing just means using the web for your marketing methods, whether it’s for advertising, sales, or branding. For that reason, it's sometimes called internet marketing. For your small business, you could also use a variety of web-based methods like social media, websites, email, or an online store.

Here are some benefits to marketing online:

  • More cost-efficient. In online marketing, there are a lot of opportunities to reach an audience for little or no money. This is because it easily scales, and you can access your target market through existing online groups and social media platforms. You also don't need to be limited by most physical resources such as paper, since online marketing materials like videos or graphics can be seen by hundreds of users with little or no change in cost.
  • Measurable results. There are many tools you can use to find out which marketing channels bring in leads and sales. With offline marketing, on the other hand, it’s difficult to track success.
  • Broad reach. Online marketing allows you to break geographical barriers when reaching target customers. In fact, you can target a global audience or at least a broader audience than you typically would if you were relying only on offline marketing.
  • Targeted marketing and advertising. While you can reach a broader market with online marketing, that market can also be more specific. Online ads can be targeted exclusively to certain demographics, unlike a radio ad or a poster which could be seen by a broader audience that might not completely fall under your target market.

While online marketing can give you the above benefits, there are also some disadvantages that come with it:

  • It can be highly technical. Since the web is your medium, many of the tools and methods can be technical. If you're not very tech savvy or if you’re unsure about where to start, you might need to devote time to learning more about how to do online marketing yourself or hire more experienced people to help you.
  • The rules change rapidly. The rules and trends that govern online marketing change rapidly. This is why when big platforms like Google or Facebook announce a change in their algorithm, marketers scramble to stay updated. 
  • Less personal contact. The best thing about making sales in-store or within a specific location is that you can have one-on-one contact with many, if not most, of your potential customers. This allows you to easily form closer relationships with your customers. For online marketing, emails, social media, and other forms of web-based communication are the norm.

Now that you're familiar with both the advantages and disadvantages of online marketing, it's time to start thinking about the strategies that can work for your business.

Online Marketing Strategies for Your Small Business

If you’re ready to get started with your online marketing, here are five internet market strategies that work well for small businesses:

1. Content Marketing

As the name implies, content marketing is about using content such as videos, blog posts, articles, audio, and other materials to market your brand to an audience. Everything from the planning to the creation and distribution of this content is part of content marketing.

One example of content marketing is “The Crop Circle,” the official blog of Spikeball, a new type of ball game. Since the game is relatively new, people need to understand why they should buy the product and play it. The blog offers videos and articles showing the many different situations Spikeball can be played, whether it’s recreational, for training, or for fitness.

Example of a blog for content marketing
For content marketing, you can publish articles and videos about different ways your product is used.

Since content marketing is mostly about creating content that gets the attention of your audience, it best works when it’s less about making the sale and more about branding and relationship building. When you’re doing content marketing, you can set goals such as:

  • Increasing the reach of your content. You can determine success by figuring out if your content is reaching more people and, in turn, more people are learning about your brand. This can be measured by the number of new visitors to your website over time.
  • Converting more viewers into leads. You can also use content to deepen your relationship with potential customers. For example, giving website visitors a free eBook download after they give you their email address is a good way to convert them to a lead. In this case, you would measure the number of people who end up giving you their email address in exchange for the free download. 
  • Relationship building. Providing existing customers and leads with interesting and engaging content is a good way to remind them of your business, even when they’re not yet buying anything. This ensures that when they do need to buy something that you offer, they’ll get it from you rather than your competitors. To measure this, you can track how many of your website visitors return, how frequently they return, and how many of these return visitors end up following through on a purchase.

To learn more about content marketing and how to implement it, you can review the following guides:

2. Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is used when you try to reach potential customers through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. Typically, businesses have a profile on these sites and also buy ads on them to make sure their posts or profiles are seen by more people.

Yuketen, a footwear company, has around 20,000 followers on Instagram. They use their Instagram profile not just to showcase photos of their products, but also to show how their products are made and to highlight features in an interesting way, as in the post below:

social media marketing example
Use social media to show visually engaging posts that your audience can't help but look at.

Social media marketing is great for the following goals:

  • Increasing the reach of your messaging. For most social media platforms, you’ll be able to identify the number of users who saw your content, as well as the number of users who engaged with it by commenting, sharing, liking, or other actions. You’ll also know how many users are following your brand on each platform. These numbers can tell you how many people your messages reach and, in some cases, what their demographics are.
  • Relationship building. Just like content marketing, social media marketing allows you to keep in touch with your customers and target customers. More importantly, they're able to see your posts on their personal timelines, mixed in with updates from their friends. Find out if social media is building relationships for you by seeing how your followers increase over time and whether your number of customers or leads increase as your social media audience grows.

If you want to get started marketing your business on social media, check out the following tutorials:

3. Email Marketing

Email is another important channel for online marketing. In general, any email you send to an existing or potential customer can be considered as email marketing. However, when marketers refer to email marketing, they usually mean creating a mailing list and sending marketing emails to that list.

Astrohaus, a company that makes products for writers, has an email newsletter that sends promos, product news, writing tips, and “The Freewrite Digest,” roundups of articles relevant to writers. A strong email marketing campaign is just as varied, mixing promotional, entertainment, and educational content.

Email marketing examples
Email marketing campaigns can include educational emails (left) or promotional emails (right).

Here are the goals that email marketing can help you with:

  • Relationship building. Just like content marketing and social media marketing, email is useful for relationship building, especially since it's delivered to your audience personally. There are many different ways to measure the relationships you're forming via email, including how many of your subscribers open their emails. You can also measure how many of those who open the emails end up clicking the links in them or taking other actions such as forwarding the email or making a purchase.
  • Converting leads into customers. Email marketing is a great way to collect leads. These leads would be your subscribers to your email updates. But it can also show you how many of your leads end up being paying customers. You can measure this by seeing how many sales you get from your email campaign whenever you send out a promotional email.

To learn more about how to gather your own mailing list and send high-converting emails, check out the following tutorials:

4. Pay-Per-Click Ads

Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is an online advertising model that allows you to buy ads that you pay for every time a user clicks one of these ads. Most search engines have their own PPC ad network, such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads from Microsoft.

Below is an example of what a PPC ad might look like. If a user wanted to buy stamps online and used a search engine to look for where they might be able to buy them, the first results from Google are PPC ads.

Examples of PPC ads
PPC ads are often the first results when you look for a product, service, or type of business on search engines.

Since PPC ads cost money, they’re best used when your goals are directly related to bringing in returns, such as:

  • Increase in new sales or new customers. You can make your PPC ads lead directly to individual product pages or product category pages. Then, measure how many users who click on your ads end up making a purchase.
  • Increase in leads. You can also use PPC ads to bring new leads into your sales funnel. An ad can bring them directly to a page with a lead capture form. You can then measure how many of the people who clicked on the ads ended up filling out and submitting the form.

If you're interested in using PPC ads as part of your online marketing strategy, this guide on AdWords can help give you ideas on how to start. 

5. Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process where you optimize your site to make sure that it appears in search engine results when people search with a keyword relevant to your business. 

Here's how it works: Let's say a user is in need of a specific product or service, such as landscaping. They might go on Google to search "landscaping," add their location in the search terms, and a list of results will come out. SEO is basically a business's efforts to ensure that they'll come out as high up as possible on the list of those results.

SEO example
Good SEO ensures that your business will be among the first few results when a target customer searches for products and services you offer.

In the example above, the results include links from Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook, and the websites of the businesses. Because it's based on traffic from search engines, SEO works best for the following goals:

  • Getting traffic into your funnel. If you're looking to fill your sales funnel with leads, SEO can help potential customers discover your business through search engines. You can measure this by tracking the number of website visitors you get from search engines, the keywords they use, and what they do on your website once they get there.
  • Increase in new sales or customers. You can do SEO on your product or service pages by focusing on keywords with high purchase intent. In the landscaping example, instead of doing SEO on generic keywords like "landscaper in [your location]," you can add buying intent to these keywords such as "hire a landscaper in [your location]" when planning your SEO strategy. You can track if your SEO efforts are really bringing in customers by seeing how many of your sales are from people visiting your website through a search engine.

To get started on the basics of SEO, check out this comprehensive SEO tutorial for beginners.

Measuring the Success of Your Online Marketing Campaigns

While one of the benefits of online marketing is the ability to track the results of your campaigns, many small businesses still struggle in this area. Infusionsoft’s small business marketing trends report shows that 46% of businesses don’t know if their digital marketing strategies work, while 17% know that they don’t work. Avoid being one of these businesses by following these rules:

  • Make sure the data you track is directly related to your goals. How you measure your return on investment for each marketing strategy depends mostly on the strategy you use and the goals you've selected. For example, if you're trying to find out if your online marketing strategies are bringing in leads, focus on the key indicators that show the status and sources of these leads. In email marketing, this would be the number of subscribers. For social media marketing, this could be the number of followers on your Facebook account. 
  • Track the changes in your data over time. You can't just look up the numbers you track whenever you feel like it and expect to learn something about how your marketing efforts are working. You need to track how these numbers change every week, month, quarter, or year. For example, knowing today that you've got 100 email subscribers doesn't tell you much. But if you know that in the past three months you only gained five new subscribers, then you need to change your strategy to ensure that you keep those leads coming in regularly.
  • Not all data is useful. As you're tracking the success of your campaigns, you'll see that for every channel you choose, there will be dozens of available metrics for you to track. Most of these will be irrelevant to your goals. Focus on the one to three metrics that matter and forget the rest for now, no matter how tempting it is to track everything. For example, if you want to know if your SEO strategy is bringing new visitors to your website, you need to look at the number of new unique visitors from search engines. There's no need to obsess about how much time they're staying on your website or which devices they use.

If you want to know more about how you can measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, the following guides can show you:

Go Further With Online Marketing

Now that you've got an online marketing definition, you're ready to start using it for your small business. Online marketing might seem overwhelming, especially if you’re new to it. But if you’re firm on your goals, measure your success, and take it one marketing channel at a time, you’ll soon find your business thriving online.

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