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Online or digital marketing for a startup can seem daunting at first. Without an existing online presence or a large social following, digital marketing may feel like screaming into a dark cave and not hearing an echo. However, this doesn’t have to be so; with a few simple tricks you can elevate your small business’s marketing presence in no time. To help break down the best ways to market your small business online, I asked members of the Lightning Media Partners team to share their expertise and advice on these marketing strategies.
How to promote your small business online
For small business owners, digital marketing can seem like an endless list of tasks you “should be doing” but don’t have time to tackle. However, digital marketing consists of just a few main categories, each with its own strengths, to help promote your business online. Understanding these strengths can help you prioritize the digital marketing channels with the highest ROI.
Define your audience
Before speaking to your audience, you need to find them online. Many small business owners fall into the trap of thinking “everyone” is their audience. But just as you wouldn’t shout in the middle of the street to promote your business, you have to target specific types of people for a successful conversation rate. The trouble can be figuring out who that is.
As Lightning Media Partner’s marketing coordinator, I spend a lot of time thinking about the intention behind our content in order to reach our desired audience. It isn’t enough to send out an email or a tweet advertising our business services. Who cares? There’s plenty of digital marketing agencies out there and if we aren’t giving viewers a reason to click for themselves then our content is pointlessly self-promotional.
Take this article for example. Marketers love talking about marketing. You can largely get the same points from this article here or here or here. Our intention behind this article is to draw from our specific experience as an agency to both drive our points home and make a personal connection, giving the reader a unique perspective that other agencies aren’t offering.
So how does intention help a small business define their audience?
Intention makes you think about who your marketing efforts are for and how you can convert them into paying customers. By having a target audience in mind when creating a marketing strategy, you can write content that caters to them in order to attract them and convert them into customers.
To help you really define your audience, it helps to do some research. One of the things we’ve done here at LMP is take a look at our competitors. We look at their blogs, advertising efforts, graphics, and social media to get a better idea of what works for them, what they could do better, and how we can implement what’s effective into our own output. Because we have different target audiences than our competitors, not everything is transferable. But it helps to look at someone else’s content and think about the intention behind their efforts.
Once you have an audience in mind, it helps to get incredibly specific about them. Create a “client persona” document that you and your employees can refer to when thinking about your ideal audience. Include demographic information, such as their age, location, and occupation, as well as what their pain points are and how your company is targeting them in order to solve them.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Ever wonder why some websites show up higher in your Google search than others? Simply put, it’s search engine optimization (SEO) at work. SEO helps a small business improve their visibility on search engine results. Search engines such as Google and Bing use bots to crawl web pages, collect information, and put them in an index based on ranking factors. Some of the most important ranking factors are security, page speed, and mobile friendliness.
Every small business should be creating their content with an SEO strategy in mind. But as our own SEO specialist, Katti Betterton, will tell you, it can be both a blessing and curse for small businesses.
“Some small businesses cater to niche markets, meaning their target keyword phrases will drive relevant traffic to their site and topic coverage can be comprehensive, informative, and industry-leading,” Betterton shared.
“However, small businesses usually remain the underdogs online because of their new websites and lower domain authority. At that point, it becomes all about winning high-authority backlinks, bringing traffic to your site organically, and keeping visitors to your website engaged.”
Learning SEO can be as challenging as learning a second language. Katti recommends that teams with limited SEO experience consult a professional for an SEO audit. If you’re not knowledgeable about SEO, you may miss significant opportunities. Anyone with access to a computer and a proclivity for learning new skills can pick up SEO tactics pretty quickly but creating an SEO strategy is much harder. The time it takes to research, create, and stay up to date with an SEO strategy can build up over time. Hiring a professional for an SEO audit will include actionable items that you can delegate to your team or an agency to execute.
For teams that do have some SEO background knowledge, Katti recommends to not ignore zero-click keywords when performing keyword research.
“Don’t hinge your strategy on it, but think like a human instead of a machine – if the keyword you want to target has zero search volume but clearly has intent behind it – and you can create content that answers questions and provides solutions – you may have just found a winning diamond in the rough,” she said.
For quick actionable tips for beginners who don’t have an SEO strategy or specialist, Katti wrote an article you can find here.
Social Media Marketing
It’s incredibly hard to market your business online if you have absolutely no social media presence. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, are incredibly powerful tools that small businesses can utilize to their advantage for free. At LMP, our marketing assistant, Helen Eckhard, used her years of marketing experience to craft our social media strategy.
“Social media is such a powerful marketing tool because it’s the one place business owners can truly engage with their customers,” Helen shared. “To make the most of social media marketing, small business owners need to focus on engaging their customers through one-on-one interactions. That means responding to comments, asking for customer feedback, and finding ways to encourage followers to keep the conversation about your brand going.”
Properly devoting the time to social media can be intimidating. It’s why major corporations dedicate entire teams to just one platform. As a small business owner, you likely don’t have the talent to dedicate a team, let alone a single person, to your social media process. Luckily, social media is a great option for doing business and it doesn’t take too many resources to develop a strategy.
“Take some time to identify one or two platforms that best match your marketing objectives and focus your efforts there,” said Helen. “Want to grow your B2B business and establish yourself among industry peers? Give LinkedIn marketing a try. More interested in developing brand awareness and establishing customer relationships? Instagram or Twitter might be better places to start.”
Helen’s best advice? “Figure out the No. 1 goal you want to accomplish with your social media marketing and build your strategy around that.”
One common misconception that should be pointed out is that the more you post on social media, the more engagement you get. While it’s important to have plentiful content, it’s more important to consistently post high quality content.
“Social media is one place where the adage ‘quality over quantity’ definitely applies,” Helen explained. “Avoid posting just for posting’s sake—it can come across as spammy, and if customers don’t like what they see, you could lose followers and business. Instead, focus on curating quality content that leaves your audience wanting more. Take time to produce polished graphics, and make sure each text post contributes a new or unique idea.”
Email marketing is a great way to connect with an audience that has opted in to receiving your content. Customers will sign up to subscribe to your emails to get marketing materials, sales and promotions, and gain insight about your company and industry.
What format you send your emails in depends on your brand and your business. Some managers like to send long, in-depth blogs about their industries and insights that they’re learning. Others like to keep the word count short and have pictures and visuals tell the story. There is no right or wrong way to send out an email, so long as your emails reflect your brand and neatly convey your message to the audience.
In addition to her editorial duties, our assistant managing editor, Sammi Caramela is also in charge of our email marketing (subscribe below!). Her strategy on sending out our emails is to view it as a marketing tactic that delivers the inside scoop about digital marketing and give our curious subscribers insight from marketing experts.
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For small businesses looking to start their own email marketing strategy, Sammi recommends organizations use a digital marketing calendar to organize your marketing across all channels. This can be for blogs, social media, and other content you’re releasing, but it’s most important if you’re sending out multiple emails.
“By creating and following a digital marketing calendar, you’ll be able to better organize and anticipate your email marketing goals and any special dates,” said Sammi. “You can even include notes in the calendar about when to start outlining, drafting, editing, and producing emails before sending.”
As your business starts to establish a long-term email strategy, you’ll want to use a calendar to plot out important dates and emails and plan out their writing, editing, and production process so you aren’t rushed. The more time out you give your team to prepare emails, the better executed they are, giving your audience a better product. Once you’re sending out emails on a consistent basis, you can track the analytics to make more informed marketing decisions.
One of the best things about developing a digital marketing strategy is that it gives you analytics and insights into your customer base that allow you to make better decisions. Businesses can track their marketing successes with KPIs and metrics. However, it’s important to know how to use this data and not just accumulate it.
One of our co-founders, Sean Peek, oversees all of LMP’s analytics and has used them to make informed decisions that navigated our rebrand, sales process, and employee acquisition. Because the amount of marketing metrics you can measure is infinite, Sean suggests that businesses start by determining their key performance indicators (KPIs). Once you have those established, he recommends tracking your monthly website traffic, bounce rate, top ranking keywords, and conversion rate.
“The key to properly utilizing your analytics is to understand how they work together,” said Sean. “For example, if you focus on website traffic but ignore your bounce and conversion rates, you could end up increasing your monthly visitors while your sales remain the same. In this scenario, you should work on your site design to improve your bounce rate and optimize your content to direct more people to your sales funnel.”
Like SEO, tracking and learning about marketing analytics can seem like learning a second language. However, the return on investment is too great to ignore. Sean recommends that companies take advantage of free analytical tools that can help them quickly understand what marketing strategies are worth the effort or consult with an expert. He also stresses taking a long-view approach with your analytics.
“Keep in mind it takes time to see the impact of your efforts,” Sean said. “Depending on your marketing strategy, it can take anywhere from a few days to several months to determine the effectiveness of your campaign. For small business owners with limited marketing budgets, it’s best to start small, keep an eye on your KPIs, and scale the marketing strategies that have the highest ROI.”
Content marketing is a fancy, business term for putting your “stuff” out there strategically. The term “content” can refer to many things – pictures, videos, social media posts – but for our purposes, we’re going to focus on written content for your website.
Lightning Media Partner’s co-founder, Nicole Fallon-Peek, launched the company with Sean with the mission to deliver high quality, SEO-friendly content to small businesses and digital publishers. Often Nicole talks to prospective clients who are hesitant about the benefits of having constant content on their website. They view it more as a luxury than a necessity, not seeing or understanding the advantages it does for a company on the back end.
“The biggest advantage of written content for a small business is that it serves as a starting point for your entire marketing strategy,” said Nicole. “A well-researched, SEO-friendly blog is valuable in itself for educating your customers and improving your organic search rankings, but it can also be the basis for other forms of content, like social media posts, email newsletters, infographics, videos, podcasts, and more.”
The idea of starting any sort of content marketing strategy can seem overwhelming for a small business. Where do you start?
First you should look at how your customers are currently finding your business and interacting with you. See what search terms they’re using to land on your website and what they’re asking about your product or service. Then you can look at what kind of content your competitors are publishing and what key phrases they are using. Using this research can inform what type of content your target audience is looking for and what you should be posting.
It’s important that small businesses don’t get carried away or discouraged by initial, day to day analytics of a blog post. External factors may cause content to spike (or not get clicked) so you have to view content marketing as a long-term, consistent strategy and not based on individual results.
“Consistency gives you the greatest chance of developing a loyal audience that will come back over and over again for your insights and advice,” Nicole shared. “Equally important is the fact that search engines will rank your website higher if they see regular, relevant content being published on your website.”
Content marketing isn’t going anywhere and while the popular channels and formats have changed over the years, the demand for content has only increased. No matter if you’re publishing written articles or video and audio content, start monitoring your audience engagement so that you can adjust your marketing strategy accordingly and target your ideal audience.
Why is online marketing important for small businesses?
Having a digital marketing strategy is essential for any small business to succeed today. Because of the difference in products, services, and industries, every small business’s marketing efforts will look different. What’s important is that you determine how you can utilize the above methods to highlight your business’s strengths in your industry.
Once you have a framework established, take a long-term approach to marketing. Just because it’s digital marketing doesn’t mean you’ll have instant gratification. Getting results that truly improve your business and its viability, takes time. Keep your marketing practices consistent, and eventually you’ll see results.
If you’re seeking to enhance your small business’s content strategy, let’s work together! We can partner up to create an SEO and content marketing strategy that boosts your brand’s online presence and amplifies your small business.