Six Digital Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses – HostPapa Blog

Digital marketing is absolutely essential if you want your business to become a success. From helping you attract new customers to increasing your sales, the right digital marketing strategy can really take your business growth to new heights.

Here’s what Allan Dib, the author of ‘The One-Page Marketing Plan’ has to say regarding the importance of digital marketing:

“Many business owners fool themselves into thinking that if their product is excellent, the market will buy. While “if you build it, they will come” makes a great movie plot, it’s a terrible business strategy. It’s a strategy that’s expensive and comes with a high rate of failure. History is littered with technically superior products that commercially failed. A few examples include Betamax, The Newton and LaserDisc to name just a few. Good, even great, products are simply not enough. Marketing must be one of your major activities if you’re to have business success.”

In this article, we’ll discuss six highly effective digital marketing strategies you can use for your business.

While all of them are tested and guaranteed to work, not all of them will work for you. We recommend that you consider all the strategies in this guide and try out two or three. It will become clear which ones will work best for your business.

Strategy 1: Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM), like the name suggests, is a marketing activity that’s exclusively focused on search engines. In this kind of marketing, you promote your website, product, or service on search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Start by bidding for a set of keywords that your target audience uses to search for your products or services. For example, if you sell shoes in Vancouver, Canada, something like ‘best formal shoes in Vancouver BC’ or ‘awesome sports shoes in Vancouver’ would be good keywords to target.

Step 2: Once you pick a keyword, create an ad for it. Usually, search engines only display text ads, which means you’ll need to include highly compelling and motivational copy, so the maximum number of people click on your ad. Hiring a PPC (pay-per-click) or SEM expert to create your ad is a good idea.

Step 3: Finally, start your paid search campaign. When a person enters the keywords you’ve targeted into a search engine, your text ad will show up in the search results. Each time a person clicks on your ad, you’ll pay a small fee. That’s because, in SEM, you’re charged on a ‘pay-per-click’ basis.

Note: SEM should not be confused with SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is a marketing strategy in which you improve your website’s ranking organically on search engines by using keyword research and other related techniques.

The biggest advantage of SEM is that you instantly gain access to an audience that is already highly motivated and looking for a solution. Just the fact that they are using a search engine to find a product or service like yours makes them qualified customers who are very likely to make a purchase.

Plus, in contrast to an SEO strategy, you won’t have to wait weeks or months for your rank to improve. The results of a successful SEM strategy come much faster than those of an SEO approach.

Quite simply, SEM works great as a digital marketing strategy, especially if yours is a retail business.

A study by Forrester Research and Shop.org proves that:

… 85 percent of retailers surveyed said search marketing (including paid and SEO) was the most effective customer acquisition tactic. And, the research showed paid search was the channel most heavily invested in.

Google also supports this idea, stating that, on average, for every $1 spent on Google Adwords, businesses earned $2 back. What’s more, if your local business provides information online that people find useful, 3 out of 4 of them will visit your physical store as well.

If done right, SEM can earn you a 100% ROI. That isn’t easy to achieve with other marketing strategies.

Strategy 2: Social Media Marketing

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are very popular. Every day, millions of people use these platforms to connect with their friends and family and even reach out to their favorite brands.

In fact, as a business owner, you might be interested to know that 37% of all consumers find inspiration for their next purchase on social media networks. This makes social media an extremely lucrative marketing channel.

But what exactly is social media marketing (SMM)?

Buffer, a popular social media management tool, offers an excellent definition. According to them:

Social media marketing is the use of social media platforms to connect with your audience to build your brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic. This involves publishing great content on your social media profiles, listening to and engaging your followers, analyzing your results, and running social media advertisements.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Choose a social media network that the majority of your target audience uses. For example, if you’re selling printed t-shirts, the ideal social network would be Facebook or Instagram. That’s where teens (who are most likely to buy your t-shirts) are.

On the other hand, if you’re selling corporate legal services, a platform like LinkedIn would be a better choice. LinkedIn is where you’ll find business people who are likely to need legal services.

Step 2: After choosing your desired social network, you’ll have to sign-up to use their ad service. For example, to create a Facebook ad, you must first create an account on Facebook Business. Similarly, if you want to create a LinkedIn ad, you’ll have to create an account on LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

Step 3: With your target audience in mind, create an ad that will speak to them through emotionally compelling copy.

Step 4: Finally, allocate a specific budget and time period to run the ad. If you don’t know how to do that, you can find helpful information online, or, hire a social media marketing expert to do it for you.

This is a bare-bones explanation of how SMM works. In addition to the steps above, you will need to create new posts on your social media profile, optimize your audience groups, run A/B tests, and experiment with different ads to see which ones work best.

If you’re eager to learn more about SMM, every social network, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, offers basic tutorials on how to run ads on their platform.

Image Credit: Social Samosa

Strategy 3: Content Marketing

Content marketing is an extremely popular marketing strategy, especially among small businesses. That’s why so many business websites have a blog section for sharing helpful information with their customers—it’s part of their content marketing strategy.

What is content marketing?

Content Marketing Institute, a highly popular blog dedicated to content marketing, offers a concise explanation:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Let’s break down the key phrases in that definition.

“Create valuable, relevant and consistent content.”

In content marketing, the most important thing is to create valuable, relevant content, as perceived by your audience, and not just once, but consistently. You can do this by determining the needs and problems of your target audience.

For example, if you’re operating a shoe store, an example of valuable, relevant content would be an article like ‘Five Effective Ways to Make your Shoes Look New Again.’ The reason this would qualify as “valuable, relevant” content is that it directly addresses a shoe shopper’s problem, i.e., taking care of their shoes.

And remember, content doesn’t just mean articles. It can also mean ebooks, video guides, and even infographics.

Attract and retain a clearly defined audience.”

Just creating high-quality content on a regular basis isn’t enough. You also have to market your content to the audience it was written for. If you can “attract and retain” the right audience, you’ll get the most out of your content marketing strategy. There are many channels where you can market your content so that it will be aimed directly at the people you want to see it.

For example, you can optimize your articles for search engines (in other words, employ SEO tactics) so they will rank on the first page of search results. You can promote your content by running ads on platforms like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads, or publish a guest post on another blog that your target audience visits, linking back to your website.

“Drive profitable customer action.”

When you create high-quality, relevant content and your target audience consumes it, you’ll build a following of loyal, engaged customers and prospects, all eager for more helpful information. You can grow this following by gathering email subscribers, social media followers, or by getting more website visitors. Once your following is established, it’s time to pull the trigger and “drive profitable customer action.”

Gradually present your audience with the products or services you want to sell. Capitalizing on the goodwill you’ve established, you should be able to convince many of them to become regular customers.

All that sounds great, but, does content marketing actually work?

Research shows that it does. First of all, 77% of internet users are blog readers, and many of them make purchases based on recommendations from their favorite blogs. They don’t like seeing ads.

In fact, more than 600 million devices have some sort of ad blocker installed that blocks traditional ads on major sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest. This means content marketing is one of the most visible marketing channels for small businesses.

Content marketing is cheaper than other strategies too. Compared to SEM, content marketing generates leads at a 31% cheaper cost. Plus, it generates three times more leads than SEM.

The bottom line is, companies that utilize content marketing as a strategy have a higher conversion rate (i.e., more sales and customers) than companies who don’t do content marketing.

Strategy 4: Email Marketing

If there is one digital marketing strategy that you should definitely try, it’s email marketing.

Time and time again, this strategy has proven its worth in the marketing world and helped many small businesses increase sales. Email marketing is so popular that marketers everywhere echo its tagline: “The money is in the list!”

In 2016, Campaign Monitor published a report stating that, for every dollar invested in email marketing, companies generated $44 as a result. This led to them calling email marketing the ‘king of the marketing kingdom’.

What is email marketing? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

“Email marketing is the act of sending a commercial message, typically to a group of people, using email. In its broadest sense, every email sent to a potential or current customer could be considered email marketing. It usually involves using email to send advertisements, request business, or solicit sales or donations, and is meant to build loyalty, trust, or brand awareness.”

To better understand this definition, let’s dive deeper into how email marketing works:

Step 1: Start by building your email list. In email marketing, the first thing to do is collect the email addresses of your target audience. You can do that by driving traffic to your website, blog articles, or landing pages. That’s where you’ll create a ‘call-to-action’ that asks visitors to subscribe to your email list.

People are often reluctant to give out their email address. To convince them, offer a lead magnet like an ebook, a discount coupon, a step-by-step guide on an interesting topic, or anything they might find useful. If you help them, they will sign up for your email list.

Step 2: Nurture your email subscribers by building a proper drip campaign. Simply asking them to make purchases on your site is the worst approach to email marketing. A better alternative is to deliver thoughtful, educational, and relevant content. Then, you can slowly begin to push them towards a purchase.

Developing the kind of email campaign that will engage your subscribers takes a lot of copywriting skills. If you’re not up to writing such emails, the best option would be to hire an expert copywriter to create a drip campaign for you.

Step 3: Automate your email marketing with an email autoresponder. It’s not productive to manually send each individual email to your subscribers. A better approach is to use an email autoresponder like Mailchimp, ConvertKit, or Aweber.

By using one of these services, you can completely automate your email campaigns so that, anytime a person subscribes to your email list, they’ll start receiving your emails automatically.

Plus, these services allow you to send personalized emails to your subscribers based on the actions they perform. For example, if someone abandons their cart on your website, an autoresponder can automatically remind that subscriber to complete their purchase.

With these three steps, we’ve given you a solid idea of what email marketing is, and how it works.

Now, the question is, what benefit will your business get from email marketing?

As mentioned, the observed ROI is $44 for every dollar you invest in it. If that’s not enough to convince you of its value, a study published by McKinsey explains more benefits of email marketing:

E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined. That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use email daily, and the rate at which emails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.

Strategy 5: Affiliate Marketing

Imagine having an army of salespeople, working 24/7 to market and sell your products.

How awesome would that be?

Well, you can make that happen, once you tap into an affiliate marketing network.

In simple terms, affiliate marketing is when another person markets and sells your products for you. In exchange, you offer this person (known as an ‘affiliate’) a percentage of the profits they generate when they sell your products or services.

Image credit: Sitechecker

It’s an incredibly effective digital marketing strategy, especially if you have a business that sells physical or digital products to mass audiences.

To enable other people to become your affiliates and sell your products for you, you’ll have to work with an affiliate marketing network.

You can either join an affiliate network or create your own. There are many sites that have a strong network of affiliate marketers, for example, Commission Junction and ShareASale. You simply enter the products you want marketers to sell on your behalf, and interested parties will get a unique link to share with their audiences.

If you don’t want to join an affiliate network (since they ask for a hefty fee), you can install a WordPress or Shopify plugin that will enable you to create an affiliate network. If you have a custom website or online store, you can use a service like ReferralCandy instead. Keep in mind, going this route means you’ll have to find affiliate marketers yourself.

After you’ve joined an affiliate network (or created one yourself), you’ll have to decide on a commission strategy. That means analyzing how much you’re willing to pay your affiliates. Will it be a fixed amount on each sale or a percentage of the profits? Will all affiliates be treated equally, or will those who sell more be rewarded with a better commission? All that is up to you to decide.

As you can see, while it does take time to set up an affiliate marketing network, the procedure is quite simple.

Amazon, the popular online eCommerce giant, has been using this digital marketing strategy to great effect. At one point, nearly 40% of all its sales came through affiliate marketers.

Moreover, while email is the king of marketing, affiliate marketing stands with it on equal terms. This is according to a report by Business Insider stating that both email and affiliate marketing are responsible for 16% of all eCommerce purchases. The same report also mentions that 74% of US shoppers visit 2-3 non-retail sites (which is where most affiliate links are published) before buying a product.

Strategy 6: Influencer Marketing

Adweek, a popular advertising industry publication, made an observation a few years back regarding how and what influences a customer’s primary buying decision.

Here’s what they said:

As the world has shifted to social media, consumers look at fellow consumers to inform their purchasing decisions. Instead of looking at companies, as they did in the past, they now look at each other and at their favorite personalities, who are consolidating massive followings on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and other platforms.

This represents a big shift in the way customers are motivated to buy a company’s products and services. It means that customers no longer trust traditional ads, instead looking to their ‘favorite personalities’ to help them make purchasing decisions.

Those personalities are called influencers because they have a large following of highly engaged fans that will buy a product or service based solely on their recommendation. Their audience trusts the influencer’s expertise and doesn’t even think of the recommendations as ads.

When brands and businesses started to realize this, a new marketing strategy emerged called influencer marketing.

Here’s an explanation of how it works:

Step 1: Your company finds an influencer with an audience that would be interested in your products or services. For example, if you sell phone accessories, you’d want to find a person that reviews tech products and has a large, tech-savvy audience.

Step 2: You contact the influencer and ask them to review, recommend, or simply mention your product in their content. It could be an article, video, or even something as simple as an Instagram picture, in exchange for a fixed fee.

Step 3: The influencer recommends your product to their highly engaged audience. You get increased brand awareness, a spike in sales, and, hopefully, new customers.

According to a report published by Linqia, 92% of marketers found influencer marketing to be effective. The same report said that the top three most important channels for influencer marketing were Instagram, Facebook, and blogs.

This means, if you decide to try influencer marketing, you should start with those channels. Instagram, especially, seems to be of high importance, which isn’t surprising. That’s the social network used by a huge number of millennials, who, by 2020 will have a combined purchasing power of over $1.4 trillion USD.

Bonus Digital Marketing Strategies

So far, this article has discussed the major digital marketing strategies that we feel will be effective for small-to-medium sized businesses like yours. There are a few lesser-known strategies that are worth mentioning.

Some of these bonus strategies are emerging—they have yet to prove their worth, but the signs are positive. Others are older, underrated strategies that can still bring positive results. Knowing about these strategies might prove useful to you in the future.

Market Your Business on a Podcast

According to Edison Research, for the past six years, the number of podcast listeners has continued to grow every year. Today, nearly 124 million people have listened to podcasts at some time in their life.

The demographics that make up the podcast-listening community are highly attractive for business owners. 45% of podcast listeners have an income higher than $75K USD, and approximately 27% have a college degree.

What’s more, podcast audiences are highly engaged. They don’t mind hearing audio ads. This presents a golden opportunity for your business to advertise products and services on podcasts. You may even decide to create a podcast yourself.

Here’s what eMarketer said about podcast listeners:

Podcasts may give advertisers an avenue in, however, as listeners are highly engaged when tuned into a podcast and usually don’t mind hearing ads. That’s because podcast ads tend to be kept to a minimum and are relevant to the program’s content, often via host-read ads. Trust and brand recall for podcast ads is also high when compared with other audio formats.

Create a Google My Business Listing

A ‘Google My Business’ listing is what you see in the right-hand column of Google search results when typing in a business’ name.

For example, if you enter the name of your favorite restaurant, you’ll see its pictures, directions, phone number, a few reviews, FAQs, and more. Nearly every detail a person might want to know about your company will be included in a Google My Business listing.

The reason why you should create a listing (if you have a brick and mortar business) is that it will give you greater visibility on search engines. Plus, your address and location will show up when people search using Google Maps.

Image credit: Au Digital

List Your Business on a Popular Directory

It doesn’t matter what kind of product or service you sell, there’s sure to be a directory just for your business category.

If you own a restaurant, you might want to list your business on Yelp!. If you sell a digital product, like a SaaS product, then a platform like Product Hunt would be a great place to list it.

Listing your business on various directories also makes it possible for people to review your products or services. When prospective customers read positive reviews, they are more likely to buy from you.

Make Digital Marketing Work for You

We want to leave you with one last point:

The strategies we mentioned, while highly effective, work best if you combine two or three of them.

For example, if you decide to try email marketing, you’ll have to do some content marketing as well. That’s because, unless you create awesome content that attracts the right audience, you won’t be able to convince people to subscribe to your email list.

Similarly, if you start a social media marketing campaign, you must have somewhere to direct your followers. If you don’t have a website or a landing page where they can read your content or subscribe to your email list, that’s a marketing dead-end.

By providing high-quality content, you can excel with any of the marketing strategies we’ve covered. Find the approach that’s right for your business, and make digital marketing work for you.

Have you tested any of these strategies before? Let us know in the comments how did it work for you!