Digital marketing is one of the best investments your small business can make. When you devote the time and money to improve your company’s online profile, you’re sure to see returns—if you do things right.
These 26 expert tips will show you how digital marketing can pay off. Using tools like local search, SEM and social media can help your small business reach more customers—and make more sales.
1. What is Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is a collection of internet-based marketing tactics aimed at attracting leads and sales from customers who find your products and services online. Some of these channels are free but require your time and effort; other channels rely on paid advertising budgets.
Digital marketing campaigns could include any combination of these common tactics:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Local search
- Online business listings
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Social media marketing
- Content marketing
- Mobile marketing
- Online reviews
2. Why is Digital Marketing Important for Small Businesses?
“Digital marketing is one of the most cost-effective avenues for marketing and achieving business growth,” said Stoney deGeyter, CEO of Pole Position Marketing. “At this point, digital marketing is more important than television or other forms of advertising.”
For small business owners with limited marketing budgets, deGeyer said that digital marketing provides a greater return on investment than traditional advertising. Digital marketing also allows companies to track their results, adjust and improve.
3. Why Should Small Businesses Use Digital Marketing?
“There’s simply no choice for small businesses but to engage with the online world,” said David Mercer, head of online strategy and new businesses for SME Pals. Businesses that don’t use digital marketing to reach new customers put themselves at a severe disadvantage when competing with companies that do.
Mercer advises small businesses use digital marketing to:
- Identify new markets
- Gain exposure
- Cultivate a reputation
- Build trust
- Build a following
- Increase traffic
- Increase conversions
4. What Types of Digital Marketing Do Small Businesses Use?
“A healthy combination of social media, content marketing (blogs, newsletters, web content, email nurture campaigns), SEO and digital advertising are all essential to a well-rounded digital marketing campaign,” said Hannah Grubow, marketing lead with digital marketing firm Community Elf.
Most businesses use a combination of the eight digital marketing tactics listed below.
5. Digital Marketing Tactic: Mobile-Friendly Websites
Your small business website is the single most important aspect of your digital marketing. Your website is the online version of your company’s front door. And since you want customers to be able to walk right through that door and start looking around, your small business website has to be easy for today’s customers to access with their smartphones.
Business websites built to be mobile-friendly work just as well on desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.
This tutorial explains the basics of mobile-friendly websites:
6. Digital Marketing Tactic: Online Listings
Online business directories act like a personalized phone book. Listing your company on directory sites like Google My Business, Manta, YP.com, Yelp and the roughly 50 other listing sites around the web will help customers find your website and your brick-and-mortar location.
Online business listings boost your company’s search engine ranking in local and general searches results. Here’s how they work:
To see how your company appears across 50+ online listing directories, type your company name into Manta’s free listing report tool and see your results:
7. Digital Marketing Tactic: Online Reviews
Positive online reviews from satisfied customers will improve your company’s reputation online. Inviting customers to leave their reviews on Google, Facebook or other review sites is the best word-of-mouth marketing you can generate online.
Here’s how you can boost sales through online reviews:
8. Digital Marketing Tactic: Local Search Optimization
Local searches recommend nearby businesses to internet users searching for products or services in their current geographic location. Online listings help your company website show up in local search results. Local searches are informed by a smartphone user’s geolocation data, which is matched to companies that have included geographic location data in their online listings or targeted advertising.
Here’s how local search works:
9. Digital Marketing Tactic: Search Engine Optimization
Businesses use SEO techniques to improve their websites’ ranking in search engine results.
When a potential customer searches on Google or Bing for products or services, they’re likely to click on the websites that appear on the first page of those search results. That’s where you want your website to rank—and SEO can help you get there.
Search engine optimization tactics are designed to organically earn (rather than purchase) a strong search ranking. To learn more about boosting your company’s ranking, read Manta’s complete guide to SEO for Small Business.
10. Digital Marketing Tactic: Search Engine Marketing
Businesses purchase ads to get instant visibility on search engine results pages. This is called SEM, or search engine marketing. Search engine marketing involves identifying the keywords that your customers are most likely to use when searching for your products or services, then paying for a certain number of customer views on your ad (known as impressions).
11. Digital Marketing Tactic: Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing for small businesses combines paid social media ads and authentic interactions with followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social media ads are an affordable marketing tactic for small businesses with small marketing budgets.
Facebook is the platform on which most businesses should have a profile. Click below to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Facebook Ads, boosted posts and turning followers into customers.
12. Digital Marketing Tactic: Content
Posting high-quality content that is relevant to customers will boost your social following, boost your SEO and keep customers coming back to your company website. Digital content refers to any writing, photos, videos or logos published on company websites and social media profiles.
Learn how to create content that engages your target customers:
13. Where Should a Small Business Begin with Digital Marketing?
Begin your digital marketing by looking in the mirror, then looking to your customers.
What are your company goals? Are you trying to grow your business locally? Expand to another region? Sell more of one particular product or service? Articulate your goals—big or small—and let them guide your digital marketing plan.
“Your digital marketing strategy should enhance the rest of your marketing strategy, as well as help you reach your ultimate goals,” said Grubow. “Small businesses should begin with creating a digital marketing strategy in-house or by finding a professional agency.”
After reflecting on your ambitions, consider your ideal customers. Who are they? What do they need, what do they want? Where are they (online and off)?
“Put yourself in the shoes of the customer,” recommended Vicky Llerena, CEO of Social Vibes Media. Then, follow that audience.
“Are your prospects on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook? Do they frequent certain websites? Do they read blogs related to your service? What keywords might your prospects use when searching for services related to your biz?” Llerena said, listing the key details that inform every effective digital marketing plan.
14. What Results Can Digital Marketing Deliver?
Digital marketing can benefit almost any business. But owners should have realistic expectations about what they can accomplish through digital marketing, said Scott Forde, president of Active Web Group.
“A mom-and-pop store cannot outspend a big box competitor,” said Forde. “However, it can
successfully compete for its fair share in any online marketplace. Digital marketing initiatives can improve a small business’ online standing in terms of leads, revenue and branding.”
15. What Digital Marketing Methods Are Essential to Successful Digital Marketing?
“Most important is to have an SEO-friendly website,” said Forde. He recommended sites made more than four years ago should be updated to be mobile-responsive.
“It is imperative that any new site be designed in line with current SEO best practices,” Forde said. Businesses should then promote their sites with custom SEO and digital marketing campaigns that support their sales goals. Each business should develop digital marketing campaigns around their goals, target audience and resources.
“There could be one or more campaigns to achieve stated goals within a set timeline,” said Forde. “These campaigns can take the form of email blasts, social media promotion, pay-per-click (PPC) initiatives, web development and search engine optimization.”
Your goal with digital marketing through any channel, said Llerena, should be to “know your audience, create content for your audience and draw them back to your site or landing page.”
16. What Does a Successful Digital Marketing Campaign Look Like?
There’s no single factor that makes small business digital marketing a success. Rather, a combination of tactics that fit your marketing budget and reach your target audience work best.
“Social media, email marketing, SEO, PPC, content marketing—they all come together and work towards a common goal,” said Alexander Grosu, a digital marketer for . He recommends planning a digital marketing strategy that begins with boosting your website’s search engine optimization.
A search-optimized website is “your gateway and your ‘ID’ into the digital world,” said Grosu. “You cannot really gain people’s trust if you’re not found on Google, or if your website doesn’t provide quality information for the users.”
To that end, successful digital marketing strategies follow this basic outline:
- Know your customers and identify what you hope to achieve through digital marketing.
- Set your digital marketing budget.
- Decide if you will be doing your own digital marketing, hiring a marketing employee or contracting with a digital marketing firm.
- Build or update your website so that is it mobile-friendly.
- Add content to your website that accurately describes your business, informs and appeals to your target customers. Use consistent business descriptions, logos, voice and design elements that reflect your company identity.
- Claim or add your business to online listing sites like Google My Business to boost your local search rankings.
- Set up social media profiles on platforms your target customers are most likely to use.
- Measure your website’s traffic through Google Analytics.
- Measure your social media engagement through social platform analytics.
- Monitor how well these methods are working for you, and decide where best to spend on paid marketing or online advertising campaigns.
17. What is a Realistic Digital Marketing Budget?
“The marketing budget really depends on the size of a business, the industry it’s in and saturation (by competitors) in the digital space,” said Keyvan Hajiani, cofounder and director of marketing for SocioFabrica.
Digital marketing budgets can range from very small to very large, depending on the size of your business and the market you’re after. Digital marketing experts provided a wide range of estimates for this article.
On the affordable end of the spectrum, many small businesses rely on Manta Marketing Pros to improve their digital marketing for as little as $99 a month. And businesses can begin advertising with Facebook Ads for as little as $5 per boosted post.
“Budgets really depend on the company,” said Sam Binks, digital marketing manager for Cool Gifts for Dads. “If a ton of growth quickly is required, start thinking about (spending) some serious cash. However, if a slower pace of growth is acceptable, spending less is fine.”
“In very general terms, for a company just getting into digital marketing, putting 20% of revenue towards marketing can go a long way,” said Binks.
The spending required to be effective in digital marketing will also depend on your competition in the market. Your necessary spending will also be shaped by customers’ awareness of your products or services, said Christine Hollinden, principal at Hollinden Marketing and Strategies.
“If you are new to a market with well-established competitors, then expect to spend more,” said Hollinden. She says the average marketing budget will be between 10% to 25% of your gross sales or revenue.
“Expect to spend a minimum of $7,500 for a website, plus ongoing help to create content and keep up the search engine rankings ($1,500 or more per month),” advised Hollinden. “If you’ve expanded into social channels, promoted posts, Google Adwords, etc., then allocate upward of $2,500 or more per month.”
18. Should Small Businesses Use Digital Marketing Firms, Hire or Do Their Own Digital Marketing?
This is a big decision for small business owners. Take stock of your resources (both time and money) as you decide whether to hire, contract or DIY your digital marketing.
Beth Bridges, vice president of J-Digital Identity, suggested that small business owners ask themselves the following:
- “Do I have the time to train and supervise a recent college graduate to work on my digital marketing? Or do I have the budget to afford an experienced marketer, which requires less time, but more money?”
- “Doing it yourself means learning an entire field of expertise…and, it’s constantly changing,” cautioned Bridges. “Are you willing to devote yourself to keeping up with changes in SEO, PPC and web design, much less learn the dozens of specialized tools and channels? Would that take you away from your core leadership and business-building activities?”
19. What are Good Initial Objectives to Set for Small Business Digital Marketing?
Solid, consistent presence online is key, said Hollinden. “Maintain activity. If we are talking posts or updates, go for four to five per week, initially. Again, better to start small and build up than to take on too much and fall short.”
Christina Daves, entrepreneur and founder of PR for Anyone, recommends starting with the most popular social media platform: Facebook.
“Everyone expects businesses to be on Facebook so that is the place to start,” said Daves. “There are simple things you can do like boost a post to get more views on it. If you are a brick and mortar, post your specials for the week. Engage with your audience.”
Depending on where a small business is starting out, Binks recommended companies aim for these goals within six months of starting their digital marketing:
- Know your goals and decide which metrics to follow to gauge your success.
- Have a responsive website.
- Set up data tracking using a tool, like Google Analytics.
- Identify the top questions your customers have and answer them in your digital content.
- Decide which tactics to use to promote awareness of your company and drive traffic to your website (social media, PPC advertising, paid social marketing and/or SEO).
20. What Results Can Small Businesses Expect from Digital Marketing?
“Digital marketing is so wide ranging, there aren’t many goals it can’t help achieve,” said Binks. “Looking for more leads from paid search? Want to have great visibility in search engines? Would getting 10,000 Twitter followers to be advocates (or your business) help? All these and more are possible, that’s the great thing about digital marketing.”
21. What is the Return on Digital Marketing Versus Traditional Marketing?
“Digital marketing, done correctly, has exponential reach at a very low cost,” said Daves. “Whereas traditional marketing is much more expensive and harder to track the return on your investment. Unless, for example, you have a coupon on a mailer.”
The ability to track the results of your digital marketing means you can adjust your campaigns to get better results.
Digital campaigns are more cost-effective than traditional media such as radio spots, print, TV advertising, said Forde.
“While it cannot be determined how many persons viewed, read, or acted upon a traditional promotion, online efforts can be tracked, reported and adjusted,” said Forde. “Digital media is highly effective at reaching prospects, as well as cost-effective.”
22. Should Owners Have a Digital Marketing Plan, and How Long Will It Take to See Results?
Yes! If there’s no digital marketing plan, your efforts will be random, ineffective and impossible to measure, cautioned Binks.
“There’s nothing worse to see from a marketing standpoint than a business who is just trying anything off the cuff … or setting a plan and then two weeks later throwing it in the trash because it’s not going as hoped,” Binks added.
Digital marketing takes time. Be persistent and adaptable in your marketing efforts, and over time you’ll see the results in your leads and sales.
“If it’s not working, do something to change it slightly and monitor the results,” Binks advised. “Don’t abandon ship!”
23. What are Some Inexpensive and Time-Saving Digital Marketing Tools?
There are a number of free or inexpensive digital marketing tools for small businesses. Among those recommended by the experts in this article are:
- Analytics tools like Google Analytics to measure website traffic.
- Keyword research tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner (as well the search terms listed at the bottom of Google search pages).
- Hootsuite to manage your social media pages and schedule social media posts. Facebook also allows you to schedule your posts ahead of time. You can do the same using Tweetdeck for Twitter.
- Low-cost email marketing plans through email automation platforms like Emma or Constant Contact.
- Manta’s free business listing report lets you see how your information shows up on 50+ online business directories.
24. Why Do Digital Marketing Efforts Fail?
Business owners who jump into digital marketing without a set strategy will likely fail, said marketing consultant Carolyn Wilman.
“The campaigns are disjointed from the brand and then they wonder why they don’t see the results from their efforts,” said Wilman. “Create an overall annual marketing plan. Online and offline. Then, map out each month and determine what actions need to be taken to activate each component.”
25. How Much Will Hiring a Digital Marketing Firm Cost?
Digital marketing firms can handle a company’s entire digital marketing program, or they can focus on specific portions of a digital marketing plan. The scope of the work—as well as specifics like your location, industry and existing digital marketing assets—will determine the price you pay.
If you pay a company to build a website, you’re going to pay more up front than if you’re paying a company to handle your social media, for example.
“Pricing can depend on factors previously mentioned,” said Binks. Depending on how much your company wants to “move the needle, it could be $2,000 per month, or $10,000 per month.”
While price ranges vary greatly, experts agree on one thing: When you hire a digital marketing agency, be prepared to spend. On the plus side, it will save you time and pay off in the long run.
26. What Are the Biggest Digital Marketing Mistakes Companies Make?
For the same reason any type of marketing effort fails, digital marketing can fall short, said Linda Pophal, owner and CEO of Strategic Communications.
Usually, said Pophal, “the offer didn’t resonate with the target audience” due to some combination of the following factors:
- Lack of understanding of the target audience, what is important to them and what will prompt them to make a purchase decision.
- Products or services that your audience has found substitutes for, feel are priced inappropriately or have difficulty finding information about.
- Not clearly differentiating what you have to offer from what your competitors have to offer.
- Selecting the wrong channels to talk to your customers online.
- Website content that fails to compel the audience to desired action.
- Not allowing enough time for the campaign to run its course.
“Too often, digital marketers expect immediate results,” cautioned Pophal. “It doesn’t work that way.”