It’s a new year. Start your small business digital marketing strategy with a bang.
For most small businesses, digital marketing is a no-brainer. When you’re just starting out, you don’t have the budget for what’s considered traditional marketing outreach. You can’t afford full-page ads, billboards, radio ads, TV spots, and the rest. Luckily, those types of outreach are mostly noise these days. For the most part, everyone ignores them. The ad space that matters—and is accessible to even the most cash-strapped startup—is online.
Here are seven steps to jump start your small business’s digital marketing strategy. You don’t have to implement every single step, or be a tech expert or marketing guru to make them work. All you need is a plan and the dedication to promote and grow your company.
#1. Study up on SEO.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the most critical step in small business digital marketing, and also the most daunting. It takes a little technical knowledge, mostly an understanding of how search engines interact with websites to deliver content.
Search engines like Google search websites for clues to what that website can offer. They want to ensure that when users enter a search, the results page delivers the best answer and information. For example, if someone searches for “best sandwiches in north new brunswick,” then the search engine supplies a list of possibilities, reviews, menus, and phone numbers. So it helps if your website, in its header, says: “Best Sandwiches in North New Brunswick!” It also helps to have that sprinkled in your page content, in image titles, in the meta description that shows up on the search result page, etc.
To get started with SEO, you determine which searches you want to rank for (i.e., those searches where you want to show up prominently on the search engine results page, or SERPs). You should then identify common keywords that show up in those searches. Try finding those on Moz, Google’s Keyword Planner, or SEMrush. Remember that longer keyword phrases are preferable to shorter ones. Every sandwich place is trying to rank for the “best sandwiches” keywords. But not all of them are that interested in “best italian sandwiches” or “best turkey reuben sandwiches.” With keywords, the more specific you can get, the better your chances at ranking for that keyword.
Once you’ve identified your target keyword phrase(s), make sure you include it in the:
- Headlines (also referred to as title tag, H1, H2, and H3 tags, etc.)
- Photo tags and alt text
- Website/domain URL
- Site text (the earlier the keyword shows up in the text, the better)
- File names (the names of files uploaded onto your website, like images or videos)
#2. Target local search.
As you focus on SEO, make sure your location is factored into your keywords. Winning a spot on the front page for local searches can really put your business on the map. According to recent research, local searches led 50 percent of mobile visitors to visit stores within one day. And 70 percent of all calls to businesses originated from information provided by Google, not a business’ website.
Another way to capitalize on local search is to seek out local search directories. These local directories, like Google My Business, are typically free. They allow you to list your business so you show up on search result pages and on maps. Local listings also require that you keep your information updated. You don’t want a customer to find outdated information.
#3. Dive into content marketing.
Your SEO and local search will hinge on your website content. Good content will attract traffic and place you higher on search engine results. Dated, badly written, or sparse online content—or content that isn’t tailored to your target keywords—can hurt you.
A general rule with content marketing is to emphasize quality over quantity. But what is quality content? That’s kind of hard to nail down, but here are a few places to start.
- Good content doesn’t sell. At least, it places selling low on the totem pole. The main motive for your content creation should be helping the customer, not moving product. This is where getting to know your customers really pays off. What problems do they face? What content could you put out there that would give them the answers they need? If you still want to plug a relevant product or service, include a little ad at the end, or provide a helpful link in the text.
- It’s comprehensive. In the debate between long-form and short-form content, long-form tends to win. The top-ranking content on search engines usually comes in at around 2,400 words. But don’t clutter your pages with big blocks of text. Break them into digestible paragraphs and sections. It also can’t be just filler or fluff. Search engines only award points depending on how long users spend on your webpage. So make sure you give your subject matter a thorough treatment, but don’t start out by writing a whole book. Begin with 300 to 500 words per post and, as you get into the groove, work your way up. In the end, consistency and quality will win out over sheer quantity.
- It’s shareable. Start with a blog for your business. It’s a good place to test different kinds of content, offers, approaches, and keywords. A blog can also give your business a voice and personality. But don’t leave all your content to stagnate on your blog. Keep it fresh and in the public eye by providing links to it. Publish your favorite posts to LinkedIn, or plug them on social media.
- It’s updated. You don’t have to post every day. But set a publishing cadence and post regularly.
- It’s visual. Don’t forget the visual component of content marketing. Striking visual content is often what attracts readers in the first place. It will also inform customers’ take on your brand, so choose your images carefully.
#4. Launch a website, or improve the one you have.
If you don’t have a website yet, this is the year to get one. It may be surprising for some, but social media adoption (90 percent) has outstripped website adoption (only 50 percent) among small businesses. That’s because it’s easier to set up a social media account than a website. But just having a social media alone won’t help your small business show up on search engine result pages. To really create a digital footprint for your business, you need a website.
And even if you already have a website—ask yourself, how updated is it? Will the layout look as clean and intuitive on mobile device screens as it does on a desktop monitor? How easy is it for users to navigate? Because that’s what the search engines will evaluate your website. The more clean, responsive, and mobile-friendly it is, the better marks it’ll get and the higher you’ll rank.
#5. Embrace social media.
Next to SEO and content marketing, social media is perhaps the most important component to any digital marketing strategy. Nearly two-thirds (71 percent) of small business owners planned to use social media to acquire new customers. That’s because it’s easy to get started on social media. Most platforms want your business, so they make it easy to sign up and start posting. And there’s no better way to connect with customers. Social media gives them a direct line on your company.
It’s also easy to mess up on social media. That’s why most experts recommend you have someone in your organization devoted to managing your social media responses. Social media platforms also offer extra add-ons and special commercial services. The modern consumer expects companies to respond directly to complaints, questions, and requests. You’ll have to evaluate these as they come and see if you want to devote any budget to them.
Bonus Tip: Test Everything
The biggest challenge with each of these steps is there is no “set it and forget it.” Each requires ongoing, regular attention. If you want your digital marketing to pay off, you can’t ever afford to become complacent. Ever. That means always testing different elements of your strategy, replacing headlines, calls to action, types of social media posts, etc.
This ongoing attention to your small business digital marketing strategy will prove to be your biggest hurdle this year. That’s why it’s important to start with only one or two and perfect your process. Once you’ve got those going, you’ll find that the other steps will fit naturally with your strategy.