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  • Dennis Bingham

The Ultimate Guide to Online Marketing for Small Businesses

Updated: 6 days ago

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As someone who's started and worked with individuals who have started businesses, I know firsthand the effort required to get a new venture off the ground.


When my partners and I opened our first business, print ads were the focus. But times have changed.


Today, you must be involved with online marketing. For today's small business owners, online marketing is less an option than a requisite skill. Ignore online marketing, and you'll be left behind, period.


Within this guide, we'll explore building a website, search engine optimization, and how to create content that connects with your audience.


We'll discuss paid advertising strategies, measure your metrics, manage your online reputation, and align your digital efforts with traditional marketing methods.



Look, I get it - you've got enough to worry about keeping your small business running daily. The last thing you need is another set of skills to master.


But making online marketing an afterthought could be fatal.


So, lace up your internet marketing sneakers, and let's get this digital playbook underway!


What the Heck is Online Marketing, and Why Does it Matter for Small Businesses?


If you're just getting started or if you're still figuring out online marketing, don't worry—you're not alone. The digital world moves quickly, and keeping up with the latest trends and terminology can feel like trying to drink from a firehose.


At its core, online marketing refers to any marketing, advertising, or promotional efforts online. This includes:


  • Having a website

  • Using search engines like Google to drive traffic to your site

  • Connecting with customers and prospects on social media platforms

  • Creating blogs, videos, podcasts, and other online content

  • Running pay-per-click, display, and other digital ads

  • Email marketing


Just about any way you'd market your business using the internet.


So, almost every modern small business uses online marketing to some degree. The days of relying solely on print ads, billboards, TV commercials, and word-of-mouth are long gone.


Why Online Marketing is Non-Negotiable for Small Businesses


Do you still think online marketing is a fad or only for major corporations and e-commerce brands? Consider these statistics:


  • 97% of consumers go online to find local products and services.

  • 87% of shoppers begin product searches on digital channels.

  • Small businesses that use online marketing tactics get over 50% more customer engagement.

  • For every $1 spent on Google Ads, businesses make an average of $8 in revenue.


The numbers don't lie—customers have significantly increased online shopping behaviors. If your small business has no online presence, you're ceding most of your target market to competitors.


But online marketing isn't just about customer acquisition and sales. It also allows you to:


  • Build brand awareness and credibility.

  • Engage directly with customers/prospects.

  • Provide top-notch customer service.

  • Gather invaluable consumer data and insights.

  • Stay top-of-mind with your audience.

  • Reach precisely targeted segments affordably.

  • Ultimately, you can grow and scale your business.


Common Online Marketing Challenges for Small Businesses 


While the benefits are clear, many small business owners struggle to fully embrace and implement online marketing successfully due to some common hurdles:


  • Lack of know-how and experience - The digital marketing landscape is vast and constantly evolving. Keeping up with best practices for SEO, social media, analytics, etc., is tough when you're also running every other facet of your business.

  • Limited resources - Most small businesses don't have the benefit of a dedicated, experienced marketing team or big budgets to throw at digital campaigns. You're often doing it all yourself on a shoestring.

  • Information overload - There's no shortage of online marketing tips, tools, services, and advice. But sifting through it all can feel overwhelming and paralyzing.

  • Time constraints - Responsible online marketing involves more than just launching a website. It requires consistent, sustained effort, which many time-crunched small business owners can't provide.

  • Difficulty proving ROI - When cash flow is tight, it's hard to justify significant online marketing investment without being able to definitively tie it to revenue increases. But this ROI is often unclear.


This guide is designed to help lay the foundation for your startup and overcome these common hurdles.


We'll break down online marketing into its core components and provide straightforward, actionable advice tailored for small businesses.


With the right strategies and mindset, any company can succeed in online marketing—no expensive consultants or deep corporate pockets are required.


Building a Strong Online Presence with a User-Friendly Website and Social Media Presence

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For any small business, your website and social media profiles serve as your company's digital foundation and face online. This is where potential customers find you, learn about your products/services, and ultimately decide whether to engage with your business.


Suppose your online presence is outdated, difficult to navigate, lacking information, or non-existent altogether. In that case, you're essentially turning away customers before they even have a chance to walk through your digital "front door."


An optimized, user-friendly website and active social channels are an absolute must.


Website Development - Your Most Valuable Digital Asset


Think of your website as the virtual equivalent of your brick-and-mortar storefront or office space. This is the core online destination where you control the entire user experience. An effective small business website should:


  • Convey your brand image, offerings, and value proposition

  • Be visually appealing with a modern, responsive design

  • Provide helpful information tailored to your target customers' needs

  • Be intuitive and easy for visitors to navigate

  • Include compelling calls-to-action to drive conversions

  • Foster trust and credibility through authentic visuals, copy, and social proof

  • Be optimized for search engines and different devices


While you can do it yourself using website builders like Wix or WordPress, investing in professional web design and development is often worthwhile. This ensures your site looks fantastic, functions flawlessly, and accurately represents your brand.


Website Design Best Practices

  • Simple, clean, and consistent layout

  • Fast-loading pages and technically sound

  • Straightforward navigation and menu structure

  • Responsive design for all devices

  • High-quality, original visuals and media

  • Compelling copy conveying value and benefits

  • Standout call-to-actions and lead capture forms

  • Ability to easily update content yourself

  • Integration with analytics, CRM, and marketing tools


Learn More>


Social Media Marketing - Connecting with Your Customers


While your website is the most important digital asset, social media lets you directly engage with your target audience and amplify your marketing efforts online. An estimated 59% of the world's population uses social media.


The benefits of using social media for small business marketing are huge, such as:


  • Building brand awareness, authority, and trust

  • Sharing news, promotions, and driving website traffic

  • Providing customer service and addressing issues

  • Sourcing customer feedback, reviews, and insights

  • Promoting content and offers for lead generation

  • Advertising and targeting specific customer segments

  • Finding and connecting with new customers


Choosing the Right Platforms

The critical social networks for your business will depend on your industry and target audience.


B2C companies will want a presence on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. B2B businesses should focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Visual-focused businesses can leverage YouTube and Pinterest.


Creating Engaging Social Content

Once you've selected your core social channels, you must develop and share content that resonates with your audience. Some effective content types include:


  • Educational How-Tos, Tips, and Advice

  • Behind-the-Scenes Looks at Your Business

  • Company News and Announcements

  • User-Generated Content Like Customer Photos

  • Interactive Polls, Quizzes and Q&As

  • Video Tours, Interviews, and Product Demos

  • Special Offers, Contests, and Promotions


Paid Social Media Advertising

Small businesses can boost their online presence by using paid social advertising on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Social ads allow for precise audience targeting by interests, demographics, behaviors, and more. With limited budgets, paid ads enable you to reach the ideal customers.


With a well-designed website as your digital hub and an active, strategic presence on relevant social networks, your startup small business will have the core online presence needed to connect and market to customers effectively.


Mastering Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to Increase Online Visibility


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A terrific website and social media presence are vital but ultimately meaningless if no one can find your small business online. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play.


SEO is the process of optimizing your website, content, and other online properties to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords and phrases.


Over 90% of all web traffic starts from a search engine like Google, so showing up in those coveted top results can drive tremendous brand awareness and revenue for your business.


Learn More>


On-Page SEO Factors

On-page SEO refers to all the adjustments and content optimization you can do on your website to increase its search visibility:


Keyword Research

Identifying the best keywords and phrases to target is the foundation of any good SEO strategy. You'll want a mix of short head terms with higher search volume (e.g., "plumber Atlanta") as well as longer, more specific phrases known as long-tail keywords ("affordable 24/7 emergency plumbing service Atlanta").


Content Optimization

Naturally integrating your target keywords into key elements like page titles, headings, body copy, image alt text, and meta descriptions signals to search engines what each page is about and should rank for.


But beware of keyword stuffing - your content should still read naturally.


Technical SEO

Behind-the-scenes technical factors like site architecture, page speed, security, and mobile-friendliness all play a significant role in SEO performance.


Correct markup, optimized images, and other code-level tweaks are crucial.


Off-Page SEO Factors

Just as important as on-page optimization are the off-page, external signals that reinforce a website's quality and relevance.


Link Building

The number and quality of other websites linking to your pages (backlinks) is a hugely influential off-page factor for SEO. Good links from authoritative, trusted sites act as third-party votes of confidence in the value of your content.


Local SEO

Claiming and optimizing your Google Business Profile and other local listings is critical for local brick-and-mortar businesses to rank in Maps results and drive nearby customers through your doors.


While SEO may initially seem intimidating, investing in these efforts is one of the highest-return online marketing activities for any small business.


Showing up at the top of search results for keywords targeting your products/services provides an endless stream of relevant, high-quality traffic and leads.


Creating Engaging Content to Connect with Your Target Audience

Lap top showing a web page

Search engines are hungrier than ever for fresh, high-quality content that genuinely helps and informs users.

Producing consistent content is also crucial for fueling your social media and email marketing efforts, nurturing leads, generating engagement, and driving conversions.


Creating valuable, audience-centric content for small businesses can feel daunting, especially given limited time and resources. However, approaching it with a documented strategy and realistic goals pays significant dividends.


Learn More>


Blogging - The Content Marketing Centerpiece

 A regularly updated blog lets you produce fresh website pages with insights and information your customers care about. It's also prime real estate for targeting specific keywords you want to rank for in search.


Your blog content objectives could include:


  • Answering frequently asked questions about your products/services

  • Providing expert tips, advice, and how-to tutorials

  • Covering news and updates in your industry

  • Showcasing customer success stories and case studies

  • Reviewing tools, books, and other relevant products


Video Marketing - The Content Powerhouse

Video has rapidly emerged as one of the most engaging, impactful forms of content marketing. Video lets you connect with audiences dynamically and personally while increasing dwell time and conversion rates.


Some video content ideas include:


  • Hosting interviews or Q&A sessions with customers/partners

  • Filming behind-the-scenes looks at how your products are made 

  • Creating educational tutorials, explainers, or product demos

  • Capturing highlights from events, conferences, or trade shows

  • Optimizing old webinars or conference sessions for YouTube


Email Marketing - Direct Connection with Your Audience

For nurturing subscriber relationships and driving direct ROI, email can't be beaten as a content marketing channel. Some ideas for driving engagement through email include:


  • Curating a regular newsletter with your latest content

  • Promoting special offers, discounts, or product updates 

  • Sharing blog roundups or most popular "greatest hits" posts

  • Collecting customer feedback through polls or surveys

  • Encouraging email sign-ups through lead magnets like guides


Providing high-quality, audience-focused content that genuinely helps and resonates with your customers builds brand loyalty, authority, and trust - these three assets are incredibly valuable for small businesses.


Leveraging Paid Advertising to Drive Targeted Traffic and Sales


Even with a killer website optimized for SEO and fantastic content, paid advertising allows you to essentially "put a thumb on the scale" to amplify your online marketing and get in front of your ideal audience quicker.


For many small businesses operating on limited budgets, the ability to laser-target specific customer segments and only pay when someone clicks on your ad is a game-changer. The principal paid advertising channels include:


Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

Google Ads

Google's PPC advertising system allows you to create text ads at the top of search results for keywords and phrases relevant to your business. You set a monthly budget and pay only when people click on your ads.


In addition to search ads, Google Ads also provides:


  • Shopping Ads for product listings

  • Video Ads on YouTube

  • Display Ads across websites and mobile apps


Social Media Advertising

The major social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest all offer robust advertising capabilities. Social ads seamlessly blend into user feeds and can be hyper-targeted by parameters like:


  • Demographic: Age, Gender, Income, Job Role

  • Interests and Behaviors 

  • Location and Radius Targeting

  • Connections and Followers

  • Website Visitors and Customer Lists


Social ads are incredibly visual and drive high engagement. They boost brand awareness, gather leads, and retarget warm audiences.


Retargeting and Remarketing

These strategies allow you to re-engage visitors who've already visited your website by serving ads across other sites and social platforms. You're essentially "following" them with specialized ads to close the sale.


Small businesses can get extremely strategic with paid ads, testing different messaging, creative, targeting, and budgets to maximize return on ad spend (ROAS).


Paid advertising has a learning curve but offers affordable customer acquisition.


Measure Success with Analytics and Conversion Tracking 


"What gets measured gets managed." This saying rings especially true for online marketing, where every click, conversion, and dollar invested can be meticulously tracked and analyzed.


Leveraging powerful analytics tools ensures your online marketing efforts achieve your desired business goals. It's also crucial for demonstrating real ROI and deciding where to allocate time and resources best.


Web Analytics

Google Analytics Graph

Google Analytics is the go-to (and free!) platform for understanding your website traffic, user behavior, conversion rates, and overall marketing effectiveness. Some key web metrics to monitor include:


  • Total website visitors, sessions, and pageviews

  • Traffic sources (organic, paid, social, etc.)

  • Most popular web pages and content 

  • Conversion rates and revenue metrics

  • User engagement, like time on site and bounce rate

  • Audience demographics and interests


You can also set up goal tracking and enhanced e-commerce integration within Google Analytics to measure your most important business objectives.


Learn More>


Social Media Analytics

Each social platform provides its native analytics for tracking the performance of your account and content. Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, LinkedIn Analytics, and others offer in-depth reports on: 


  • Audience demographics and growth

  • Top content by engagement and reach

  • Campaign analytics for paid social ads

  • Conversion tracking from social posts

  • Video viewership stats and more


Consistent measurement lets you double down on the content and tactics driving the best results.


Conversion Tracking

Whether trying to generate leads or online sales, having visibility into your conversion rates from various marketing sources is invaluable. Call tracking, form tracking, and e-commerce integration provide this insight.


Online marketing generates a wealth of data points. It's up to you to continuously measure, analyze, and optimize your efforts based on what moves the needle for your unique business goals.


With strategic paid advertising campaigns bolstering your organic efforts and analytics providing a constant feedback loop to fine-tune your approach, you'll be well on your way to online marketing mastery.


Managing Your Online Reputation and Engaging with Customers


In today's uber-connected world, your online reputation is your reputation. How you portray your small business and engage with customers across reviews, social media, and the open internet has a massive influence on purchasing decisions.


According to survey data, 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. Conversely, businesses that claim their free Google Business Profile and respond to reviews see higher customer trust, traffic increases, and even better ranking ability.


Simply put, online reputation management (ORM) must be a core focus of digital marketing strategy.


Monitoring and Responding to Reviews

The first step in effective ORM is consistently monitoring reviews about your business across sites like:


  • Google Business Profile

  • Yelp

  • Facebook Business Page

  • Industry-specific review sites


Responding promptly to all positive and negative reviews shows you're listening and care about customer feedback. For negative reviews, have a review response strategy that:


  • Acknowledges the reviewer's experience/feelings

  • Provides context from your perspective

  • Offers to make things right offline

  • Uses an apologetic, thankful tone


Managing Online Presence

But online review sites are just the tip of the iceberg. Your digital footprint, including social media presence, website content, blog comments, press mentions, and more, contributes to your online reputation.


Use monitoring and listening tools to track brand mentions online. This allows you to engage with people talking about your business, join relevant conversations, and take control of your brand narrative. It's also critical for avoiding potential PR issues.


Consistently publishing fresh website content, optimizing your listings, and actively interacting online boosts your brand's prominence in search results. This lets you outrank and push down any potentially damaging content when people look for your business.


Customer service is the new marketing. In our hyper-connected age, how you manage your online reputation and make customers feel heard directly impacts purchase decisions.


Integrating Online and Offline Marketing Strategies for Maximum Impact 


While it's apparent that online marketing now represents the core focus for small business promotional efforts, it shouldn't operate in a vacuum. The most effective approaches harmoniously blend and reinforce digital strategies with traditional offline marketing tactics.


In an integrated campaign, your online and offline channels work together, delivering a cohesive, multi-channel experience that maximizes brand reach, frequency, and recognition.


Leveraging Local Marketing

Local SEO, Google Business Profile optimization, and geo-targeted online ads are essential for brick-and-mortar small businesses trying to attract nearby customers. But savvy operators will integrate those digital local strategies with more analog efforts like: 


  • Local print/TV advertising

  • Direct mail to neighboring communities

  • Sponsoring or participating in local events 

  • Cross-promotions with other area businesses

  • Claiming relevant online directories and listings


The more consistently your brand appears across digital and physical spaces in a local area, the more likely you will be on a prospect's radar when they need your product or service.


Combining Traditional and Digital Marketing

Besides your local community, you can reinforce brand presence by harmonizing your online promotions with traditional mass marketing streams like:


  • Direct Mail - Driving traffic to a custom landing page

  • Trade Shows - Incorporating a text-to-join campaign

  • TV/Radio - Featuring a tagline and branded hashtag

  • Print Publications - Including QR codes to access exclusive content

  • Outdoor/Billboards - Promoting user-generated contests


By creating intelligent cross-channel campaigns that integrate multiple channels, your marketing messages become seamlessly interwoven throughout a customer's daily experiences - both online and in the real world. Your consistent brand storytelling increases memorability and brand affinity.


In a crowded digital (and offline) landscape, the most successful small business marketers embrace an omnichannel approach. They leverage the unique strengths of various online and traditional channels holistically.


As a small business owner, mastering this integrated marketing mindset will ensure you maximize promotional impact and ROI no matter where your customers are.


Frequently Asked Questions About Online Marketing for Small Businesses

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Q: How much should I budget for online marketing?

A: There's no one-size-fits-all answer, as ideal budgets depend on your goals, industry, and revenue. However, many small businesses allocate 7-8% of gross revenue for marketing. The essentials are setting a realistic budget to invest consistently in online marketing and diligently tracking ROI.


Q: How long until I see results from online marketing?

A: It can take 4-6 months to see traction from SEO, social media marketing, and other organic digital strategies. Pay-per-click ads can deliver quicker results but require continuous funding. Be patient and persistent when executing your online marketing plan.


Q: Do I need a website for my local small business?

A: In today's digital age, yes - having a professional website is essential for any small business, brick-and-mortar retailers, and service providers. Your website is a digital storefront and information hub for customers to find you online.


Q: Is online marketing just for e-commerce businesses?

A: No, online marketing immensely benefits companies in virtually every industry and category. B2B businesses use digital marketing for lead generation, while restaurants, retailers, contractors, and other local businesses use it to attract nearby customers.


Q: Should I hire an online marketing agency or do it myself?

A: Many small businesses start by managing basic online marketing activities in-house, then supplement with agency support as they scale. Agencies provide strategic vision and free up your time, but they can be costly. Finding the right balance is critical.


Q: Which online marketing channels are most important?

A: There's no one-size-fits-all. The ideal channels depend on your business, goals, and audience. At a minimum, focus on a great website, Google My Business, 1-2 social platforms, and search engine optimization (SEO).


Then, Layer in paid ads, content marketing, and more advanced tactics.


Q: How can I track the success of my online marketing?

A: Utilize free tools like Google Analytics to measure website traffic, rankings, conversions, and digital advertising performance.


You should also set up conversion tracking for forms, calls, and e-commerce sales. Monitor social media metrics, too, and continuously optimize based on what moves the needle.


Conclusion - Online Marketing for Small Businesses

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate just keeping operations running day-to-day. Finding the time and resources to market your company online effectively can feel overwhelming.


But the simple truth is this: In our increasingly digital world, not embracing online marketing is the equivalent of slamming the door on potential customers. And for small businesses, those missed opportunities can spell the difference between thriving and just surviving.


Throughout this guide, we've covered all the core pillars of a comprehensive online marketing strategy crafted specifically for small businesses like yours:


  • Building an online home base with an optimized website and social media presence

  • Increase visibility and drive qualified traffic through SEO and local search 

  • Connecting with audiences by producing engaging web content, videos, and email campaigns

  • Leveraging paid advertising's targeting capabilities to attract your ideal customers cost-effectively

  • Measuring what matters by harnessing the power of analytics and conversion-tracking

  • Protecting your brand's reputation through thoughtful online review response and reputation monitoring

  • Integrating your online and traditional marketing efforts into cohesive omnichannel campaigns


While mastering each of these disciplines takes work, the potential payoffs are immense. With the right combination of online marketing tactics and channels working seamlessly together, your small business can:


  • Reach and engage your target audiences wherever they are online.

  • Build brand awareness, credibility, loyalty, and trust.

  • Acquire new customers and generate more revenue.

  • Differentiate yourself from larger, less nimble competitors.

  • Secure a lasting foothold as customer behaviors increasingly shift to digital.

The path to online marketing success begins with a single step - implementing this guide's strategies and best practices.


Don't overcommit or try to do everything at once. Start by solidifying your website, claiming your local listings, or launching an email newsletter.


Each milestone you achieve and each new online marketing channel you layer in incrementally amplifies your business's overall digital presence and impact. It's a process of continuous improvement. 


So, what are you waiting for? The internet is teeming with potential customers seeking out businesses just like yours. With focused effort and the right game plan, you can stand out from the crowd and thrive in our digital age.

Additional Resources

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