Think about how you shop for things today. Then think about what it was like 20 years ago.
If there’s something I need, I’m on Google, Amazon, and Yelp in a hot second. But back in 1999, I perused the mall and drove to big box stores…all in my 90s athletic gear and wedge sandals.
How are your customers finding you? Chances are, and depending on your industry, they’re going online. Is your business there too? If not, or if you want to start marketing your business online, I have good news. It’s easy to start an online marketing program—and you can be successful with a limited budget.
Build a great website.
You have 15 seconds or less to capture someone’s attention online—or you risk losing them. To reel people in, showcase your buyer’s:
To get this information, look at competitors’ websites, survey your customers, and do qualitative research. Don’t skip this step. Good research will bring focus and purpose to your website.
Within the first few seconds, people who visit your site should know the services or product you’re selling—and why you’re different. Make them feel known. Use words your buyers use (even if it’s jargon), and be empathetic to their needs, concerns, and fears. You want them to walk away feeling like you truly understand them, and they can trust you.
When it comes to design, keep it simple. You can quickly create a website using a website builder, like Wix, Squarespace, or Wordpress. Check out Simply U’s blog post on this topic. It compares the cost and capabilities of a few site builders.
Here are a few website design tips to help you:
Once you’re up and running, keep generating great content. Add a weekly blog or an ebook with helpful information. In the past, I’ve written down my customers’ top questions and answered them in ebooks and blog posts.
Why? Because it’s free. And it’s powerful. If you execute search engine optimization (SEO) correctly, you’ll bring your website to the top of Google’s search results and reel in a ton of new business quickly. The 3 main components of SEO are:
Onsite keyword optimization: Know the top keywords for your industry and business. Then carefully use them throughout your website content—both on the page, in headers, and in metadata.
Link building: Create relationships with bloggers and social media thought leaders in your industry. Over time, they’ll share your content and link back to your site. The more links back to your site, the greater authority Google will give to it.
Creating quality content: Google prioritizes websites with high quality, helpful, and educational content. Give your customers tips in the form of regular blog posts, ebooks, white papers, and content downloads.
If you built your website with Wordpress, you can install a free tool called Yoast to walk you through SEO. It’ll give you an analysis of your site’s readability and use of keywords, and tell you where you can make improvements.
Try pay-per-click (PPC).
According to one study by WordStream, 64.6% of consumers still click on Google Ads when they’re looking to buy something. Even if you’re weary of online advertising, it’s clear it works. Done correctly, PPC campaigns give immediate results, as opposed to organic SEO, which can take months to get off the ground.
Use Google’s Keyword Planner to understand the words your customers search for and how much they cost.
Here’s the approach I take:
I think about my buyers and what they’re searching for. Then I write down a bunch of shorter keywords and longer keyword phrases.
I place a higher bid on keywords that are more likely to convert. For example, someone searching, “short hairstyles” probably is less likely to book a haircut than someone searching, “best hairstylist in Boston.”
I keep a strict budget and stick to it. Then, I continually watch what works and optimize my campaign accordingly.
Remember, sometimes you need to spend some money to make even more.
Get social with customers.
You don’t need me to tell you Facebook is powerful. According to Neil Patel, a digital marketing influencer, 62% of people in North America use Facebook. In 2019, this social media giant has 2.41 billion users, which is more than the whole population of China (1.43 billion).
And, I haven’t even mentioned other social media powerhouses, like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. These are fantastic places for you to talk to customers, listen to their concerns, and build meaningful relationships. Social media marketing can be a whole article on its own, but here’s a quick breakdown of its key components:
Post meaningful content: Think blog posts, content downloads, photos, and infographics.
Use hashtags: Categorize your content and make it fun and easier for people to find. Find out which hashtags trend in your industry and make use of them.
Listen and respond: Social media can be a great customer service tool, too. Encourage your customers to post questions or concerns. It’s okay to address them in a public manner, as long as you’re polite, responsive, and take the conversation offline when appropriate.
Try social advertisements: Social media platforms make their money through ads, and given how much content is available, most companies have to allocate part of their ad spend toward social. This way, your company’s content gets to the top of a newsfeed. Try out social ads—they’re very targeted and easy to measure.
Send smart emails.
Ask any marketer, and they’ll say email is still one of the most effective ways to reach and nurture customers. Once you set up your website, search and PPC strategy, landing pages, and content marketing, you’re ready to map out an email marketing strategy that works.
I like using HubSpot or MailChimp (which is cheaper) to create email workflows based on where customers are in the buying journey. Remember, not every customer is ready to click “buy now,” or stop into your store today. Some people are doing preliminary research. The idea is to keep your company top-of-mind with helpful, informational email content until they’re ready to compare prices, and finally, purchase.
It’s a lot. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The beauty of digital marketing is you can do tackle a little bit at a time and make quick changes. Most online marketing tactics are free, so it can’t hurt to try it out.
Take 10 minutes today, analyze your website, think about improvements you can make, and map out a realistic 6-month plan for online marketing. Who knows—your business could transform in just that amount of time.
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.
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