Marketing online can be a daunting prospect. Facebook, Twitter, websites, viral campaigns, Google+, email, blogs – there’s a lot to consider. So here’s what you really need to know about digital marketing.
1. Learn by example
Like any aspect of running a small business, digital marketing is all about effort – the more you put in, the better the results will be. You don’t necessarily need a huge budget, but you do need the drive and desire to try new things and learn from the results.
One of the best ways to start is by looking at the digital marketing strategies of companies that are already doing well, to see what you can learn.
Investigate companies in your industry and those with brands you admire – Apple is a popular choice, for good reason. Also look at companies that have a strong, loyal, online following, because they must be doing something right.
2. Understand your audience
Digital marketing is like conventional marketing in some ways. The goal is to get your potential customers to engage with your brand, so that you can sell your product or service to them.
You can’t do that without understanding the people you’re trying to sell to. So take the time to do it by:
- Asking for feedback on your products or services – and make it easy for people to respond.
- Engaging with your customers wherever they are: in discussion forums, social media and via email or blog comments.
- Embracing complaints – our guide ‘How to handle customer complaints’ offers valuable insight into what you could be doing better.
- Conducting market research to learn more about your customers’ needs and wishes.
Armed with all this information you’ll be able to run targeted digital marketing campaigns with a high chance of success.
3. Communicate with your customers
Different methods of digital marketing work well with different audiences. For example, younger customers tend to prefer mobile apps with ‘push notification’. This is where you send information about new offers to a customer without a specific request from them. Older customers are more likely to prefer email – but not the unsolicited kind. Here are some tips for making the best use of different communication methods:
75 percent of adults online say that email is their preferred marketing method, so this should be a fundamental part of your digital marketing strategy. Think carefully about the structure of your emails, from the subject line – which should be a strong call to action – to the content and the design.
You could have a blog on its own, or as part of your website. Either way it’s a useful digital marketing tool because it offers a personal insight into your business, making it feel more human and approachable. It can also provide a platform for feedback from your customers, helping them feel more emotionally engaged.
It costs money to have an app written for your business, but perhaps not as much as you might expect. Smaller businesses often have apps, which they use to send special offers and updates to their customers.
- Social media
A presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and other social networks will help raise your profile. It can also help you engage with your potential customers and learn from their feedback. It can be time-consuming work though, so begin with one or two networks. Don’t spread yourself too thinly and start by going where your customers already are.
- Viral campaigns
A viral marketing campaign is where a small marketing project spreads far further than its intended audience. Some companies try to force their campaigns to ‘go viral’ but this is a risky business. If the wrong message goes viral it can hurt the company, so be careful.
4. Understand the power of Google and SEO
Search engine optimisation, or SEO, means making sure your website ranks well in search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and others.
SEO is a moving target because search engines often change the algorithms they use to rank websites. But you don’t need to know everything – you can achieve a lot if you cover the four key areas we’ve highlighted.
Search engines try to provide search results that are useful to the people who use them. So the best way to get good SEO results is to help the search engines achieve that goal. Here are four important areas to consider:
Your website should have pages that cover the basics like an overview or welcome, ‘about us’, contact us, what you can do for your customers and why they need you. Once you have those basics in place, you can expand your site over time.
Use analytics to discover the most popular landing pages on your site – the pages most visitors come to directly. Then you can make sure those pages are full of rich content that encourages sales activity.
Search engines love good content – it’s like Google juice to them. If you can write about your business in a way that’s interesting, helpful and informative then you’ll be rewarded with better search rankings – and better traffic. If you can’t do that yourself, pay someone who can. It’s worth the investment.
Gone are the days when businesses could get to the top of search results simply by packing their web pages full of keywords. These days, if you try ‘keyword stuffing’ on your site it will probably be penalised or removed from listings altogether.
Make sure your site can be viewed on different devices and browsers. Check it on a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet, and any browsers you can find. Does it work well on all of them? If not, get your web developer to fix it so that it does. Your website should be accessible to everyone, whatever device they’re using.
If you do SEO properly, the majority of your web traffic will find your site via a search engine (such as Google). That means free sales leads for your business, so it’s important to get it right.
5. Let your customers build your brand
Your customers can do a lot of the work for you. For example, some sports clothing or luxury car brands are so well loved, the customer ‘wears’ the company’s logo with pride. You can do something similar online, with your own brand.
With a little effort and the right reward structure, it’s possible for any small business to do something similar online – and let the customer spread the word.
6. If all else fails, pay
Although you can get great digital marketing results with effort and time, sometimes it’s worth paying to get a quick result.
PPC (pay per click) online ads are targeted at specific audiences, based on their keyword searches. PPC ads might be expensive, but they can work well:
- You only pay when people actually click on your ads and visit your website.
- You can track the source of each click in detail, with tracking code.
- You can target a specific audience or niche.
- You can test out new keywords for relatively little cost.
7. Focus on sales
Ultimately, digital marketing is all about sales. It doesn’t matter how well you plan or design your marketing campaigns if they don’t increase your sales figures. Consider using marketing automation products to help you compare and rank the success of your campaigns.
Use quality accounting software to keep track of your online marketing expenses, and compare them with any increased sales revenue. If something’s not working, change it. Remember, you can track the performance of your online campaigns in detail using unique URLs alongside Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics.
Keep refreshing your marketing campaigns, testing new ideas, and watching e-commerce companies to find out how best to promote your products. Stay active and never stop learning.
The digital environment is constantly changing. If you’re nimble and determined, your small business will get the best out of it.