More than 40% of consumers are shopping using their mobile devices on either a daily or weekly basis, according to data from PWCTM. This trend is likely to increase in the coming years, meaning optimizing your online presence on digital channels could better promote your products and services.
The importance of having a great online presence for your business
Creating and maintaining a great online presence is no longer a luxury for small businesses. According to GartnerTM, spending on digital channels now accounts for roughly 80% of marketing budgets.
Achieving success in today’s data-driven, digital environment might require having a clean, crisp and robust digital storefront. That includes having a user-friendly website that is easy to navigate, a presence across all relevant social media channels and a willingness to engage with customers on every device they use.
Not only do companies without an online presence risk appearing outdated and out of touch (therefore losing key business from especially younger customers), they also risk missing out on business opportunities generated online. Due to a variety of social and technological changes, customers are increasingly making assumptions about companies based on the quality of their website and other online collateral.
This is especially true for small businesses, who are already at a disadvantage relative to larger competitors, but who could even the playing field by optimizing their digital presence. Here are some of the benefits you might experience from developing a great website:
- Increase the ROI of your marketing budget.
- Win business without paying for high-traffic real estate.
- Give customers 24/7 access to your product and services.
- Learn more about your customers’ challenges and create solutions that reflect these.
- Engage with customers more dynamically across the buying process.
Of course, enhancing your online presence can be an expensive endeavor. However, while your digital footprint is a worthwhile investment, there are numerous budget-friendly strategies you can implement that could help you optimize your digital presence and drive business with new customers.
The 12 best ways to promote your small business online
The best budget-friendly strategies
Small businesses often do not have the budget to invest in full-fledged digital marketing strategies to promote their businesses online and compete with bigger companies in the space. Fortunately, there are a number of cost-effective techniques small businesses on a budget might use to promote their business effectively and gain a sufficient level of traffic to their website.
1. Optimize web pages for search
Many potential customers looking for information on the internet might not move past the first few pages of search engine results. Some might not even go past the first few results of the very first page. That means valuable online real estate can be extremely limited, and competition for those first few spots is often fierce.
How do you get there?
One way is search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines want to provide online users with the most compelling, valuable and reputable resources for their queries. SEO refers to the steps you take to enhance the elements of your web pages that signal to the relevant search algorithm that your content is valuable and worth consuming. This increases the likelihood that your content will land on the first page of search results.
Some of the simplest, budget-friendly steps you could take to increase the SEO value of your pages include:
- Break up the text of your long-form content like blogs using headers, subheaders and bulleted lists to improve readability and scanability.
- Add images, graphics, charts and other multimedia to make your content visually appealing and boost user engagement.
- Include a healthy number of hyperlinks to trustworthy sources, including government reports, reputable news outlets and educational institutions.
- Optimize your metadata (including your titles and meta descriptions) for relevant and compelling keywords, topics and subjects.
SEO is best thought of as an overarching strategy that includes all the content you are producing. Rather than optimize a single piece of content for search, you should invest in a dynamic content creation strategy in which each asset is optimized, which might signal to search engines that your brand as a whole is a trustworthy source of high-value content. This increases the chances of all the content you produce making it to page one.
2. Maintain a regular blog
There are plenty of cost-effective ways to create content and build brand awareness if your small business does not have the budget for a full content marketing strategy. Creating and maintaining an active company blog could be one of the easiest. According to HubSpotSM, 19% of customers say the most important part of a company’s website is its blog.
Consider the following tips to generate the most value from your blog:
- Post regularly: Posting to your blog at regular intervals (maybe once or twice a week) could demonstrate to prospective customers that your brand is a consistent, reliable source of information.
- Provide value: Avoid posting just to put something out. Ensure that everything that goes on your blog provides meaningful value to your customers. If you need inspiration, try asking your customers about the specific questions they want answered.
- Differentiate yourself: You should avoid simply regurgitating what already exists on the internet. Draw on your own experiences in the industry to offer new insights to customers.
You should incorporate all of the above SEO techniques to maximize the visibility and reach of each blog post. Successful blogs can act as a positive feedback loop: The more content you produce and the more traction it receives, the higher the likelihood that search engines will recognize your brand as a trusted source in the space, possibly boosting your domain authority and increasing site traffic even further.
3. Develop a social media marketing strategy
A substantial portion of online customers are using a range of different platforms, channels and devices to gather information, access services and purchase products. Importantly for small businesses, some of these customers increasingly expect their favorite brands to meet them on the channels they are using.
As the evolution of digital technologies advances and Millennials and Gen Z constitute a larger share of the consumer population, social media has emerged as one of the most effective ways to enhance your brand’s visibility and engage with prospective customers. In fact, research from Sprout SocialSM found that more than 75% of Gen Z use social media to learn about companies.
For this reason, you might consider developing a robust social media marketing strategy. You can do this by creating business accounts across each major social media platform that your customers are using and publishing platform-appropriate content to those accounts every single day.
Of course, the content you produce and the channels you leverage should be based on your customer base. If you are primarily targeting professional business users, you should focus your social media resources on LinkedInSM. If you are trying to draw members of Gen Z, however, InstagramTM and TikTokSM should be your focus.
Managing an active social media presence might require a dedicated social media manager, but creating social media accounts and posting to them is completely free.
4. Send press releases
While posting blog content to your site can be a cheap and easy way to create content, it can consume a large portion of your time. Conversely, periodic press releases are a good way to maintain a high level of customer engagement with your brand without spending significant amounts of time thinking of compelling ideas or conducting industry research.
News items you might consider including in your press releases include:
- Mergers or acquisitions.
- Recent hires.
- New product or service offerings.
- Research you have commissioned.
- Events you sponsored or attended.
Additionally, press releases might demonstrate your credibility to customers, providing hard evidence that your company is actively changing, growing, expanding and adapting to evolving market circumstances. They can also be a great way to promote engagement by recirculating older content and other pages on your website, including related blog posts, research reports and product pages.
5. Encourage customer reviews
Trust is one of the hallmarks of successful business relationships. Before making a purchase, many customers want to feel like they can trust your brand to deliver high-quality products or services. While there are many steps you can take to build trust, some customers might prefer to hear from past customers. That is where you can utilize customer reviews.
Encourage customer reviews at the point of sale, or send emails to customers asking for a review after they have had time to use your product. While reviews on online third-party sources could help ease any misgivings customers may have about using your product, positive customer experiences could also be a powerful trust signal for use on landing pages and other marketing materials.
Customer reviews do more than provide social proof for other potential customers, however. They can also give you valuable feedback about your products and services that you could use to improve the customer experience and create a more valuable and enjoyable product.
6. Write customer success stories
Similar to encouraging customer reviews, investing in more in-depth customer success stories is an effective (and budget-friendly) way to offer proof of the value and success of your product or service.
Great customer case studies often start by examining the problem your customer faced before coming to you, then digging into the specifics of the solution you offered, before detailing the results your customer achieved as a result of using your product. Interspersed with quotes and other testimonials throughout, case studies can be an incredibly effective way to close business deals with customers further down the sales funnel.
Customer success stories could serve as a powerful, in-depth analysis of a customer’s entire experience with your organization. To extract maximum value from your case studies, it might be a good idea to post them to your blog as well as include them in emails to your warmest leads.
Strategies that require greater investment
Maximizing the online exposure of your small business sometimes means making a modest financial investment into your online marketing strategy. Here are some techniques you could deploy to extend your online reach even further:
1. Leverage PPC advertising
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising could be one of the most effective forms of digital marketing available to businesses today. Based on an advertising model that requires marketers to pay only when their online ads get clicked on by users, PPC advertising could help businesses get their content at or near the top of search results pages.
Some of the steps you can take to optimize your PPC content include:
- Identify your target audience: Understand the challenges facing those who are most likely to buy your product, and target the keywords that are relevant to them.
- Build great content: Your content should be highly optimized for search engines and clearly demonstrate how your solutions help customers solve their specific challenges.
- Include relevant calls to action: Be careful not to inundate your PPC ads with too many calls to action. Users should be directed to one, maybe two, external sources or landing pages.
One of the advantages of PPC ads is that you could gather deep analytical information about the types of users interacting with your pages, as well as the type of content they find most engaging. You can use this information to further tailor your PPC content for better performance and ROI.
2. Use digital messaging techniques
Many of your customers might use their smartphones and other devices to access products and services. However, customers expect the quality of digital customer service to be as good as (or better than) your in-person service. High-quality, user-friendly digital customer service could be a critical component to the success of your online business.
In fact, poor customer service is one of the top reasons customers abandon brands and look for competitors. According to ZendeskSM, 61% of customers say they will abandon a brand for a competitor after a single negative experience.
Digital messaging — meaning the SMS messages companies send to customers — could be an effective way to promote your offerings to potential customers and upsell to existing ones. It might also demonstrate to customers that you are keeping up with the latest digital technology, which could be a significant boon to customer satisfaction.
3. Invest in an advanced SEO strategy
As mentioned, there are small, inexpensive steps you can take to optimize your web pages and enhance your brand’s search visibility. However, search engine algorithms are complex mechanisms that take numerous different aspects of your website into account when determining how to rank your pages. In addition to on-page factors, like optimizing metadata and including reputable hyperlinks, there are also off-page and technical components you should consider:
- Technical factors: These partly refer to site speed and user experience. Every second it takes for your pages to load, increases the likelihood of users clicking out and looking for information elsewhere. Working with developers to enhance page speed will vastly enhance your website’s perceived readability and accessibility.
- Off-page ranking factors: While the quality of your pages’ hyperlinks are considered when ranking, equally important are the pages that link back to your page. While high-value content will likely lead to more organic backlinks, you can also invest in partnerships with other organizations to incentivize backlinks and create cross-referential guest posts.
Getting the more advanced SEO techniques right often requires a greater financial investment because you might need to engage with a third-party vendor to conduct a full website audit.
4. Become a thought leader
One of the most effective ways to establish your brand as a thought leader might be investing in a content marketing strategy. Regularly commission or create content of various different types (including blogs, white papers, e-books, infographics, videos and more) and distribute them across the channels most relevant to your target audience.
Thought leadership could establish your brand as a reputable source of valuable, thought-provoking insights in your industry. By providing value to your customers even when they are not in the market to make a purchase, you could build trust and confidence in your brand, which might help push you to the top of their minds when they are ready to make a purchase.
5. Host virtual events
One of the great advantages of the pandemic-related rush to hybrid and remote work has been the democratization of event-hosting. Live events can be extraordinarily expensive, as businesses usually have to front costs for venues, hotels, food, refreshments and speakers. While virtual events are often still a significant investment, they can be more cost-effective and much easier for small businesses to host.
Coming up with event topics and identifying guest speakers could be one of your biggest challenges. Possible event topics include hosting a discussion around an industry research report you recently produced or leveraging your network of industry leaders for a roundtable conversation about a topical recent development.
Other essential virtual event components include:
- IT support staff.
- Reliable live-streaming platform.
- Event schedule.
- Ample branding materials.
- In-house hosts and moderators.
One of the benefits of virtual events is that you could broadcast them to a much wider audience than live events, maximizing your brand’s visibility. Taking full advantage of this might require promoting your events across all digital channels, especially your social media platforms, to ensure maximum exposure and awareness.
After your events have concluded, you might consider sharing exclusive access to recordings with your customers, members or email subscribers to further boost engagement.
6. Use email marketing
Email is still the tried-and-true method of digital advertising. According to AWeberSM, 60% of small businesses say their email marketing strategy is effective.
While there are a number of ways to gather customers’ emails, one of the most effective is to create gated content (like whitepapers and e-books) and provide access to that content in exchange for customers’ email and other personal information. Depending on the type of content and level of engagement, this might help you segment your email subscriber lists.
Once your customers have shared their email addresses with you, you can include them in periodic email drip campaigns that are tailored to their specific interests, needs and preferences. Depending on the nature of your campaign, you might send email subscribers newsletters, blogs, ongoing promotions or information about products and services.
The most effective email campaigns often serve as one part of a larger marketing strategy. Not only should customers continue to hear from you on other channels (like social media platforms), but the success of your emails will likely depend on the quality of your broader content marketing strategy.
Accelerate your digital transformation with Comerica Bank
Businesses that learn how to connect with their customers online could be best equipped to stay ahead of changes in the market and better secure their long-term success. At Comerica Bank, we provide clients with the solutions and knowledge they need to accelerate their digital transformation and optimize their digital channels.