Successful small-business owners understand that marketing plays a central role in the health of any enterprise.
But in recent years, the marketing landscape has undoubtedly changed, with many entrepreneurs struggling to keep up with, and make the best use of, the widening array of marketing channels.
Should you invest heavily in SEO? Or might it make more sense to entice your audience with some great video content? Maybe social media should command the lion’s share of your attention and resources?
Let’s take a look at the best approaches for those working with a limited budget.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO is all about optimising your website in order to boost your ranking on major search engines for relevant keyword searches.
Although this is a complex and constantly changing area – Google has updated its algorithms hundreds of times – it's possible to master the fundamentals and increase visitor numbers and subsequent conversions without a huge financial outlay.
Use keyword tools like Google Keywords or Moz Keyword Explorer to ascertain what your target audience are typing when searching for your products or services. If you’re a gift card retailer, for example, then entering ‘gift cards’ will generate a list of popular, related search terms (eg, ‘greetings cards’), national and international search volumes and their competitiveness (based on how many other websites are optimised for these terms). Once you’ve identified some popular related terms that aren’t overly competitive, you can set about optimising your website for these keywords and key phrases.
But Google also increasingly rewards websites that provide a quality user experience, not just a smattering of relevant keywords. There are many fairly simple things you can do to improve the user experience, like cutting your page-load speed by reducing the file size of images and enabling browser caching.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly, otherwise it may be invisible
Link building is still a vital part of SEO, albeit Google has refined its approach to evaluating ‘link neighbourhoods’. There are multiple approaches to link building, including establishing affiliate programmes. But beware of taking shortcuts (the ‘black hat’ approach) that might draw penalties from Google.
The best approach involves strengthening your site content to attract both links and visitors.
It has often been said in digital communities that ‘content is king’ in the world of SEO. Various changes to the way Google ranks websites have only served to heighten the importance of producing wonderful content.
Articles and blog posts that demonstrate your expertise in your field have a dual impact: ranking well in the search engine results and burnishing your credibility and brand.
You can seek out guest authors too. Commissioning an external expert means you get free (because they benefit from brand exposure), exclusive content, while attracting a wider audience (helped by exposure to the writer’s followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).
Meeting up with other small-business owners can be an extremely effective way to build relationships and secure new business.
Networking events, such as business breakfasts or trade association meetings, are a great way to get introduced to potential customers and suppliers and get advice from your peers.
Consider joining trade associations in your industry or the National Small Business Chamber and keep your eye open for business networking events in your area.
You will hopefully have many happy customers, but are you making the most of your excellent service? In posting glowing reviews online, satisfied customers can form an active part of your sales force, helping to bring in more business.
Sometimes, however, they may need a little reminder. Each time a customer makes a purchase, encourage them to leave a review on independent review websites.
You can even include a link to such sites on emails and order confirmation pages. Positive reviews help to establish trust in your business and greater prominence on search-engine listings.
Social networks are increasingly seen as vital customer service channels – for handling complaints and queries – but they can do so much more.
Use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to draw attention to exclusive content on your site, promote special offers and announce events.
Engage with thought leaders in your sector via Twitter and you can get your business noticed by thousands of their followers.
The key to social media is to share useful, amusing or entertaining information – it’s not simply an arena for sending out sales messages. Engage in two-way conversations for better results.
The idea of producing promotional videos may seem unrealistic to those on a tight budget or without specialist videographers or equipment. However, this avenue has become much more accessible in recent years as the cost of high-spec cameras has fallen.
You can have a YouTube channel up and running in no time, while a range of free editing and production tools mean that creating effective video content needn't be the sole preserve of media specialists. Remember to add a clear call to action – ie, explaining how customers can find out more – within your video and/or on the page(s) in which it is embedded.
For more information on how to effectively market your business, check out our top 3 instant gratification marketing techniques .