Digital Marketing 101: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Digital Marketing 101: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Digital Marketing is not just a buzzword; it’s a critical component for success in today’s online-driven market. “Digital Marketing 101: What Small Businesses Need to Know” is designed to equip small businesses with the understanding and tools they need to navigate the complex landscape of online advertising, social media, SEO optimization, and more.

With a focus on key concepts tailored for small businesses, this guide will help you develop effective strategies to reach wider audiences, increase sales, and foster lasting customer relationships. Whether you’re a novice in the digital world or looking to enhance your existing efforts, this article provides a comprehensive insight into what you truly need to know.

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Digital Marketing 101

social media marketing - a woman looking at marketing efforts on pC

In the modern business landscape, small business owners recognize that digital marketing has surpassed traditional print marketing and advertising in both effectiveness and efficiency. A whopping 95% of small businesses plan to increase spending on digital marketing this year, reflecting its growing importance. However, to harness its full potential and achieve the best results, it’s crucial to have a profound understanding of digital marketing and stay abreast of digital marketing trends.

Digital marketing 101 - sms messaging

So, what exactly is digital marketing? It’s often misinterpreted as merely “online marketing,” but it encompasses far more. Digital marketing refers to any marketing strategy that leverages digital channels to connect with prospective customers. Unlike the limited reach of traditional marketing, digital marketing provides various platforms and methods to engage with a broader audience. Here’s a breakdown of what it includes:

  • Mobile Phone Messaging: This includes both SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), allowing businesses to communicate directly with customers via mobile devices.
  • Email Marketing: A targeted, customizable, and cost-effective way to send personalized messages, promotions, and updates to customers.
  • Social Media Marketing: Utilizes platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to create brand awareness, facilitate community engagement, and drive sales.
  • Display Advertising: Includes visual ads that appear on websites, apps, or social media platforms, targeting users based on their interests or previous online behavior.
  • Search Engine Marketing: Employs strategies like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and paid advertising (such as PPC) to increase visibility on search engine results pages.
  • Apps: The use of branded apps to enhance customer experience, offer exclusive deals, and foster loyalty.

This popular tutorial by Hubspot Marketing is a nice companion to this article. Beginners, especially, will find some great tips and ideas in it.

10 Basic Digital Marketing Strategies to Use

Digital marketing 101- graphic with woman and social media strategy

1. Your business website

No matter how active you are on social media, it can’t replace a business website. Your website is the digital “home” of your business and it’s the one place online where you are completely in control of your message. Your website doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be mobile-friendly. that’s non-negotiable in 2019.

2. Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of increasing website traffic using the organic (non-paid) search results on search engines. There are many moving parts to SEO, including using the right keywords in your website, your social media presence, references to your website from external sites and much more. The complexity of SEO is one reason only 44% of businesses are currently investing in SEO, according to Clutch. The good news: Being one of that 44% can put you ahead of your competition.

3. Local search engine optimization

Digital Marketing 101 - person using maps on their smartphone

Since 2015, more searches have been conducted on mobile devices than desktop computers, according to Google. Many of those searches are done while users are “on the go” looking for local businesses, so Google’s search results now favor websites that are optimized for local search by including location information and location-related keywords. In addition to optimizing your website for local search, claim your business location on local search directories such as Google My Business and make sure that your name, address and phone number (NAP) information is listed exactly the same way on all the local search directories. (No using “St.” in one listing and “Street” in another.) If your NAP varies from one listing to another, search engines may not recognize it as the same business, hurting your search results.

4. Email marketing

Nearly seven in 10 businesses use email marketing, making it the third most popular digital marketing method. Almost half (47%) of people across demographics check their email on a mobile device; 81% of those use their smartphones (as opposed to tablets). In addition, the majority (33%) of email opens occur on mobile devices. When you develop your email marketing messages, think “mobile-first.” Keep emails short; include a clear call to action; design in a single-column format; and use plenty of white space so it’s easy to click on buttons or links in the email.

5. Social media marketing

Social media is the number-one marketing channel used by businesses, according to Clutch: 83% of companies use it. There’s good reason for that: Statista reports 77% of Americans use social media. Be sure you’re keeping up to date on new social media channels, as well as where your target customers are spending time (for instance, are they leaving Facebook for Instagram)?

6. Content marketing

This practice refers to creating content (such as blog posts, ebooks, white papers, infographics, videos, etc.) that you share digitally. The goal is to attract users to view your content and take a desired action. For instance, you might write a blog post on How to Winterize Your House and Save Money and include a call-to-action such as “Contact us to get a free estimate on winterizing your home.”

7. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising

Digital Marketing 101 - Illustration of pay per click (PPC) ads

Pay-per-click digital ads appear when users do an internet search for the terms you use in the ad. The name comes from the fact that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. The most common place for PPC ads is on Google (using Google AdWords) but ads on Facebook and other social media channels are also considered PPC.

8. Marketing automation

Marketing automation software can automate many repetitive aspects of marketing. For instance, it can send automated responses or start a “drip marketing” campaign when prospects fill out a leads form. It can schedule your social media posts, determine the best time to send email newsletters, and more.

9. Messaging

Digital marketing - 101 text and sms messaging.

From SMS and MMS text messages to the use of messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber or WeChat, you can market to customers using mobile messaging. Mobile messaging marketing applications can use location-based data to trigger messages at relevant moments, such as when a customer is near your store or restaurant.

10. Online ratings and reviews

You may not think of online review sites as digital marketing, but they’re a major factor in how prospects form an opinion of your business. Some 86% of consumers (and 95% of those age 18 to 34) read reviews for local businesses; 91% of 18-to-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Optimize your listings on review sites the same way you would on Google My Business: Keep them current and add photos, descriptions, directions and offers. Monitor your reviews regularly and respond to negative reviews quickly (and politely).

10 Digital Marketing Trends to Know

Now that you’ve got a handle on digital marketing, here are 10 digital marketing trends every small business should factor into their plans.

1. Email marketing personalization via marketing automation

Nearly six in 10 marketers say personalization is their most effective email marketing tactic; in fact, emails that have personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. AI-powered automation tools can help you personalize email messaging by analyzing the data you capture about your email subscribers (such as what they open, click on and buy) and using it to deliver the right message at the right time.

2. Voice search

Voice search currently accounts for one third of all Google searches, and by 2020, is expected to account for one-half. Good general SEO will help you rank high in voice search, according to a recent study. But you can additionally optimize for voice search using keywords and phrases that sound the way people talk (“What bakeries are open right now?”) rather than the way they’d type into a search engine (“bakeries open now”). Creating an FAQ page on your website that answers questions people might ask about your product can also help optimize for voice search.

3. Content marketing overload

With so much content out there, are your prospects really paying attention? To keep driving customers to your website, make this the year you focus on creating less, but better, content. Instead of constantly churning out blog posts stuffed with SEO keywords, try crafting one or two really good, longer pieces of content a month. Content that answers prospects’ or customers’ questions in a way no one else is doing can really stand out.

4. Google My Business is more important than ever

Google search results prioritize Google My Business listings. As a result, many searchers don’t bother paging below these or clicking through to a website. they get all the info they need from GMB. Make sure your Google My Business page makes the cut by regularly adding new photos, posts, offers or videos and keeping your description current. You can now add Posts in Google My Business, too. Think of your GMB result as its own little website and add all the info you can to it.

5. PPC advertising comes of age

The Google search engine results page is getting crowded and fewer people are ignoring the ads at the top. To counter this, Google’s algorithm is getting great at delivering relevant ads. However, even being at the top of organic search results won’t get you the customer’s attention if that customer doesn’t scroll down. If you’re not already doing so, make this the year you incorporate PPC ads into your marketing plan.

6. Omnichannel marketing

Prospects use more than one digital channel to investigate your business. They might do an online search and see your Google My Business listing, click through to your website and read your reviews. That’s why all of your digital marketing efforts need to work together to promote a consistent branding message.

7. Chatbots

You can use conversational AI software (that is, chatbots) to engage with prospects in a variety of ways, from helping them navigate your website or answering common questions to suggesting additional products or even engaging on social media. For instance, you can program Facebook Messenger bots to answer your Facebook messages, saving you time and giving your followers quick responses.

8. Online video

By 2020, video will account for more than 85% of all consumer internet traffic in the U.S. (Already, YouTube is the second most popular website, surpassed only by Google.) Today’s up and coming Gen Z, in particular, has grown up watching YouTube videos and it’s the place they turn to for the answers to everything. Videos that show viewers how to do something, help solve their problems, interview industry experts or provide an insider’s look into your business are all popular ways to attract attention. Creating a YouTube channel is free and exposes your videos to a wider audience. Also look into getting online influencers to review your products. it can make a huge difference to your business.

9. Tell your story

Consumers crave authentic interaction with businesses. They want to know your story. Be transparent about your business, your staff and your values. In the digital world, live-action or short-term video content such as Stories on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube creates a feeling of immediacy and intimacy. This type of content can help build a bond with your target market.

10. Social media backlash

Facebook privacy problems, such as the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal, have driven some users from the platform. With the vast majority of its users aged 18 to 34, Instagram is the place to be if you’re targeting millennials and younger users.  But Instagram isn’t immune from backlash either. The platform recently took steps to remove inauthentic likes and fake followers from influencers’ accounts. Remember, honest interaction is more important than numbers.

Table of Trends to Know

Below is a comparison table that captures the 10 digital marketing trends every small business should be aware of. You can reference it easily while you are implementing your digital marketing strategy:

Email Marketing PersonalizationUtilizes AI-powered automation tools to personalize email messaging, increasing open rates by 26%.
Voice SearchAccounts for one-third of Google searches; optimize with conversational keywords and FAQ pages.
Content Marketing OverloadFocus on creating fewer, but higher quality content pieces that stand out among the overload.
Google My Business (GMB) ImportanceGoogle search prioritizes GMB listings; keep your page up-to-date with fresh content to stay relevant.
PPC Advertising Comes of AgeWith the crowding of Google's results page, PPC ads are gaining attention; consider incorporating them.
Omnichannel MarketingProspects investigate through multiple channels; ensure all digital marketing efforts align for consistent branding.
ChatbotsUtilize conversational AI software to engage with prospects, answer questions, and suggest products.
Online VideoVideos will account for 85% of U.S. consumer internet traffic by 2020; consider a YouTube channel and influencer collaboration.
Tell Your StoryFocus on transparency and authentic interaction, using live-action or short-term video content to create a bond.
Social Media BacklashBe mindful of shifts away from platforms like Facebook due to privacy concerns; Instagram is a key platform for users aged 18 to 34, but honest interaction trumps numbers.

What digital marketing tactics do you currently use, and which are you planning to add to your arsenal?


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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

51 Reactions
  1. Great tips and I especially appreciate the comment to advertise on FB. Organic reach on FB is lower than ever and paying for your content to get out there is important. And remember that you can set it to only advertise to people who DON’T like your page yet, so they’re going to be “new” people.

  2. I’m not sure about email marketing being the best digital marketing tool for small businesses! Where on earth did you get the stats for that? Email marketing is still effective, yes. But being “King” – how? SEO & PPC are way more effective.

  3. I am also of the same opinion that how email marketing is effective way of Digital Marketing to be called as “King”

  4. This year I will continue to build my email list in an organic through a new site and with my ongoing podcasting work.

  5. I’m an online marketer, and it really bugs me when “experts” say that your website *must* be optimized for mobile. I had a client who was busting me because he’d read this somewhere, but I had to convince him that, because of the nature of his business, most of his traffic was going to come from desktop. Over the past six months, a meager 1.29% of his traffic has come from mobile devices. So no, your website doesn’t *have* to be mobile, it depends on who your buyer is and where they’re searching from.

    The site is responsive and looks 99% okay on a mobile device, so it’s a bit of a moot point. My point is that people swallow up what “experts” say because they don’t know any better, yet there’s a lot more to effective marketing than blanket one-size-fits-all statements.

    • Aren’t “responsive” and “optimized for mobile” the same thing? I’d assume the experts are pulling from the recommendations of the platforms themselves. Google, for example, heavily weights UX / mobile optimization in the algorithm that determines your location on the SERP.

    • Steve, I know your post is a bit older, but my agency has pretty clear evidence that if your site is not playing nice on mobile, that your website will not show on mobile nearly as well as desktop. We’ve had a few clients that saw mobile rankings in Google decrease moving into 2019. We pushed hard for a site re-design. Once the site was re-built and truly mobile, those first page rankings on mobile came right back.

      This may not have been the case back in 2016 / 2017, but once mobile first indexing started to take hold fully, we definitely started seeing that.

  6. This is really informative about digital marketing. I can totally understand how digital marketing would be really important in this day and age. I would have thought email marketing would be a bit outdated by now, I’m surprised to hear how effective mobile emails can be for digital marketing!

  7. Digital marketing is no longer new for businesses. In fact, many businesses have hired digital marketers or implemented a digital marketing plan. They now see the value of taking their business online.

  8. As the owner of an SEO company, several clients have asked me why their business isn’t ranking well locally. The first thing I check for is whether or not they have claimed their Google My Business page. Claiming a GMB page has had a positive effect on getting my clients to rank higher in Google’s local search results (along with doing other things in regards to SEO).

    This is a great article. The ten trends mentioned are all good to know when it comes to Digital Marketing.

    Thanks for sharing this information, Rieva.

  9. Thanks for the post. In recent years many small & medium level companies have come into the market and competition has raised a lot. Now to grow a business we need digital marketing and many people don’t know about it. Your post is very beneficial for the new companies and entrepreneurs to get a picture about digital marketing.

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    It is much important but not much important than market analysis. Business analysis is giving you the information about your business that tells you what the business you have ability to run.

  11. Hello Rieva

    Informative post that covers mostly all the aspects every small business industry need to know & follow. Also you mentioned about the e-mail marketing. thanks for the post.

  12. Really an outstanding article to read. Nowadays digital marketing plays a vital role to expand your business. One should contact a reputable agency to achieve success.

  13. As a Digital Marketing Agency, we believe that SEO, PPC Advertising and Social Media Marketing are the best tools for Small business.

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