Digital Marketing for Small Business

Digital marketing uses mobile devices, social media, popular search engines, and the internet to advertise to a targeted demographic of consumers.

The most popular types of digital marketing include:

Since digital marketing is a fairly new concept, it needs to be approached with a certain level of flexibility. In this guide, we explain what digital marketing is, how you can use it to stand out among competitors, and what benefits it can provide.


What Is Digital Marketing?

Most methods of digital marketing are more interactive than traditional forms of advertising. These include:

  • Sponsored social media content
  • Affiliations
  • Email advertising
  • Content marketing

Keep in mind that digital marketing and internet marketing are not the same things. This is because, unlike internet marketing, which is entirely over the internet, digital marketing can adopt much more all-encompassing forms like:

  • Video game advertisements
  • SMS marketing
  • Subway platforms

Digital marketing is also not the same as inbound marketing, even though they both use a lot of the same tools (e.g., email advertising, online content, etc.) and have very similar goals (i.e., to capture the attention of prospective consumers).

Generally speaking, businesses benefit greatly from using both digital and inbound marketing strategies, as these tend to supplement each other very well. This is because a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy will inevitably provide the purpose and mechanisms through which a successful digital marketing campaign will run. 

This is a similar relationship to the one seen between digital and social media marketing.

The Best Digital Marketing Strategies

The best digital marketing strategies for your business will depend on your:

  • Brand image (e.g., luxury, leisure, business, etc.)
  • Targeted demographic
  • Marketing goals (e.g., increased conversions, sales, engagement, etc.)

There are, however, a few strategies that you should generally include regardless of these factors.

Research Your Competitors

Researching your competitors is crucial because it lets you see:

  • What consumers like
  • What consumers want to see different
  • How you can differentiate yourself from your competitors
  • How you can solve existing consumer problems

If you do not know how to differentiate your business’s products from its competitors, try to consider your business’s:

  • Prices: Even though your competitors may be able to duplicate your price, this will depend on your industry, access to suppliers, and budget.
  • Customer service: An easy way to stand out is through good customer service. This is because it can leave a memorable experience for consumers and incentivize brand loyalty. 
  • Products and/or services: What are you providing to your consumers? Does it stand out from your competitors’ products or services in any way? Consider the following about your products:
    • Quality
    • Safety
    • Warranty length
    • Reviews
    • Novelty

Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

Getting a Google My Business account and listing your company on Google can help attract your target audience to your website.

After you have registered on Google and successfully listed your business, you will need to follow a few steps to optimize the effectiveness of your listing. This can ensure that you:

  • Increase the number of keywords that will directly bring customers to your listing
  • Provide as much information as possible to prospective customers

For more detailed instructions, see our guide on getting your business listed on Google.

Consider Your Platform

When it comes to social media marketing, you need to consider which platform(s) you will work with and — more importantly — why you will work with them.

This will depend on your targeted audience, as age demographic popularity can vary significantly depending on the platform that you advertise on. Instagram’s users, for example, are predominantly between the ages of 18 and 34, while LinkedIn has more users over the age of 50 than it has under 30. 

The type of content that you will produce is equally important as it needs to be highly applicable. For example, long, in-depth video tutorials are better suited for YouTube, whereas professionally written content or published work can more easily be publicized over LinkedIn. 

Similarly, Twitter is great for giving short announcements. This could relate to:

  • Breaking news
  • New products
  • Feedback reviews

See our social media marketing guide for more information.

Produce Visual Content

This is particularly important for social media advertising, as sponsored ads or promoted posts with eye-catching images or videos are much more likely to attract viewers. 

Visual content can be very helpful for:

  • Illustrating quality
  • Explaining novel concepts
  • Increasing sales and revenue

Tip: If you are a small business owner with a relatively small budget, consider partnering up with a freelancer or small marketing agency (e.g., on Fiverr) to ensure your posts look as professional as possible.

Use Chatbots

The growing prominence of artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years is widely recognized, so it should come as no surprise that the world of digital marketing has been increasingly incorporating AI into its work. One example of this implementation is the use of chatbots.

You can use chatbots in your online marketing strategy to:

  • Increase sales: This is because chatbots can “direct” prospective consumers to your website by:
    • Setting appointments
    • Collecting emails
    • Starting communications with consumers
  • Improve customer service: Chatbots can provide quick responses to “frequently asked questions” that prospective consumers may have, which can be very convenient in comparison to having to send an email or make a phone call.
  • Improving shopping experiences: The Facebook marketplace is a great example of how chatbots can be used to improve customers’ shopping experiences, where users can use them to browse and purchase products significantly faster.

Different Types of Digital Marketing

SEO Marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) marketing can be thought of as more of a marketing tool rather than a form of marketing in itself. This is because it is used in many other forms of marketing. 

It relates to how businesses can rank well in search engines (e.g., Google) and drive traffic to their website organically. 

For most search engines (including Google), there are a few quantifiable metrics that you can follow to rank well. These include:

  • Quality of content
  • User engagement (backlinks)
  • Ease of use
  • Website authority
  • Keywords

Having said that, SEO marketing is very dynamic. For example, Google changes its algorithm multiple times a year, meaning that the “art” of SEO really comes down to how well businesses can run successful marketing campaigns and analyze the acquired data to determine what works best.

Email Marketing

Email marketing can be very effective when done right, as it allows businesses to get in touch with potential customers that are interested in their brand. 

Through email marketing, emails can then be structured in a way that increases:

  • Conversions
  • Revenues
  • Engagement

Note: Do not confuse email marketing with spam emails; they are not the same thing.

PPC Advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has a similar purpose to SEO, but it goes about achieving it in a slightly different way. These can be run on search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) or on social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).

Similar to social media advertising, PPC advertising allows businesses to target specific demographics of consumers. This targeting can be very specific and includes users’:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Sex
  • Employment status

Keep in mind that specific rules apply for when users can see your ad(s). For instance, when a “spot” is available on a search engine's results page (SERP), the engine’s algorithm prioritizes content based on several factors. These include:

  • The quality of the landing page
  • The applicability and number of keywords used
  • The quality of the ad in question
  • The total bid amount

As the name suggests, PPC advertising only charges businesses per click. This can be very beneficial for small businesses, as they can set a maximum number of clicks (e.g., the amount of money needed to finance 500 clicks) and know that they will only have to pay per conversion — rather than per view. 

This makes PPC advertising extremely quantifiable.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing can allow businesses to target specific demographics on social media platforms (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) These include users’:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Employment status
  • Lifestyle
  • Interests
  • Social media activity

Unlike traditional forms of advertising (e.g., television, direct mail, etc.), marketing on social media channels can be much more cost-effective and quantifiable. This is because it is:

  • More engaging
  • More targeted
  • More financially controlled 

Generally, businesses use social media marketing to:

  • Generate leads
  • Increase user engagement
  • Increase their sales 
  • Increase user traffic
  • Improve their brand image

For everything you need to know about social media marketing, see our recent Social Media Marketing for Small Business guide. 

Content Marketing

Content marketing generally involves publishing content (e.g., on a website) and then promoting it through other digital marketing means.

These may include:

  • SEO
  • PPC campaigns
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing

Even though content marketing can be one of the most effective methods of online marketing, it is by no means simple. 

This is because businesses will also need to rank highly on a search engine (e.g., through SEO or PPC advertising), and the quality of the content will need to be written in a way that generates increased engagement and directs potential readers towards their brand’s products and/or services (e.g., with anchor links, in a succinct manner, fact-checked, etc.)

SMS Messaging

Marketing through SMS messaging is fairly similar to email marketing, with the most notable difference being that SMS marketing is better tailored towards short updates and announcements. 

Generally, companies use SMS messaging to send information relating to:

  • New promotions
  • New opportunities
  • Job vacancies

These text messages can include anchored links that take customers directly to a business’s website, meaning SMS advertising can be great for increasing conversions.

Benefits of Digital Marketing for Small Business

Digital marketing provides several benefits for small businesses. Even though these can vary depending on the quality of your campaign and the forms of marketing that you use, they generally include:

Controlled Costs

Generally, digital advertising methods are not only more quantifiable and effective than their traditional counterparts, but they are also more cost-efficient. 

This is because overhead costs for certain conventional advertisements (e..g, television spots, newspaper ads, etc.) can be exorbitantly high, and they give you less flexibility. 

You also have less control over whether your targeted audience will even see your ad. With certain forms of digital marketing (e.g., PPC), you will only pay for every conversion — rather than for every view.

Measurable Results

Since you can target specific demographics through digital marketing and have access to instant analytics that illustrate what performed well and what did not, your business is in a much better position to make reasonable adjustments in the future. 

Since costs are more controlled, businesses are able to test campaigns more easily. You can “cap” the amount allocated to each type of ad or each type of marketing campaign and test what works and what does not work with your consumers in a quantifiable way.

Increased Engagement

Since digital marketing is a more direct form of advertising, it allows businesses to engage with their customers in a way that wouldn’t be possible with most traditional advertising methods.

This can benefit businesses by:

  • Increasing their brand loyalty
  • Increasing their customers’ trust
  • Allowing them to understand consumers’ behaviors

Broader Reach

Unlike physical ads (e.g., billboards), digital advertisements can be seen by users from all over the world. 

This means that businesses can benefit from:

  • Increased exposure
  • More sales
  • Increased data

The Unique Challenges of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing can provide significant benefits for businesses, but it does come with a few drawbacks that you should consider. 

Mainly, you should note that the growing popularity of social media and digital marketing means that it has become somewhat of a “double-edged blade.” Even though its popularity and potentially huge audience size is one of its greatest selling points, it is also what has made online marketing extremely competitive. 

For example, standing out and grasping potential customers' attention is becoming increasingly difficult because they are constantly being “bombarded” with ads, sponsored stories, affiliated content, and SEO content writing. 

This means that digital marketing — just like any form of advertising — is about deeply understanding consumer behaviors — rather than about simply following search-engine guidelines or a set list of rules. You will need to implement certain protocols to ensure you are always seen as a trustworthy voice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to adopt a different digital marketing strategy for B2B advertising?

Yes, marketing digitally should be done regardless of whether you are a B2B or a business-to-consumer (B2C) business. There are, however, a few differences that you should note. 

For example:

  • B2B businesses tend to take longer to make decisions. This means relationship building will be much more important than with B2C businesses.
  • B2B deals are usually based on evidence. As a digital marketer for your business, you will need to incorporate this into your campaign if you are targeting businesses as clients. If you are a B2C business, you will need to focus primarily on customer experiences.
  • B2B deals are managed differently since they generally need more than one party to be on board. This can depend on the size and business structure of the business in question.

Which social media platform should I advertise in?

You should choose the social media platform that is the most popular with your targeted audience and is best suited to the types of ads that you will be posting.

For example:

  • Instagram’s users are predominantly young adults
  • LinkedIn’s users are predominantly over the age of 50
  • YouTube’s users are much more likely to be interested in informative videos

For more information, see our guide to social media for small businesses.

Can I make money as a social media influencer?

Yes. As a social media influencer, your followers are guaranteed viewers. This translates to adversarial power with potential affiliate companies who may want to pay you to advertise or review their products.

Generally, social media influencers can make money by:

  • Making sponsored posts
  • Becoming affiliates
  • Opening their own online store
  • Getting paid directly (e.g., through Instagram’s “Bonuses” feature.)

For a more demonstrative analysis, see our review on how Instagram influencers make money.

How much money do I need to spend on digital marketing?

How much money you will need to spend will depend on what marketing methods you use. 

For example, where PPC advertising can be much more “controlled,” SEO content writing generally takes months to bring in results. It is also not as consistent as the costs can vary significantly depending on:

  • The digital agency that you work with
  • The news outlets that you publish in

Should I include my phone number on social media?

Yes. Including your business phone number on your social media can go a long way in making your business look legitimate and trustworthy.

When it comes to using phone numbers for your business, there are a few approaches you can adopt, including:

  • Adding a business phone line to your cell phone through an app
  • Adding a separate business line through a business phone service (e.g., RingCentral, Talkroute, etc.).
  • Purchasing a separate cell phone and using a private line as a business phone number (this is seldom recommended). 

See our How to Get a Business Phone Number article for a step-by-step guide.