Overview: How Online Marketing Works To Help Small Businesses

Posted by David Nguyen | May 14 2016

Overview: How Online Marketing Works To Help Small Businesses

The online marketing space is unfamiliar, and maybe even intimating, territory for many small business owners. You know it’s an area you need to look into but A) you just don’t know where to start or B) you just don’t have the time.

Whether you plan to hire someone to help with online marketing or just want to understand exactly how online marketing helps your business, this should be a good starting point for you. The purpose of this blog is to give you a general overview of the different components of online marketing and how it can play a role in helping your small business grow.


First things first. Your website is the most fundamental component of online marketing. I like to call it your “home base.” The purpose of marketing is to attract the people interested in your products or services to your business. If they’re not being taken directly to your physical business, they need to go to some online entity that represents your business – your website. Could you get away with just having social media? It’s possible, but you would be limiting yourself in most cases.

Here are important elements you need to make sure you have on your website:

  • Contact information like address, phone number and business hours
  • List of products and services offered with pricing
  • Professional looking
  • Mobile friendly design
  • Web form to capture leads (or some way to reach your business online)

The last important element you need is great copy. For those who don’t know, copy is strategic writing about your business, products or services to persuade or encourage people to take action like buying. Generally, your online marketing efforts need to lead people somewhere like your website. If your copy is on point, the website can potentially sell itself.

Social Media Marketing

Social media gets a lot of attention as a channel small businesses need to focus on. The problem is that its gets misunderstood as something that will drive tons of business over night. Okay, not over night but you know what I mean.

The true strength and power of social media lies in customer retention, loyalty, brand awareness and lead nurturing. You build an online following so you can engage and interact with your audience. Think community. In turn, this strengthens the relationship and can potentially pay off over time. It generally is looked at more of a long term strategy with the ability to have an indirect influence on sales in the short term.

The role and influence social media can vary depending on what industry your business is in.

If your business provides a product or service that is more frequently consumed like foods, drinks or hair products, social media can be a tool to keep your business top of mind so that they consider you when they have a need.

On the other hand, you may have a business that provides a product or service that is not used often like a plumber, lawyer or real estate agent. If you’re able to build trust and credibility by nurturing the relationship with valuable content, they may be more inclined to consider you when they need your help.

This is not to be confused with paid social, which is discussed below. If you need more short term returns in marketing, you should consider paid social.

Paid Social

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You can pay social media channels to help promote your brand and increase exposure in a number of ways. If you’re looking for more of a short term return, this is what you would experiment with.

What makes it effective is that the ads tend to look native to the platform. This means that the posts, tweet or pin (depending on the platform you use) will blend in to look like any other regular content. There is usually some small indication that it is an ad but overall, it’s meant to be seamless and disruptive to the user’s experience.

A good way to think of paid social is like product placement in movies. I don’t know about you, but I tend to notice certain products like iPhones and iPads being used more in movies. At least to me, it’s very obvious that the directors make sure the logo is highly visible too. It’s a subtle way promoting Apple products in a way that seems natural, just like how paid social ads do.

You can target the people you want to see your ad by specific demographics, geographic location, groups, behaviors and interests. In order to see positive results, it’s really important to know who your target audience is.

Here are the most popular options for paid social:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Yelp
  • Pinterest
  • Youtube
  • LinkedIn

Choosing the platform for you business really depends your industry and where your customers or clients spend time on. The default platform would be Facebook for most due to its 1.5 billion user base.

Email Marketing

By now, everyone should be familiar with what email is and how it’s used. For business, it’s a great tool to use to reach people directly. Email is a valuable commodity online, especially for businesses, because you have direct access to the person’s attention. Think of email as the equivalent of direct mail before the internet. Unlike social media, where messages and posts can get lost in the news feed, email goes straight the the individual.

Studies have shown that email shows the highest level of conversion rates or sales out of all the other options.

The challenge is, how do you get email addresses? As a small business, it may be through a sales transaction if you require it. Just know that they technically need to agree or opt in to receive marketing messages from you. There are laws against unsolicited emails, known as spam, so you should be aware it.

Other ways are through social media giveaways and contests. Content marketing is another way that requires much more consistent work.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search engines like Google or Bing serve as the gateway to information on the internet. It’s where most people start when they are looking for something. There are two ways small businesses can benefit from it.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As a business, you ideally want your website to show in the top positions for search engine results when a user searches something related to your business. Most clicks for searches occur on the first page.

To increase your visibility in search engine results, you do something called search engine optimization (SEO) for your website. It involves various techniques and strategies done on your website as well as on other websites.

The idea is to show search engines that your website or content is the most relevant and useful to what users are seeking. For the most part, SEO takes time and patience depending on the market or industry you are in. It is a long term strategy that goes hand in hand with content marketing. (discussed below)

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Pay per click (PPC) is another way businesses can attract customers on search engines. Basically, you bid against other businesses (like in an auction) on how much you want to pay when someone clicks on your ad when it shows on the search engine. Depending on how competitive or popular the search phrase is, the amount you pay will vary depending on a number of other factors.

Just like with paid social, the ads that show in search engines are meant to blend in and look like regular search results.

This option can be more expensive, compared to paid social, but it can have its advantages. Unlike paid social, you are targeting your ads to show based on what keywords users are typing. Depending on what users type, you can target potential customers or clients who show purchase intent. In other words, you can potentially target people who are ready to buy or need a service.

Content Marketing

Essentially, the idea is to pull or lure potential customers into your sales funnel by offering free content such as blogs, videos or ebooks. The key is that it needs to be valuable to the specific people you want to attract.

This doesn’t mean that you can sell to them right away. Again, just like with social media, it’s about building a relationship by providing valuable content for their attention and trust. This also helps to show your credibility and expertise in your industry. The process is about nurturing or priming them up to stick around your business until they are ready to buy.

Usually content marketing is associated with being educational or valuable but it could also be in the form of entertainment.

The most difficult part about it is being consistent. Generally, it’s going to be more time and resource consuming option for businesses. It can be worth it if you know what you’re doing or what your business is.

This is also another long term strategy the requires consistency, time and effort.

Influencer Marketing

An influencer is someone who is looked upon as an expert, leader or specialist by an audience that they’ve built in a particular niche. The relationship with their audience is built around trust and credibility. For marketing, it’s about leveraging an influencer’s audience to get word of mouth exposure to your business. This can be done naturally if someone wants to vouch for a product or service they like. Or it can happen if they are paid monetarily or with free products to mention the business to their audience.

Often times, influencer marketing can be confused with celebrity endorsements, which there is some similarities. However, the difference is that a celebrity endorsement is about using someone’s fame or popularity to promote a product or service.

Influencer marketing can be a powerful strategy to help accelerate the process of building brand awareness. I mention it last because this strategy doesn’t work for every type of small business.


There you have it. You should now be familiar with the basic components that make up online marketing. Which ones you choose will depend on your business goals, your industry and your target market. Although each part was discussed individually, they are often times integrated and dependent on each other.

For marketing with an immediate impact, you’ll go with paid social media or search engine pay per click campaigns. Otherwise, your other options (SEO, social media, content marketing, email) will require more time and effort over time to effectively deliver results.