Social media has become a critical component in every small business's online marketing plan. For some businesses, social media acts as an extension of the company's website; for others, it functions as the hub of the company's online presence. Regardless of how integral social media is to your business, you will want to select social media platforms that align with your marketing objectives.
There are many platforms available to choose from; each is better suited to different types of content and has a different user demographic. Your business does NOT need to have a presence on all social media platforms. Developing high-quality content is time consuming, so it is best to focus your efforts on a few platforms that your target customers use. To make an educated decision about which platforms you should focus on, you must first understand what each platform has to offer and who they are targeting.
As of January 2021, nine of the most popular social media platforms in North America are: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Quora. We are also going to tell you about a 10th "bonus platform" that your business should be using.
In this article, we will discuss each platform's user demographics and main features, and tell you which platforms YOUR small business should be using.
Facebook is the "OG" of social media. With 2.7 billion users around the world, it is (by far) the most popular platform. Facebook is a favorite among men and women, young and old, and just about every other demographic group! The majority of users are between age 18 to 64. In other words, there is a good chance that YOUR target customers can be reached here.
Facebook can be classified as a social networking platform because it allows users to interact with each other in a variety of ways. Some of the best features it has to offer businesses are Pages, Groups, Events Pages, and Advertising.
Pages are public profiles that anyone can view, "Like" and "Follow". They are a great place to stay in touch with your existing customers and build relationships with new ones. You can post a variety of content to your Page as often as you like (including photos, videos, questions and more). The objective is to post engaging content that your audience will want to like, share, and comment on.
In addition to establishing a Page, you can also join groups that are relevant to your business. Facebook is has groups for most industries, geographic areas, professions, and hobbies or interests. If you can't find the perfect group for your business to join, you can always start your own! Lastly, if your business provides classes or is hosting an upcoming event, you can create Event Pages to help you promote your event to Facebook users who might be interested in attending.
Most Facebook features are 100% free to use, but if you're interested in doing some paid advertising to take your social media presence to the next level, Facebook is our platform of choice for doing so. Its ad system offers outstanding targeting options, affordable rates, and tools to help you develop and manage your ads.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Facebook?
The short answer is YES! Every small business can benefit in some way from having a presence on Facebook. Its wide range of features and massive audience make it well suited to just about every type of business! We highly recommend including Facebook in your business's social media portfolio.
Twitter is a social networking platform (like Facebook), but unlike Facebook, Twitter moves at a much quicker pace and has more restrictions on the type of content you can post. Posts on Twitter are called Tweets. To use Twitter effectively, your Tweets must be kept short (under 280 characters) and should include hashtags. You can also include images, GIFs and short videos (under 2 minutes) to draw attention to your Tweets.
In terms of demographics, both men and women enjoy using Twitter; the majority of users are between the ages of 18 to 49 and over half of users have a college education.
Twitter is all about joining the conversation. It's kind of like a group text message that the entire world can chime in on. It's primary function is to facilitate conversations about current events as they are happening. Twitter's home page gives a real time overview of trending topics that are currently being discussed. Trending topics are fleeting and usually center around breaking news, current events, TV shows as they air, sporting events, election results, etc.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Twitter?
If you are a politician, news or media company, performing artist, professional athlete, celebrity or public figure, you should definitely be using Twitter! If your business doesn't fall into one of these categories, it may still benefit from having a Twitter account if you're interested in starting or joining conversations. As one source puts it, "if your content doesn't inspire conversations, it isn't worth publishing on Twitter".
Instagram is the "fashion show" of social media. This platform is best suited for sharing professional-looking photos and short videos.
Instagram is now owned by Facebook which allows users to easily share content between the two platforms. To upload content to Instagram, your must either post from Facebook or from a social media management tool (such as Hootsuite), or using the Instagram App on your phone. You cannot upload content from your desktop. For this reason, most users access Instagram from their mobile devices. The App provides filters that you can add to your photos to make them look more professional.
Instagram appeals to a younger demographic than Facebook. Most Instagram users are between the ages of 13 to 50, and are more likely to be female than male. The overarching theme on this platform is 'putting your best foot forward'. Instagram users enjoy getting insider looks into the fabulous lives of others... which is why Instagram is home to many social influencers and self-made celebrities.
If you want your content to get noticed here, your business must consistently post exciting, professional-looking images (or short videos) that appeal to Instagram's young, trendy audience. Users are not interested in reading lengthy posts; they want to be entertained with visual content that they can digest in a matter of seconds. Emotional ad appeals do well here.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Instagram?
The short answer is 'probably, yes'. If your business provides products or services related to lifestyle, travel, fashion, art, beauty, food, hobbies, or trendy products, you should definitely have a presence on Instagram! And even if your business doesn't fit into one of these categories, it may still benefit from a having a presence if your target customers align with Instagram's user demographics.
Pinterest is another photo sharing platform, but it has a different user demographic than Instagram. Pinterest is most popular among women between the ages of 18 to 64 (especially Moms!) from higher-income households. The majority of users access Pinterest from their mobile devices.
Pinterest profiles are called Pinboards and are meant to resemble bulletin boards that have a collection of photos you like "pinned" to them. Pinterest users are called Pinners. Popular topics include home decor trends, party planning and wedding ideas, life moments and special occasions, recipes, inspirational quotes and funny memes, clothing and outfit ideas, hairstyles, tattoos, and DIY projects. The over-arching theme here is sharing trends and ideas.
To use Pinterest effectively, you will want to use relevant keywords to help Pinners find your content. Pinterest prioritizes fresh content, so post often! Images, GIFs and short videos are all well-received types of content on this platform.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Pinterest?
If your business targets women aged 18 to 64, especially moms, then YES! If your business provides any product or service that is congruent with popular Pinterest topics, the answer is again YES. If you're still not sure, consider doing a little research... Visit Pinterest and take a look around to see what Pinners are posting to determine if your products or services would be a good fit here.
YouTube is video sharing platform. It's kind of like an online channel where anyone in the world can be the star of their own TV show! Naturally, this free access has resulted in a tremendous amount of content. As of 2021, YouTube has 2 billion users (and counting).
People love YouTube because it's FREE and you can find videos on just about anything. In general, YouTube users like videos that either entertain or educate them. DIY and how-to videos, music videos, and funny videos about cats all do very well here. This is also the only platform on our list that is well suited to longer videos. If you want your videos to get found in YouTube's sea of content, they will need to be professional (or at least semi-professional) quality and unique in some way.
In terms of demographics, things are pretty wide open. Everyone uses YouTube (especially people under age 30), so it is highly likely that your target customers can be reached here!
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using YouTube?
This will depend on two things: 1) do your competitors use YouTube? and 2) do you have any video production skills? As we previously mentioned, YouTube is flooded by new content every day. So, if your business wants to use YouTube, it must be able to make high-quality videos that differentiate themselves from the content that is already available. If video production is not in your skillset, you will either need to learn about it (YouTube has some great videos!) or hire someone to help you. You will also want to look at what your competition is doing. If your competitors have YouTube channels, check out their content to see what you could do better than them.
TikTok is the newest social media platform on this list. Since its inception in 2016, it mas managed to gain an impressive 800-million user following, and that number continues to grow! Like YouTube, TikTok is a video sharing platform. However, unlike YouTube, TikTok only allows short videos (between 3 seconds to 1 minute long).
This platform is all about quick entertainment. Users have incredibly short attention spans and want to be amused in one minute or less! Content that performs well tends to feature children or animals doing funny things, but there is also room for educational/how-to videos and other interesting subject matter. You can also add music and special effects to your videos to make them more entertaining.
TikTok's demographic is young. It is a very popular platform among teenagers. 42% TikTok users are between the ages of 18 to 24; and 27% are aged 13 to 17.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using TikTok?
If your business targets teenagers or people under the age of 24, the answer is yes! This popularity of this platform among young people cannot be ignored. You will want to get creative and think of ways to make fun, short videos that incorporate your products or services in some way. Participating is "hashtag challenges" is also a good way to get your content noticed.
LinkedIn was created in 2002, making it the oldest platform on this list. LinkedIn is exclusively a career networking platform. Profiles resemble resumes and users want to make connections that could further their careers in some way. LinkedIn is not necessarily a great place to find new customers (unless your business provides B2B products or services). But, it is a good place to connect with other business owners in your industry or area, or to find new employees.
LinkedIn targets an educated demographic with 77% of users having a college education (or higher). It is most popular among people between the ages of 25 to 49; Both men and women are equally likely to use this platform.
LinkedIn is one of the few platforms on this list where it is appropriate to upload articles you write and other long text-based content. These educated users appreciate helpful advice that is related to business growth or career advancement.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using LinkedIn?
If your business provides business-to-business (B2B) products or services, the answer is yes. LinkedIn may be a good place to connect with potential B2B customers. And if your business requires educated employees, LinkedIn is also a great place to recruit. Outside of those two purposes, your business is probably safe to skip LinkedIn in its social media portfolio.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform. Microblogging is defined as "making short, frequent posts to a blog". Profile pages on Tumblr are called Blogs. Tumblr has a few similarities with Twitter, but manages to differentiate itself in some key ways.
Like Twitter, Tumblr is best for short posts about trending topics. Tumblr's homepage has a real time list of trending topics to help you get inspired. Hashtags are essential. Tumblr is a faced-paced environment, so posting multiple times a day is acceptable.
Tumblr sets itself from Twitter in three main ways. First, your content doesn't have to be your own. It is acceptable to pick a theme and curate a blog rather than developing your own content. Second, you can customize your Blog's "theme" to make it your own. This means you can make your Blog look like an extension of your website so that it will be consistent with your brand. And third, Tumblr is capable of long-form posts. Tumblr users prefer short posts, but you are not restricted to a character limit like you are on Twitter.
Tumblr appeals to a younger demographic than Twitter; the majority of Tumblr users are between the ages of 15 to 35. These users respond best to fun, visual content. Tumblr has a slightly smaller user base than other platforms, but this just means it might be easier for users to find your content here!
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Tumblr?
If your business has a fun, youthful culture and targets customers under the age of 35, yes! If not, your business is probably better suited to other social media platforms.
Quora is a question & answer platform that allows users to ask and answer each others questions. Like LinkedIn, this is one of the few platforms on our list that values written content over visual content.
Quora users post questions related to almost every niche and topic imaginable. Answering questions on topics that you are knowledgeable about is a great way to market your products or services and establish yourself as a credible expert in your field. If users think your response perfectly answers a question, they can "upvote" it, which raises your answer to the top of the thread. Quora users want high-quality, well-researched responses to their questions, so generating content for this platform can be very time consuming. However, Quora is a public forum, so you never know who might see your answer down the road... The initial effort may be well worth your time in the long run!
Two tips to make Quora more useful to you: First, if your business has its own blog, Quora questions can serve as great inspiration for your blog's topics. Consider posting your answer to both Quora and your blog so that your hard work can reach double the audience. Second, be sure to include a link to an appropriate landing page on your website with your answers so if Quora users want to know more, they know where to find you.
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using Quora?
If your business offers any type of professional services that required years of education and/or professional training, yes! You should be using Quora. There is always a niche with unanswered questions in need of someone knowledgeable to answer them!
Google My Business (GMB) is Google's FREE online directory. Even though GMB is not technically a "social media platform", we are including it in our list because it offers 'social media-esque' features.
GMB listings are similar to social media pages; they include your business's name, service area, a brief description of your products and services, and your contact information. You can also include logo and other photos of your business. Establishing a GMB listing is essential for every small business because it will help your customers find you using search engines. GMB listings also allow your customers to post public reviews about your business, which (when positive) can help build confidence and trust in your brand.
GMB now offers a 'Post' feature. Posts are either special offers, products, events, or updates and news about your business and can include images or short videos. Your posts will be visible to anyone who searches for your business on Google. When users click on your posts, it will take them to a landing page on your website. It is a fantastic way to drive more traffic to your site!
Should YOUR Small Businesses be using GMB?
YES! Yes, yes, yes.
Broudie, M. (2020, February 18). 4 ways to use TikTok for business. Retrieved from Social Media Examiner website: https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/4-ways-to-use-tiktok-business/
Chen, J. (2020, August 4). Social media demographics to inform your brand's strategy in 2020. Retrieved from Sprout Social website: https://sproutsocial.com/insights/new-social-media-demographics/
Clement, J. (2020, September 23). Percentage of U.S. internet users who use Tumblr as of 3rd quarter 2020, by age group. Retrieved from Statista website: https://www.statista.com/statistics/202359/tumblr-users-demographics/#:~:text=Tumblr%20usage%20penetration%20in%20the%20United%20States%202020%2C%20by%20age%20group&text=As%20of%20the%20third%20quarter,and%20older%20reported%20the%20same.
Cooper, C. (2020, August 28). Great tips on how to use Tumblr for your business. Retrieved from Boostability website: https://www.boostability.com/great-tips-on-how-to-use-tumblr-for-your-business/
Grant, H. (2020, March 4). 4 social media platforms you might be (wrongfully) ignoring. Retrieved from Lemon Light website: https://www.lemonlight.com/blog/are-you-taking-full-advantage-of-social-media/
Hahn, I. (2020). The ultimate guide to using Twitter for business in 2020. Retrieved from HubSpot website: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/twitter-for-business
Sehl, K. (2020, May 7). 20 important TikTok stats marketers need to know in 2020. Retrieved from Hootsuite website: https://blog.hootsuite.com/tiktok-stats/
Sehl, K. (2020, March 2). 28 Pinterest statistics that marketers should know in 2020. Retrieved from Hootsuite website: https://blog.hootsuite.com/pinterest-statistics-for-business/
Sehl, K. (2020, May 28). Top Twitter demographics that matter to social media marketers. Retrieved from Hootsuite website: https://blog.hootsuite.com/twitter-demographics/#:~:text=More%20than%2080%25%20of%20Twitter's,7%25%20vs%208%25).
We won't sugarcoat it... 2020 was a rough year for small businesses! With everyone forced to stay home, online (digital) marketing became much more important. If your business wants to compete in this new world, developing and executing a savvy digital marketing strategy will be essential! But, it doesn't have to be expensive.
This article was written for small business owners who want to compete online without spending any money! Thankfully, there are quite a few relatively easy things you can do. We want to share our top favorites with you. Here is our list of 20 Ways That You Can Market your Small Business Online for FREE!
1. CONTENT MARKETING
Content marketing can broadly be defined as “creating, publishing and distributing content online to a targeted audience”. Content marketing occupies the first spot on our list for good reason; The long-term value of creating relevant, high-quality content should not be underestimated.
The best content for your business will depend on what products and services you offer. It may include writing blog posts or articles, producing short videos, or creating infographics and images. Regardless which type of content you focus on, it should do one (or more) of these four things: Inspire, Educate, Entertain, or Convince. It must also include a clear call to action so your audience knows what to do next.
2. ONLINE DIRECTORIES
Listing your business in online directories is crucial for getting found online. All major search engines have their own directory (Google’s is Google My Business; Bing’s is Bing Places), and there are also several smaller industry- and area-specific directories that may be relevant to your business (such as TripAdvisor for vacation rentals and local attractions). Listing your business in these directories will help you appear in search engine results pages when people search for the products or services you offer. Best of all, it is 100% FREE to do.
3. POSTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media offers a great way for you to connect with your existing customers and reach new audiences. Your social media pages are the perfect place to use the content we previously discussed. Establishing social media pages and posting your content is FREE to do. Using social media effectively needs an article of its own, but we will summarize six key points for you to remember:
4. EMAIL MARKETING
If you don't already use a third-party service to collect your customers email addresses, the time to start is NOW! When used effectively, email marketing offers an outstanding return on investment. There are a few services (such as MailChimp) that can automate this process for you and are 100% FREE to use. Once you begin collecting email addresses, you can send your subscribers newsletters to stay in touch with them.
A Word of Caution: In Canada, there are anti-spam laws requiring you to obtain consent from people before you can add them to your email list. Services like MailChimp understand these laws and make it very easy for you to comply with them.
5. INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS
Regardless of which industry you operate in, joining forces with a complimentary (but non-competing) business can be very beneficial. Industry partnerships effectively allow you to share your audiences with one another and double your reach. An easy way to establish partnerships is by brainstorming a few ideas that would be mutually beneficial, and then reaching out to some targeted businesses to gauge their interest in collaborating with you. There are many FREE ways to collaborate with your industry partners. One of the easiest methods is swapping links (you put a link to their website on your website, and vice versa), but a better (albeit more time consuming) method would be creating webinars or online events that appeal to both of your target audiences.
6. ANSWER QUESTIONS
Online forums like Quora present great opportunities for you to showcase your expertise. A good place to begin is by researching niche forums related to your business to find questions that your customers would want the answer to. From there, you can answer the questions on the site or use the questions as inspiration for your own blog posts. Answering on the site has the advantage of reaching a broader audience and getting your name some FREE publicity. You can also include a link to your website in your answer. Responding to questions online may seem like a waste of time, but you never know who may see your answers and hire you later on because of them!
7. REFERRAL PROGRAMS
A great way to get new customers is through your existing customers! People tend to associate with people who are "like them", which means that your existing customers' may have friends and family members who are interested in your products or services. Referral programs are a proven method for getting more business and are FREE to implement.
The best way to incentivize your customers to tell their contacts about you is by rewarding them for doing so. Rewards don't have to cost you money, but they do have to be valuable (such as one free hour of your services). The more valuable the reward is, the more likely people are to start talking. You can promote your referral program on your website and social media pages, or by sending an email newsletter to your customers.
8. APPLY FOR BUSINESS AWARDS
Most cities, industries and professional associations offer various types of business awards each year. While some of these will require you to have a paid membership in order to nominate yourself, others are FREE and are open to anyone. It is worth researching the different types of awards that might be available to your business (try Googling "business awards in [your city]"). If you win, you can post the awards on your website to impress your customers and increase confidence in your expertise.
9. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Like social media, search engine optimization (SEO) requires an article of its own. SEO is a complicated topic that cannot be condensed into a few paragraphs... However, SEO must be included in this list because of the important role it plays in online marketing. Search engines are instrumental in helping customers find your business online.
If you're a little savvy when it comes to digital marketing, there are many FREE things you can do to help your website rank higher in search engine results. Some of the things you will want to check are:
Want more tips about SEO? We have written an entire article devoted to search marketing here.
10. GET VISUAL
The moment we go online, we are bombarded by ads and content from businesses who are competing for our attention. With the overwhelming amount of noise online, it can be difficult to get your target audience to notice you. The best way to stand out from the crowd is to ensure your content has a strong visual component. This is especially true on social media. People are less likely to pass over your post if it has an eye-catching image or video to draw in their attention.
While short videos are great for getting noticed, they must be engaging and high-quality. So, if you're not very skilled in video production, you may want to stick with images and infographics. There are a number of free online tools (such as Canva) that can help you put together beautiful, professional-looking images.
11. HOST AN ONLINE EVENT OR CLASS
One benefit that came out of 2020 is that many people were forced to learn how to use online meeting platforms such as Zoom. Digital meetings and online events have become much more acceptable (perhaps even preferable) than they were before. This change has created new opportunities for small businesses to capitalize on!
Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider putting together an online event or class. You can use Zoom to facilitate this type of event. With Zoom's FREE plan, you can host up to 100 participants in a single session for up to 40-minutes. Online events have the benefit to you of being less expensive to host (you don't need to rent a physical space), and the benefit of convenience for your attendees (they can attend your event from their living room with a glass of wine in hand!).
12. ASK FOR TESTIMONIALS
Customers trust other customers more than they trust you! If you want to convince new customers to give your business a try, consider asking your current customers to write testimonials or reviews. This is FREE to do and can work wonders for increasing new customers' confidence.
There are a few different options for where your customers can post their reviews. If you have a Google My Business listing established, your customers can post their reviews directly to your listing. Their reviews will be visible to the public, so it's essential that they are positive! If you do not use Google My Business (or any other online review sites), you can simply have your customers email you testimonials and then upload them to your website.
13. ONLINE CONTESTS & GIVE-AWAYS
People LOVE free stuff! Conducting an online contest that gives people the chance to win something free is an excellent way to get people talking about your business and sharing your posts. Social media is the perfect place to host such a contest because it has a large audience and it's FREE to do. Your prize doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be something that people value.
You have control over how your contest is structured, which allows you to align your marketing goals with how people enter your contest. For example, if you want to increase the number of people who Like your Facebook page, you might say "Like our Facebook page to be entered to win"; If you want to increase the number of subscribers to your email newsletter, you could say "subscribe to our newsletter to be entered to win".
14. BUSINESS CARD DRAWS
This is an extension of online contests and give-aways. Most of us have visited a business that has a fishbowl on the counter requesting you "leave your business card to be entered to win something". There is no reason why this strategy can't be implemented online! Consider creating a post on your social media page asking your followers to "leave their business card in the comments" (in other words, leave a link to their website or social media page in the comments). This is a fantastic was to engage your audience and get to know them! Best of all, it's FREE!
15. SOCIAL INFLUENCERS
Social influencers can be likened to a modern version of celebrity endorsements. Depending on what products or services you offer, this may be an avenue worth looking into. Essentially, anyone who exceeds a certain number of followers (usually several thousand) on social media is considered an "influencer" because when they post, thousands of people listen.
Just like celebrities, certain influencers will be better suited to certain products and services than others. If you think a particular influencer would be a good fit for promoting your brand, consider reaching out to them with a proposal to "collaborate". Collaboration usually means you give the influencer free products or services, in exchange for them posting about it on their social media pages.
Some influencers will expect monetary payment, but others may be willing to work for free products or services alone. If you can manage to strike a trade agreement, this is a fantastic form of FREE advertising.
16. YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE
Every time you send an email, it is an opportunity to promote your business. Most email service providers (such as Outlook and Gmail) allow you to customize your email signature to include images, text and links. This is 100% FREE to do. You don't want to include too much information, but you should definitely include your logo, contact information, and a link to your website and/or social media pages. Your email signature is also an opportunity to ask people to subscribe to your e-mail list.
17. PRESS RELEASES
Press releases are brief (max. 400 words) written reports on something newsworthy about your business. After you have written your report, you submit it to local news outlets in the hopes that one of them will either publish it or contact you for more information. It is FREE to write press releases and to submit them; and if you manage to get published, it is awesome FREE publicity!
The downside is that press releases are hit or miss. News outlets get hundreds (if not thousands) of releases from businesses every day and must decide who makes the cut. To increase your chances of getting published, remember these Four Tips: 1) research journalists who might be interested, 2) make sure your press release is actually newsworthy, 2) triple check your spelling and grammar, and 3) follow-up with your contacts if you don't hear back from them within a week.
18. COMMUNITY NEWS WEBSITES
Every community has its own local news websites and some of them offer free marketing opportunities for local businesses. It is worth exploring some popular community news websites in your area to see if they offer free any types of free classified ads, business directory listings, or even feature 'spotlight' articles.
19. EDUCATE YOURSELF
Every small business owner faces a constant battle between time and money... If you're not willing (or able) to perform an essential task yourself, you must pay someone else to do it for you. If you are D.I.Y. entrepreneur who is inclined to learn more about digital marketing, you may want to check out the many FREE educational resources available online.
We highly recommend Google's Digital Garage. This is a FREE, self-paced online course that anyone can take. You have the option of learning only specific topics, or taking the entire (40-hour) course to learn a broad range of digital marketing skills. Aside from Google's resources, you can also find YouTube videos, blogs and articles on just about anything!
20. LEARN ANALYTICS
If you complete Google's Digital Garage course and are still thirsty for digital marketing knowledge, consider taking a course at Google's Analytics Academy. These are FREE, self-paced courses that teach you how to install and use Google Analytics to collect data about your website's activity. This data can tell you where your site visitors are coming from, the type of devices they're using, and which pages are most popular. These insights can help you take your online presence to the next level!
To summarize, here are our 20 FREE ways to market your small business online:
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2020 was a difficult year for many small businesses. Lockdowns and quarantines forced everyone to stay home, which resulted in big changes in the marketing world. Digital marketing has become a much higher priority for small business owners than it was in the past. One critical component of any small business's digital marketing plan is search marketing.
What is search marketing? Search marketing can broadly be defined as getting your business to appear in search engine results pages.
Search engines can be likened to the Yellow Pages of the 21st Century. Modern consumers have become accustomed to finding information they want online with very little effort. They expect to type a word or question into search engines and get results to their inquiry in seconds. What this means for small businesses is that appearing in search engine results is more important now than ever before!
The first step in creating your search marketing plan will be determining which search engines are most relevant to your business. Google is (by far) the largest search engine in North America, so this is a good place to focus your efforts; Bing is another key player and should be included in your plans. In addition, there are several smaller area- and industry-specific search engines that may be relevant to your business (such as TripAdvisor in the hospitality industry).
There are essentially three ways to get your business to appear in search engine results pages: 1) Online Directories; 2) Paid Listings; and 3) Organic (Unpaid) Listings. In this article, we will explain the pros and cons of each option.
What are Online Directories? The quickest and most inexpensive way to get your business to appear in search results is to establish listings in online directories. Each major search engine has their own online business directory. Google’s directory is called ‘Google My Business (GMB)’, Bing’s directory is called ‘Bing Places’. There are also several smaller directories to consider that are area- and industry-specific. Establishing listings in online directories a fundamental step in your search marketing plan - especially if your business doesn’t have a website yet.
How Do Online Directories Work? When customers search for your products or services online, search engines return a list of recommended businesses from their directories. Once you have established listings in these directories, your business should start appearing in these results. Patience is required as results will not be immediate.
Here is a screenshot of what our Google My Business (GMB) listing looks like (highlighted in red):
What are the Pros? Setting up these listings will take a little time, but it is well worth the effort. Best of all, it's FREE to do! Online directories offer many great features for small business owners to utilize. One of the most important features is customer reviews. Directories allow customers to post public reviews about your products or services which can be viewed by anyone who searches for your business.
What are the Cons? When customer reviews are positive, this can help build trust and get you more business; but when reviews are negative, it can be detrimental to your business. You will want to pay attention to what people are saying and respond (professionally) to negative reviews in a timely manner.
Establishing online directory listings is not a one-time task. Listings should be reviewed on a regular basis to monitor customer reviews and ensure your information remains up-to-date. It is a good idea to review your directory listings at least once per month. If you need a little help establishing and monitoring your online directory listings, consider hiring a professional to help you. Okanagan Small Business Services offers affordable help on an as-needed basis.
The second way to get your business into search results is paid listings. ‘Paid Listings’ is synonymous with ‘Search Advertising’, Google's ‘AdWords’ and ‘PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Ads’. Depending how competitive your industry is, your business may have to fight for space in online directory lists. Further action (such as paid listings) may be required to achieve the results you want.
What are Paid Listings? Paid listings are advertisements that appear on search engine results pages. They look the same as organic (unpaid) listings, except they have "Ad" written beside them and they are only displayed on the top and bottom of each page. The middle of the page is always reserved for organic listings (which we will discuss next!).
Here is an example of a results page when we search for “marketing for small business okanagan". Paid listings are highlighted at the top in red; unpaid listings are highlighted below in teal.
How Do Paid Listings Work? Paid listings (PPC Ads) operate using an auction system. When you set up your ad, you select relevant keywords and state how much you’re willing to pay for them. When someone searches for one of your keywords, the search engine reviews all ads bidding for that keyword and selects a "winner". The auction process happens in a matter of milliseconds.
The two main criteria search engines use to select "winners" are bid price and ad relevance. Each time you "win" an auction, your ad will be shown in search results. However, You do not pay each time your ad is shown, you only pay each time the ad is clicked (hence the term ‘pay-per-click’).
What are the Pros? The two biggest 'pros' of paid listings are: 1) they offer immediate results (as soon as your ad is approved, it will begin appearing in search results), and 2) they offer unbeatable targeting options (your ad will only be shown to people who have already expressed an interest in your products or services!). Establishing an online presence and getting search engines to notice you takes time; paid listings can provide a quick and easy way to get your business to start appearing in search results NOW.
What are the Cons? The main 'con' is that paid listings cost money! If you are not very savvy when it comes to search marketing, it may be wise to hire a professional to setup and/or monitor your ad's performance. If you want to do this yourself, you will need to perform keyword research and learn how to optimize your ad copy. Once your ad is running, you will want to monitor its performance on a weekly basis and make improvements as necessary.
Like directory listings, PPC Ads are not something to set up and forget about. They must be monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure you are getting the best return on your investment. At Okanagan Small Business Services, we offer affordable search marketing services to help you get started.
ORGANIC (UNPAID) LISTINGS
The third and final way to get your business onto search results pages is organic (unpaid) listings. Unfortunately, this is the most challenging of the three search marketing options.
A search engine's main objective is to match users with relevant, high-quality results to their search queries. As such, space is always reserved on results pages for organic listings that the search engine feels are most relevant to the search query. This space is not 'for sale'.
Search engines use complicated algorithms to determine who makes the cut, and these algorithms are constantly evolving. Getting your website to appear in the organic listing section is all about how relevant and high-quality your website content is. Obtaining a coveted 'organic' space is a goal for many small business owners; however, competition is fierce and only the best websites will win!
If your website is not ranking high organically, you may want to consider having a website audit done. Website auditing looks at your website from a search engine's point of view to discover any issues that are preventing you from ranking higher. We run your website through our diagnostic software and compile a report of our findings. We then provide you with a list of recommendations for improvements.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Many business owners will receive emails from companies claiming they can "help your business rank on the first page of Google". Don’t be fooled! Although these companies may be able to achieve short-term results as promised, they often use unethical ‘black hat’ techniques to achieve these results. Google cannot be fooled long-term and will punish websites that have used these unethical techniques to rank high by blacklisting the website! Blacklisting can be detrimental to a small business; it effectively removes you from search engine indexes, preventing anyone from finding you using search engines ever again. Obviously, this risk is not worth the short-term gratification!
The only way to rank high long-term is to maintain a high-quality website with relevant content. You may be wondering how to improve your chances of ranking high organically, so here is a list of some of the things we look for in a website audit:
WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR ORGANIC SEARCH RANKING:
Well, there you have it. Those are the three ways that you can get your small business to appear in search engine results pages. We hope this article helps you understand how search engines work so you can achieve your search marketing goals!
Need a little professional help? If you want to learn more about how we can help you reach your search marketing goals, give us a call or send us an email today! The marketing professionals at Okanagan Small Business Services would be happy to help you!
Okanagan Small Business Services Inc.
Phone: (778) 738-0338
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Hi! I'm Danielle Harshenin. I lead the marketing team at OSBS. I'm an entrepreneur in Lake Country with a degree in Marketing and I LOVE to share my marketing tips and tricks with other small business owners!