14 steps to marketing your business online: an actionable guide
A beginner’s guide to learn step-by-step how to market your small business online and execute a successful marketing strategy
With over 4.2 billion internet users worldwide, marketing your business online isn’t just important—it’s a necessary step to present key information to your target audience, increase demand for your products or services, and generate leads and sales for your business.
Here’s the thing though: successful online promotion isn’t as easy as sharing a few social media posts, writing a quick blog post, or simply hitting send on an email. If you truly want your online promotion to be successful, you need to cast your net further and understand core components of your marketing strategy, such as the who, what, where, why, and how.
If you’ve ever promoted your business online with the hope of generating more traffic and leads but had little to no success, you’re not alone. Up to 66% of businesses struggle to meet these goals, leaving them asking: what am I doing wrong?
Thankfully, there’s help on the horizon, as our in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know about the core components of executing a successful marketing strategy, including what you can do by yourself and what you can do with the help of marketing experts. By the end, you’ll be well on your way to successfully marketing your business online and reaping the incredible benefits that come with it.
1. Why your should market your business online
Have you heard the saying, “begin with an end in mind?” When it comes to marketing your business online, this quote could not be more true. The first step to any successful online marketing campaign is to know your goal; in other words, specifically what you want to achieve through your online marketing endeavors.
The three most common reasons why your business needs online marketing are:
To present information
The first step of an online campaign it’s to inform potential customers about a product or service, including what it is, where it’s available, how it will benefit them, how much it costs, and why it’s better than other competing products. Buyers like to feel informed when they make purchasing decisions, so digital marketing is a great strategy in achieving this.
To increase demand
Demand refers to a customer’s desire to purchase a product or service, particularly when they have the power to do so at an accessible price point. Promotional strategies for increasing demand include discount coupons, contests/giveaways, product samples, celebrity endorsements, and rewards programs, all of which can be advertised online. The aim is to generate buzz and excitement around a product or service, driving up customer demand.
To generates leads and sales
85% of B2B marketers say lead generation is their most important goal when promoting a product or service. A lead is any person who indicates interest in a company’s products or services, such as through submitting their personal information in exchange for an email subscription, free trial, survey, or download. Generating leads is one excellent reason for online marketing, particularly as the more leads you have, the more potential sales you could achieve for your business.
2. The six most important digital marketing channels to focus on
With so many inbound marketing channels available at our fingertips, it can be overwhelming knowing which ones are worth your time and money. To help you make sense of all the available options, we’ve outlined the six most vital digital marketing channels you should focus on.
In today’s increasingly digital world, your website acts as your online storefront. Almost half of buyers will visit a company’s website before making a purchasing decision, so make sure it has a professional, eye-catching, and engaging design and is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Along with housing your product or service pages, a website is also the perfect platform to provide additional information about your business, as well as links to your social media channels, blog, and email list signup page.
Companies that blog receive 55% more web traffic and 67% more leads than those who don’t. Blogs provide your audience with helpful, share-worthy content and establish your business as an authority within your industry. Blogs also help increase your site’s opportunities to appear in Google search results, providing another avenue for prospective customers to find your business.
Social media channels
An incredible 55% of buyers do research via social media before making a purchase, so you’ll also want to ensure your business is being promoted on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more. Find out which platforms your target audience is most active on, then cater your promotion strategies (with the help of a social media marketing expert) to each of those.
Email marketing still remains one of the most effective forms of online promotion, with 91% of shoppers wanting to hear from companies they do business with via this format. Emails are also the most commonly used forms of CRM (Customer Relationship Management), allowing brands to reach their audience through targeted email campaigns, regular newsletters, and other promotional methods that increase demand, such as sales and giveaways.
Promoting your business through videos, when done right, is considered a very effective online strategy. Videos tend to cover niche topics and contain an engaged, passionate audience. Therefore, making a good impression can go a long way in establishing your business as an authority in these fields, helping you to attract leads and convert them into customers.
Sites such as Quora and Reddit allow users to answer questions from other members of the community. The aim here is that users notice your high-quality, authoritative answers and follow outbound links to your webpage, where they discover more useful content, along with your related products or services.
3. Must know digital marketing terms
Understanding web marketing jargon will go a long way in your success, particularly when working with online marketing experts. Not only will you need to understand exactly what they’re talking about, but the following terms will also allow you to understand your marketing performance reports, which are vital for tracking the success of your strategies.
- KPI (Key Performance Indicator): These are analytics used to measure the success of your campaigns, such as engagement rate, bounce rate, click-through rate, etc.
- CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) : This indicates how much it costs to acquire one customer and can be measured by dividing the total cost of your campaign by the number of conversions (i.e. people who bought your product/service).
- ROI (Return on Investment): This measures the gain or loss generated by your marketing campaigns and is usually expressed as a percentage. The formula is Net Profit divided by Total Investment, multiplied by 100.
- CPC (Cost per Click): This is the price you pay a publisher or platform for each time someone clicks on your advertisement link.
- CPI (Cost Per Impression): Some platforms charge by ad views rather than clicks. CPI is the cost for 1,000 views of your ad on a given platform.
- CTR (Click Through Rate): This refers to the percentage of users who clicked on your ad after seeing it. The formula is total number of clicks your ad received divided by the number of times it was shown (impressions), multiplied by 100.
- Conversions : This refers to the number of visitors to a website or page who take the desired action, such as purchasing a product or service.
- Bounce rate: The rate of users landing on your website and only viewing one page and taking no action before leaving. In email marketing, the term refers to the percentage of emails that were not delivered in your campaign.
- Remarketing: Also known as retargeting, this tactic enables sites to show targeted ads to users who have already visited their site in the hope of getting them back to the site to make a purchase.
- CTA (Call to Action): This is a button or short phrase that captures a viewer’s attention and encourages them to take a specific action, such as making a purchase, giving their email address, or clicking onto another webpage.
4. Do’s and don’ts to help you promoting your business
To help you start with your best foot forward we have listed all the things to do and NOT to do before, during and after launching your first online marketing campaign.
- Ensure you have a well-designed, professional and SEO optimized website to direct potential customers to, as well as a blog filled with helpful posts to keep them sticking around. Tweet This
- Budget appropriately, as paid promotional methods can add-up quickly over time. Tweet This
- Make sure your business can handle a spike in demand, whether for your products or services. Ensure you have enough inventory or staff on-board. Tweet This
- Outsource your online promotion methods if you lack the time or skills. Tweet This
- Talk about how your business can benefit your audience first and foremost, rather than boring them with too many complex details about your company’s history. Tweet This
- Constantly measure your results and modify any methods which don’t seem to be working. Tweet This
- Assess if your KPIs were achieved. What worked well? What would you improve for your next promotional campaign? Tweet This
- Review any feedback received from customers, staff, or other internal stakeholders. What ideas or suggestions could you implement moving forward? Tweet This
Before a campaign
- Feel the need to pursue every promotional method available. Instead, devote your time, energy, and budget toward only those that are right for your specific business and target audience. Tweet This
- Start your promotion methods without a strategic plan for success. Tweet This
- Think you have to reach everyone – your target audience or customer is what matters most. Tweet This
During a campaign
- Use exactly the same promotional text or imagery across all platforms. You can cater each promotion to the platform it will be appearing on (i.e. Twitter vs an email campaign) and still ensure the message remains the same. Tweet This
- Include multiple CTAs (calls to action) in your promotional campaigns. Stick to one main action you wish your audience to take to avoid confusion or overwhelm. Tweet This
After a campaign
- Fail to live up to the expectations you set out for your brand, product, or service during the marketing campaign. Make sure any claims made during your promotion are met so your customers are satisfied with their purchase. Tweet This
- Forget to follow-up with any new leads or customers you acquired during the campaign. You don’t want these valuable new relationships to go to waste. Tweet This
5. Develop a strategy for success (SWOT analysis)
Before you begin actively marketing your business online, you’ll need to develop a successful online strategy. The best way to do this is by performing a SWOT analysis, which is a widely-used marketing technique for assessing four key aspects of your business: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
“Strengths and Weaknesses” refer to the internal factors of your business, including its assets, processes, people, and anything else relating to the organization.
“Opportunities and Threats”, on the other hand, relate to external factors, such as those arising from your competition, market, and wider economy.
To perform your SWOT analysis, brainstorm and answer the following questions:
- What do you do well?
- What unique resources can you draw on?
- What do others see as your strengths?
- What could you improve?
- Where do you have fewer resources than others?
- What are others likely to see as a weakness?
- What opportunities are open to you?
- What trends could you take advantage of?
- How can you turn your strengths into opportunities?
- What threats could harm you?
- What is your competition doing?
- What threats do your weaknesses expose to you?
6. Understand your competitors
Studying your competitors prior launching your marketing campaign can give your company a vital edge. It helps you determine any potential shortcuts to success (i.e. what’s worked well for them), while minimizing the risk of failure. Secondly, doing so can help you assess your company’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to the competition.
When analysing your online competitors, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your competitors’ unique selling points (USPs)?
- What types of products or services are selling best, and at what price points?
- What traffic sources (i.e. direct traffic, referral URLs, search engines, campaigns) are they using to acquire customers?
- Are they using paid advertising? If so, what websites or social media platforms do they advertise on?
- What search queries do they currently rank for (or are trying to rank for)?
- How are their marketing funnels structured? How are they trying to capture leads and generate sales?
7. Define your target audience
If you don’t know exactly who you wish to promote your business to, then your marketing efforts won’t be as targeted as they should be, leading to disappointment and unsuccessful promotional campaigns.
Your target audience is a specific group of people most likely to buy your products or services, often sharing several characteristics (such as age, interests, etc.). The clearer you are about your target audience, the more successful you will be at understanding how and where to reach your best prospects.
To define your target audience, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my perfect customer male or female?
- What age group do they belong to?
- Where do they live? (i.e. in a particular city, country, or hemisphere? In rural/urban areas?)
- What industry do they work in? What position might they hold?
- How much do they earn? Are they a low, middle, or high-income earner?
- What level of education do they have?
- What are their interests or hobbies?
- What is most important to them in life? What specific goals might they have?
- What challenges do they face?
- What influences them to buy a product or service? What objections must they overcome first?
- Where does my target audience spend the most time online?
- How would my target customer use my product/service? Would they buy it for themselves or as a gift for a loved one?
8. Define your digital marketing campaign goals
We outlined the three major reasons for marketing your business online in Step 1: to present information, increase demand, and generate leads and sales. Now it’s time to clarify your motivation even further.
Not only does this give you specific goals to work towards when promoting your business, but it also helps you establish which KPIs (key performance indicators) you must track to determine if the outcome was successful or not.
A good trick is to remember your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. To help you define your ‘SMART goal,’ answer the following questions:
- What is it I want to accomplish?
- Why is this goal important for my business?
- Who does this involve?
- Where will this take place?
- Which resources are involved?
- How much do we want to make (i.e. amount generated from sales, profit, etc.)?
- How many do we want to achieve (i.e. number of subscriptions, sales, visitors to website, etc.)?
- How will I know when these figures have been achieved?
- How can this goal be accomplished?
- How realistic is this goal when considering possible constraints, such as finances, resources, etc.?
- Does this match our other business efforts and needs?
- Is it a worthwhile project?
- Is the timing right, considering the current socio-economic environment?
- Am I (or specific people within the business/outside assistance) the right person to achieve this goal?
- When will we start and finish the promotion?
- How long will it take to achieve our desired results?
- What can I do today to work towards this goal? In 6 weeks? In 6 months?
9. Consult with a marketing strategist
Once you’ve clearly defined your goals for marketing your business online, it will be a lot easier to consult with a digital marketing specialist to find out when, where, and how these goals can be achieved.
The role of the marketing strategist is to define the best inbound marketing strategy for your business, as well as to put together a final and detailed digital marketing plan covering aspects of the promotion, such as:
- online channels
- sales funnel
- KPIs that will need to be measured to determine a successful outcome
A marketing strategist is the best professional to reach out to when wanting to promote your business online, as they are extremely knowledgeable about all types of paid and non-paid inbound marketing strategies. Not only do they create the most effective online marketing strategy in relation to your business’s specific goals, but they also do so while considering important factors such as budget and how to achieve the highest ROI in the shortest amount of time. Furthermore, they are able to point you in the direction of what specific experts you will need assistance from to reach these goals.
We’ve listed the additional marketing experts you may need below, as well as how each can help you to promote your business online:
Social media advertising expert
Social media advertising experts are responsible for planning, implementing, and monitoring a company’s social media strategy, with the aim of increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, and improving other desired marketing efforts. It is their job to define and track social media KPIs to measure the success of promotional methods, as well as to stay up-to-date with the latest social media trends, technologies, and best practices. As a result, they have excellent knowledge of all social media channels, as well as the various ways they can be used to promote a business.
An SEM (Search Engine Marketing) expert focuses on pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and other forms of paid search, as opposed to organic search engine optimization (SEO). SEM experts primarily define and monitor campaign KPIs, which they do by accessing real-time data that can only be accessed by advertisers of certain platforms. Other than search engines like Google, paid search ads can also be run on platforms including Amazon, YouTube, and social media channels. This can also include display ads and those used for remarketing purposes.
Unlike SEM, SEO refers to the organic effort that goes into promoting a business through search engines. It is an SEO expert’s responsibility to gain a higher rank in search engine results and maximize traffic through identifying search queries that are important to your business, creating or optimizing content to match those search queries, and creating a site navigation and structure that makes your website easy to understand. It is also part of their job to define KPIs for each SEO strategy and monitor these over time. Some SEO experts may also have knowledge of HTML, CSS, programming language and/or blogging.
Email marketing expert
Email forms a large part of online business promotion, so an email marketing expert has an important role to determine email marketing KPIs, manage and build the overall email marketing strategy, and test the success of each campaign. It is also part of their job to increase email subscriptions, segment email lists based on subscriber behavior (i.e. interactions and engagement), and develop a lead generation strategy that not only captures leads, but nurtures them along a sales funnel in the hopes of them becoming a paid customer.
Affiliate marketing expert
Affiliate marketing is where websites or individuals earn a commission for driving sales traffic to an online retailer’s product. Affiliate marketing experts not only handle these affiliate business relationships, but also grow the affiliate network and monitor the sales from these affiliate sites. They analyze technical data related to affiliate sales, understand the best marketing practice for affiliate content, and both determine and monitor KPIs.
Content marketing expert
Content marketing experts are responsible for increasing web traffic, brand awareness, and sales through the marketing of content online. It is their aim to create “shareable” content, distribute the content on appropriate platforms, and measure the results of these promotional methods. They also have a thorough knowledge of each content platform and know what types of content are best suited to each to gain maximum results. A content marketing expert will often have knowledge of SEO best practices, and will manage other writers and graphic designers when working on content marketing campaigns.
Video marketing expert
Someone in this role will focus on the use of video to promote and market a business’ products or services, increase engagement on online and social channels, and educate consumers and customers. Along with the distribution of these videos, they are also responsible for overseeing the planning and production stages, as well as coordinating with the content marketing expert to distribute videos alongside other content such as white papers and blog posts. Additionally, a video marketing expert must monitor metrics to ensure the videos are providing the required ROI to the business.
Podcast marketing expert
These experts are responsible for working with podcast talent on the development and production of podcast episodes and promotions. It is also part of their role to increase awareness of the podcast through marketing methods (such as sharing on social media, appearing in the media, etc.), resulting in more listeners and/or downloads. Finally, they must determine and monitor podcast KPIs and growth benchmarks.
10. Define your marketing budget
Just as every business is different, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ figure when it comes to determining your marketing budget. Because of this, defining a budget is often considered the most difficult aspect of putting together an online marketing strategy plan, however with the appropriate assistance and expertise, it doesn’t need to be.
Remember how we discussed the importance of a marketing strategist in the previous step? When discussing your business’ goals for your online promotion, your marketing strategist will give you a clearer idea of how much you can expect to spend on these promotional methods, as well as how you should allocate your budget across different channels.
Research suggests total marketing budgets are commonly between 8 and 16% of a business’s total revenue, with the average business allocating 45% of their total marketing budget to online promotional methods.
A marketing strategist will take a number of factors into consideration to help them determine your required budget for online promotion, such as:
- the cost to produce required content, such as blog articles, landing pages, or banners for SEM
- the cost-per-acquisition of target keywords
- hidden expenses such as outsourcing work to freelance experts or purchasing required software or tools
Along with enlisting the help of a marketing strategist, the other key to keeping your budget on-track is to keep your campaign simple. Online promotion methods such as SEM, retargeting, and social media ads are becoming increasingly complicated, with campaigns costing thousands (or in some cases, millions) of dollars. A much more affordable form of online promotion, for example, is SEO, which largely only requires the cost of hiring an SEO expert.
Again, a marketing strategist will advise you on which promotional methods are not only the most affordable, but which also meet your goals and provide the best ROI in the least amount of time.
11. Hire an all-star marketing team
Now that you have a well-defined marketing strategy, know exactly which channels to invest in, and the different experts you need, it’s time to find and hire your A-team—in other words, those who will help you implement and monitor your marketing campaign goals.
When it comes to hiring these experts, you have two options:
- You can hire freelancers within these roles (either working remotely or within your premises when needed)
- You can hire permanent, full-time staff within these roles
You can hire freelancers on Fiverr at affordable rates and cover a wide array of specialties to assist with your online promotion methods. Alternatively, you can publish job advertisements on recruiting platforms and determine the best applicant from your responses.
We know what you’re thinking though: do I need to hire all the experts? Do I need to leverage all the strategies together? Thankfully, the short answer is no.
Firstly, the experts you decide to hire will depend on two things: your goals and budget. This is where the brainstorming you did earlier in this article comes in handy, including your strategy for success (SWOT analysis), competitor analysis, and target audience definition.
Based on this information, you can determine exactly which online promotion method(s) are best for your business, along with the marketing expert(s) required to get the job done. In addition to the main expert for a channel, you may also need additional experts to help create the best strategy for your campaign. We’ve listed these below:
For your SEM/PPC campaign, you may need:
- A graphic designer to design any required banners, pop-up ads, logos, or landing pages.
- A copywriter to write the required text for a landing page.
For your content campaigns, you may need:
- A copywriter to write the required text for your website, blog, PR campaigns, emails, headlines, or call to actions (CTAs).
- A proofreader to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in the copy.
- An SEO expert to ensure written content (particularly web pages and blog posts) are optimized for search engines and are targeting the correct keywords effectively.
For your social media campaigns, you may need:
- A graphic designer to design required banners or ads.
12. Define the marketing KPIs you should be tracking
Remember when we defined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) earlier on? Now it’s time to turn our focus to these analytics, as they will be used to measure the success of your campaigns.
Your marketing expert will help you to determine and measure these KPIs, but as a guide, here are some of the most common analytics tracked across the various channels.
Social media advertising
- number of clicks
- number of likes
- number of shares
- number of comments
- number of active (and new) followers
- CPA (cost per acquisition)
- RR (Retention rate)
- sales revenue
- return on ad spend (ROAS)
- CTR (click-through rate)
- CPA (cost-per-acquisition)
- conversion rate
- CPC (cost per click)
- keyword rankings (both, increases or decreases)
- average session duration
- click-through-rate (CTR)
Email marketing (retargeting/remarketing):
- total clicks
- click to conversion (CTC) rate
- return on ad spend (ROAS)
- total conversions
- click-through rate (CTR)
- new affiliates
- new customers
- average order value
- average earnings per click
- click traffic
13. Create and launch your marketing campaign
When it’s time to launch your digital marketing campaign, it’s important you concentrate on the following 3-step sequence:
The first step is to create all of the content you’ll need, including the text and visuals for your paid and unpaid online campaigns. These might include things such as email copy, banner designs, custom illustrations, social media caption copy, and more. Remember, if copywriting or graphic design isn’t your forte, you can simply outsource this work to the marketing experts we discussed earlier.
Create a schedule
A schedule is vital for the launch of your online promotions, especially if any of your campaigns are time-sensitive (i.e. related to an upcoming holiday or milestone). An effective schedule allows for excellent planning and keeps everyone involved on the right track in terms of timing. Additionally, it eliminates that last-minute overwhelm, allows everyone to focus on the goals of the business, and prevents miscommunication by clearly outlining who is responsible for what.
Launch your campaigns
We have lift-off! After all the hard work and planning, there is nothing quite as satisfying (and slightly nerve-wracking) than launching your promotion into the online world. While it might be tempting to sit back, relax, and let your campaigns run themselves, remember: the hard work isn’t over yet.
14. Monitor and analyze your marketing and business KPIs
The final step is to monitor and analyze your marketing campaign’s results, including tracking KPIs, to determine if it is successful or not. Your KPIs will depend on the type of campaign you launched, as well as the specific goals of your business. Ask yourself:
- Did we meet our KPIs?
- Did we achieve the specific goal(s) we wanted to?
- What was the ROI? Is this higher, lower, or the same as we expected?
- What did we do well?
- What could we have done better?
- Overall, would we deem this campaign successful or unsuccessful? Why?
Market your business online successfully
While there are plenty of options for marketing your business online, they all have one thing in common: digital marketing is a highly-effective way to present information to your target audience, increase demand for your products or services, and generate leads and sales for your business.
When it comes to promoting your business through online campaigns, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The online promotion methods you choose should be specifically catered towards your business, including your goals, target audience persona, and budget, in order to meet your KPIs and provide an excellent ROI.
It may seem like there’s a lot involved in online marketing, but thankfully, you’re not alone. With numerous marketing experts available to help you out, as well as our in-depth and step-by-step guide to promoting your business online in 2020, you’re already well on your way to achieving success.