The Not-At-All Comprehensive But (Mostly) Foolproof Small Business Digital Marketing Guide
I’d like to take some time to talk to the low-search volume small businesses out there. Specifically, the ones who are just barely testing the waters of digital marketing. Maybe you’re a B2B company. Maybe you’ve pioneered a new product or service that no one knows about yet (and thus won’t be searching for). Or maybe, for whatever reason, you’re still relatively obscure, despite your best efforts to the contrary. Your initial forays into the (admittedly vast) world of digital marketing have failed, and you’re close to giving up on the project altogether. You don’t have the time or money to waste competing with already established online brands. You’re already overworked as it is, right?
Don’t give up just yet. I’ve been managing small business accounts for a long time, and one of my favorite things to do is create value seemingly out of nothing. Believe it or not, there is always potential for anyone to succeed online – as long as you manage your limited budget effectively. It’s not as simple as adding everything from Google’s Keyword Planner, setting their recommended bids, inputting your billing information and thinking that will suddenly get you leads (and if you think it is that simple, Google thanks you for your business). So, in this article, I’m going to discuss three essential steps to leveraging your investment in digital marketing into genuine growth. If you put in the work, I know that you can see excellent results – but make no mistake. This will require some significant legwork on your part. If you’re serious about growing your online presence, read on.
- The Saying “Content is King” Exists for A Reason. Make Yourself a Unicorn.
I’m going to give you some statistics representative of the PPC industry. Conversion rates haven’t changed much in fifteen years, regardless of what you’re selling. Anything in the neighborhood of 2.5 percent is considered “good.” Desktop search volume peaked in 2013; since then, more searches take place on mobile devices, where the screens are smaller and real estate for advertisers comes at a premium.
Let’s assume your cost-per-click increases from $1.50 to $4, and your AdWords account is perfectly optimized – Quality Scores of 9’s and 10’s across the board. It takes around 75 to 100 clicks to make a sale. Guess what – your cost-per-acquisition has increased to $400. What are you supposed to do? CPC isn’t going down anytime soon and conversion rates aren’t going to change, but search inventory isn’t increasing either.
Logic dictates that if you want an abnormally high number of visitors to your site, you had better have an incredible site. You need to stand out among the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of businesses who are trying to do the same thing as you. The way to do so, in my opinion, is to create what Rand Fishkin of Moz calls “10x content” and what Larry Kim of WordStream calls a “unicorn.” Essentially, you can’t just be as good as the top ten people in your search results. You need to create something ten times better than what any of them are doing. Rand’s article details a simple formula for doing so – do yourself a favor and read it – but I will summarize it here:
First: pick a topic that you personally are an expert on. As a niche small business owner, I’m fairly certain that you have one in mind. Second: write about it in a unique and powerful way. You need to lay out your subject in a way that’s easy to understand and yet deeply insightful. You want to evoke an emotional response. Even if I’m reading about a topic as mundane as the risk of lead exposure across America, or whether I should rent or buy a home, or even how extensive and mind-boggling computer code really is, for crying out loud, I want to be entertained. I want to know that my time online is being used as efficiently as possible. With the wealth of information available to us whenever and wherever we please, fear of missing out has become extraordinarily prevalent in our society. The way that you combat it is through creating absolutely killer content, no matter what your industry may be. So, go do some research. Do some writing. And go make a unicorn. In fact, go make a few. Write as much as you possibly can. Write stuff that nobody else is writing. Build your brand one incredible article at a time.
- How to Set Your Unicorns Free (i.e., Mastering Social Media)
Okay. So you’ve written this amazing piece(s) of content. It’s so incredible, in fact, that it’s almost certain to get you clicks and leads, if you can just get it in front of people’s eyeballs. And for that, we turn to social media – to Facebook and Twitter – for help.
Don’t panic. Countless articles have already been written on how to get the most out of your social media advertising. However, it’s very easy to waste your time and your budget if you don’t take the time to educate yourself beforehand (a bit repetitive as far as themes go, but it bears repeating). You should start by ensuring you’re following industry best practices from the beginning. The full list can be found on this fairly comprehensive guide published by the folks at Moz. A summary follows below.
Marketing is built on trust and engagement, as common sense dictates. Social media marketing is all about establishing yourself as a reputable and industry-leading brand. So, in no particular order –
- Consider publishing adjacent content, i.e., share something that your followers probably have a common interest in. Are you a clothing designer? Publish articles related to up-and-coming news in the fashion industry. Are you a professional landscaper? Share a story about how they cut the outfield grass at Yankee Stadium. Use your articles as a chance to talk about a side of your industry that most people never get to see.
- Tips and tricks/FAQ pieces are always a good idea. Everyone wants to be educated and/or to discover a process by which their life can be made easier (e.g., the ubiquity of “hack” in blog post titles, regardless of subject matter).
- Jump into conversations. Twitter is an excellent place for this – you can search for trending topics related to your industry and share your opinion on them. Engage with the big names. Comment on and share popular articles. Make your voice heard. You will be welcomed.
- Humanize your brand. Share employee stories. Post pictures of volunteer work you’ve done. Humor can be an extremely effective social media strategy, if done correctly. I personally love Taco Bell’s twitter account, for example. They pair promotional tweets with hilarious comebacks and off-the-cuff life advice. Crucially, however, they don’t come off as trying too hard, unlike many other big corporate brands who attempt to relate to their customers.
- Respond to all comments, questions, reviews, etc., as you begin to grow your online brand. There are apps for Twitter and Facebook that will push notifications to you (TweetDeck is a personal favorite of mine) so you know that you’re not missing out on any important conversations.
- It’s okay to go off topic. Let your followers know that there’s a human behind your account. Mention holidays and world events (without getting into politics). Be kind, funny, and helpful. Go out of your way to solve someone’s problem. And always assume all interactions are public.
- Turn your ads off during national disasters, terrorist attacks, or other times of solemnity, for obvious reasons.
This will, of course, require a large investment of time on your part. None of this will happen overnight. Whether you choose to manage your social media accounts yourself or you pay an agency to, make sure that the guidelines above are taken into account when doing so.
All of this effort leads to the following result: building positive associations with your brand causes people to become favorably biased towards it. They will most likely not convert right away. But as time passes, perhaps the need will arise for your product. And when/if it does, they will favor you. This leads us to the final step.
- The Part Where Your Unicorns Start Making You Money (or, the Secret of Remarketing)
You may be familiar with RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads). Basically, it means that you can target specific people who have visited a page on your site with very specific and narrowly-focused ads. It also means that you can bid on keywords you wouldn’t normally bid on because if your ads only show to people who are familiar with your brand, your chance of conversion goes way up. Effective use of RLSA will (on average) cause your conversion rate to triple, your CTR to double, and your CPC to be cut in half.
You’ll notice that I haven’t recommended Google AdWords until this point in the article. That’s because it’s very much a double-edged sword to a digital marketing neophyte (i.e., your typical small business owner). If you’re doing AdWords without an agency’s help, I would only use it in conjunction with RSLA.
That being said, using broad match keywords with RLSA targeting is an extremely effective way to use what little budget you have. It will enable you to find out which long-tail keywords that people with the intent to buy are actually searching for. Once you’ve determined those, you can create landing pages specific to each money keyword and optimized for one desired conversion each.
So, your social presence should be, of course, directed at whomever you’re trying to get conversions from. Take Facebook, for example. Using its ad platform, you can get lookalike audiences from your basic target audience and thereby promote your content to cold audiences. When you receive clicks as a result of your posts on social media, but those clicks don’t lead to conversions, you can then show a more specific ad to those visitors that further educates them about your brand and more persuasively asks for their conversion. You continue this process in a similar manner for each successive group of visitors who don’t convert. Your goal here is to transform people from “not even aware you exist” to “loyal repeat purchaser and brand advocate.” Effective remarketing through all stages of this process – it’s known as the marketing funnel – is what will drive your overall conversion numbers through the roof.
Here’s an example of remarketing in action. You get someone to visit your site through a well-targeted social media post promoting one of your unicorns and maybe you get them to fill out some basic information about themselves. Perhaps they sign up for your email newsletter, or free trial, or what have you. Now you have their email address. You can use that, or a social ID, or an app ID, or even a phone number, to target them specifically on Facebook or Twitter or AdWords. You can upload an email list and your ads show to those emails specifically when their owners search for something or visit a site. You can even target people similar to those on your email list and thus expand your target audience.
Remarketing doesn’t have to be limited to search or display ads. For example, it works wonders on Facebook because Facebook’s ad platform is so intuitive and you can get so specific with your targeting. You want to target consumers at every stage of the buying funnel with different ads. Your “aware” audience should see different ads than your “interested” audience, who should in turn see different ads than your “considering” audience. This excellent article by Ryan Stewart of WEBRIS is one of my favorite Facebook guides ever – it really drives home and expounds on the points I’m trying to make here. You do yourself a disservice if you don’t click that link.
Our good buddy Larry Kim says it best:
“If you’re in a super-competitive vertical and you don’t have a huge budget, unbranded vanilla search is a rat race, if not a suicide mission. Where’s your edge? You’re just one of seven companies – and I don’t like to play games with money unless I have a ridiculously unfair advantage.
Wouldn’t you much rather play a game where the odds are rigged in your favor? RLSA (and remarketing in general) is basically printing money.”
That sounds too good to be true, but it’s not – because getting to that point, as I believe you are aware by now, takes a lot of hard work. But the dividends you can reap make the effort required to do so one hundred percent worth it.
- Your Unicorns Can’t Do Everything for You
Okay, I lied. There’s slightly more than just three steps to a successful digital marketing campaign. But I’m of the opinion that creating 10x content. promoting it through efficient use of social media, and shrewd remarketing to non-converting site visitors should be your core philosophy. This section covers aspects of digital marketing that cannot be ignored but are ancillary to that philosophy.
Here’s some more examples of 10x content. Use them as inspiration and as a baseline as you go out, create your own unicorns, and set them free.
- Nomad List: a site that ranks the best places in the world to live and work remotely based off of exhaustively detailed factors. FYI, #1 is Chiang Mai, in Thailand, which leads me to my next example –
- Momondo: Trip finder extraordinaire. Pair it with Scott’s Cheap Flights for the lowest prices to anywhere, guaranteed.
- An article on the Fermi paradox: One of my personal favorites. The premise is this: based on the number of Sun-like stars and Earth-like planets there are in the galaxy (not to mention the observable universe), reputable scientific estimates, such as the Drake equation, put the number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy at 100,000. Yet there exists no evidence for any life besides our own. This article explores that discrepancy.
- Concert Hotel’s Sound Board: Interactive entertainment pieces directed to music lovers. For example, here’s an infographic of the greatest vocal ranges of all time (I’m surprised there were vocalists who sang lower than Johnny Cash!)
- com: How do your political beliefs align with the presidential candidates and the major parties? If you’ve ever wondered who to vote for, this site will give you the answer.
- An interactive article by the NYT exploring the relationship between a family’s income and the chance that their children will attend college.
- And just in case you don’t have enough examples already, an aggregate list of over 100 exceptional pieces of journalism.
All of those pieces of content, whether they are an informational article or an entire site designed around solving a specific problem, have at least one thing in common: they leave a marked impression on their visitors. They make you want to learn more about their specific topic. That’s because a piece of 10x content immediately establishes you as an authority in your field. It gives you ethos overnight that other businesses may have to work for years to obtain.
I know that 99% of the people reading this will have an objection along the lines of: “Dallin, I can’t write like that. I can’t write like anything close to that.” To which I would say, “Neither can I – but that’s because I haven’t tried to yet.” Make no mistake: it may take you ten or more attempts at creating a piece of content that’s truly worthy of the label “unicorn” before you find success. That being said, I imagine that for the majority of us, it would be much easier just to hire a content writer – and that’s a perfectly viable option as well, as long as they can produce a unicorn or two for you.
One final – and very important – item of note: if a visitor arrives at your site through organic (non-paid or SEO) means, it’s not the end of the world if they don’t convert, because you’re not paying for their visit. Simply getting their click is valuable because you can then remarket to them on Google and social media, as discussed above. On the other hand, if you get a visitor via paid search, you had better be doing all you can to get them to convert, and that’s why the idea that I touched on earlier of dedicated landing pages is so crucially important. If nothing else, get their email address. You can do this in many ways, a few of which could be in exchange for a download of some kind, scheduling an appointment or consultation, providing other information, or starting a free trial of your product. In my opinion, if you don’t optimize your paid landing pages, you’re wasting your money.
I can promise you this with certainty – if you stick with this project, if you take inspiration from the best and brightest in the industry, and if you push each piece of excellent content you create through social media channels in a hyper-efficient manner, the chance that your lead gen and conversion numbers do not increase as a result will be very, very small. And of course, if you’re investing time into social media marketing and content creation, it would definitely behoove you to ensure that your site itself provides an excellent user experience (please, please, please make it mobile-responsive and decrease your load times as much as possible) and is at least somewhat SEO-friendly. Even a complete novice can do bare minimum SEO in just a few hours per month. The payoff of all of this is that after a few months, you’ll have a good-looking site with exceptional content on it that can be found by Google and humans alike. You’ll have a strong social media following, a trusted brand, and (hopefully) much better lead gen and sales numbers than you did at the start of this project as a result. As I stated above, if you choose to hire an agency to help you along the way, vet them thoroughly from the outset and make sure that they will adhere to the strategies laid out in this guide, links included.
In truth, when I began to write this article, I didn’t intend for it to be so long. There’s just so much that you should know if you’re serious about finding success online. In my opinion, contracting with an agency to do your marketing for you doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to educate yourself about what you’re paying them for. I exhort you to do your due diligence and learn as much as possible. Go back and click through some of the links I’ve referenced if you haven’t already. Those are resources authored by true experts in the field and will probably help you along your way a lot more than this simple article will. What you’re reading is only meant as a starting block – there’s a lot more distance to cover than I can in a few thousand words.
Neither I nor any other reputable digital marketing consultant will ever guarantee results. That being said, I believe that the steps above are a simple, common-sense, and easy-to-understand guide meant to deliver you the highest possible chance for a successful marketing campaign. As with anything else in life, you’ll get out what you put in. I encourage you to take the plunge – it’s unequivocally worth it.