How do I market my online business?

As a small business it can be difficult to know where to start when marketing your brand online. It can be hard enough keeping up with general day-to-day business needs such as managing stock and sending out orders, without having to think about how to reach new customers.

Knowing just where to start in the wide world of digital marketing can also be pretty daunting. Here we take a look at some of the key areas you need to focus on as a small business and some of the ways you can promote your company to a wider audience.

Social media

As a fairly easy place to get started, social media should be one of your first stops on the digital marketing game. With many of the main platforms being free to set up and use, it needn't break the bank either, although you should include paid social media advertising in your marketing budget.

Facebook is a great place to start; setting up a page for your business will allow you to promote special offers, interact with customers and show the human side of your company. Sharing links to content and products on your site will drive direct traffic to it. Plus, to get a good reach it's recommended you pay to 'boost' your posts.

Although limited to 140 characters, Twitter is a great resource. Regular, well-timed posts, as well as joining in relevant Twitter chats, will help you connect with other businesses, reach more people and gain new followers. Hashtags on your posts will make them easier to discover; a quick search will assist you in finding some useful ones that are relevant to your business. This will help you to organically reach people who may not already be following you.
Google+ is useful for developing a presence within a community. It's great for networking and it ties in nicely with your Google business profile; when people search for a business name the Google+ profile will appear in the right hand panel. This is great as a 'social trust signal'.
For companies with strong visuals (such as textile manufacturers or art galleries), Instagram is a good option. It's worth remembering that it can only be updated via a smartphone or tablet but if you have good pictures, it's a great medium for brand awareness. Pinterest is also fun for visual companies and many other types of ecommerce sites, as a way to drive people to your site. 
If all this seems a little overwhelming then handy dashboards such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social can help you organise your social media marketing. These tools let you schedule posts across multiple platforms, meaning you can plan in advance and spend less time tweeting.

Do's and Don'ts

DO use 'we' rather than 'I', when writing social media updates.
DON'T only post purely promotional links that offer a hard sell. 
DO post a good variety of content - for example relevant memes, updates about staff and the company, or competitions. 
DO try to keep posts light in nature. Innocent Drinks is a great example of social media done well. Its Twitter account is always fun to read - although takes a bold and flippant approach to selling - as it provides a good balance for the audience.
DO keep your audience and your branding in mind; make sure your tone reflects both of these - for example if you are a serious B2B company then an overly casual tone may not be appropriate.

Maximise your website

For an ecommerce store or any online business, your website is your front of house; the primary way for you to make the best impression on your visitors and convert them into paying customers. To do this your website needs to be the best it can be. This has a dual role - not only will it help you with customers on-site - it will also help get customers onto your site in the first place!
Search Engine Optimisation - or SEO - concerns itself with the way your website appears in searches such as Google. Obviously, the higher you rank when a customer searches for relevant terms to your company; the better. Making sure your website is search optimised will help your business get visibility and improve customer service too.
There are a million little ways you can boost your site; from adding relevant keywords to your content, to tidying up broken links. Networking with other sites is also very useful - when done well. There are certain elements of SEO which you can do yourself if you have the time, but often technical SEO is best left to the professionals.
Adding a blog to your site (just like this one) will also help. Not only will regularly updated content help you in the eyes of search engines, it will also offer engaging content for your visitors and increase your authority within the industry. Whether you choose to write the content yourself or outsource to a content specialist, always keep the audience firmly in mind.

Pay per click advertising

In a nutshell, pay per click - or PPC - is online advertising, so called, because as the advertiser you pay a fee each time someone clicks through from an advert.
The most popular placing for these adverts is in search engines such as Google. These are the ads that appear above and to the side of the 'organic' listings. Offering a great ROI - when done correctly - it's a cost effective way of driving customers to your site. Again - if all of this feels a bit bemusing then consider using an agency to help you maximise on this potentially very profitable channel.

Monitor traffic and activity

Importantly, before you begin any kind of marketing activity, make sure you have set your business objectives - namely what you hope to achieve from the promotion. Tracking all your website activity using a tool such as Google Analytics will help you see just how fruitful each exercise has been and where to best spend your budget.
There are a host of ways you can market your online business; if you're just starting out then social media is likely to be your initial route. Make the most of free marketing opportunities; network with other local businesses or at industry events and don't be afraid to promote yourself to relevant publications. 
As you grow in confidence and hopefully revenue, then you'll be able to expand your advertising expenditure. Remember though, sometimes you have to spend to accumulate, so while paying out for advertising and marketing can be daunting, when correctly targeted it can be well worth it in the long run.

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