How to Market your Small Business Online - Without Adverts

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There is nothing more annoying than accidentally clicking an ad. Or trying to find the button that isn’t an ad while browsing the internet. When it comes to online marketing, you don’t want ads to be your primary marketing method. It annoys people and costs money; usually for every single click.

Marketing your business online is vastly different from what you may see on television, newspapers, and billboards. Those mediums generally work by distracting us - such as drawing our attention away from that TV show we were just watching. With online marketing, you would aim to be found by people looking for you. This is called inbound marketing.

What exactly is inbound marketing, and why should I care?

The boring introduction to this is that inbound marketing aims to attract visitors through the creation and promotion of engaging, informative and enjoyable online content.

The mission, after that, is to delight the customer with your superior products or services so that they begin to spread your online content; thus, successfully attracting more visitors. If executed correctly, this will eventually create a powerful marketing lifecycle.

Inbound marketing is usually spoken of in the context of online marketing, which has become highly effective with the advent of smartphones leading to cheaper, and more widely available internet access.

You want to produce content, such as blog posts, that people willfully share on social media and other websites. This causes search engines (Google) to pay more attention and rank you higher in search results. Thus your content gets more views, some of which will either also share, or become customers. See where we are going with this?

Why you should NOT use adverts & interruption marketing

Much unlike T.V. and newspaper adverts, online adverts have become intelligent. I am sure you have noticed ads following you around after one innocent search for a coffee grinder. Suddenly, all you see in your news feed is more coffee apparatus.

The adverts are relevant to actions you have taken online. The downside is that this can be very costly if you do not have the technical know-how to run such a campaign. You could pay someone else to do it, but that too will be costly.

And, at the end of the day, if you haven’t put effort into creating good content on your website, people will just leave after clicking through. Thus, it makes plenty of sense to focus on your inbound marketing as a good base. Get that right first, and you will reap the benefits.

So, how exactly DO I market my business without adverts?

There are countless ways to define inbound marketing as it is a vast and potentially complex topic. We shall now step back and look at the basics to get you started. Keep it simple, and focus on quality rather than quantity.

1. Get a Website (that you can maintain)

Inbound Marketing begins with having your own website; however, a website that is rarely updated is not going to yield any measurable marketing results. Your website needs to be a steady stream of content and updates. At a very basic level, you would need a blog, social media integration, and feedback forms. You may want to add a newsletter subscription, but that we can focus on another day.

Later down the line, the amount of functionality on your website may increase; for example, you may need to need to create targeted landing pages for your social media posts, especially if you are (eventually) going to delve into paid advertising. Remember, let’s get one or two things right first before expanding.

Don’t get overwhelmed, your campaign can start with a very simple website and a few blog posts written by yourself. It’s not all-or-nothing. Your campaign is best done at a steady pace over a long period of time - the key is consistency. Keep at it, and the rewards will follow.

You can start for free by signing up with Wix for free and building your website by yourself. Once you are happy with your site, the monthly fee of $8.50 (about R125) is quite fair for what you get.

You want a website that you have control over. You really do not want to pay for every minor update. Paying a monthly subscription and doing it yourself might be a little more work, but you’ll get exactly what you want, when you want it, without forking out more money.

2. Learn a little about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It is essential that Search Engine Optimisation is worked in from the start of any web project. This is so, as it covers everything from site speed, usability, mobile-friendliness, content freshness, and many, many more aspects. Google uses over 200 metrics upon which they rank pages in the search results, thus it takes a lot of work and foreplanning to get into the top ten results for any given search phrase.

At the end of the day, of course, content is still key to attaining rankings, but remember- neglecting the rest of the factors that go into making a good website would be a huge mistake. Not to say you need to keep a 200-long checklist, but do your own research and be open to learning new things.

This is why I suggested using an out-of-the-box website builder, as you will be far less likely to experience poor performance or security issues than if you paid someone a once-off fee of R2 000 for a website you have trouble updating, and doesn’t have all the features you need.

There are plenty of places to learn SEO, but I am going to share a comprehensive, introductory resource with you. A Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz.

3. Write Quality Content

Content is the center of any inbound marketing campaign. Content can take the form of blog articles, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, ebooks, webinars, as well as engaging graphics such as infographics.

When readers search for an answer to a question they have, or a product or service they need, they are likely to look through a few of the links or articles that pop up in the searches. With this in mind, the most important thing that you must aim for is to interest the visitor in order to keep them on your page. This can be done by using two important factors in your content: your content should be easy to read and interesting enough to keep the visitor engaged; as well as provide enough information to answer their question or a solution to their need for a service or product.

Your articles should not simply exist to sell your product or service, they should aim to educate and entertain. That is how you get people to share your article with friends and family. At the end of your article, you could place a call-to-action. For example, I could add to the end of this article: “Marketing will lead to sales, and sales will lead to sending invoices. Try out our free invoicing software!”

There are plenty of online resources explaining how to write and maintain a log, so I’ll just link one good read on how to do so from Hubspot: How to write a blog post.

4. Use Social Media

As you can spread the word of your content by use of social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, the same can be said for your readers who might do the same thing. Ensure that you have an easy way for your readers to share your articles on any form of social media; as they may share articles that were particularly useful and interesting to them with their contacts. Due to this, your content can reach far more people.

Your social media campaigns should not be looked at as stand-alone projects; they need to be integrated with the rest of your inbound marketing strategies.

You should not only share your content on your social channels but also be ready for answering questions and asking for feedback. Social media has become a staple for many companies when it comes to communicating with customers - it is both for marketing and customer service. Nothing beats giving good customer service in a public forum.

5. Gather statistics, but have patience.

You’re going to want to ensure you use Google Analytics or some other way of tracking visitors to your website. You’ll be able to see what they searched for, which website they came from and how long they spend on your website.

However, keep in mind that it does take time for your statistics to start looking really good. For the first while, you may get no traffic. If you keep at it, and keep writing, sharing and updating your content for several months you may find yourself in a position that you never imagined. The more time you spend creating content, the better you will get at it, and the more visitors you will attract.

First step: perfect the basics.

The title of this article could easily be expanded into an entire book, so I’m going to suggest that if you are new to this, that you stick to the basics and get really good at that before moving on to more inbound marketing techniques. You will see a lot of benefits with doing a few things really well, than a ton of things not-so-well.

When or if you are ready to move on, you will want to explore email newsletters, video content, interactive content, targeted landing pages and much, much more.

Go forth and explore, educate and enthrall!

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Further Reading

No productivity life-hacks here. I’m going to share real-world advice that will have an immense impact on your success as a freelancer or remote worker. I have been an online worker for ten years, and had a good deal of success in recent times, but much, much more failure before that.
Whether you are looking to starting a business or already have, you might have already given thought to the pros and cons of owning a business. Personally, it took me many years to fully realize the ups and downs of being self-employed. So much, that I actually ran back to full-time employment for just over a year, before throwing my hands up and running back to the freelance arena.
I learned the hard way, that starting your own small business is extremely challenging. It’s a known fact that most small businesses fail within a few years if they even survive the first three months. Starting an online business, or even moving to a freelancing career will completely change your life. Here’s my experience of starting an online venture.