Every time I meet someone who’s a small business owner, I want to learn about their business and what they’re doing in their online marketing.

I do a little research to see what they do and what others are saying about them. I love supporting small businesses in any way I can.

I also like to ask about how their marketing is going. Many want to know what they are missing or just how to improve their results.

I find that many of these businesses are missing essential elements or strategies that are important to their success.

That’s why I’m going to share the must-haves for your online marketing strategy. And while they may seem obvious to some, they are no less important to your success.

Doing these things are the building blocks for your success now and in the future. And, no matter how long you’ve been doing marketing, it’s always good to go back and review the basics to ensure you have a good foundation.

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The foundations

Online marketing is a huge opportunity because people are looking and there’s a huge potential for people to find your business.

The thing is, it’s not about just using one or two tools, but it’s about using various tools together to maximize your success over time. Each tool has its own purpose and you’ll notice that they all work together.

This will all start to make sense when you understand how your business gets found online.

How do people find your business online?

First, it’s important to know that word of mouth or referrals are important to almost every business. And in today’s world, word of mouth happens online.

People share about their favorite businesses directly, share a piece of content, and even ask for reviews and recommendations from their friends and family.

When your business is online, you’ll have an opportunity to be a part of those conversations.

You can then manage those conversations and put your best foot forward.

Even when they hear about you from a friend, they’re likely to run a search for you to learn more about your business or organization and what you offer.

They may find and look at things like your website, social media profiles, reviews, or even your Google Business Profile.

Graphic of Google Search results

Another scenario is that they don’t know about your business, but they know they need a certain product or service.

Let’s say you’re having a party and you need to find a cheese shop near you. After all, you can’t have a party without cheese!

In this search result, things may look a bit different but you’ll find several of the top listings of the cheese shops in your area and a snippet of information about them. You can choose one and dive in to learn more – find reviews, their hours, location, plus some other results and websites that match your search criteria.

example of Google search results

Regardless of the scenario, you’ll want to make sure your business shows up.

That means you’ll need various tools in your arsenal to increase your chances of being found. You’ve got to show up when people go looking and provide the information they’re looking for by answering their questions.

The 5 must-have tools to get online 

That brings us to the five must-have tools for getting online.

In order to set yourself up for success, there are five tools you’ll need. Some will be essential to showing up in search results and others fulfill other tasks or goals in your digital marketing strategy.

You’ll need:

  1. A mobile-responsive website
  2. An email marketing tool
  3. One primary social channel
  4. Up-to-date business listings and review sites
  5. Easy way to create content

In the next section, we’ll dive into each of these tools to discuss each of the tools in more detail.

Learn more, watch the on-demand webinar: Foundations of Online Marketing

1. A mobile-responsive website: Your online hub

When consumers are searching for your business or what you offer, many are going to visit your website, they want to learn more about you.

So yes, even in today’s world, you still need a website for your business or organization.

One of the most important things is that you need a mobile-responsive website that looks good everywhere – on mobile devices and computers. It’s all about the experience of viewing and navigating your site – it should be easy.

And your website should have essential pages to answer the questions that people will have about what you offer.

That means your website needs to have at least 3 pages:

  • Homepage 
  • About us page
  • Contact us page

Plus, you’ll want to consider other pages depending on your industry or type of business or organization. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you’ll want to have a Menu page, if you’re a nonprofit or a service business, you’ll want to have a Services page.

Let’s dive in to discuss the information for each of the essential pages.

The Homepage: Your front door

The homepage of your website is like the front door of your business.

Its purpose is to introduce visitors to your business and encourage them to take the next steps with you  —  to make a purchase, book a consultation, etc.

The homepage is often the first impression potential customers have of you and your brand so you want to make it easy for visitors to quickly identify what you’re offering and the next steps they should take.

The real key here is to focus on how your business solves a specific problem people are having.

The About page: Share your story

The purpose of your website’s About page is to share the story of our organization.

Your story should focus on the problem you solve for your customers. People are looking for reassurance that you can deliver. Share what you do, your history, and your qualifications.

The big caveat here is that people don’t want to hear so much about you but how you can help them and solve their problem.

Contact us page: Your chance to connect

For this page, you’ll want to make it easy for visitors to find and contact you. Where you’re located, how to call you, how to email you, how to find you on social media, your hours, etc.

Customers won’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to contact you so make it easy.

Add a sign-up form to your website to influence them later on

Not everyone who visits your website is going to make a purchase or book a consultation on their first visit. It’s important to have a way to engage these people later on.

I always recommend adding a sign-up form to your website to collect their email address.

Email marketing is a great tool that should be a part of your online marketing strategy and it’s great to drive your business (more on that in a minute).

On your form, offer something of value in exchange for their email address. Don’t just ask them to “join our mailing list.” It’s not about them receiving your email, it’s about what your emails offer and how you help them.

example of a sign-up form on a website - an absolute online marketing must-have

Learn more, watch the on-demand webinar: Essential Elements for an Effective Website

2. Email marketing drives new and repeat business

No matter what people are telling you, email is NOT dead. In fact, email marketing has one of the best returns of investment (ROI) at $36 for every $1 spent  —   more than any other marketing channel.

As I said before, email marketing is how you drive business, you can reach and influence people, right in their inbox. In addition, you have the ability to create and increase awareness of your business, drive revenue, profit, and boost repeat business.

Some people struggle with email marketing. And sometimes they’re only doing it because someone told them they needed to.

But email marketing is a key component of online marketing and most of the time when businesses struggle, it’s simply because they don’t have a plan in place.

With that in mind, here are five steps to email marketing success:

  1. Plan for success
  2. Design for today’s audience
  3. Create emails to drive action
  4. Measure business impact
  5. Grow your list to grow your business

Let’s talk a bit more about each of these steps.

1. Plan for success

Many people struggle to send regularly or keep up with email marketing because they don’t have a plan.

However, when you write out a plan and know what you’re going to send and when you’re going to send it, your marketing will become much more manageable.

The most important part of the plan is to ensure you’re sending on a regular basis  —   at least once a month.

If you can, I suggest writing your plan for the whole year. Plan around major holidays for your business or organization, focus on events specific to your business needs and then fill in with other lesser-known holidays that you might want to market for  —   like National Cookie Day.

In addition to promotional emails, it’s important to plan for other emails that provide value and build relationships. This is where you want to answer their questions or show them how to do something in relation to what you offer. Add these types of emails to your plan as well. 

2. Design for today’s audience

The second step is to design an email template that makes creating your future emails quick and easy.

Your template should include elements of your brand like your logo at the top as well as your brand colors and then some contact and essential information in the footer at the bottom. Don’t forget to leave room for the content you’ll change and put in each time.

Remember, today’s audiences have short attention spans so it’s important to keep your emails short and sweet. All you need in your email template is a picture, a paragraph, and your call to action.

3. Create emails to drive action

This is where the template you created and designed in step two comes into play. It’s time to make a copy of it.

You’ll want to add in the content for your email. That means adding a subject line, writing the preheader text, adding an image, your body copy, and adding a call to action.

By the way, the call to action is one of the most important elements. Every email should ask your reader to do something (shop now, visit your website, read more, leave a review, register for an event, etc.).

Once you’ve input your email’s content, you’re ready to send your email and start seeing the results. That leads us to step 4.

4. Measure business impact

Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools so it’s important to know how to measure the impact on your business.

In the past, opens were a decent source of information on the performance of your email campaign. However, due to Apple Mail’s new privacy features, I suggest steering clear of using this metric.

Instead, measure the success of your email by looking at clicks to identify engaged readers and even segment your contact list for better results in the future.

The real benefit is when you go beyond opens and clicks to get a real understanding of your results.

Depending on your goals or type of business, you might choose to look at:

  • Conversion rate (the percentage of people who make a purchase)
  • List growth rate
  • Overall ROI
  • Forwarding and email sharing

Email measurement is often a step that is missed by small businesses, but no less important.

You won’t know where you can improve if you’re not paying attention to the stats.

5. Grow your list to grow your business

People ask all the time “how do I grow my list” or even “how do I buy an email list?”

One of the most important rules is to NEVER buy an email list!  You don’t want to deal with the problems you’ll get by sending to a purchased email list. Believe me, it will cause you a ton of problems!

Email is a permission-based marketing channel, so you want them to say “yes” to receiving emails from your business. That’s how you’ll get results.

To get people to willingly give you their email address, you’ll want to focus on asking in three areas: in-person interactions, print materials, and online.

You also want to show them the value of what’s in it for them. People will willingly subscribe for three main reasons:

  • To receive promotions and discounts
  • To receive exclusive content
  • To show support for your organization

So on your form or when you’re asking in person, lead with that  —   the value for your subscriber.

Learn more, watch the on-demand webinar: How to Win with Email Marketing

3. Listing and review sites provide critical information and feedback

No matter what type of business or organization you have, listing and review sites play an important role in getting found online.

In fact, eighty-seven percent of consumers read reviews online and on average they read 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business.

To unleash the full potential of these tools for your business, ensure you’re presenting yourself in the best way possible and allowing consumers to find reviews about you.

Start by claiming existing listings for your business

When someone does business with you, they can go to any site and leave a review about your business. Claiming a listing means that you take control of it.

Run a search for your company name and then claim all the listings that show up on the first page. On the listing, look for a button that says “Claim this business” or something similar.

Once you’ve got control of the information, make sure all of your critical business information is there and is correct. The more information you add to your profile, the better chance you’ll have of showing up in search and maps.

Claim additional pages to increase awareness of your business

For most businesses, you’ll want to claim more of the main sites where people may be looking for you or want to leave or find reviews.

We suggest claiming your business on:

You’ll also want to find other sites pertinent to your business type or industry. Here are just a few examples:

  • Restaurant/dining: TripAdvisor, OpenTable
  • Home services: HomeAdvisor, Angie
  • Medical/healthcare: WebMD, Healthgrades
  • Real estate: Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com

You can find even more examples of listing and review sites for your industry by downloading your industry copy of the guide: Making Sense of Online Marketing.

Ask for reviews

Potential customers want to see recent reviews for your business. No one wants to go to a restaurant whose last positive review was 3 years ago.

A lot can change in a year. The restaurant could have gone downhill with terrible food and service or, maybe they’re closed for good.

That’s why it’s important to continually ask for reviews. The best way to ask is when someone has had a good interaction with you. Just say “hey, we’d really love it if you could leave us a review and tell us about your experience.”

No one’s going to leave a review if you don’t ask.

Another method for asking is to send an email shortly after purchase or interaction with your business. You can even use email automation to save time. The trick is to be timely and relevant while their experience is still fresh in their mind.

I suggest providing at least one direct link in your email to where they can leave a review. Don’t make them try to figure out where to leave a review or how to do it. Make it as easy as possible for your customer.

Build trust by responding to reviews – good and bad

I often hear from small businesses that they don’t want to get reviews because of the chance of negative reviews.

Yes, negative reviews do happen. Sometimes they are warranted and sometimes they aren’t. Occasionally, you’ll get that one crazy person who leaves a bad review when they haven’t even done business with you.

Negative reviews are only damaging when you ignore them.

When possible, I suggest responding to all reviews  —   good and bad.

Say “thank you” to a positive review and let them know that you value their business.

For negative reviews, this is your chance to turn their review around. Offer to help them. Try not to take offense to the review and remain positive and upbeat.

In turn, your response can show others who do see that bad review that you care and you do your best to help, even when something doesn’t go quite right. It shows that you value your customers.

Learn more, watch the on-demand webinar: How to Harness the Power of Listings and Reviews

4. Social Media builds and engages your audience

As one of the most popular marketing tools out there, social media offers a great way for consumers to find your business, for you to engage with them, and for you to encourage them to support your cause.

Start with one primary channel

Social media can become overwhelming if you try to do too much.

At first, I suggest, picking one social media channel based on your business, your needs, the personality of the channel, and what you can do there.

Use that one channel to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your business and your audience. You can always expand later.

And when you do expand to other channels, take what you learned from managing your first channel and apply them here.

Remember, every channel has its own features and the way it works. So don’t post the exact same thing on every channel. Instead, modify it to suit the channel and the audience there.

Focus on 3 social media goals

Another challenge is figuring out what to post that actually gets results. Not everything is going to lead to a sale but when you do it right, it helps to engage people and stay top-of-mind.

I suggest focusing on three main goals for your activities and time on social. You’ll want to create posts to:

  • Generate awareness – let them know about your products, services, or business changes
  • Drive action – ask for a donation, get them to buy, ask them to join your email list, etc.
  • Provide customer service

In many cases, customers will search you out on social channels to ask a question or to even make a complaint. It’s important to pay attention to these and respond accordingly. A lot of it is going to be public, so how you respond helps you build trustworthiness and credibility with others.

Learn more, watch the on-demand webinar: A Simple Recipe for Social Media Success

5. Content increases your chance of getting found

Do you know those questions you get via email, on social media, on the phone, and in person talking to your customers or clients?

There’s a good chance someone is out there searching for the answer to that question online.

That’s where content comes into play.

Content is what people search for, consume, and then share online —  remember word of mouth?

It starts with a blog on your website

It all starts with a blog that is on your website’s domain.

Simply put, answer those questions you’re getting. This is your chance to demonstrate your expertise, provide value, and share helpful content.

Search engines love fresh blog content, so you’ll want to post on a regular basis.

This is the start of SEO (search engine optimization). At its core, it’s about delivering relevant and meaningful content to the people you’re trying to reach.

Content fuels other areas of your marketing

The great news is that when you spend the time and effort to create relevant content for your audience, it starts to fuel other areas of your marketing.

Save yourself time! Use the content to provide useful and valuable information in your emails and on social media.

How to know your work is paying off

When you’re doing all of this work, it’s important to know what metrics to pay attention to and have proper expectations on how long it takes to see results.

All of the work you’re doing here in the foundations, from an organic perspective, will take several months before you start to see an impact.

Once you build this foundation and build relationships with your audience and customers, that timeframe begins to shorten.

The metrics to pay attention to

My advice, don’t get distracted by vanity metrics: likes, followers, shares. Those are all leading indicators.

There are more valuable metrics to pay attention to and you’ll want to decide what’s most meaningful for your business:

  • Are they visiting your website?
  • Are they joining your email list?
  • Are they contacting you? (via email, on social media, phone, etc.)
  • Are they buying or scheduling service calls?

Making online marketing work for your business

At this point, you know the five foundational tools for your marketing, the basics of how they work and don’t forget they should all be working together.

Your mobile-responsive website is the hub of all of your efforts.

Email marketing is how you build relationships, drive business, and communicate with subscribers.

Social media is where you engage your audience, answer their questions, build awareness, and drive people to take action.

Listing and review sites help you get found and provide critical information through reviews for people who are looking for a business or organization like yours.

And content is all about answering questions that people have, helping people to find you online, and fueling valuable content and information for all of the other channels.

You can do this!

Remember, it does take some time and effort but it will all be worth it in the end. 
If you find you need some help, we have a whole team of experts who can work with you one-on-one to come up with a plan for your business.