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January 20, 2024

The "How" and "Why" of Growing Your Business with Online Marketing

An overview of how to grow your business with online marketing

As a small business owner, you want to see growth. And if you’re like many entrepreneurs, you’re already doing a lot of online marketing. After all, 97 percent of people learn about a local business online more than anywhere else, and 94 percent of B2B buyers research online for purchase decisions.

The real question is: do you know how to grow your business with online marketing?

Fortunately, there are many ways to up your game and find new customers through different online marketing channels. Let’s walk through the basics of growing your presence, attracting more customers and generating leads online. Plus, get some ideas to level up your marketing strategy and make it even more powerful.

What is online marketing, and why does it matter?

Online marketing or digital marketing includes any tactics or strategies you use on the internet to get the word out about your company. It’s a broad discipline, covering anything from developing your company website or blog to running influential social media ad campaigns. Online marketing is how you tell people why you’re awesome.

The reason online marketing matters is that it’s where many of your potential customers are spending their time. People use their computers, tablets and phones to seek information, read news, socialize and play games. It’s a different world from the backward-facing media of old.

And it’s catching up with, and surpassing, those old channels in terms of influence. The scale is also monumental. Google, the search engine, processes more than 3.5 billion searches per day. Since March 2020, LinkedIn’s voice messaging has increased by 10 times. And this year, people spent 20 billion more hours using apps on their mobile devices than in 2020 (a 15 percent jump). You need to go where your customers are, and that’s online.

Online marketing has great versatility, too. You use the same channels to reach potential, current and former customers. (Yes, there’s a value in retaining some presence in case a former customer becomes nostalgic.) And you’re contacting them through media that are often quicker, livelier and more informative than the traditional ones.

Of course, they can be louder and more cluttered, as well. Which makes online marketing an ongoing practice. You have to reapply the tactics and yes, reinvent some tactics every day. And that’s part of what keeps it so engaging.

I think the key here is how you “build a journey” for your customers. It’s relational, not just a sales funnel. Online marketing allows you to be a part of your customers’ and leads’ daily travels, adventures, quandaries and successes. It’s very human.

Types of online marketing strategies

As we delve into the specific tactics and methods that can help you grow your business, it’s helpful to think at a high level about the types of marketing you can use. These are some common categories that describe different approaches and areas of focus:

  • Content marketing - Sharing valuable and relevant content to attract and engage a clearly defined target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action. (CIP)

  • Search engine marketing (SEM) - The process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines such as Google. Or gaining traffic through free SEO efforts to rank on search engine results pages. (RIP) Digital selling includes influencer marketing, social selling, and the use of digital marketplaces (including affiliate marketing and sponsored content through third-party digital marketplaces).

  • Email marketing: Companies use email marketing to keep their audience informed about their products and services, share industry news, and build customer relationships. (B2C)

  • Social media marketing - Using the power of social media to communicate your brand to your audience to build your brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic. (RIP)

Setting online marketing goals

It’s tempting to just dive into individual tactics, but that’s usually not the best approach. Instead, you should start by defining your overall online marketing strategy and setting clear, measurable goals. Your goals might include things like:

  • Increasing your online sales by a specific percentage

  • Generating a certain number of new leads from your website

  • Growing your email subscriber list to a targeted size

  • Improving your website’s search engine ranking for important keywords

These kinds of goals will give you something concrete to work toward and help you track your online marketing success. To set yourself up for success in achieving these goals, make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).

Once you’ve determined your goals, the next step is to think about your tactics, specifically the online marketing channels and tools you’ll use to reach your audience. Start by reviewing your target audience’s online habits and demographics. Take into consideration things like their preferred social media platforms, the kind of content they engage with, the websites they visit and the online search terms they use. This will help direct your focus and ensure that your resources are allocated effectively.

Trust the force of research! Developing a target persona, or buyer persona can be a very useful exercise. A target persona is a fictional individual who represents the key characteristics of your ideal customer. You can create a target persona by evaluating the demographic characteristics of your potential customer base, identifying their needs and challenges, and determining how your products or services can provide value to them. Once you have a clearer understanding of who your target customers are, you can develop personalized marketing strategies that resonate with their interests and behaviors.

How long will it take my business to grow with online marketing?

This is a common question, and the answer is that it depends. The timeline for online marketing success can be influenced by the following factors:

  • Business size and lifecycle

  • Market characteristics

  • Financial resources

  • Goal settings

Remember that online marketing is a long-term game. While some tactics may produce quick results, often the most powerful and sustainable approaches take time to build momentum. Commit to your digital strategy, consistently measure your progress, and adjust your tactics as necessary. The key is persistence and continual improvement.

Why (and how) to track your online marketing ROI

Your return on investment (ROI) is a measure of the amount of money you made (or saved) on a marketing campaign, relative to the amount you spent. Tracking your ROI is important because it tells you which marketing efforts are paying off and which ones need to be re-evaluated. Without tracking ROI, you might unknowingly be wasting money on ineffective tactics. Your ROI can be tracked at varying levels of complexity, depending on your goals, the size of the campaign, and the resources you have available for tracking.

For example, you might use Google Analytics to track the ROI of your SEO efforts, or a comprehensive marketing analytics platform to track the ROI of all of your marketing activities in one place. To track the ROI of a specific campaign, you can use the following formula:

(Revenue from the campaign - Cost of the campaign) / Cost of the campaign

Multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage.

As you get more data, you can start to calculate customer lifetime value and conversion rates by channel, which will give you even more insights into what’s working and what you should consider changing.

<strong>PRO TIP: Track your average online marketing conversion rate</strong> Track your conversion rate (the percentage of people who take a desired action after engaging with your marketing material) as a key performance indicator. If you don’t know your industry’s average conversion rates, here are a few to get you started:

  • 0.71 percent >> Average display ad conversion rate across all industries

  • 5.71 percent >> Search ad conversion rate on the Google Search Network

  • 11.45 percent >> The highest 25 percent of search ad conversion rates

  • 33.33 percent >> Click-through rate for the number-one organic search result

  • 17.80 percent >> The highest 25 percent of organic search results

You can use these benchmarks to understand your performance relative to businesses

Let’s take a look at an example—both the wrong way and the right way to approach tracking your online marketing ROI.

  • Wrong way: Suppose you run a small shoe store and notice that your email marketing campaigns cost you about $500 per month, but you notice that those campaigns tend to bring in an additional $3,000 in revenue. The simple calculation shows that your online marketing efforts are paying off—by an excellent 500 percent. But the broad calculation doesn’t account for the balance of revenue and costs that you’ve received from the campaign.

  • Right way: It’s correct to calculate ROI by considering revenue (or anticipated cost savings for non-revenue projects), just like the simplified formula. But a simpler way to calculate ROI correctly is to consider the additional costs that need to be accounted for, and to subtract the costs first. In this corrected example, your digital campaign costs an initial $500 to run. With a heavier consideration of cost and a conservative projection of recurring costs, you craft a completed campaign that fully takes the cost of your expanded resource (plus the initial $500) into account. Your shoe store’s completed updated campaign not only sells more inventory with an increased workload but also anticipates the expanded costs of resources to fulfill the additional workload.

These variants show you how looking only at the return doesn’t give you an accurate picture of your online marketing ROI. Using these two calculations together with other data can give you a better idea of how your individual campaigns are performing.

Outsourcing vs. keeping online marketing in house: Which to choose

Whether you’re a smaller business bringing online marketing in house for the first time, or a seasoned larger practitioner with an established digital marketing team, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of combining in-house resources with outsourced expertise. We typically see the following digital marketing structures at work: A business with a single marketing executive wearing all the hats for mid-level strategy, branding, email, social media, digital advertising and content, but supporting a full suite of creative, technical and administrative specialists. (RIP) A marketing department with (CYFE comes into play here) custom reporting on digital advertising, noncommerce or marketing-specific business goals, digital sales and return on ad spend. A larger (RIP) marketing “ecosystem” using marketing software integrations with reporting, leads, traffic and website data coming from the marketing tools, most commonly integrated with the business’ (RIP and CIP) for sales and SEO stats.

Of course, these are generic examples. Specialist generalists work everywhere, and businesses have many more marketing structures. Even a well-established marketing ecosystem might travel down the ad agency or contractor road for a certain campaign, or to fulfill a specific need, as in the case of many organizations (MS) that do break/fix work in online marketing.

Each of these structures has its (RIP), and the choice to decide whether a given project or need will be kept in-house or outsourced comes down to the balance of quality, resource and costs. It’s more interesting to flip this conversation into the tactical and simplify it from a larger business structure into the decision-making process a small business might go through when weighing whether to build an (CIP), outsource to a contracted vendor, or supplement its approach using a standalone software.

  • Outsourcing to a contracted vendor: A small company can reduce administrative and management overhead by relying on the expertise of a contracted resource without the fixed costs of an employee. The benefits are the ability to leverage a specialist (or a team of them) to execute a specific campaign or tactic, reduce costs associated with salaries, benefits, software and onboarding, and access a large talent pool. The business can exercise some due diligence by getting to know who they’re contracting before signing on, and hold the contracted vendor(s) to equivalent industry standards.

  • Implementing standalone software: This cost-effective solution is great for doing one thing really well. By owning the decision-making process for a subscription-type model, nonemployee costs, software cost and return can also be tracked. Whenever it’s “built from scratch,” a team of contractors or consultants can help decide if a particular problem has an off-the-shelf solution. A solid software with good resources will bill itself as a platform and often come with its own agency or consultant ecosystem, as well (e.g. Shopify).

  • In-house employee versus nonprofit: There are inherent risks to putting all of your eggs in one basket, but the investment often pays off. Contracted resources assume some of the risks by charging enough to cover mitigated costs like employee benefits and group training that come with slower innovation. A reputable in-house employee operates in a different economy: not only the outcome but filtration of industry noise, early adoption and proprietary insight. This option requires the largest up-front investment, but the ability for larger gains may justify the investment. Remember that it’s not very warm for eggs to sit in a marketing basket.

As in most things, balance is the key. We’ve learned that it can be difficult to attract and keep digital marketing talent in your organization, and can be more costly to keep your online marketing efforts completely in-house. But we’ve also found that a blended approach combining in-house resources with third-party support can be the most effective way to manage your digital marketing strategy.

How to start online marketing: 4 steps for beginners

One of the best things about online marketing is that anyone can do it—regardless of your business size or marketing budget. Here are four beginner-friendly steps to help you get started with online marketing today.

Whether you need a standalone email marketing platform or a CRM that includes email marketing alongside other marketing and sales features, we have what you need.

  • Step 1: Define your target audience

Your first step is to get to know who you are talking to, so you can direct your marketing efforts where they will count. Questions to ask include:

  • What is my audience’s age group?

  • What do they do for a living?

  • What are their hobbies?

  • What other brands do they align with? This gives you a clue about their values

  • Step 2: Take a look at the competition

What are other companies similar to yours doing? Important things to pay attention to here are:

  • How often are they posting on social media?

  • What kinds of posts are getting the most engagement (likes, shares, comments)

  • Are they running ads? If so, what are the ad campaigns like?

  • Step 3: Set goals and a budget

Using the insights you’ve gained so far, decide on some marketing goals. This can be something like, “I want to increase web traffic by 25 percent,” or “I want to generate 50 new leads per month.”

With your goals in mind, set a budget. Start with a monthly figure, based on how many customers you want to gain to make online marketing costs back in a month. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You can also take cues from what others are doing. For example, consider the cost of Google ads as an indication of what you might need to invest to see results. Let’s say you have an online software tool, and the benchmarked cost for an advertisement using that tool is $5,000. If you bring in $20,000 in additional revenue after running that campaign, the benchmark was to break even. Because you were able to top that product benchmark, you had a good indication that your campaign paid off. In other words, when you know a roughly benchmarked revenue number for a marketing tactic, you can check its (CIP) by dividing that (CIP) by the revenue it helped generate. That gives you a sense of other campaigns that can help improve your (CIP) by setting a budget you can afford.

  • Step 4: Execute your plan

Get started with content writing, running advertisements or whatever other tactics you’ve decided on. Annually, up to 80 percent of a business’s posts can be well-researched and promotional, like blog articles, how-to guides, and webinars or videos. But that remaining 20 percent can be even more impactful, creating excitement and interest in your brand. Here are five tactics you can use to make your company stand out from the online crowd.

Host virtual events

Whether you want to kick off an online store or have a consultant approach from a different angle, online events are effective tools to generate business and grow an online presence. They build brand credibility, show expertise and allow for real-time customer interactions.

  • Webinars: You can use webinars to educate potential customers about their challenges and your solutions, providing them with insights into how your products or services can benefit them. Webinars have the added advantage of a registration process, allowing you to capture leads. Since your goal is not just customer acquisition, but also nurturing, you’ll use a different approach for those freshly minted leads.

  • Online Q&A sessions: Online Q&A sessions are ideal for addressing the specific questions and concerns potential customers may have. Using a dedicated tool, which provides a landing page, you can promote the event on your website and social media platforms. You can then use the landing page to collect questions from the audience and categorize them for the session.

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