One of the most important aspects of owning a business is coming up with and implementing effective and affordable marketing strategies. While business creation and operation are both important tasks, how and where you market your products or services to customers is of utmost importance in successfully attracting new customers and keeping those you have loyal.

Create a Marketing Plan

As with most aspects of business, coming up with a plan before you actually start your marketing efforts is likely to have better results than just plunging in without a second’s forethought. A marketing plan allows you to consider things fully, do all the necessary research, and make informed decisions about what will best serve your individual needs and style of business.

Loosely defined, a marketing plan documents pretty much everything you need to know to promote your business to clients and customers. A marketing plan usually should cover one year, which is long enough to realize even long-term goals, and brief enough to bend to changing needs and situations.

There are several, basic steps to creating a proper marketing plan, each of which is an important and integral part of running a successful marketing campaign.

  • Understand Your Business: Since no one knows your business like you do, this step should be relatively easy. Jot down things like which products or service you offer, and what sets your offerings apart from the competition. Give a frank assessment of strengths and weaknesses your business may have, as well as what outside opportunities or threats may be present.
  • Know Your Audience: A target market or audience is the segment of the population that is ideal for purchasing your products or services. This section will include everything you know about your typical customer, including basics like age and gender, as well as more involved traits like how they usually like to spend their time. The more you know about the people you want to sell to, the better you are at giving them what they want to see.
  • Familiarize Yourself With the Competition: While it would be nice to be the only one offering what you have to sell, this is virtually never the case, especially with an online business. Search for any and all data and information you can find on your top competitors, and note it down in one place. This helps you identify ways you can improve, and how you can set yourself apart from everyone else.
  • Identify Your Goals: Trying to achieve everything all at once is an exercise in futility. You are much better served by understanding your overall goals and breaking them down into smaller, more achievable steps. Identify which goals you want to achieve now, within the 12 months that your marketing plan covers. Be specific, such as a certain percentage of sales or customer increase, or a certain number of followers on social media.
  • Develop and Detail Strategies: Now comes the fun part, understanding which marketing tools are available to help you achieve the goals you just outlined. Take each goal individually, and research which tools are best to achieve it. Once you have identified the strategies you will use, and the tools you need to implement them, everything will run much more smoothly and organically.
  • Define Your Budget: A budget is usually the part business owners dread the most, albeit one of the most necessary ones. Knowing beforehand which of the strategies and tools you can afford is needed to avoid shortfalls down the line. It will also help you prioritize which things are most important, and which can be dropped if money runs dry.

Now that you have your marketing plan documented and solidified, it is time to understand the different types of marketing available for an online business. As mentioned before, there are a wide variety of strategies and tools available, most of which are affordable for even small businesses.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

One of the most popular ways to market an online business is search engine marketing, or SEM. In the past, SEM referred to both paid and free efforts; now, however, this is primarily used to refer to paid activities. SEM is defined as using ads placed on search engines that direct targeted traffic to your website or specific products. Ads appear as result of a user typing in certain keywords associated with your business or products.

Identifying and understanding which keywords will likely be the best for your individual business is the cornerstone of a successful SEM campaign. You can do this on your own, or use one of the many free tools available online. Some of the most helpful tools to identify which keywords will work best for you include:

Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)

PPC, or paid-per-click advertising, sits at the center of all paid SEM methods. PPC means that you will only be charged if someone clicks on your ad, rather than every time it is shown. The amount you are charged is usually based on how much you bid on the keyword that summoned the ad. Search engine powerhouses like Google and Bing use an auction format when deciding which websites will be placed where in search results. The higher you bid, the better the placement is.

It is important to note, however, that a quality score may also factor in when the decision is made on how much you need to bid to achieve a specific spot on the results page. A quality score is based on a number of things, such as how your landing page is worded, and if keywords are used in the copy.

While many of the aforementioned tools for SEM can be used for PPC, there are a few more that are worthy of mention specifically for PPC. These include:

Content Marketing

Content marketing is an approach that uses valuable and relevant information and content to attract a specific and clearly-defined segment of consumers. Content used in this type of marketing is educational, rather than blatant advertisements. Content marketing has been around for decades; however, it has only been with the rise of the internet that it has truly become an effective tool for just about any online business. If you provide valuable information to your customers, they will usually reward you with their business.

There are several types of content marketing that are extremely effective for online businesses of all types. These include:

  • Blogs: A regularly-updated and quality blog can promote site traffic, sales conversions, and loyalty from existing customers. These blogs can be optimized for SEM activities, and will usually rank well in search engines.
  • Long-form Website Content: Guides are a perfect example of long-form site content that can have immense value. Potential customers need go nowhere else to find the information they are searching for, which raises the likelihood of them giving you their business much higher.
  • Ebooks: While usually more expensive and time consuming to create, ebooks are an excellent way to provide an exhaustive resource on the area of business you operate in. The more data and value you can provide, the greater the chance you will earn a loyal customer.
  • Video: More and more internet users are finding it more enjoyable to watch a video over reading text. Putting together a quality video can offer an enticing alternative to written instruction and information.

As with most types of internet marketing, there are a wide variety of tools available to help your content-marketing efforts. Top content marketing tools include:

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

As its name would indicate, social media marketing, or SMM, uses social media platforms to generate leads and attention for your business and products. With the rise in popularity of many different social media websites and services, SMM has become one of the fastest-rising resources to use for gaining more traffic and sales.

There are some important points to remember when formulating your SMM strategy. Working these into your plan gives you a much higher chance of a successful campaign.

  • Have Clearly-defined Goals: Know exactly what you want to get out of your SMM campaigns, such as “X” amount of Likes on Facebook, or a certain number of additional followers on Twitter. Be sure to make these goals achievable, while pushing your limits as much as possible.
  • Understand Your Audience: Not all social media platforms cater to the same type of people. Figure out the demographics of the people you are mainly targeting, and concentrate your efforts on the platforms they frequent most.
  • Check Out Your Competitors: No matter what type of business you are in, chances are the competition on social media is substantial. Take a look at the SMM efforts of your competitors, for general ideas, and methods to steer clear of.

Doing the legwork on research and creation of your SMM strategy is much easier when you use some of the powerful tools available online. Some of the best tools available include:

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is the method where one company (the advertiser) pays another business or individual (publisher) for each visit they bring to their website, or the purchase of a product. This can be in the form of a set dollar amount, or a percentage of any sales that are made. The main way this is accomplished is through referral links or banners that are placed on the publisher’s website that lead back to the advertiser’s website. Small pieces of code called cookies are used to identify who that particular lead belongs to, so proper compensation is given.

Affiliate marketing is used in virtually every other type of marketing listed, and basically encompasses every type of sale of products you do not create and ship personally. If you are using WordPress for content marketing, there are even plugins that can simplify things greatly. Some of the top plugins include:

Email Marketing

Rounding out our list of the best marketing tools for an online business is email marketing, one of the oldest and most cost-effective of all online marketing tools. At its core, email marketing encompasses every email sent from a business to a current or prospective customer. This includes not only advertisements, but also things like follow-up communication and service reminders. There are two primary types of email marketing campaigns.

  • Purchased Lists: This involves buying a list of names and email addresses from a third party. These lists can be very general, or specific to those who fit in a certain demographic or purchasing style. It is very easy to slip into the realm of spam with a purchased list, so use this method wisely.
  • Existing Customers: If you have new products or services that you think might be of interest to people who have bought from you in the past, you can send out emails to inform them. This also holds true for special promotions, or incentives given to loyal customers. It is important to include an “opt-in” choice, so those who do not want to receive these notices do not get angry and take their business elsewhere.

There are a ton of excellent email marketing tools available for free and work well no matter what type of business you may be in. These include:

As you can see, marketing a business online has many facets to it, and taking advantage of as many of them as possible increases your chances of business success exponentially. No longer is it necessary to have an exorbitant budget to turn your marketing campaigns and strategies into veritable goldmines.