tools across a table

Digital marketing is an extremely effective growth mechanism for small business owners who are looking to increase their brand exposure in their city or community.

What’s so appealing about digital marketing is its low cost and easiness of measurability – compared to that of traditional methods like TV, radio and print advertising. But what digital marketing tools are available for small and medium sized businesses? When is the right time to put these tools to use?

Here are the 8 most effective small business digital marketing tools for getting customers through the door!

Social Media

Low Commitment

Consumers are increasingly turning to social media to interact with brands online. Businesses can benefit from just having profiles on the more popular channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Yelp and more. This has similar benefits as yellow-page directories used to have. It makes your brand searchable.

Profile creation is a great start, but what really determines your success is your ability to create compelling content. We recently published the ‘Social Media for Small Business Checklist’ with guides on how to create profiles on the most popular platforms, and tips for initial content strategies.

Customer Review Channels

Channels such as Yelp, Foursquare and Urbanspoon offer great opportunities for driving customers into a place of business. Consumers in 2014 resort to these platforms when they are in the mood to try something new, and often flock towards the businesses with the most/best reviews.

Location-Based Services

Location-based services like Google maps and Swarm are another great way for businesses to become more searchable. Customers using these apps will see your business on their map, making it another tech savvy opportunity to make your brand searchable.

When to use: Social media is great for businesses who have content to share (blog posts, inforgraphics, etc.) and engage with. This content provides you a reason to engage. Another reason for having social is to make up for a lack of a website. A Facebook profile can provide your business information (hours of operation, address) in lieu of a website

When not to use: Something all business owners or managers should ask themselves before they engage in social media is “do I care enough to post regularly?” It doesn’t take much to keep up with social media (twice a week even at the minumum). Businesses who go cold turkey for weeks can lose credibility and trust from customers landing on their page. In this case, we don’t recommend engaging in social media.

Digital Signage

Medium Commitment

Digital signage is the most popular and effective digital marketing tool for leveraging growth inside of a brick-and-mortar venue. The ability to display images and videos is great for advertising any new products, promotions, or events.

Live social media feeds have become a more recent trend of businesses leveraging digital signage. Businesses are asking customers to post at their username or hashtag, and are then providing the instant gratification of displaying the post on the screen.

What I love about Enplug’s software is that it isn’t ‘single-minded’ like most digital signage. Enplug offers businesses an array of marketing tools (or apps) for better engaging with customers through digital marketing – like live social feeds, live blog feeds, advertisements and more. The whole shebang.

When to use: Digital signage is great for brick-and-mortar businesses who are looking to provide customers with a more tech savvy experience than their competitors. If the business has TVs or displays already in-place, the cost of digital signage plug and play device is minimal. Enplug offers software for only $99/month.

When not to use: Some businesses have built their brand and venue using an ‘old-fashioned’ approach. Typically these locations do not bode well with a digital signage solution.

Online Advertising

Medium Commitment

When dealing with online advertising, there are two main platforms available:

Search Ads

With search ads, small businesses have the ability to advertise to people searching for products or services in their realm and geographic location. For example, if you owned a HVAC business, you’d want to show ads to people in your city searching Google for “HVAC solutions.”

Social Media Ads

Another opportunity for advertising comes on social media channels, such as Facebook. Small businesses can either advertise their website or social media page to users within their geographic location.

When to use: Local online advertising is great for businesses in service industries. Some examples include home repair (windows, carpet, etc.), auto mechanics, and even maid services.

When not to use: Online advertising can be relatively inneffective for everyday type products like food, sporting goods, or clothing. Competition is high enough for these types of goods to the point where people aren’t searching the internet for where to buy them. They shop for these types of product regularly, and know where to go.

Deal Websites/Apps

Medium Commitment

Many local businesses have been leveraging deal websites and apps, like Groupon, for getting new customers through the door. Customers who normally would have not visited the business can be enticed to give it a try simply because of the discount or promotion.

For example, a few months back I was sitting in my kitchen and decided to open my Groupon app. I saw a special for “50% off any massage” at a local boutique up the road from me. I had not planned to get a massage that day, or even heard of the boutique. But I went and gave it a try, and I left satisfied. I’ll probably go back the next time I need a massage.

When to use: Deal sites are a useful tool for businesses who are just starting out, and trying to spread word-of-mouth for their product or services. These businesses are prepared to lose some of their bottom-line in order to generate awareness.

When not to use: Businesses who are established in their community should pass on deal sites because of the high costs associated with them. Deal sites can also be unfair to loyal customers, since the new customers are reaping all of the rewards.


Medium Commitment

Blogging is a great way for small businesses to build their network, further optimize for SEO, and generate content for social sharing.

Increased Exposure

When businesses write content that is relevant to their community and followers, it increases the chance for readership and sharability. When readers share a blog post, they are spreading word-of-mouth and increasing the brand exposure for the business.

SEO Benefits

If an Italian restaurant in New York City’s blog posts constantly include keywords such as “italian restaurant” and “New York City,” their search engine rank surrounding that topic and those keywords will be higher, causing them to be more searchable (and findable).

When to use: Blogging is great for small business owners or managers who have a) interest in writing about their industry and b) the time to write. The benefits of blogging vary based on your industry. Industries being searched for on Google will benefit the most.

When not to use: In some cases, just having a blog can hurt a business more than it can help. If customers land on a blog that hasn’t posted in months, they may assume it’s out of business, or that their online contnet isn’t trustworthy. Businesses who don’t have time, aren’t committed, or are in an industry that isn’t searchable shouldn’t invest too much into blogging.

Local SEO

High Commitment

Customers are constantly searching for businesses on the most popular search engines. Incomplete or inaccurate listings can cause a credibility-hit or even a lost opportunity for sales.

Moz local makes it easy for businesses to optimize their listings, with a one-stop-shop for editing a listing, which is then sent out to all of the popular search engine players. Moz also allows you to see how your business listings are performing. For the heck of it, I searched the pizza shop down the street from me, and lone-and-behold they have inconsistent websites across different search engines. They should probably get that fixed.

When to use: Local SEO is great for services industries where customers are searching for solutions (cleaning, window repair, etc.).

When not to use: Local SEO will cost you some time, money, and technical knowledge to optimize for. Businesses who are in lesser-searched industries should not bother with dumping resources into SEO.


High Commitment

For small businesses, a website can be a central hub for a solid digital marketing strategy. Websites are great for increasing sales or just acting as an online version of a business card. When a customer searches for a business on Google, the ideal scenario would be for them to land on the business’s homepage. Here, customers will be able to see hours of operation, location, and any other marketing collateral (i.e. weekly promotions) of the business’s choice.

When to use: Websites are great investments for businesses that plan to process transactions online, such as reservations for a restaurant or e-commerce purchases for retailers. If you’re building a digital brand around your business, you should also have a website.

When not to use: If your new customers come primarily from foot traffic and local in-person discovery, then you should set up a simple Facebook or Yelp page with your business information and skip the website.

Loyalty Program

High Commitment

One of the more technical (and also effective) digital marketing tools are customer loyalty programs. Integrating loyalty programs into a POS (point-of-sale) system is a great way to gain repeat business and produce brand evangelists. Customer loyalty programs are not just for big businesses – as a well thought out program can help scale any sized business and still not break the bank. Here are 4 loyalty program services available for small business owners.

When to use: Digital loyalty programs are great for businesses who depend on repeat customers, and want a tech savvy way to reach them. These businesses have a good amount of resources to explore digital loyalty options.

When not to use: Digital loyalty programs are expensive and require technical engineering and research. If a business has limited resources, a non-digital approach may be their best bet.