As a digital marketing lecturer, marketing trends analyst and multiple business founder, Tom Willis knows pretty much everything there is to know about successful online marketing for businesses. He joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to share some of his top digital marketing tips for total beginners.
It’s a common conundrum for small and micro-business owners – you’ve got a great little business, but how do you get the word out to new customers and clients to keep your enterprise growing, especially in the highly-competitive digital age?
While it can be convenient to enlist the services of a digital marketing expert to help you nail your online advertising, this is often outside the budget of many small and micro-businesses. Yet Tom says there are some key things every business owner can learn to get the ball rolling on digital advertising on their own.
Tom Willis, digital marketing expert
How digital marketing helps small business
“Digital marketing is a beautiful cross-section between the subjective and the objective,” says Tom. “It’s about trialling different messaging, different campaign creatives and imagery, but also being able to back up everything you’re doing with data and numbers. From email marketing through to search and content marketing, you need to be able to back it up and say, ‘that has worked’.
“Then also leverage that data to help you find an intersection between what your customers are looking for, where they are located, and the behaviours they’re using to find different products and services – whether that’s through searches on their mobile devices, browsing news feeds, checking their emails, or looking through their messages.
“It’s really looking to put ourselves in front of those ideal customers, to make sure that we are being noticed and that we’re creating something that piques interest and ultimately leads to them becoming part of your buying journey.”
So, where should a small business owner start when considering their first forays into digital marketing? Tom outlines three key ways to begin.
Step 1: Setting up your website for Google search
“Your website becomes your digital footprint,” Tom explains. “The barriers for entry in creating a website are so small now; I think it’s an absolute must-have for today’s business. You’ve got complete autonomy on what you show across your website and the different information you want to collect on your target customer – it’s the first cornerstone for anything you’re doing online.”
Once your website is up and running, it’s time to get people to visit it. Tom says setting up your business with Google’s online business tools is the logical place to begin.
“Before doing any type of advertising, it’s important to make sure that you’ve got a free Google Analytics account and tracking infrastructure set up across your website,” he advises. “Otherwise, you’re not going to have any data to make further decisions on.
“Then, making sure that your website is easily accessible by search engines, particularly Google, is important. Make sure you’ve verified your website and set up your Google Search console and a Google Business Profile. If you’re a local business and want to attract customers, these will help you initially get on the map and start to be located.
“In your Google Business profile, you’re able to select three different categories that represent what you provide as a service or a local business – make sure that you are setting all three of those up because that allows you to target various categories. For example, suppose someone’s searching for ‘pizza near me’. In that case, you can tell Google that you’re a restaurant, but specifically a pizza restaurant – that gives you much more relevance to those specific searches being conducted.”
Listen to Tom Willis on the Flying Solo podcast:
Step 2: Know your keywords
“The key thing many businesses overlook is the need for keyword research,” Tom warns. “This is as simple as going to Google and typing in a few searches around what your ideal audience is typically going to be looking for. Then Google provides you with suggestions.
“You can also use a tool such as Google Ads, which provides a keyword planner – this gives you the ability to search any keyword and know how many searches it’s getting per month. As a non-paying user looking for some free intel, it’ll give you a general range of what those searches are. As a paid user of Google, you’ll get a more precise figure of how many times that keyword is searched for each month. This helps you to prioritise things like content for your website. It also helps you start to work backwards and think, ‘If I do any advertising on these specific keywords, what does the opportunity look like?’
“Keywords help you tap into short-tail searches, where people might search for things like ‘lawyer’ or ‘business’ – but remember, many people want to compete on that specific result page.
“We’ve had great success at Lawpath targeting long-tail searches. As an example, instead of somebody just searching for ‘Do I need an ABN?’, we’ve put together a series of articles that target all of the different cases of when someone’s going to need an ABN. It might be something like, ‘Do I need an ABN to sell at the markets’ or ‘Do I need an ABN to invoice?’ We create content that specifically answers that question, which then becomes something that Google can index because it specifically answers what somebody’s looking for.
“You can create a clear list of keywords, knowing that this is what people are searching for, and create content that matches those needs. And if you do this right, with relevance and adding value to what someone’s looking for organically, you’re going to bring additional visits to your business, which is ultimately going to lead to more inquiries and business as well.”
Step 3: Know where your customers are coming from
“When setting up a digital marketing campaign, you’ll be able to target people based on their geography, demographics and interests, and also their behaviours,” says Tom. “It’s really important for local businesses to ensure that they’re putting in their physical location and targeting that location around their business.
“From there, you’ll be able to target demographics such as gender, ages, or level of education, and then you move into things like interests. So you’ve got the ability to target people based on a lot of information.
“The other area that you can access is behaviours. This allows you to look at things like browsing behaviour – for example, are they people who play games or use a certain type of mobile device? – and then be able to target those accordingly.”
Advertising on Google vs social media
So, should you choose Google ads or social media for your small business advertising? Tom says it depends on your product or service and how unique you are.
“There are two ways, typically, of getting some quick wins from digital marketing,” Tom explains. “We either go down the path of Google ads and targeting the intent of users, or we go down the path of targeting who the person is themselves.
“Often, that’s going to come down to whether people actively search for your product or service. If that is the case, an investment into the Google ad space is often the way to go. However, if you are a new category, or you’ve got a very visual, desirable product – something that you believe has more of an appeal when people are being exposed to it, as opposed to them actively looking for it – then social media advertising is typically the way that you go about getting that initial exposure.
“If I were to give any advice for somebody looking to choose where to advertise, I’d ask them: where do they get the most bang for their buck? Find the one that you believe your audience will be on, and then give that all you’ve got. Don’t feel like you need to be across six channels and spread your resources thin trying to maintain them and produce unique content; focus on one and do it well.”
Listen to the full Flying Solo podcast episode for more tips, tricks, and insider secrets to digital marketing.