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How to advertise your small business online

6 minute read

Rachel Ramsay
Rachel Ramsay

So, you’ve got yourself a website. That’s great! But how do you go about getting the word out about your business’s online presence so that your traffic starts to grow and your website starts doing the job you want it to – whether that’s bringing in new customers or raising brand awareness?

The secret lies in online advertising, an activity that takes many different forms. I’ll be discussing the different options in today’s article, looking at the benefits of online advertising in each of its guises.

As you’ll discover, online advertising can suit any budget, so if you’re worried about the amount of money this is going to cost, don’t be: some of the methods I’ll be talking about in today’s article won’t cost a penny! Nor will you need to pay an expert lots of money to do it for you, as there are numerous online advertising opportunities that you can do yourself.

Types of online advertising and their benefits

‘Online advertising’ is an umbrella term for numerous different online marketing activities, some of which require some budget and others of which cost time. Let’s look at each of them in turn and find out what the benefits are.

Social media

If you’re wondering where to advertise online free of charge, social media is a good place to start. While each of the platforms has paid advertising options, there’s also plenty you can be doing to use social media to drive traffic to your website without expending any of your marketing budget. Social media brings a number of benefits to your business, some main ones being:

  • It allows you to engage directly with your customers and prospective customers – and as user numbers of these apps run into the billions, you’ll have a huge potential audience
  • It helps you raise brand awareness by giving you a platform to share useful or entertaining content that people want to share with their friends
  • You can use it to drive traffic to your website by sharing links to content on it, such as new blog posts or product pages

The main social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, but there are others that could also be worth exploring depending on the nature of your business: TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest, for example.

A more detailed exploration of each of these platforms is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some useful resources if you’d like to find out more about social media options for your business:

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Search engine optimisation, more commonly known as SEO, is the process of getting your website appearing higher up in search engines for relevant search terms.

This works by making tweaks to your own website to optimise it for ‘keywords’ – the words and phrases people type into search engines to find businesses like yours. It’s also about building links from other sites to yours (content marketing being one way of doing this), which search engine algorithms see as an endorsement of your site.

Of course, Google isn’t the only search engine; there’s also Bing and Google-owned YouTube, a video-sharing platform that’s become a search engine in its own right.

There are several benefits to SEO:

  • It’s free, apart from the time it takes and potentially paying a developer to make changes to your website if you’re not able to do these yourself
  • It brings relevant traffic – those who’ve clicked on your site in search results for relevant searches are highly likely to be interested in what you have to offer
  • While it’s not likely to bring overnight success, it’s a strategy that can steadily build your traffic over time

If SEO is something you’d like to explore for your small business, here are some handy resources to help you get started:

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Pay-per-click advertising, better known as PPC, is essentially the paid version of SEO. We’re talking about the paid results you see when you search for something in a search engine, and it’s so-called because you often pay by the click.

For Google, this is powered by Google Ads, which like many of these activities you can run in-house or outsource to an agency or freelancer. Some benefits that make it a good option alongside your SEO efforts include:

  • With the right budget and choice of keywords, you can skip the organic search rankings and potentially get your website appearing at the top of the page – especially beneficial for newer sites that haven’t yet become established in the organic rankings
  • This means it can be great for an immediate influx of traffic (as opposed to the slow and steady approach of SEO)

Here are some useful pages if you’d like to find out more about PPC advertising.

Best of the rest

Native ads

Native ads are those designed to match the site they’re on – such as an advertorial or sponsored content. It’s therefore a more subtle and softer form of advertising that can work well because people don’t feel that they’re being given the ‘hard sell’.

Local sites

For businesses whose customer base is primarily local (such as a restaurant or small shop), having a presence in online communities where local people hang out makes sense.

That might mean banner advertising on local websites, for example, or listings in local online directories. This ties in with SEO, as ‘local citations’ are an important ranking factor for local searches.

Online directories and review sites

While online directories may have limited value for driving customers to your site and are less useful for SEO these days, some directories or online comparison websites can still be popular places for people to search for businesses.

Sites such as Trustpilot and Yelp are good places to have a presence for obtaining reviews of your business, which help with your reputation as well as your SEO.

As already noted, local online directories for businesses in your area are good for capturing local traffic, and it’s worth making sure you’re on directory sites for your own niche, too – for example, Checkatrade and Rated People are good places to list your business if you’re in a trade.

Setting up your Google My Business profile is also a good way to manage your presence on Google, giving your business the opportunity to appear in brand, local and mobile searches.

Influencer marketing

A relatively recent form of online advertising, influencer marketing involves working with people who have large followings on social media. This works because influencers are trusted by their followers, who aspire to be like them and use the same products as them.

Choosing the right advertising channel for your business

Not all methods of online advertising will be suitable for all businesses, and you’ll need to think carefully about your strategy to ensure you’re utilising appropriate channels for your specific business. Here are a few things to think about when deciding on the best types of online advertising for your business:

  • Budget: if your budget is limited (or even non-existent), you’ll be limited to the free forms of online advertising, at least in the beginning
  • Time: some forms of online advertising take more time to set up but can then be monitored; others will require more of an on-going time commitment. Figure out how much time you’re going to be able to devote to advertising each week, and don’t try to do everything – focus on the platforms that will drive most revenue
  • Target audience: it’s important to choose channels that will reach the people most likely to become your customers, so understanding your target audience and where they spend time online is vital. For example, if your business is B2B, your advertising platforms aren’t necessarily going to be identical to those of a B2C business. Similarly, if your target demographic is people aged 60+, TikTok or other platforms popular with young people aren’t likely to be worth your time
  • Measure: as with anything in business, you need to measure to manage, so it’s important to ensure you’re clear about which channels traffic is coming from. That way, you can gauge what’s working and invest more budget in the channels that work best for your business. You can measure this with Google Analytics, and some social media platforms have their own analytics built in too – such as Facebook Analytics

It may feel as though there’s a lot to take on board with online advertising, and there can be! But dipping your toe into the water with one carefully chosen method at a time is a great start, and one that shouldn’t take up too much of your time or budget.

For more techniques and tactics on how to get visitors to your site, have a look at these 21 proven ways to boost website traffic.

Rachel Ramsay

Rachel Ramsay is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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