Online marketing 101 how to market your business on a shoestring

If you think marketing is just for the big players, think again. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can use the power of marketing to enhance their brand, connect with their customers and improve their bottom line.


The rise of online marketing has made it easier (and cheaper!) than ever to help make sure your business is seen by a potentially huge audience.

So what types of online marketing are available, how do they work, and how do you get started? While I'm no expert, I have learned a few things as I've tested different online channels. I've also found some great sources of information which I've included as links for you in this article.

Types of online marketing:

There are tons of different ways you can start online marketing. Here are some effective programs you can manage easily that won't break the bank.

Email marketing

What? Perhaps the most 'traditional' of all online marketing methods. Email marketing is exactly that: it allows you to keep in touch with customers via email.

Why? Sending emails is one of the cheapest, simplest and some argue most effective, forms of online marketing. It also helps keep you top of mind with those who've already bought from you.

How? Tempting as it may be, buying email lists is nearly always a bad idea. Instead, consider starting to collect email addresses from your existing customers – this article from gives 15 great ways you can do this – and then begin emailing your list with useful information (think updates, new products, insider info on upcoming sales, industry news, special offers, discount codes, content with links to your transactional site, etc).

Who? Buzzfeed is the king of the email. It's amazing how a cutely-written subject line (preferably with a question or command) can really draw readers in to open and read on.

More information? There are plenty of email marketing tips in this Forbes' article, including the importance of always giving people the opportunity to unsubscribe, and the dangers of Spam! Or, take a look at the things not to do in this Mashable post.

Getting started – there are lots of email platforms you could use, and some of them are free. This article looks at 12 of the best.

Content marketing – starting with a blog

What? Content marketing, while not a new concept, is probably one of the fastest-growing areas of digital marketing. It's often not that intuitive for businesses as it involves creating relevant and valuable online content aimed at what your target audience is interested in, rather than what you as a company want to talk about, i.e. your products and services.

Why? The Content Marketing Institute claims consumers have 'shut off' the world of traditional marketing. “They own a DVR to skip television advertising and often skip magazine ads.” Company blogs are a tried and tested strategy and are cheap to set up. Especially with the ability to set up a website for less than $100. f you're careful, you can also combine subtle selling - for example, if you're a fashion retailer, including a link to your best-selling white tee at the end of a blog post about the best white tee to wear for your body shape.

How? Deliver engaging, helpful, tailored information targeted at your customer base, and be rewarded through loyalty. And don't forget to promote your content – this is where your social media channels can come in useful!

Who? American Express provides regular OPEN forum posts around customer service, leadership and technology, which companies big and small can learn from. This positions the brand as a willing and reliable partner to businesses.

More information? The Content Marketing Institute is an excellent first port of call for businesses still trying to get a handle on contemporary marketing. Or try the Social Media Examiner's expert guide for success for help with your blog.

Getting started – there are lots of blogging platforms you could use, this article looks at 5 free options to get you started.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What? SEO is a means of organically improving the visibility of your web pages within Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). It's based around the on and off-page elements of your site that make it more 'search engine friendly'.

SEO isn't to be confused with Pay Per Click (PPC) which, as the name suggests, is a form of search engine marketing that you pay for. PPC are the listings at the top and right hand side of the results pages that have “ad” written next to them. If you're interested in PPC, here's a good beginner's guide.

Why? The higher up a search page your product or brand rests, the more likely it is to be checked out – research shows that 75% of people don't look further than the first results page on search engines. Using SEO is a non-paid way (unless you employ a company to do it on your behalf) of improving your chances of being found online by getting higher up the SERPs.

How? This is where you need to be careful. SEO isn't easy and it won't happen overnight (beware of any SEO companies telling you otherwise! Gone are the days of keywords stuffing and buying dodgy backlinks).

There are many, many factors that go into helping your website rank better, including regularly publishing unique, interesting content - that's where your blog comes in! But with a few simple steps – take a look at “More Information”, below - you can start your website's SEO journey.

More information? While SEO is undoubtedly a complicated subject, there are plenty of actionable beginner's tips that'll help you get started.

Mobile marketing

What? Smartphone and tablet usage continues to increase, so it's becoming more and more important to consider this channel – think text messages, multi-media messages and geo-location.

Why? According to Marketingland, mobile now represents 65 percent of digital media time, while the desktop is becoming a "secondary touch point" for an increasing number of digital users.

How? You need to know how to market your business to an on-the-go audience which scans rather than reads and wants to get to the crux of a problem instantly. Text messages can also be used the same way as emails, alerting customers to offers, discounts or campaigns.

Strip down your content for mobile so only the bare essentials of your message remain, or else risk being shunned by no-nonsense smartphone users. And if you haven't already, don't forget to set up your Google business listing - it's a free service that means your business will show up on Google Maps.

More information? CIO's mobile marketing tips are primed for small businesses.

Getting started - this article looks at 11 mobile marketing platforms that you could use.

Whichever online marketing channels you choose, it goes without saying that you should measure how each is performing. For example, with your email marketing, your email platform should be able to give you simple metrics that'll show how each of your emails is performing (how many people received, opened and clicked on the links in them).

By looking at these results, you can start to see which types of email - e.g. promotions, new products, updates – work best; which day and time of day seems to work best and also the subjects that people seem to be most interested in (so you can send more about this and related topics).

It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many companies start 'doing online marketing' and just continue with what they've always done because they don't have time to review, improve, or change it.


The sites I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you'd find useful – I don't endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.