Pitfalls and Priorities: Digital Marketing for Small Business

As a small business owner, digital marketing solutions are almost always an essential item on the shopping list to help generate leads and sales into your growing business.

There are so many opportunities and platforms though. How do you choose where to invest your budget to maximise the return?

In this post, we explore how the different digital marketing opportunities fit together to form a sum which is greater than its parts. We’ll also explain some common pitfalls where small businesses waste digital marketing budgets which deliver frustratingly few or no results.

Where to start?

Most importantly, a small business owner must understand the available tools and what each is used for.

The marketing process is a relatively simple one when viewed strategically, following the simple acronym:


  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

We developed a small variation on this classic theme to map the digital marketing options and opportunities – the digital marketing funnel.

Top of funnel activity should have objectives including; awareness, interest, creating trust, relationships and reputation.

Since we buy from people or brands we trust, this first phase of the funnel is critical. Outside of digital marketing, tools used might include radio ads, TV ads, print, PR, sponsorship, your sign written fleet or leaflets and exhibitions among others.

Within digital marketing, we might adopt social media activities, content marketing, banner advertising, promoted video or paid ads on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, for example.

Any and all of those opportunities can be targeted to reach your ideal audience. Some with more accuracy than others and some with targeting options more closely aligned with your target audience.

However, they are all interruption strategies. Like interrupting someone in the street. Pitching a product or service they weren’t aware of or didn’t need at that moment isn’t a particularly effective sales strategy.

That is of course, unless your marketing is so tightly targeted, so highly relevant and so unmissable that the customer can’t possibly refuse.

That rarely happens!

Top of the Funnel

Top of funnel activity should be focused on building awareness of your business and your brand in order to create opportunities further down the funnel.

Those brand activities should be measured with the right metrics; reach, engagement, brand search (more on that shortly) and brand recall if you have access to that data.

Middle Funnel – Search

Search Engines exploded with the realisation that when a customer knows what they want, they can easily find it using Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search engines.

Historically, this phase might have been more familiar as the local directory or ads in the local newspaper.

In either case, demand existed or had been created. The customer is now searching for a solution to their problem, or better still if your efforts in the top of the funnel are working;

The customer searches for your brand or product rather than their problem.

Imagine if, instead of searching for ‘local coffee shops’, customers searched for ‘starbucks’ or ‘costa coffee’. But wait, customers do behave that way!

Starbucks and Costa have extensive brand equity campaigns to create trust in their brand. So much so that many customers are invested so heavily in their brand that they no longer search for coffee shops, they no longer go for coffee, it must be Starbucks or Costa.

The great news with brand equity is that it carries right through the funnel, improving performance of search and improving conversion rates at the bottom of the funnel too.

The great news about Brand Search is that in most cases, you won’t need an extensive SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) campaign or to spend a fortune on Google AdWords for your brand terms. Your website should rank at the top of Google for your brand organically and if you do decide to bid on your own brand name, AdWords clicks are typically pennies too.

The Bottom of the Funnel – Conversions

In Digital Marketing, we use the term, ‘conversion’ to represent the goal of a campaign. For an eCommerce store, that might be a purchase. For an accountant or solicitor, that might be a contact form completion or phone call. It might equally be a download of a guide or registration to attend attend a free seminar or webinar.

Whatever you goal is for that user on your website is your conversion.

Since we buy products and services from people and brands that we trust, building brand equity and trust in the top of the funnel means that visitors to your website have a higher conversion rate.

Millions buy books from Amazon. Because it’s the cheapest? No. It isn’t. Because we trust Amazon. Because it’s easy. Because Amazon knows us and our buying habits, knows our payment details and knows where to deliver it. Amazon is convenient, but also trusted so much that most of us don’t even search the Internet for books, we search Amazon – such is the level of brand equity that Amazon has built.

Where to Begin Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Now that you understand the funnel, you’ll hopefully understand where each of the digital opportunities fit, which you should choose for which objective and how to measure their success.

Begin With Your Customer

Who is your customer? Are they male or female? How old are they? Are they wealthy, have children, retired, employed or in education?

Before you spend a penny on marketing, you should have a clear picture of your customer and what motivates them.

We call this a persona.

When you have a clear persona, you know who that person is and who you’re talking to. You’ll know what language to use in your ads or written copy and what images are right, even what colours to make your company logo and what your website should look like.

You will also have some insight into which social media channels your audience uses and other brands they might have an affinity with. Those define where you should spend your time and perhaps where you might want to invest some budget positioning your brand and creating the awareness, interest, trust and Desire – but NOT where you should start selling!

Consider What Creates Demand

Next, consider what creates demand for your product or service and why. Is it a price intensive battle, or the quality of product or service. Is location important, perhaps guarantees or speed of delivery.

We’re now deep into the second phase of the funnel – Search.

What do customers type into a Search Engine to find a solution to their problem?

With a little research or a contact with a Search Marketing Agency, it is possible to estimate the volume of search, the budget you might need to run a campaign to attract those searchers to your website through Pay per Click.

Alternatively, you might want to attract that traffic to your site through organic search, achieved through an SEO campaign.

Here’s the secret though. The businesses that achieve the greatest return on their digital efforts do both.

The Search phase delivers more visitors to your site if you’re effectively marketing your business at the top of the funnel.

Consider this; you search Google for ‘mens tracksuits’. Among the top three ads is Amazon and the other two aren’t familiar. You’re more likely to click on Amazon’s ad because of the level of brand equity. That principle works exactly the same with almost every business, though not necessarily at that scale.

To maximise conversion rates, you’ll need to make sure that the traffic arriving on your website is as relevant as possible and is highly motivated and ready to buy.

Let’s take four search terms which could be used by our persona, for example; ‘accountant’, ‘tax return’, ‘rymer associates’, ‘accountants portsmouth’.

‘accountant’ has low intent and could have multiple meanings. Someone researching what an accountant is, perhaps looking for a job or even looking to hire an accountant. But we don’t know where this service is needed. We also don’t know whether this is a small business or a large corporation with complex, demanding requirements.

tax returnalso has low intent and could represent a number of different contexts. Can we convert this search into a lead? A low percentage of the time, sure. Profitably, perhaps not.

‘rymer associates’. Now we’re seeing the benefit of brand equity. This searcher knows our brand, or has been recommended, or has already visited our site before. We can definitely convert this into a lead or a sale a high percentage of the time (unless we’re not Rymer Associates, in which case this is a poor strategy!).

‘accountants portsmouth’ has great intent and we know this search represents someone with a very specific, relevant need that we can service. Our brand equity will significantly increase the conversion rate, lower our cost per lead and increase the number of leads we gain from the investment in Search Marketing.

We’ve arrived at the bottom of the funnel where the magic happens: conversions. leads and sales. As businesses, that’s what we really want from our digital marketing spend.

As we’ve noted already, your website will produce a higher volume of conversions if visitors are already invested in your brand.

That’s not enough though.

Make your Website the Ultimate User Experience

The User Experience on your website is critical if you’re to maximise the potential of your campaigns and your investment in time and or budget.

The design of your website should be consistent with your brand and attractive to the person. There’s little point in having a website that looks cheap and cheerful if you want to attract high fees for your service. The reverse produces equally poor results too – a website that looks classy and expensive will set the expectation that the price is high too – if your sales strategy is all about price, think carefully about website design.

How fast your website loads, particularly on mobile devices, is critical to producing a good conversion rate. Test your website’s load times using Google’s free tool and see how it compares to your competitors.

Fix as many issues as you can afford to make your site load as fast as possible.

Your offer is also critical to conversion rates. You wouldn’t ask a stranger visiting your website for the first time to sign up for a contract, right? You’d offer a free consultation, or a sample of your product, a video of how it works or of happy customers.

Testimonials and customer quotes can have a significant impact on conversion rates too, particularly if there’s an endorsement from a celebrity or a recognisable brand. You’re as good as the company you keep, so it is said.

Lastly, your call to action should be simple, obvious and clear. Avoid using lengthy contact forms – every additional field reduces the percentage of completions.

The checkout process on your eCommerce store should take as few steps as possible and avoid any possible cause for confusion. Those will also increase cart abandonment up and lose sales and profit.

Test, measure, optimise and repeat.

In Digital Marketing, we’re spoiled with the amount of measurement and data we can use to analyse performance. To continue to increase performance and ROI, campaigns need regular monitoring, attention and action.

If you’re not doing that, your competitors are!


About the Author

Mark Tillison is founder and Managing Director of Tillison Consulting, an established figure in the Digital Marketing arena. With years of experience in the industry, he is an enthusiastic and learned writer who can invigorate and inspire businesses of all shapes and sizes to maximise their digital marketing potential. Learn more about how Mark’s articles can grow your business on his Tillison Consulting Blog.

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Email: mark@tillison.co.uk