Getting your business off the ground isn’t without its challenges. Whether you’ve recently registered your first company or are a more seasoned business owner, knowing how to advertise your small business online is often essential to reach your customers. But with so many options out there, it can feel daunting.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most effective digital marketing methods – from Google ads and social media campaigns to online directories and email marketing – to build brand awareness, connect with your desired audience and ultimately meet your business goals.
Why you should advertise your small business online
Online advertising is a marketing method that uses the Internet as a medium to reach customers and promote your product, service, or brand. This can take on the form of paid advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook, or on search engines like Google. You can also leverage unpaid advertising opportunities such as email marketing and blog posts.
Advertising your business online offers a variety of benefits. For starters, it can be more cost-effective than traditional marketing avenues (think magazine ads and printed catalogues). You’re also working with more data and analytics tools to track campaign results and reach the right customers. Another advantage is the opportunity to connect with a much wider and more engaged audience thanks to the Internet’s massive global reach. Read on for some of the most popular ways to promote your new business online.
Advertise your small business on Google
It goes without saying that Google is a major player in the digital advertising space. Promoting your business on the search engine can take different forms. First, let’s establish the basics: understanding the difference between SEO and SEM.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to any organic search strategy (meaning any unpaid method for improving search performance) that improves Google’s ability to deem your website or social media accounts as a trustworthy source of information. This encourages Google (and other search engines) to recommend your sites and accounts to relevant users. There are a number of fundamental SEO techniques to boost organic traffic and improve your website’s search ranking. See here for our complete SEO guide for entrepreneurs, which includes everything from how to conduct a keyword analysis to earning authoritative backlinks.
While you can implement SEO to improve traffic to your sites all on your own, it’s not always easy to do – especially if you hope to land Google’s first search page! Many companies hire SEO specialists to improve page optimization and improve the overall experience to increase the likelihood that customers will stay on your site and buy from you. This may include services such as analyzing your search competition, investigating website speed, and mobile-friendliness.
Search Engine Marketing
SEM refers to Search Engine Marketing. While SEO is an organic method for reaching your target audience, SEM refers to paid search marketing. In other words, you can increase your website’s visibility via paid ads that appear on Google’s search engine results page (SERPs). You’ve likely noticed these search ads any time you type a query into Google. The paid ads are always listed at the top or bottom of the results page.
This model is also known as pay-per-click (PPC) marketing which means, as an advertiser, you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. In broad terms, setting up a Google Ads campaign involves bidding on keywords, and whichever marketer “wins” (depending on everything from how much you’re willing to pay per click to the quality of your ad) gets the coveted top spot. While it’s possible to set up an SEM campaign yourself, the process can be complicated and time-consuming, so depending on your level of expertise, you may want to hire a specialist.
Think of SEO as a long-term investment in boosting website traffic and SEM as a more immediate marketing strategy for converting clicks into customers. This is because it typically takes weeks for Google’s algorithm to recognize site changes and improve your search ranking, which means traffic slowly builds over time. Google ads, on the other hand, can be launched in a matter of hours and can help support your SEO efforts.
While it’s important to ensure your site is SEO optimized, you don’t actually need a website to practice SEO (though it is the most effective method). You can use SEO to attract customers to social media channels, instead. To get started, create a Google My Business (GMB) listing and host content on your social media accounts or video sites like YouTube – all of which can be ranked and optimized on the search engine.
Advertise your small business via social media
Social media is a great marketing tool for engaging with a broad audience and increasing brand recognition. It’s key to prioritize the social networks that best align with your business goals. Here’s a brief advertising overview of the top social platforms:
This behemoth social media site (now called Meta) has a broad audience and a wealth of data that enables businesses to target their customers. The most obvious starting point is setting up a Facebook Business Page.
This is the hub from which users can follow your page to connect with your brand, and from which you can run Facebook Ads to grow your business (there are no shortage of ad formats, either, from Facebook in-stream videos to instant articles). Launching ads is a relatively simple process thanks to Meta’s Ads Manager tool, which has a user-friendly interface that offers step-by-step guidance.
Your Facebook Business Page is also a critical SEO tool that acts as an online citation for building a business directory (more on this below). Additional features include:
- Facebook Shop: If you run an e-commerce business, take advantage of the platform’s online storefront feature and showcase products to sell directly on Facebook.
- Facebook Live: Live-stream with your audience to help build brand trust, whether offering a product tutorial or participating in AMAs (“ask me anything”).
- Augmented Reality Ads: This is when Meta gets really, well, meta… the company actually offers virtual-reality camera effects for mobile ads for a more immersive experience that have been shown to improve campaign performance.
Similar to Google ads, Meta has an auction-based pricing model. This means advertisers set a maximum bid for the amount they are willing to pay per click or impression. The highest bid, together with the quality and relevance of the ad, will determine which one gets served to the user.
With its powerful targeting capabilities and large audience, there is no shortage of advertising potential for a wide range of companies. Unique examples include the dating app Bumble and global wine subscription service Naked Wines.
Since both Facebook and Instagram are owned by Meta, there are helpful overlaps between the two. For instance, you have to Create an Instagram Business Account to get started, and the Ads Manager tool (ie: how you set-up ads) is identical. But there are differences to consider.
While Facebook is a great marketing resource for reaching a specific audience (the ad targeting capabilities are extensive), Instagram typically delivers a higher engagement rate thanks to its visual nature. Instagram also targets a younger demographic – primarily those within the 18-34 age range.
So while Instagram Stories, IGTV, and Reels are all powerful platform features, you still need to ensure the content you produce is high-quality and visually compelling. You can also sell products directly on IG, with almost three-quarters of shoppers looking to the social network for their next purchase.
While online retailers will certainly benefit from advertising on the social platform, other types of businesses that have succeeded with Instagram include gardening app, PlantIn and online travel agency, Luxury Escapes..
Pinterest is arguably one of the most impactful social networking sites that is often overlooked. Compared to other platforms, Pinterest users (“Pinners”) are ready to take action. After all, people arrive actively seeking inspiration, whether a recipe to cook for dinner or travel ideas for an upcoming vacation. Pinners are also planners, often saving ideas two to three months ahead of the actual event or holiday they’re prepping for. Translation: almost endless advertising potential.
The image-sharing platform also has impressive ad targeting capabilities and offers the capability to create a variety of attention-grabbing Pins (bookmarks people use to save content they love) in different formats. Even if your brand is not visual in nature, you may still find ways to leverage the platform to meet your business objectives, for example, by displaying text on top of an eye-catching image.
Since Pinterest seeks to inspire, more obvious marketing examples include a furnishing company like IKEA or a DIY-related brand like Scotch Tape. However, even financial institutions like State Farm Insurance have seen great success on the platform.
If you’re looking to promote your brand or service to a more professional audience, LinkedIn might be your social network of choice, especially for B2B advertising. The platform has unique marketing capabilities that enable you to target customers based on employment factors such as job seniority, company size, field of study, and more. Other benefits of advertising on the platform include different marketing formats (like Sponsored In-Mail), retargeting possibilities, and high conversion rates.
Businesses that cater to the needs of professional organizations are a good fit for LinkedIn advertising. Examples include the instant messaging platform Salesforce and software company Adobe.
Take advantage of online directories
Building citations for your company is one of the best methods for enhancing your business’s local SEO ranking, as well as your company’s overall discoverability. A citation is an online mention of your business that includes the business name, address, and phone number. This is commonly referred to as NAP data – name, address, phone number. Think of your NAP as your business’s unique online identifier that allows search engines like Google to differentiate your company from any other.
What should you include in a local search listing? While the NAP acronym is catchy, it can actually include more than just the business name, address and phone number. Adding your website URL, operating hours, updated logo, and even images of your business or product can be helpful.
The good news is building your citation presence is quite straightforward via online directories. Below is a list of the top search directories and platforms in Canada on which to list your business:
While the above listing platforms are a solid starting point, there are a number of other popular industry-specific citation sources to consider, depending on your target audience. For example, TripAdvisor and Foursquare in the travel and hospitality space, or the Canadian Public Health Association in the healthcare industry.
Use email marketing
Email marketing is another powerful digital marketing tool for promoting your business and building a loyal customer base. Examples include a newsletter, a welcome email (perhaps offering subscribers a product discount or free trial), or an exclusive weekly email from the company founder. And, unlike social media messages that are limited to short word counts and time limits, emails enable businesses to send longer, more personalized messages to customers.
Of course, to send out emails, you need to build an email list. Whether you plan to design a newsletter from scratch (MailChimp is a popular tool) or leverage other forms of email marketing, you need customers to share their email with you in order to send them out. Below are a few strategies you can use to attract subscribers:
- Run a contest or giveaway (more on this below)
- Create exclusive content for subscribers (such as downloadable guides or free webinars)
- Promote sign-ups on your brand’s social media platforms
- Integrate a call to action (CTA) for email/newsletter sign-ups into popular web content
- Have a widget for sign-ups on your site’s homepage
- Run a paid sign-up campaign (on a social platform like Facebook or Google Ads)
Always prioritize quality content over quantity (even if, for example, this means sending out a monthly newsletter vs weekly). At the end of the day, remember that subscribers actively chose to sign-up to receive your brand’s content and will be just as quick to unsubscribe if they no longer see the value.
Create a podcast
The epic rise of podcasting within the last decade has been staggering. The medium continues to rise, with over one-third of Canadians aged 18 to 49 tuning in for about four hours each week. According to the most recent data, Canadian listeners access their favourite podcasts via Spotify (40 per cent) followed by their phone’s podcast app (35 per cent) and YouTube (18 per cent). And when it comes to digital marketing, the opportunity is two-fold: create a podcast or advertise on one.
When starting your own podcast, it’s important to determine if it’s a worthwhile endeavour for your brand. A few questions to consider:
- What unique insight can you offer?
- Is there a gap in the podcasting market for this niche?
- Are you able to create enough engaging content around this topic?
- Can your idea sustain a series of compelling episodes and/or seasons?
- Who is your target audience?
- How will your podcast appeal to them most effectively?
- Which podcasting format and hosting style suits your niche best?
- Will there be multiple hosts or just one? Will it be an interview-based series?
- Can you access the proper podcasting equipment and recording software?
- Will you be able to devote enough effort to the process?
If creating a podcast from scratch doesn’t feel realistic, consider sponsoring a relevant podcast in the form of a promotional break (this typically means the podcast host will read out an ad for your business). The reason? Data has shown audiences are less likely to skip podcast ads compared to those displayed on web or social media sites.
There’s also an alternative option. Market yourself (or someone from your company) as an expert in your field and become a guest on podcasts within your niche. This is a great opportunity to promote your business and network with like-minded people. And who knows, it may provide the inspiration to launch your own podcast in the future.
Host an online event
Over the past few years, hosting a virtual event has gone from a novel idea to a mainstream experience. Compared to in-person activations, online events can be far more cost-effective, and they have the potential to reach a larger, global audience. Event marketing in the digital era can also be a worthwhile strategy for spreading brand awareness and connecting with customers on a more personal level. Forms of virtual events include:
- Virtual pop-up shop: Compared to a retailer’s primary website, a temporary online shop can partner with other brands or target a specific audience with limited-edition products, for instance, to build brand presence and reach new customers.
- Online workshop: Run an interactive virtual session or class. The options are endless depending on your business, from a sustainability workshop to a coding 101 course.
- Webinar: Host a live, online broadcast of a panel discussion, Q&A, or even a voiceover presentation (so long as the content is valuable and engaging).
- Virtual trade show: Secure a 3D “booth” at an online industry trade show to market your product to a global audience. Think of it as a form of virtual reality, where customers enter a virtual exhibit hall and communicate with the exhibitor through a message box.
- Industry conference: Speak at a digital industry conference to network with attendees online and promote yourself as a thought-leader in your field.
No matter the virtual event, your advertising efforts to attract attendees are as important as the experience itself. This could include promoting the event through social channels or a giveaway for free tickets. Use whichever marketing vehicles you have at your disposal and don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth.
Create a blog
If you already have a website, you may want to consider adding a blog. Easily incorporated into a website, a blog offers fresh content to prevent your website from staying static. Of course, you need to update it regularly for it to be of value, which can be time-consuming.
A blog on your website provides many benefits, including:
- Brings traffic to website: If your site publishes content on a regular basis (from expert tips to product round-ups) you’re more likely to attract readers with engaging content compared to a static website design.
- Shareable content: Blog content can be leveraged on your social channels to entice new readers to your website. Prioritize sharable formats like listicles and trending topics.
- Builds SEO authority: Publishing relevant and optimized content will help Google rank it higher in the search algorithm.
- Increases conversions: An optimized blog can help your business rank higher than competitors and ultimately increase leads.
- Reinforces brand and builds trust: If your blog delivers high-quality and reliable content, it can help build customer trust and position you as an authority in your space.
- Builds a community: A blog with strong editorial and an appealing niche can become a destination of its own that fosters a loyal readership.
Run an online contest or giveaway
Sometimes the best way to build buzz around a brand is to incentivize prospective customers with an online contest or giveaway.
Before launching, it’s important to determine your business objective. What result do you want to achieve? More newsletter subscribers? Increased traffic to your website? Build interest around a new product? Gain more Instagram followers? Use your social media channels to promote it.
The prize should reflect your brand, and be valuable enough to attract attention. Examples include a one-year subscription to your service, free admission to an event, or a flashy product giveaway.
Growing your business presence online is a strategic process that takes time. So don’t feel pressure to execute on every platform, which may compromise the quality of your ads or content. Instead, prioritize the promotional tactics that best align with your business goals. When all is said and done, don’t be afraid to test-and-learn, keep an agile approach to your marketing efforts and always embrace change.