What’s the most effective digital marketing channel for small businesses?

It’s not social media. — It’s not advertising. — It’s a website.

So says this 2017 survey of small to medium-sized businesses.

This actually makes total sense. Just as “all roads lead to Rome,” all digital marketing leads back to your website. It’s your business’s digital hub. Home base. A place that you have more control than anywhere else on the web.

Small business owners get this. It’s why websites are the most-used tool by small businesses.  

Top marketing tools for small businesses

As effective as websites are, you need traffic to get results from them. If your website is properly optimized, you won’t need a tidal wave of traffic, but you’ll still need enough traffic to meet your business goals.

Interestingly enough, it’s website traffic – getting more of it – that’s near the top of the list of digital marketing goals.

But as you can see below, it’s also not the easiest thing to do.

Most significant goals and barriers to digital marketing

But don’t let other peoples’ difficulties stand in your way.

Here are 5 effective (and free!) ways to get more traffic to your website.

1. Blog.

I know, I know: You don’t really want to be writing all the time. You aren’t sure how much you could say about your business.

So consider hiring a freelance writer to help you out, because blogging absolutely generates inbound traffic. It’s probably the single best way to bring in more people to your site.

2. Do even basic search engine optimization on your site.

You’d think that if websites were the most widely-used digital marketing tactic, and getting more website traffic was a major priority, that people would take some time to optimize their sites for free traffic, right?

Right?

But no. Of the 1,100 small business owners we surveyed, only 28% did any search engine optimization.

We realize SEO has a rep for being hard to understand, but you don’t need to be an SEO ninja to get good results. If you’re using WordPress, even just installing a plugin like Yoast can help a lot.

Use that, and pick about 10-15 keywords that you’d:

a) like to rank for and

b) are SUPER relevant to your business

and you’ll be further along than you’d think.

Want extra credit? Watch some of Rand Fishkin’s “Whiteboard Friday” videos when you’ve got some downtime or low energy. Or read Search Engine Watch or Brian Dean’s site, Backlinko. And if you want to get the best information possible about local SEO, check out Phil Rozek’s Local Visibility System.

Those are all super-authoritative sources that will not lead you wrong. Pick the “beginner” topics if SEO scares you. Any little bit you can learn will help.

3. Create a couple of videos.

What’s the second-largest search engine?

It’s not Bing. It’s YouTube.

Yup.

Now, understand this: Video marketing does NOT have to mean $10,000 budgets. A smartphone, good light and some understanding of how to make a nice video are  all you need. (If you’re just itching to spend money, invest in a microphone, if you must.)

At first, it will probably take you a few hours to shoot even a few minutes of video. (Don’t worry, it gets better with practice.) But after that time, you’ll have a piece of content you can use for your website, your social media channels and YouTube itself.

And please: Don’t be a perfectionist about this. Even a video with a slightly homemade feel can get major results.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • A 30-second video about what your company does. Think introductory commercial.
  • A 1-2 minute video tour of your company. Kind of an “About us” video that prospective customers might want to see or that prospective employees might even be interested in.
  • A 2-5 minute video about your biggest selling product or the service you provide most often. Include what you wish people knew about this product before they bought it or used it.

It’s just three videos, but that’s a great start.

4. Optimize your major third-party sites like your Facebook page, your “Google My Business” page and your Yelp page.

Local searches can generate a lot of money. If you haven’t claimed your listings on Google or Yelp, I have a request: Do that before you go to bed tonight.

Seriously. Claim your free listings NOW.

If you have claimed those listings already, when was the last time you checked in on them? Have you gotten any new reviews? Answer every single review, even if they’re negative.

Also look to see if you could:

  • Update your hours or any other information
  • Update your offerings
  • Spruce up the description for your business
  • Update the photographs on your site (maybe even add a video…)
  • Mention any specials or upcoming events
  • Link to your social media accounts

5. Check where your traffic is coming from now.

We’ve mentioned plenty of good, introductory places to get traffic. But maybe you need slightly different advice. Often, sites are already getting traffic from surprising sources. When that’s happening, it’s often smart to just increase what’s already working.

So let’s see what’s already working.

Got Google Analytics installed? Go to your dashboard, and look for the “Acquisition” link in the left-hand column. Then click on “Referrals” in the submenu.

That will show you which sites are sending traffic to your website. If your site’s traffic is low, consider changing the date view so you see traffic for the last month or even the last year.

See any surprises? See any sites you could be doing more with? These may be your best opportunities for getting more traffic. “Go with what’s working,” right?

Closing Thoughts

All these traffic techniques are fairly easy to do. They don’t require any money. But they do require something from you.

Patience.

Increasing traffic to your site takes time. Not just a week of work, or even a month of work. Think more like three to six months.

I realize that might be a bit of a downer. But here’s the deal: The sooner you start, the sooner the results will show. And sometimes, people do get lucky and see a boost of traffic within a few weeks.

I just don’t want you to have unrealistic expectations.

If you really need the traffic now, you can always advertise. But don’t let that easy out keep you from using these tactics.

You’ll get a better quality of traffic from the tactics here than you’ll probably get from advertising. You’ll also reap the benefits of your traffic generation work for years. With advertising, it’s a hamster wheel of spending.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing for Wasp Barcode Technologies, a software company that provides solutions to small businesses that increase profit and efficiency. He has contributed content for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Profs, the Washington Post, Fast Company, Allbusiness.com, Business.com and Huffington Post.