How Do Small Businesses Get Customers Online?

For this article, we’re going to reflect on an interesting topic; what do local businesses do to attract customers on the internet?

In many ways, this is a big question for businesses in this day and age, and it’s also a topic that is very close to our hearts, as we’ve built our business and brand through our online presence.

We’ve worked hard to understand our readers, understand the online landscape, offer value, and stay ahead of the curve. No one said it was easy, but we feel that if we can do it, you can too!

We think the online world is an interesting one for sure, and that’s why we decided to take some time to discuss this, so, if you’re a local business owner, some of these insights might be useful to you, especially if your business is client and lead focused.

Otherwise, if you’re just a curious reader, and not a businessperson, you still might be interested to learn how businesses reach out and try to connect with users online.

Let’s dive in!

Basics of Online Presence

The internet is in a lot of ways like an ecosystem; there are a variety of different channels that information travels through in order to reach the user.

There are different spots that information originates from, different paths that it travels through, and different ways it ends up on people’s screens.

We can’t look at every way that traffic moves around the ‘net, and, to be realistic, we don’t “do it all”. At a certain point, we buckle down and focus on the most important ways this phenomenon happens.

As such, we’ll tackle four critical categories here:

  • Paid Advertising
  • Social Media
  • Organic Search Engine Results (SEO)
  • Local Presence (Local SEO)

One crucial detail to understand here is that there is no one channel that is better than the rest. To put it another way, there is no platform or method that is definitively the best solution.

In fact, they all work together, connect to each other, and flow into each other.

Because of this, it matters to look at the whole picture, consider what each channel does and understand where your business can fit in.

Ideally, you want to be found everywhere, on all platforms.

As well, you’d want your presence to be consistent and harmonious across a variety of channels. In a perfect world with unlimited time and resources, you’d want nothing less than to be everywhere and take advantage of everything.

However, being omnipresent may not always be realistic.

Time and budget constraints may affect your ability to truly be everywhere, especially for companies starting up.

In fact, if you stretch your resources too thin, just to access more platforms and ways of doing business online, you might see diminished performance on each front. As someone once said, “Don’t get greedy!”

Try to take a measured approach. For example, in some cases, for some specific products or services, one type of advertising might strongly outperform all the other types, and this can be very specific to your business and your niche.

So, you’d need to balance out coverage across platforms with the specific performance and return each brings for you.

In any case, however, this all points back to how crucial it is to understand how each of these channels works and what they can do for you.

We’d suggest you give yourself a fair amount of time to understand each of them and how they relate to your business.

Try to, in good time, make some notes and have some discussions around this very topic with the people involved in your business, and then, over time, draw some important conclusions.

At the same time, you can’t take forever to do this. Time is precious and you can’t stay stuck at the starting line.

That’s why, right now, we’re going to get you acquainted with the different ways you can reach an audience online.

Paid Advertising

The best way to look at advertising is based on the purpose it serves: intent, brand presence, sponsored placements.

The biggest and most popular example of intent-based advertising is Google’s paid search result ads, also known as Google Ads.

So how does Google Ads work?

People search for products or services, using particular keywords or phrases, and your ad gets shown based on what the user requests.

In this way, the user / shopper is showing a lot of intention, and this is crucial to understand how this works.

For instance, if someone were to type “pizza” into Google, that’s a little bit vague, and lacks intention. However, if someone types in “order pepperoni pizza with olives and mushrooms”, Google knows exactly what that means and tries to match their query, or request (think “wish”) with online results it has stored in it. Of those results, ads come up first. It could be your ad.

This is the type of online advertisement that is good for capturing users when they are in a specific mood, or at a key point in their buyer journey.

These ads are associated with what a user is doing online, or literally what they are typing into the search bar, ie, “buy leather couch near me”.

In contrast, brand presence ads include social media ads, video ads like those on YouTube, and display ads, such as those ads you see in banners and sidebars on websites.

These types of ads are associated with who the user is, not what they’re typing into Google per se.

Although, we should say that these ads are similarly targeting people who surf online based on what they have typed in previously, but they’re more of the slow burn type of ad that gets the consumer to buy something eventually, or at least begin to recognize a brand.

Because of this, they have much lower conversion rates, but they are also much cheaper.

They’re best suited for either introducing your brand to new people, or to making sure your current fanbase doesn’t forget you.
These types of ads usually need followup and additional support from other channels (they don’t always work on their own).

The best examples of sponsored placements are the spots you can buy in newspapers, magazines, or on other websites where they actively talk about you, and use their influence and presence to recommend your brand to people.

This type of ad can be pretty powerful because the reader of the newspaper, magazine, or website trusts them, so this is essentially what amounts to getting a recommendation from a trusted source

It also carries added benefit that the organization mentioning you can talk about you and elaborate about the benefits of your brand.

It can, however, be very expensive, especially if you want an endorsement from a highly influential party.

Social Media

Social media includes the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, but also should consider platforms like YouTube and even Reddit.

Social media has two sides to it, which are paid and unpaid.

Social media is all about creating a steady and constant stream of content for users to see all the time.

Content should not be salesy but rather entertaining or informative.

Short form content works best, which gets to the point quick, as users on social don’t usually have a lot of time to linger.

Content must keep flowing frequently and consistently, as it doesn’t stay at the “top” of the “feed” for too long.

For the unpaid side of social media, it’s the content that you post freely for your followers to see, which has a chance to go viral if you play your cards right.

For the paid side of things, you can pay to play and get more exposure beyond your current follower base.

Usually, a combination of paid and unpaid social media content works best. It’s important to have a budget to experiment, but not to waste your entire budget doing just experimentation.

Organic Search Engine Results (SEO)

Organic search engine results are the unpaid informational results found in search engines (most notably, Google).

These are the results people gravitate toward when they have information that they need to find, whether it is to learn about something in depth, find out one quick detail about something, shop around and do their buying research, or locate one specific thing to buy.

In a lot of cases, this is the medium for longform content, such as more in depth informative or entertaining content that people can spend time on and get more acquainted with, and therefore, it is diametrically opposed to social media content, which keeps it short and punchy.

Most of it is written, but can also be video or images, or a combination of a written article enriched with visual media.

SEO traffic can be highly valuable because it is a free stream of traffic and it is well targeted based on the user’s intent, similar to intent advertising above; except this is free.

Because it is both highly valuable and also free flowing, it isn’t easy to obtain, but it definitely is worth it.

That said, you still do need to make it, so it isn’t absolutely “free” in the sense that someone has to put time into making it, and some people pay virtual assistants or writers to write their content for them.

In any case, however it gets onto the website and into the search results, search engines tend to reward websites that publish high quality content and help answer users’ questions.

It’s a long term game and it is very competitive, but very much worth it. It can become particularly powerful when used in combination with other online marketing tactics.

For example, if you are using social media to share posts and videos about a certain topic, wouldn’t it be better if all that content came from your own sources, not someone else’s website? The truth is, a combination of both is probably the best option.

The key to success in SEO is to steadily publish a stream of high quality longform content (ie. blog posts) while also working to improve your brand’s PR and presence online.

Local Online Presence (Local SEO)

Local SEO refers to the presence your business has as a local entity on the internet.

For example, when someone looks for a local real estate agent, a local insurance broker, a local bakery, or a local anything, can your business be found as something nearby to suit their needs?

Local SEO can be achieved by making sure your business is listed in relevant and high quality places on the internet, with your address and contact info tying you into your locale, thereby localizing you, and making you “searchable” and “discoverable” in the local listings.

This includes the very notable Google Business listings, the Bing Business listings, well known directories like Yelp and Foursquare, local community boards, any directories that pertain to your specific industry.

For example, real estate agents are all listed on their brokerage website and on realtor.ca, and more.

You’ll want to be very careful to avoid being included in spammy, low quality, or robot-generated directories.

Also, you need to make sure your name and contact information are consistent, accurate, and up to date at all times.

Having proper contact info listed across your social media helps with this aspect as well, as many people will check for contact information on, for example, a business’s Facebook page.

The Value-First Philosophy

The wonderful thing about the online world is that users and customers have a vast multitude of options. There is seriously no scarcity of anything, which is quite amazing in many ways.

But, this also means that competition can be fierce, so you have to be able to get noticed and stay on top of things.

It’s also important to note that the internet is chock full of advertising and sales pitches, which, for the online shopper or customer, can be aggressive and overwhelming, and a lot of users instinctively tune it out.

Because of this, it has become crucial to show value first before throwing in your sales pitch.

It’s not even enough to simply just show value. You need to demonstrate and prove value, before you can rightfully ask someone to do business with you.

The best way to do that is to focus on creating content that is either informative or entertaining or both, and only intermittently and strategically throwing in that call-to-action to buy or sign up forms.

Additionally, when you’re pitching your services or product to someone, it’s critical to explain what the customer will be getting out of it, why it’s a big deal, and why you are the most qualified to deliver it.

It’s like showing a resume to a potential employer; you have to explain why you’re the best candidate.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to offer value for free.

The internet is full of freebies, so you won’t get far by putting everything behind a paywall.

Additionally, it’s a great relationship builder with your fanbase, and you can use it to systematically capture the most interested and high-value customers.

Trust, Reputation, and Social Proof

When it comes to demonstrating value, the level of trust a user has in you is absolutely vital. Would you ever work with or buy from someone you don’t trust? Neither would we.

User trust is based on a few things:

  • The way you portray and explain your business and what you offer (your resume)
  • What other organizations say about you (any endorsements, mentions, partnerships)
  • What your past clients say about you (your reviews)

When it comes to your resume, like we were saying about value-first, focus on explaining what you do, who you are, and why it’s the best.

When it comes to mentions from other organizations, engaging in advertising, PR, and even community work can improve your visibility.

Lastly, and most importantly, direct reviews and testimonials from your client base are absolutely crucial:

  • It validates that what you do is high quality
  • It highlights the user experience
  • People trust other people
  • People feel confident and comfortable if others have tried it before them

Calls-To-Action and Getting Customers

After making sure to highlight and offer value, plus substantiate it as best as you can, it’s time for a call to action.

You can’t be overly salesy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to the point eventually, whether it’s sooner or later.

In fact, a strong call to action is critical.

First, make sure your contact information is complete, clear, accurate, and consistent.

Have multiple means of contact available: a physical address, a phone number, or email being the most common.

If applicable (and if it makes sense for your industry), have your name, or names of members of your team, listed on your contact page.

The sooner you can make your ad or point of contact personal, the sooner your potential customer will relate to you and start to care about you. This is assuming your type of business benefits from that personal touch.

In some industries, this is necessary to be personal, while in others, it’s ok to just say “contact us” or “contact our team”, exhibiting a sense of expediency and efficiency, rather than “I want to be your friend”.

Have a “contact us” option that leads to a contact page easily accessible from everywhere on your site. There should be no blind spots.

The “About Us” page should always include contact information as well.

You will also need to build out pages on your website called “landing pages” or “conversion pages”.

These are pages dedicated to capturing the interest of the user and inviting them to take action, such as: contact, sign up, buy, etc.

These can be pages that you direct ad traffic to or they could be linked to internally from other more informational pages that get ad, social, or organic traffic.

You can consider other forms of conversion like in-text inserts or popups, but do be careful with popups, they can be annoying and even tacky if you overdo them.

Tracking Your Goals and Optimizing

The wonderful thing about the online world of marketing is you have access to a lot of insights about what is happening on your website, how users are behaving, what’s doing well, and what isn’t.

There is absolutely no excuse to not leverage these tools and resources to their fullest.

You will get insights into how your ads, social posts, or organic posts are performing, as there are many analytics tools available to track activity on your site

There are tools that will help you make sense of what is working and what isn’t.

There is an entire science behind tracking and optimization, but we’ll cover the most important basics here.

Customer Analytics & Behavior Tracking

To start with, numbers are everything, but not just sheer “numbers”, rather it’s important to understand what they mean. Sometimes even a small “number” of “events” can mean a lot of money, as a conversion or sale counts as a particular number.

There is a lot of trial and error when it comes to your ad campaigns, and your business plan in general. You come up with an idea that seems reasonable, you put it to the test, you do your best to track how it performs, and then work to improve from there.

It’s an iterative process where you gradually think of an idea, test it, track it, then tinker and improve it over and over until it’s perfect, but it’s not excluded that you might decide to scrap it and go with something else entirely.

Again, test: see what works, what doesn’t, and go from there.

You should consider what variables are important for you to track and what you should keep an eye on, and this varies from business to business.

Marketing Funnels

You should also understand what a “funnel” is and how it works.

A funnel is like a path that the user journeys down from hearing about you to buying your product or service.

Here’s an example:

  • User sees an ad, social post, or info post
  • User clicks through and ends up on your site
  • User spends time on your site
  • User decides to learn about you and visits an About Us page or Contact page
  • User decides to pick up the phone and call you
  • After phone call, user decides to hire your services

This is just one example of how the steps of the funnel or the funnel’s “journey” could be laid out, but hopefully you get the idea.

To give you a visual, marketers often talk about the “top” of the funnel. A common analogy is the ship in the ocean, encountering a powerful whirlpool. At first, they are being pulled slightly, but the pull eventually gets stronger and stronger.

Which isn’t to suggest that you need to get more aggressive, but you want to think about the momentum and urgency that you create as a business owner, offering things like “limited time offers” and things of that sort at particular times, to incentivize the customer to act.

To do this, you need to know your customers, or else using marketing psychology will be ineffective.

What’s also important to understand is that, broadly speaking, marketing funnels depend on traffic volume and conversion percentage.

Traffic volume is the total number of people that are on each step (total number of people that see your ad, for example).

Conversion percentage is the % of people that make it from one step to the next (% of people that see the ad that click through to the next stage).

Not everyone who sees the ad will click, and not everyone who clicks will decide to call you, etc.

The numbers are supposed to start large and get smaller and smaller toward the end, because, after all, we are whittling the numbers down until we have a sale, or a “conversion”, as it were.

So it’s perfectly natural for a number like 1000 to eventually become just 1, depending on the number of stages in the funnel.

By tracking and examining each stage of the funnel, you can spot where you’re doing well and where you might need improvement (if conversion % drops off at a specific stage).

By systematically monitoring and improving the funnel, you can work your way to having a smooth, stable, and predictable source of traffic, phone calls, and ultimately – customers.

Lastly, don’t forget to ask for a review or testimonial after the customer has purchased your product, and seems to be happy with it.

Follow ups are crucial for having repeat customers, and getting people to stay in touch with you in the long run.

In Conclusion

Thanks for taking the time to read this guide, and we hope it offered some insight into what to expect with online marketing and online client lead generation.

Your research should by no means stop here. It’s a vast and intricate science, changing every day, so keep learning!

Ideally this crash course offered you some useful tips, mindsets, and some direction.

Til next time!

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