How can digital marketing help small businesses and startups?

We live in a digital world: a world where anyone can connect with others in seconds. The possibilities are endless, from text messages, voice chats, video conversations, and even virtual reality. 

Although our bodies remain in the physical world, our economies, relationships, and future are built digitally.

This is why businesses and startups serious about productive communication with their audiences must do so in the right place and at the right time. 

This desire to connect with audiences online birthed digital marketing. For many businesses, digital marketing accounts for most of their marketing budget.

It is easy to see why digital marketing has taken over other forms of marketing. Traditional marketing channels like billboards and TV commercials are expensive to procure, costly to maintain, and hard to measure. 

Digital marketing channels, on the other hand, are almost free to start, cheap to maintain over long periods, and easy to measure and improve.

This shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing has leveled the playing field for businesses. Even small businesses and newly funded startups can make their mark and pull audiences without having to match the large marketing budgets of bigger companies.

In this article, we will show you how your small business/startup can get the best out of digital marketing, even if you are running on a shoestring budget or no budget at all.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing refers to using digital channels like social media and email to reach your target audience and market/sell your product or service and is measurable by the impact on the customer’s journey.

This means every action you take on the internet to market your brand, products, or services and get your customer to make purchases, And yes, these include your social media posts, blog articles, and even profile pictures and banners.

Because it deals with marketing efforts that happen online, digital marketing is also called online marketing. There are also paid aspects to digital marketing, as we will discuss later in the article.

We want to point out here that if you run a startup or small business, you are better off investing in digital marketing. 

According to the infographic below from Visual Capitalist, advertising has shifted from traditional media like TV and newspapers to online platforms like social media.


So, how big is the digital marketing industry? 

According to PR Newswire

“The market size has reached $300-400 billion in 2021 and is slated to touch $460 billion by 2022.”

The infographic below shows how big the industry is. 

What does digital marketing mean for small businesses?

Digital marketing transcends simply making a sale. It is a powerful tool for your business to build brand awareness and recognition. 

You may be a small fish in terms of budget, market size, and personnel. But on the internet, you can rival even the best competitor in your field if you do digital marketing right.

Through free and paid digital marketing tools, businesses and startups can connect with the wider market and pitch the brand’s unique offerings. 

There are so many digital tactics, and you don’t have to learn them all. You simply have to determine your marketing goals and choose the best techniques and channels that will help you achieve your goal.

For instance, a brand that produces female beauty care products might want to boost brand awareness so customers can differentiate them from the competition. 

In that case, Instagram marketing is the perfect way to promote the brand. Influencer marketing strategy, in particular, can be a great way to show the audience the uniqueness of their products in packaging, content, and even effects.

On the other hand, A B2B startup is better off leveraging Linkedin marketing. Linkedin will allow them to directly engage with professionals seeking opportunities to improve their companies.

How can small businesses and startups benefit from digital marketing?

Digital marketing is the best avenue for new entrants in any field to establish a brand presence, build brand awareness and create a following of loyal, repeat customers. 

It is the only place you can always find a customer for any product. Regardless of your product or service’s niche, someone on the internet is interested in finding it and sharing it with similar people.

There are a lot more benefits that small businesses and startups can gain from digital marketing. Here is a rundown of some of the major benefits.

Immediate Results from your target audience

With digital marketing, you can see results fast. The best part is that you don’t even need feed feedback to measure the result. All major online platforms provide tools to measure impressions (views) and engagement.

With digital marketing, you can measure your audience’s response to an announcement, event, product, service, or emerging policy. 

Even businesses with little social media presence can leverage paid online advertisement to test how the general public will react to their products and services.

The speed at which you get results does more than simply boost sales and increase customers. It lets you identify the most effective techniques and channels to connect with your target audience. It further helps you in optimization of your marketing strategy.

Many platforms offer you metadata on your audience that you can use to optimize your strategy. These include key demographics like age, location, income levels, education, and general likes and dislikes.

With this intelligence, you can laser focus your marketing campaign on a highly-specific audience and send them customized high-converting marketing content.


Free accounts on various platforms are all you need to begin your digital marketing experience. Most of the paid digital platforms are upgrades on the free options available.

For instance, you can create Twitter and Medium accounts for your blockchain-related startup. Aside from internet costs, designs for your banners and profile pictures, and perhaps an extra $5 for a personalized Medium domain, you are spending nothing to create these accounts.

Without any form of paid marketing tools, you can amass thousands of followers and reach even millions in months. 

Besides, these accounts will remain yours for as long as you want. You don’t have to make recurring fees to maintain them – you only have to source relevant, engaging, high-converting content.

Furthermore, you can leverage your following on one account to drive attention to another. For instance, many startups use their Twitter and Facebook platforms to drive traffic to their blog articles and shared videos.

The best part is that you can experiment with various marketing means such as text, images, and videos without investing too many resources. 

You can discontinue using any platform that doesn’t yield results and focus on those that drive engagement, win customers and boost sales.

Compare that with traditional marketing channels like billboards, TV commercials, sponsorship, and print advertisements. Most of these cost hundreds of thousands to run, and you only get visibility for a pre-limited time. Those who want extensive periods of visibility have to dedicate millions to their advertising budget.

The verdict is clear: all small businesses and startups should get on digital marketing if they want long-term, sustainable, and cost-effective means of reaching out to their target audiences.

Community building

The key to long-term survival as a business is to build a local community around your brand and products. Your brand thrives when the members of your community associate using your products with their sense of pride and lifestyle.

Brands that create this type of online community can focus on creating excellent products and quality customer service without keeping an eye on the price. 

Popular examples include the shopping brands like Gucci and Loui Vuitton. For tech companies, think of Apple products. For beverages, think of Coke.

Your business may not have the large advertising budgets of these brands, but it has the internet. Any business can build a strong community on the internet even if they don’t have a large budget.

For instance, Dollar Shave Club was able to build a massive following due to their video commercial, which dropped at launch. 

The video immediately catapulted them into the same category as Gillette, which has been a major market player long before the founder of was born.

Many cheap and even free tactics can help any new business rally a following and build a community. These include: 

  • creative video ideas
  • social campaigns
  • influencer marketing
  • user-generated content
  • attaching the brand to popular figures and events

Business improvement

Digital marketing is a two-way street. You talk to the audience through your marketing messages. And the audience talks back to you through their engagement rates, actual feedback, and viral reactions. 

This two-way conversation makes digital marketing an excellent way for a business to improve its operations. But this improvement is not limited to marketing strategies alone. 

It can also help businesses formulate and package their products and services. It can give them critical insights into what the audience wants and how they can increase their bottom line while meeting these needs.

Small businesses and startups need solid feedback. Through this feedback, they can identify the weakness of their competitor’s offerings and improve their offerings to fill these gaps.

Although social media should not be the ultimate decider of company policy, it can be a great source of ideas, feedback, and valuable criticism.

Types of Digital Marketing For Small businesses and startups

Although there are many types of digital marketing, not every technique is suited for your business or your needs. In this section, we will run through the most common digital marketing types and the channels involved.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Marketing

Search engines are the biggest drivers of web traffic because they are the places people go when they have questions. 

According to research:

“68% of all online activities start with a search engine, and 51% of all website traffic comes from organic searches.”

So, to stand out from the rest of the competition, you need to optimize your website to rank in search engine results.

This is why “61% of marketers say growing SEO and organic presence on their websites is one of their top inbound marketing priorities.”

There are a lot of ways through which small businesses can generate traffic from search engines to their websites. The three main types of SEO are:

  • On-page SEO 
  • Off-Page SEO 
  • Technical SEO 
  • On-page SEO

Here, you are optimizing the textual content on your website. In simple terms, you are using words that people use when they make searches relevant to your brand’s offerings. 

Therefore, when people search using those terms, the search engine will include your website as one of the places where they can get the answers they are looking for.

An excellent example of using on-page SEO is creating high-quality SEO-optimized articles around keywords in your industry. 

  • Off-page SEO

This type of SEO focuses on the authority of your webpage. Here is a simple explanation of how page authority works:

If an article links to another article as a source, the linked article is considered an authority. The more times an article is linked, the more authority it gets. These links are called inbound links or backlinks. 

According to a study by Backlinko

“The number of domains linking to a page was the factor that had the highest correlation to rankings in Google.” 

But not all backlinks are created equal. A backlink for a high authority page will have more weight than a backlink from a low authority page. 

So, if you want your page to have more authority, you need to get high-authority links to link back to your page. 

You can do this by creating high-value articles that other websites would want to link back to. You can also submit guest posts that link to your website on other high authority websites.

“Pages with lots of backlinks rank above pages that don’t have as many backlinks. In fact, the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.”

  • Technical SEO

Technical SEO deals with all the technical aspects of your website, such as loading time and ease of use. These factors can influence how search engines rank your site. 

A website with a slow loading time and poor functionality will rank lower compared to a website with fast loading time and a user-friendly interface.

Content Marketing

Content marketing involves creating written material to attract potential customers, build brand awareness, and generate sales.

Technically speaking, all forms of digital marketing tactics fall under content marketing, as you cannot market a product without a message. That message is the content.

Content marketing comes in various forms, such as:

  • Blog articles

Blog articles show that you are an expert in your field. It allows you to offer answers to questions your target audience might have. The immediate goal is not to drive sales. It is to build trust and engagement. 

When these have been established, customers will buy your product without needing to be told. You can share the articles on a self-hosted blog (recommended). 

However, suppose you are on a very tight budget. In that case, you can share the articles on platforms that support long-form content like medium and LinkedIn.

According to Hubspot

“Companies that blog have far better marketing results. Specifically, the average company that blogs has 55% more visitors, 97% more  inbound links, and 434% more  indexed pages.”

  • Publications

Publications such as whitepapers and e-books also help show your industry expertise and build trust in your brand. The most popular uses for publications are brand awareness and lead generation. 

Industry publications like whitepapers and company profiles explain your brand and its unique value to the target audience. They are excellent tools for startups to explain their “what and why” to the world. 

eBooks (lead magnet) are often used as free resources offered in exchange for contact information. Generally speaking, those interested in the e-book would be interested in products or services relating to the content of the e-book. 

Ideally, you want to host the publications on your website, so users have to visit your website to download them.

  • Audio or visual content

Although all contents are written, some may be presented in audio or visual formats. These include podcasts, webinars, videos, and gifs. 

Podcasts and webinars are becoming increasingly popular as the world transitions from reading to listening. Many businesses run podcasts and webinars on topics that align with their offerings and audience interests. 

Videos are great for breaking down concepts that might be hard for readers to understand without visual assistance, such as how-to tutorials. 

Many platforms support these forms of content. The most popular platforms are Spotify for Podcasts and Youtube for videos.

  • Infographics

Infographics are pictures that summarize technical concepts into smaller simple bits. They are essentially visual representations without audio. They can be used as explainers, tutorials, or marketing materials. 

Infographics can be used on social platforms with prompts for readers to go to the website article if they want detailed information. They are also included in blog articles to break the text and improve understanding.

Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising is perhaps the fastest way to reach millions with a single message. The best part is you don’t need a budget for that. 

One small hardware store in the UK amassed millions of YouTube views on their Christmas commercial. The commercial was shot on a budget of only £100.

It is easy to understand why even small businesses can have a wide reach on social media. It is the number one place people go when experiencing a wide range of emotions. 

They go there when they are bored, happy, sad, or even missing someone. Many spend hours each day on social media looking for something worth their time and attention. 

“The average US adult spends over 2 hours on social media daily.”

With the right social media strategy, you can tap into this enormous audience and create a following for your brand. The best part is that money is simply a multiplier: the major requirement is a creative idea, strategy, and consistency.

There are hundreds of popular social media platforms to choose from. However, you don’t have to be one hundred or even ten. 

Suppose your business is just starting and you are low on budget/manpower. In that case, Neil Patel recommends that you focus on only one social media platform

You can create accounts on multiple platforms, so an imposter doesn’t steal your identity on those platforms. But the focus would be on one.

Alternatively, you can use a social media management tool to operate multiple channels on one page. This way, you can push the same content to multiple platforms simultaneously. 

For instance, Canva allows brands to automatically resize that visual content to the ideal resolution for different social media platforms and post them. You can do this from the Canva application.

This chosen social media platform has to be where the majority of your target variance is. For instance, if you are targeting young teenagers, you might want to focus on TikTok. Many young youths are on that platform creating and watching videos daily.

On the other hand, a travel company might want to focus on Instagram because it allows them to share experiences and tourist destinations.

Other great social media platforms to consider are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, Linkedin, Snapchat, and Quora. The infographic below provides an excellent explanation for using the most popular platforms and their cons. 

All of these platforms also offer paid advertising. Although you can get results without paid ads, it might be a slow and frustrating journey. You will also have to compete with other competing brands and influencers.

If you want social media to drive sales and brand awareness, you may need to spend some money. Thankfully, you can advertise on these platforms to a wide audience with a budget of less than $100.

It can take up to three months for your website to rank on search engines. While you work at that, you can score a quick victory through paid search advertising.

According to research: 

“Digital ads can increase brand awareness by 80%, and Consumers are 155% more likely to look up your brand-specific terms after they’ve been exposed to display ads.”

With paid search advertising, your website appears when a user searches using a keyword related to your brand. Your website will not be the only one on the result page. 

But your website being on the front page alone gives you a unique advantage. Potential customers will see your website and might click on it.

The most popular platform for paid search advertising is Google. But you can also get great results from other search engines like DuckDuckGo and Bing.

There are two types of paid search advertising. These are pay-per-click and cost per mile.

  • Pay per click (PPC): 

You pay the platform each time someone clicks on your website link. Google is not the only one offering PPC advertising. 

Other playrooms like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter also offer their versions of pay-per-click advertising.

  • Cost per mile (CPM): 

You pay the platform a pre-agreed amount for your website and get a thousand impressions.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is where you offer a commission to affiliate marketers. In exchange for the commission, they promote your products or services. They can do that from their social media platform, websites, or paid ads.

You may also only offer to pay when they help you sell a product or service. Your business choice depends on your marketing goal.

When done right, affiliate marketing can help you boost sales and increase brand awareness without costing you much. 

In most cases, you simply have to pay a small percentage of the profit to the affiliate marketer and the affiliate network you use.

In a way, affiliate marketing is a type of influencer marketing. This is because, in most cases, the marketers promote your products using their social media following and the trust they have built over time.

Email Marketing

Email marketing happens when a business uses emails to push marketing messages to its audience. It is primarily used to announce discounts, events, and other relevant news to their target audience.

Email marketing is one of the oldest and most effective digital marketing strategies. In fact, most small business owners claim that this digital marketing channel fetches the highest returns on investment. According to research: 

“The average ROI for email marketing is $36 for every $1.”

Reputable businesses build their email lists by offering interested users an incentive for subscribing. It could be a discount, publication, or free product/service.

Some businesses also prompt customers to opt-in to receive emails when they purchase or visit the website.

Landing Pages 

A landing page is a critical step in your customer journey, it stands to convert your prospect/visitor into a customer. 

Your landing page will typically sell your product/service (sale pages) or maybe lead generation based. Lead generation landing pages allow you to offer some sort of freebie in exchange for the visitor contact (lead).  Sale pages offer your services and connect to an eCommerce site where your customers can pay. 

Your landing page is extremely vital to your marketing because it’s the last stage of your marketing campaign (closing of the sales or getting the lead). Therefore, it should be well-designed and include strong CTAs to tell your customers what to do exactly. 

Ideally, you want to have several custom landing pages targeted for several campaigns and different target audiences. You can create well-designed and customized landing pages with several online tools. Our app can help you create your landing page in no time, get started here.

Wrapping it up

Digital marketing offers many ways through which small businesses can build brand awareness and boost sales. It can be challenging at first, but digital marketing is something that any business can pull off.

If you want to scale fast and avoid the trial and error step of the process, consider hiring a personal digital marketer. 

A professional will audit your marketing strategy and either upgrade your existing process or develop a new one that will bring tremendous results. Looking for more resources to help upscale and market your business? 

Check our blog for more resources to market and attract your customers, 

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