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One of the toughest battles for any small business can be in the field of marketing. It can be tough to compete with larger corporations and their vast advertising budget, but it is often the personal touch and the extra ingenuity that can make all the difference.

Should those marketing efforts be directed through traditional channels, such as flyers, taking out ads in local papers, press releases, and customer surveys, or should the new digital possibilities of online advertising, website promotion and social media be exploited? There are pros and cons to both approaches, and small businesses would be well to keep all their options open.

The rise of digital marketing

Digital technology has changed everyone’s lives, and it seems nowadays everyone is marketing themselves – be it via their own personal blog, selfies on Instagram, through Facebook posts, or other social media sites. Here, however, the focus is on online exposure rather than the big sell, so digital marketing is often much more low-key and less aggressive than more traditional marketing methods.

There is really not much more to setting up a website than registering the domain name, but it’s getting people to look at the website as well as to make a return visit that is the real challenge here. It’s important to make the content interesting, the links usable and the graphics eye-catching in order to get return traffic.

It should be kept in mind that digital marketing can be very cheap if used wisely. It costs nothing to set up pages on social media sites, where small businesses can keep readers returning with competitions, offers and newsletters. If a website looks professional, user-friendly and smartly designed, it will be hard for readers to know if the business is in the Forbes 100 List or it’s just one person and their mate operating out of a spare room.

Search engine marketing

One area where many newbies to the digital world trip up is search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a term that’s often heard but perhaps not always properly understood. In order for a website to succeed, it needs to be SEO-friendly. This means that it doesn’t matter how great a website looks, if it doesn’t appear on the first page of Google or Bing when people search for a term online, it’s unlikely that potential readers will find it.

Generating targeted website traffic is an art, and big corporations pay employees a small fortune to do this for them. Small businesses don’t have such financial resources, but there are a few things anyone can do to help, including increasing the use of select keywords in the first sentences of an article, registering with Google Plus, and always linking blogs and tweets back to the website.

Don’t give up on traditional methods just yet

There is something to be said for going back to the basics and using more traditional methods of advertising, particularly if a business is based primarily in the local community. Service companies, such as hairdressers, specialized craftsmen, plumbers, or builders, can benefit from leaving business cards in a local hardware store or taking out a low-cost ad in the local free paper. The kind of PR work one would normally do by sending out press releases to local media shouldn’t be replaced by websites and blogs; instead, integrate digital media by emailing newsletters and press releases to registered customers, journalists, etc., with a link to the website at the bottom of the page.

Social media marketing can serve to enhance traditional marketing activities rather than overshadow them. The key thing to remember when using social media sites – whether it’s blogging, tweeting, or inviting customers to “like” a latest product – is not to oversell. Instead, social media should be used to provide a better standard of service for customers; be on hand to answer questions, provide support and bring them news about the latest products or developments in the business before anyone else. Social media sites are also the ideal place to conduct inexpensive market research, and feedback surveys can always be made more tempting by offering participants a bonus code or the chance to win a small prize.

Build up an integrated marketing strategy

It’s important to remember that digital marketing operates along the same principles as traditional marketing methods; it is most effective when actual objectives and targets are set and met, and when it is part of an overall marketing strategy that integrates online networks with the ones that are already in place in the local community.