How To Promote Your Small Business Online for Free
September 10, 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
Advertising is an expensive endeavor. Many companies cut back on ads in 2020 because of the pandemic, but experts predict that spending will pop back up to pre-2020 levels, with annual estimates to surpass $630 billion globally by 2024.
These numbers are impressive, but most small businesses can't hope to compete with corporate giants in ad spending. In this article, we provide marketing ideas that meet any budget while answering the question of "how to promote my business online for free?"
Start with one or two of these ideas to move the needle on sales without reaching into your other spending areas.
1. Learn and use best SEO strategies
Search engine optimization (SEO) is focusing your website and digital properties so that Google and other search engines can easily find and serve your content to a user. Many companies hire SEO experts or buy expensive software tools to help them form an SEO plan. They may create new quality content (like blog posts) or rewrite old content to meet those recommendations.
SEO is a long-game approach toward getting more views to your website, so it will take some time to see it pay off. However, it’s still one of the better ways to overcome the cost obstacles faced by small businesses, and it can help establish you as a web authority in your industry.
But hiring an expert or paying for a tool isn’t the only way to increase your search visibility. You can find free courses on SEO techniques online through LinkedIn Premium memberships, your local small business organizations, and the aforementioned SEO tools. But if you do need paid help solidifying a plan, take advantage of free tool trials to make sure you find the right fit before you buy.
2. Create and verify your Google Business profile
An official Google Business profile is one of the best ways to advertise for free. It can also help potential customers find you in two ways:
When they search for local businesses in Google Maps
When they conduct a simple Google search and see you in the right-side Knowledge panel, a prominent space on the Google search results page (SERP)
Both of these ways to get visibility can drive clicks to your website and bring awareness to shoppers who didn't know you existed.
This profile is known as a “Google My Business” listing. To set it up, type your business name into the Google business claim page, and follow the verification steps to claim your company. You may have to send in documentation to prove you are the owner or decision-maker for the company. This process can take weeks, so do it as soon as you can.
Once you create or claim your profile, you can respond to user reviews, add promotions and product details, send and receive direct messages, and even answer FAQs created by users.
This is entirely free, and not claiming it could cause you to miss out on future business. Creating your Google business profile should be a top priority for any marketing mission, especially because it costs you nothing.
3. Make product listings and shopping actions shareable
People love to tell their friends about their latest purchase, but most people won't snap a pic and share on Instagram unless they’re social influencers. To get everyday consumers to shout your name from the web mountaintops, make each product page easily shareable with a social widget that posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with just a click.
Customize checkout pages so happy customers can share their purchases, too. For example, when someone makes a purchase, they could share a tweet like, “I just bought this amazing sweater from @BestSweatersInc. You have to see it!” with a link to the product page. This social proof costs nothing, creates word of mouth, and can create a high level of brand trust.
4. Ask for reviews
While you’re prompting customers to share, why not ask them for a review? Send them a follow-up email with a link to leave their thoughts on a recent online purchase. Also, make it clear that you value their opinions, and that they help other shoppers make the right choice.
You can also create a “share” button that sends your reviews to popular social sharing sites once a user submits their review. This drives engagement and helps customers share what’s important to them with their friends and family online.
Use these reviews as future social proof on ad campaigns, or simply share your best reviews on social media from your own accounts. Make sure that you have permission to contact reviewers (usually through a double-opt-in email list) and to share their reviews publicly.
Not using reviews is a huge lost opportunity, and some experts say it is the best way to advertise online. Stats show that 91% of 18 to 34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as a recommendation from someone they know.
5. Get social
We all know social media can become a distraction, so it’s important to avoid overextending yourself on too many social media channels. Pick a social channel that best fits your communication style and target demographic, then really work on it to share all the great things your brand offers.
Promotions and sales, UGC (user-generated content), custom memes, videos, behind-the-scenes, and polls or quizzes all tend to perform well on social media. However, be sure to check the platform’s analytics to see what’s doing well. Then, continue to create the same type of content that delivered those good results. Use ads as your budget allows, but try to spot patterns in your free posts.
Be sure to claim your business’ handle on all social media platforms, even those you don't plan to use (yet). You want to secure those handles to stop someone else from using them and capitalizing on your name recognition or tarnishing your reputation in some way.
6. Have your employees use branded email signatures
One simple trick for sharing the word about your business is with email signatures. Gmail has an easy-to-use signature tool that lets you insert your company name and website URL into every message to advertise your business for free. Ask your workers to do the same whenever they use internal emails.
For an added boost, use unique referral URLs or tracking codes so you can see who sends the most traffic. Reward those who get the most clicks with a prize.
Top email signature tools include My Signature, and you may find one in your existing CRM tool, like HubSpot and Capterra.
7. Create press releases
Do you have a new product, service, or promotion coming up? Consider creating a press release to promote it.
This isn’t the absolute best way to advertise your business, and there is a glut of these free articles all over the internet. But they’re great for SEO. Optimize them for the terms people will search for when they need a product or service like yours, and learn where to submit them for best results.
Take your time to create a typo-free press release that sounds exciting and gets right to the point. Avoid long, blocky paragraphs with too much background on your business or mission. Instead, write short paragraphs to explain why customers should care about your latest news and how you bring something totally unique to the marketplace.
8. Join HARO
Getting into the media is an excellent way to make your brand known. Hiring a publicist, however, costs a pretty penny. You can get around this by positioning yourself (or someone on your team) as an expert. Then, you can share your knowledge in articles and on podcasts through HelpAReporter.com (HARO).
You may not receive requests immediately, but it’s a very effective tool and something your existing PR or marketing teams can handle for you. Sign up as a Source – not as a Reporter – and follow the directions to receive daily email alerts.
Pro Tip: For this tool to work well, respond quickly to all requests. They’re sent out three times a day, Monday through Friday. Also, only reply to requests that closely match your expertise.
All of these tips are doable for the typical business owner, but there is a bit of a learning curve to a few of them. If you have some time to pick and choose just one or two, start with the Google business listing, sign up for a single social channel, and spend a few minutes each day learning the best SEO tips you use right away. Every bit helps, especially when starting out.
Can free business promotion really work as well as a big-budget ad plan? While it won’t have the splashy, sudden popularity of a major TV commercial, free small business promotion can work – and it does all the time for small businesses.
There will be a tradeoff of time and patience to use these free strategies, but they are well-established as best practices in most industries. Not using them could actually cost you in the long run.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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