The beginner's guide to small-business marketing online

The beginners’ guide to small-business marketing online featured image

First thing's first: Digital territory is crowded. With countless small businesses (not to mention the big guys) vying for attention and dollars, how is your customer going to find you? The trick is to find them first. And we’ve got a list of small business online marketing strategies across five digital touch points to help you do just that.

You’ve had your great idea, packaged it into a killer product or service and launched your website, so now it’s just a matter of kicking up your heels and letting the customers roll on in, right?


Sadly the old saying of ‘if you build it, they will come’ doesn’t fly in online business—certainly not when you’re competing with every other dot com and its dog. As a small business owner, it’s up to you to get what you’ve got in front of your target audience—and that, at its most fundamental level, is marketing. So how do you get started with marketing your small business online?

First and foremost you need to nail down who that target audience is (hint: They’re probably a lot like you), figure out where they’re spending their time (chances are it’s nose deep in their smartphone) and work on positioning your business among them

Large corporations spend millions on marketing, but effectively spreading your message and showcasing your value doesn’t need to cost a fortune. We’ve rounded up some free marketing ideas across five digital marketing strategies(opens in a new tab or window) that will put your small business front and center.

01. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Image via Canva

Very simply, SEO is the process of optimizing your website to attract organic, unpaid traffic(opens in a new tab or window) through search engines. Your website is an important marketing tool, so you want to make sure it’s searchable and sits high in Google’s ranking (especially as 75% of customers don’t bother clicking past Google’s first page of results. True story). You can read more about Canva's SEO strategy written by buildd(opens in a new tab or window) that propelled its way to a $40B valuation.

SEO is super important, which is why companies have entire teams—even departments—tinkering away on it, but don’t let that intimidate you. As a small-business owner, the most straightforward ways to give SEO the DIY treatment are:

  • Optimize your site for both desktop and mobile. More than half of website traffic comes from mobile phones, so your site needs to be slick and user-friendly across all platforms. You can test and improve your site’s mobile usability and fix niggly issues such as spacing and font size using tools on your Google Search Console.
  • Do your keyword research. Get into your customer’s head. What would they type into a search engine? What would you like to be found for? If you’re an online florist, for example, you’ll want to incorporate the words “florist in (city, state)”. Keywords should appear in title tags (as in, the title of your web pages) meta tags (in your back end) and the headers, sub-heads and content on your pages.
  • Focus on functionality. Is your site easy to navigate? And how about speed? Customers check out (and not in a good way) if a site takes more than a few seconds to load. Hurry things along by only using the plugins you need, ensuring that your images are not unnecessarily large (less than 500KB will do the trick) and using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
  • Polish your design aesthetic. Your website is a reflection of your value—and a major factor in determining whether a customer deems your business credible. So, in short, make sure it shines.

Design tip: Customize a Canva website template(opens in a new tab or window) or presentation template(opens in a new tab or window) to guarantee a good first impression. Choose the theme that reflects your brand aesthetic or upload your own logo and fonts and find your colors in the editor. Share your multi-page design as an interactive website and boom, you’re live!

Let your products do the talking on a minimal, chic template like the Decor Online Store Website(opens in a new tab or window) template, or fashion a sleek, professional creative calling card with your take on the Scallop Seashell Photographer Portfolio Website(opens in a new tab or window).

02. Remarketing

Image via Canva

You know how that teapot you lusted over online is popping up on almost every site you visit? That’s remarketing. Or as some prefer, ‘retargeting’. These web ads are managed and operated through Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and follow people who’ve shown interest in your site but haven’t yet converted, reminding them how awesome you are and/or offering them a discount as they browse Google and its partner sites.

Done right, remarketing isn’t stalkerish—it’s a way to provide your audience relevant, helpful content or a friendly nudge to purchase based on their previous behavior. Conveniently, it also brings awareness to your business and keeps it front of mind.

Remarketing ads aren’t free, per se, but Google Ads only charges you for results (such as clicks through to your website or phone calls to your business). You can also utilize remarketing with ‘dynamic product ads’ on Instagram and Facebook.

Design tip: Use Canva’s free drag-and-drop banner editor(opens in a new tab or window) to customize thousands of professionally-designed web banner templates(opens in a new tab or window) and create remarketing ads across various platforms. Banners(opens in a new tab or window) can also be used for social headers, Etsy shop covers and graphics to elevate your website and content.

A simple template like the Bold Lettering Tumblr Banner(opens in a new tab or window) is a sweet place to start, or if you’re feeling something moody and high impact, try the Hashtag Photo Tumblr Banner(opens in a new tab or window) on for size.

03. Content marketing

Image via Canva

Free, high-quality content is a brilliant way to show potential customers that you know what you’re talking about, but don’t come on too salesy. This isn’t about telling the world to “Buy Now!”, it’s about showcasing your worth and building trust with your target audience. Think about the value you can offer them—how can you start solving their problems before they’ve spent a cent?

Content should be authentic, compelling and easily shareable. Some examples are:

Whatever you’re putting out there, don’t forget to include a call to action with your freebies—such as signing up to your newsletter, or inviting your audience to upgrade to a paid model or purchase products and services in the future.

Design tip: Create your free e-zine, e-book or downloadable resource with a customizable magazine(opens in a new tab or window) or book covers(opens in a new tab or window), or create your entire, multi-page offering using themed presentation templates.

Want to offer your audience some stylish intel? Customize the Fostering Creativity Presentation(opens in a new tab or window), or gift them a guide by way of the smart Blue Modern Company Presentation(opens in a new tab or window).

04. Social media marketing

Photo by Callie Morgan on Unsplash

Social media is where small businesses(opens in a new tab or window) are concentrating much of their marketing energy (and budgets) and with good reason—it provides a direct line to your audience. It’s also a nifty way to build awareness around your brand and entice potential customers to convert. Brainstorm brand name ideas with Magic Write’s business name generator,(opens in a new tab or window) powered by OpenAI.

When choosing which platforms to make your presence known, think about where your customer is. Are they on Facebook, Instagram, X (Twitter), WhatsApp…? How are they engaging with social media? And importantly, what time of day are they on there? Sundays at 5pm tend to be a sweet spot.

While we’re scrolling, don’t discount Pinterest as a bride-to-be-only zone. This is where many small businesses get most of their website traffic, and Pinterest users reportedly have higher purchase intent than those on all other social media sites.

Once you’ve selected and set up your social platforms, be social. Engage with like-minded businesses, kick off conversations, listen to what your audience is saying and always respond to questions and comments.

When it comes to what you post, get clear on your tone, clean up your feeds (stick to a color palette, for starters) and create a posting schedule. See how often your competitors are popping up to gauge how much you want to be posting, but also be realistic—it’s better to consistently post two to three times a week than start strong and then disappear.

Design tip: A failsafe way to keep your headers, icons and posts on-brand is by creating them with Canva templates, which cater to everything from targeted Facebook ads(opens in a new tab or window) and Instragram Featured Stories(opens in a new tab or window) icons to graphics that can dovetail your video content.

05. Email marketing

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Essentially, email marketing is about building a database of your existing and potential customers. You can gather these from a sign-up function on your website, at networking events or through good old-fashioned word of mouth. Sure, email marketing might sound like an old strategy, but more of us have email accounts than social media accounts, making it one of the most effective ways to market your small business.

Unlike social media platforms—which we don’t actually own, and are known to abruptly change their rules—a customer database is yours to keep. And if that doesn’t have you convinced, research shows we spend 28% of our workday in our inboxes (that’s your captive audience, right there) and 66% of consumers say they’ve made a purchase as the result of a marketing email, compared to 20% from a Facebook ad and 6% from Twitter.

Email marketing can come in many, inbox-gracing forms:

  • A newsletter is a great way to build trust and position your brand in front of an audience that has already willingly opted in.
  • Targeted, personalized emails can be sent to customers using the information they provided when they signed up.
  • Friendly reminders can entice customers back to your site – ‘Hey, we saw you left this in your shopping cart. Here’s a discount code.’
  • Follow-ups can find out how a customer is going with your product or service, and offer them further value.

Design tip: Use a Canva flyer(opens in a new tab or window) or email header template(opens in a new tab or window) to create click-worthy emails that catch your customers’ attention and keep it. Once you’ve customized a template you can easily update and change content for each campaign, and Canva designs can also be embedded into online marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp.

Make an elegant, understated e-entrance with the Blue and Red Simple Email Newsletter(opens in a new tab or window), or leave a modern and striking mark with the Teal And Grey Laptop Email Newsletter(opens in a new tab or window).

Keep this sleek small business marketing infographic on hand, or share it with your colleagues.

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