There is no better time for small businesses to take advantage of online marketing. Today, there are many online marketing channels to suit any type of business and any size marketing budget.
Not only is the number of quality marketing channels impressive -- think social networking sites, email, mobile and online video -- but there have never been so many free and inexpensive tools that require little to no expertise available.
These are just some of the reasons why 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for small businesses to invest in online marketing. Small Business Computing decided to talk with leading industry experts to find out which online marketing trends are worth including in your small business marketing plan this year.
Trend 1: Social Media Marketing -- Focus Efforts on Facebook and Integration
Social media is huge. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that sixty-five percent of adults on the Internet use a social networking site. Continued growth and popularity of social media throughout 2011 has affected the way businesses effectively communicate with customers and business partners.
Small business analyst Laurie McCabe, co-founder of the SMB Group, agrees that social media is a trend that small businesses need to pay attention to. More people are getting more information from social media than ever before.
"Letting the people who come share their favorite products and likes from your homepage would be a basic way of doing this, but it can be much more involved," she explained.
McCabe believes that right now Facebook is the big driver behind social media marketing. She said that other social platforms (like Google+ and Twitter) are good for some tasks, but compared to Facebook these sites offer only a miniscule percentage of referral traffic.
On Facebook, your landing page is also important. A number of vendors offer inexpensive tools that small businesses can use to help them build a more interactive Facebook page and provide reporting so you can monitor and measure traffic and conversions from Facebook. There are also a number of products available to add an ecommerce function to your Facebook site.
"I think that for small businesses, having something that makes it easy to create a page on Facebook, something to monitor it and then something to conduct sales on there is the kind of thing that will spread like wildfire," McCabe said.
Trend 2: Mobile Marketing -- Consumer Usage Drives Marketing and Sales for Business
Mobile marketing is the second big trend everyone expects to get bigger in 2012. Mobile commerce sales are up -- as much as 10 to 15 percent of people use mobile devices at retailer sites, and that number is expected to grow.
Mobile can be integrated into a small business marketing plan in a number of ways. First, there is text messaging (SMS marketing), which can be used to tell customers about your promotions, contests and other campaigns. You can also integrate mobile marketing with other marketing channels, such as social or email.
"People want to do more and more on their devices, so I think in terms of digital sales and marketing it's the key to enable everything for mobile consumers," said McCabe.
This means a small business website that's optimized for mobile devices is a necessity for success. To be successful, you have to make it easy for consumers with mobile devices to find information or place an order on your website.
Another mobile trend to prepare for in 2012 is mobile payments, or "m-payments." This is when consumers make a purchase using a mobile phone instead of using cash, credit card or debit. The potential for mobile payments is huge, and industry experts share a consensus that mobile payments will accelerate rapidly in 2012.