Best Digital Marketing Tools for Small Businesses

Digital marketing is a broad category of strategies and tools that promote a business’s goods or services across a wide range of channels. These include numerous social networking sites, search engines, content streaming platforms, email, and affiliate marketing among others. An arsenal of digital marketing tools may include all of these platforms or it may be limited to one or two, depending on the relevance each platform has to the business’s goals.

The Internet Age has given way for digital marketing to rule the marketing world. In fact, digital marketing replaced traditional marketing as the dominant advertising medium in 2019. With this in mind, it’s important to know what digital marketing tools are available to help you maintain a competitive edge. 

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Digital marketing vs. traditional marketing

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Digital marketing is something you probably see every day. If you’ve ever purchased something through an advertisement you saw online or clicked a link in a promotional email, you’ve interacted with digital marketing.

Compared to old school marketing tactics—which include print, television, and radio advertising—digital marketing is more ubiquitous and tightly woven into the fabric of modern internet use. Lines are often blurred between owned, earned, and paid media, so it’s sometimes hard to distinguish online content that is sponsored and specifically intended for marketing purposes from content that is not.

The basis of digital marketing is in direct contrast with the fundamentals of traditional advertising. When someone sees a billboard or a television commercial, the boundaries of the advertisement are clearly defined. It’s easy to tell that what you’re seeing is paid for by the advertiser. This isn’t always the case with digital marketing, despite disclosure requirements put in place by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The analog nature of traditional tactics also means that the return on investment (ROI) of campaigns is much more difficult to measure. This is not to say that marketing approaches that have worked in the past are going away anytime soon, however, as evidenced by the staggering costs of Super Bowl commercials and fashion magazine ads in recent years. It’s also worth noting that traditional advertising mediums usually require outside help from a marketing agency, which means it requires an even bigger budget on top of what it takes to actually create and publicize those campaigns.

The value of digital marketing for small business

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Digital marketing has emerged as the most prevalent mode of advertising. It’s much easier to control costs with digital advertising and the costs that are associated with a digital campaign are usually significantly lower than the costs associated with a traditional advertising campaign. For example, an ad in a local newspaper can cost thousands of dollars, but a Facebook ad can be scaled up or down to meet your budget.

A digital marketing strategy will also help you answer many of the questions that analog marketing channels can’t. With digital tools, you can analyze data about your target audience that helps you better understand who they are, what they want, and how they engage with your business. As a small business owner, this information could make the difference between a good sales day and a slow one.

A comprehensive digital campaign, for example, can directly track which channels (social media, email, search engines, etc.) are driving the most traffic to your website, as well as your audience demographics and the type of content that is most engaging. A newspaper advertisement, on the other hand, may drive potential customers to your business, but those results can only be measured indirectly. 

The parameters of a digital campaign can also be refined to target the audience that will be most likely to convert into customers. Traditional media channels are broader, meaning they reach a larger audience that may or may not be interested in engaging with your business. Digital marketing methods make it much easier to control costs and ensure you’re getting the most value for your investment.

Top small business digital marketing tools

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Although much of the success of a digital marketing campaign depends on the strategy behind it, there are many tools that will help you execute on the various action items. They will also provide you with the right data and analytics to measure success and inform you when something needs to be adjusted to improve the overall effectiveness of your small business marketing goals.

Email marketing 

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Email marketing is a huge opportunity for businesses to reach their target audience in their inboxes. If you don’t already utilize email as a marketing tactic, start by brainstorming the ways you can collect email addresses to build your contact list. Perhaps you could offer a discount or access to an exclusive resource your visitors won’t be able to get anywhere else. 

Then, strategize the content you want to share and the best cadence to send communications. A monthly newsletter can build a sense of community and brand reputation. A more frequent schedule, like a daily roundup of deals or schedule availability, can drive conversions to support your daily revenue goals.

Email marketing tools like Mailchimp, for example, provide a way for you to organize your messaging and analyze your customer interactions. Through Mailchimp’s analytics platform, you can review the messages that yield the highest click-through rates as well as ones that lead to higher unsubscribe rates. This will help you identify common themes and change your approach accordingly. Mailchimp also has tools that will help you choose the best day and time to send your message so you’ll have the best chance of reaching your audience when they’re most likely to open and engage with your email.

Screenshot of Mailchimp audience dashboard.

Source: Mailchimp

In addition to Mailchimp, which is an extremely versatile tool that’s ideal for audience segmentation, other email marketing platforms include:

  • Emma: Best for business owners who don’t have a ton of marketing expertise
  • Hubspot: Best for customer relationship management (CRM) integration
  • Drip: Best for automated email campaigns

Recommended: 125 DIY Email Marketing Tips

Social media marketing 

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Social media has become a fundamental part of human interaction, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, your social media presence (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on your bottom line.

If the audience you want to reach is one that uses social media regularly, you could be missing out on an opportunity to expand and deepen your customer base. If you have no social media  marketing presence currently, consider starting small with one or two platforms you feel comfortable posting to regularly and interacting with customers when appropriate.

Social media marketing tools like Hootsuite will help you plan the content you want to publish and manage your engagement with your customers. It directly integrates with a wide range of platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Multiple users can access all of your social media accounts from Hootsuite, which is an ideal solution if you have multiple digital marketers or influencers creating social media content.

Hootsuite can schedule future posts for you so you can maintain a regular publishing schedule without disrupting your daily schedule. It can also automate many manual processes so you can rest assured that all of your accounts are optimized. Broader marketing automation tools like Marketo support social media marketing in addition to email marketing, digital advertising, and mobile marketing, but even small-scale automation with Hootsuite can save a ton of time and effort.

Hootsuite will also monitor all of your accounts for new comments or direct messages and provide performance insight with detailed reports and analytics. The Analytics dashboard in Hootsuite enables you to learn demographic information about the users who interact with your social media content. You also have the option to manage your paid social media advertisements in addition to your organic (non-sponsored) content directly from the Hootsuite platform.

Screenshot of Hootsuite analytics dashboard.

Source: Hootsuite

In addition to Hootsuite, which is best for multi-channel content management and analytics, other social media marketing tools include:

  • Buffer: Best for user experience
  • Sprout Social: Best for budget-consciousness
  • Planoly: Best for Instagram-focused marketing

Recommended: Small Business Marketers Prioritize Social Media

Content marketing 

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Most of the tools on this list are underutilized if you don’t have the visual elements your content marketing efforts need to be truly successful. Think about it this way: You may have all of the boxes checked when it comes to email targeting or social media optimization, but if the content of the message you’re sending doesn’t grab your audience’s attention and compel them to learn more, the whole strategy will be fruitless. 

Content marketing and multimedia creation tools will help you produce design elements that are engaging while also establishing a consistent brand presence across all of your marketing channels, both digital and traditional. This could include video marketing assets, infographics, and social media graphics in addition to printed marketing materials like flyers and direct mailers.

You don’t need an in-house professional graphic designer or video editor to create engaging content; in fact, many multimedia content creation platforms like Canva were developed with the non-designer in mind. Canva is an exceptionally easy-to-use tool that’s consistently adding new features and capabilities to help small business owners create professional-looking graphics, videos, presentations, print materials, and more.

Canva offers a ton of free-to-use stock images and illustrations that you can customize with your brand colors. You can also upload custom fonts and save custom color palettes, which you can then use to adjust professionally designed templates to match your brand specifications or design preferences. 

Screenshot of Canva content creation platform.

Source: Canva

Canva is a great tool for creating versatile multimedia content, but other content creation platforms include:

  • Adobe Spark: Best for creating video content 
  • Undraw: Best for stock images
  • Easel.ly: Best for creating infographics

Recommended: Content Marketing Made Simple

Ecommerce

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These days, simply having a website for your business with no ecommerce functionality is like having a storefront with no way for customers to get inside. Even if your business isn’t based on selling items that can be put in a box and shipped in the mail, there are ways you can offer your customers an online experience. 

Perhaps it’s an online scheduling portal so they can effortlessly book an appointment with you. Or, perhaps it’s a way for customers to place an order online that they can pick up in-store. Regardless of the solution that will work best for you, your customers will enjoy the added convenience of being able to engage with your business remotely and like most tools on this list, you’ll benefit from the data analysis that ecommerce enables.

Most ecommerce solutions are baked into a broader content management system (CMS). This means if you already have an existing website, it’s most likely already positioned to support ecommerce functionality. Or, some tools like Square can be integrated with your in-store point of sale (POS) system, so you can manage all of your sales and inventory from one central platform. Square also offers a wide range of tools for payroll management, small business banking, and CRM, so you can minimize the number of platforms you use to run your business. 

From an advertising perspective, you can use Square to specify the precise outcome that constitutes a conversion, such as a placed order, scheduled appointment, or downloaded file. From there, you can measure and analyze your ROI for your marketing campaigns, all while fueling progress toward your revenue goals. 

Square can also help you identify data-driven trends about the highest- and lowest-performing items in your catalog. You’ll be able to see if a particular product or service isn’t as popular as others and make decisions about whether it’s worthwhile to continue offering. Or, you can see in real-time if a particular item is selling like hotcakes so you can add more inventory and amplify your marketing campaigns.

Screenshot of Square ecommerce platform.

Source: Square

In addition to Square, ecommerce platforms that will help you create an online presence for selling your goods and services include:

  • WooCommerce: Best for WordPress sites
  • Squarespace: Best for ease of use
  • Shopify: Best for retail merchandise
  • Wix: Best for budget-consciousness

Recommended: How to Add Ecommerce to Your Website

Remarketing

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When someone visits your website but takes no further action, there are ways you can engage with them to try and convert them from a prospect to a customer. Remarketing, or retargeting, is an emerging digital marketing trend that involves serving paid ads across the internet to people who have already visited your site. For example, if someone visits a blog post about one of your products and leaves the page, you could serve them an ad for that product on an external site with the goal that they will click the backlink and return to your website.

Remarketing not only increases brand awareness but also creates an opportunity to address reasons why prospective customers might not have converted the first time. Whether they didn’t have time to complete a transaction or didn’t think your solution would work for them, remarketing gives you another chance to compete for their business.

A remarketing platform like Google Ads, for example, uses cookies—small bits of data that a web browser collects—to track an individual user’s footprint once they leave your site. When that user visits an external site that’s within Google’s network of ad publishers, it uses the budget you’ve allocated to bid on the ad space. Then it will serve an advertisement from your PPC campaign to the user. 

Google Ads will then track whether the user clicks on the backlink in the ad and whether they end up converting into a sale after visiting your site again. If you want deep analytics information, Google Ads can also help you drill down into your search engine optimization, audience demographics, and utilize geofencing or local SEO so your ads can be hyper-concentrated to users in a specific geographic area.

Screenshot of Google Ads analytics segment.

Source: Google Ads

Google Ads is one of the most popular search engine remarketing tools on the market, but other top solutions include:

  • AdRoll: Best for audience segmentation and publisher variety
  • Meteora: Best for geo-targeting
  • Perfect Audience: Best for simplicity and budget consciousness

Digital marketing tools will help grow your business

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Many of these tools and tactics will overlap. While that may seem like a symptom of inefficiency, it’s actually a sign that your digital marketing is tightly woven and working to grow your business from multiple angles. For example, your social media, email, and remarketing platforms will inevitably leverage the graphics and media you make using content creation tools.

Simultaneously, the digital marketing tools you use to engage your target audience will provide analytics to indicate how the content you create and products or services you sell are performing so you can adjust them as needed. Continually adapting and adjusting your digital marketing plan in this way will push your business forward.

As a small business owner, you can’t afford to get left behind while other businesses use new digital marketing tools to get ahead. You could choose to outsource your efforts with a digital marketing service to keep up, but this could get expensive. Whether you implement all of the tools on this list or just a few, a digital marketing plan will help you grow your business and ensure you remain competitive in today’s digital world.

Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for eSecurity Planet, Webopedia, and Small Business Computing. She is passionate about creating relatable, research-based content that helps small businesses thrive. When she's not writing about small business technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

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