Digital marketing can be a bit of a minefield for a small business as it can be difficult to get clear, impartial advice on the best channels to invest in.

The truth is that isn’t really one answer or one strategy to fit all businesses. What works for online retailers might not yield the same results for B2B websites and in fact, what works for one B2B site might not work for another.

Which is right for you – SEO or PPC?

Most digital agencies and digital marketing guides will recommend that you invest in either Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) or both simultaneously. The reason for suggesting these two channels in particular is that both involve improving your visibility in Google, a site that sees more traffic in a day than most websites will experience in their entire existence.

Encouraging even a small percentage of that daily traffic to enter your own website may result in huge financial returns, in some cases far greater than any other digital marketing channel can expect to generate.

But despite the potential revenue that investing in SEO or PPC can deliver, both of these channels are high-risk for many small business because they involve a significant financial outlay.

If, like many business owners you are wary of committing the kind of money required for SEO or PPC or, like many start-ups, you simply don’t have the budget, there are plenty of other less cost-prohibitive digital marketing channels that you can use to drive online revenue, including email marketing, affiliate marketing and social media.

Despite being less high profile than SEO and PPC, these lower-cost channels are well-established, proven and will usually start to deliver a financial return quickly. Once you see some return on investment (ROI) from your lower risk digital marketing strategy, you may be in a better position to invest in SEO and PPC.

Get the basics right

If you do hold off from investing in an ongoing SEO or Pay Per Click campaign until you have fully explored and utilised the lower risk channels, you should still ensure that the basics are done on your website.

SEO can be broken down into three areas – on-page optimisation, technical optimisation and off page optimisation. On-page optimisation involves identifying the search terms that you would like your web pages to appear prominently for in Google’s search results and writing them into the key areas of your code so that you send the right signals to Google.

Ideally this will be something that the company who built your website will have done but if not, it may be beneficial to hire someone to do this. Alternatively, you could have a go at doing it yourself – there are plenty of online guides that will talk you through on-page optimisation.

You may find that on-page optimisation is enough to see you ranking prominently for certain, low-competition or ‘long-tail’ search terms.

Technical optimisation is a bit more in-depth and involves certain other behind the scenes factors that may hamper your site’s ranking potential. Your website developer or agency should take care of at least some these as a matter of course but it’s definitely worth checking.

Off page optimisation is the expensive and labour-intensive bit and the area that an SEO agency will focus on to propel your web pages up the search engine rankings.

Depending on the number of competing web pages in your business sector, on-page optimisation and technical optimisation may be all your website requires, which is why it is worth ensuring that the basics are done, whether or not you intend to recruit the services of an SEO agency further down the line.

If you’re interested in reading more about the lower-risk digital marketing channels my next piece will look at the benefits and risks of these activities for your small business.

Read more in-depth guides on digital marketing channels from Hiscox’s Group Digital Manager Ronnie Brown.

Steven Holmes is a freelance digital marketing consultant. You can see practical examples of his digital marketing strategy in action at his current consultancy for Yorkshire-based small business Accessories by Park Lane.

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