5 key online marketing concepts for small businesses

The internet has become an all-pervasive force, not just in business but in people’s day-to-day lives. Its impact on the world of marketing has been immense, with many businesses now spending significantly more on web-based marketing than on traditional offline marketing activities.

Increasingly, the battle for customers is being fought online. The benefits of an effective online marketing campaign are significant – but businesses that ignore the digital sphere do so at their peril. If you are to maximise your chances for success, you must investigate how you can make the internet work for you.

For newcomers, the world of online marketing can seem impenetrably complex. So, if you are to make the most of the digital world, what are the main concepts that you must understand?

Natural search

Also known as organic search, natural search is one of the most important elements of an online marketing campaign, but unfortunately it can be the hardest to master. Natural search results are listings that appear in search engines because they are relevant to the search terms entered by the user. This is in contrast with paid search results, which are discussed below.

You can increase your site’s performance in natural search by using Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques. This involves optimising the elements of your site that are most heavily used by search engines to determine where the site will appear in their results listings and for which keywords. So, for example, SEO could help your widget-selling business appear closer to the top of the results when a user searches for ‘widget shops’.

Natural search can be the most cost-effective way of generating clicks – but optimising your site can be complicated and time-consuming and it could take some time too see results so perseverance is important.


Pay-per-click (often known as PPC) describes any visit to your website for which you have paid. For example, the sponsored listings at the top and to the right of Google pages are PPC advertisements; so too are some of the banner adverts that you see on sites like price comparison websites.

On search engines, PPC marketing generally involves an advertiser (that is, your business) ‘bidding’ on a click. You set the price you wish to pay for each click, and you will then compete against other advertisers that are bidding on the same keywords. This bidding process is completely automated, and happens virtually instantly.

Sometimes advertisers will be charged a flat rate for each click. This practice is particularly common on price comparison sites.

Affiliate marketing

With affiliate marketing, you pay (or otherwise reward) an ‘affiliate’ a commission each time they provide you with a lead or sale. These affiliates are the publishers of other websites, often specialising in a field related to your business.

In the most basic example of this type of online marketing, a web user would click on a banner or link on an affiliates site, and would then be directed to a relevant page on your own site. The link contains an ID unique to that affiliate so that the visit can be tracked. If that click then resulted in a lead or sale, you would pay the affiliate. The amount you pay is pre-determined, and is often a percentage of the final sale price.

A range of online firms offer affiliate marketing solutions, such as TradeDoubler and Affiliate Future, and it can be good to start an affiliate programme with them as they run it for you. Generally this results in a lower volume of clicks than PPC or a good natural search listing, but the quality of the traffic received can be far higher.

Enhanced targeting

One of the great benefits of online marketing is the ability to target your activities down to a minute level. You can ensure that your adverts are seen only by people in certain geographical areas, for example. Similarly, by making use of PPC and banner advertising, you can place your adverts only on sites that are likely to be viewed by potential customers interested in your services.

Targeting is one of the most important advantages of digital marketing when compared to conventional, offline activities. If you place an advert in your local paper, you have no way of knowing what percentage of its readership is likely to be interested in what you have to offer. But using online marketing techniques, you can ensure that you only spend money reaching people who are your target market.


In order to make the most of your online marketing activities, you must be able to effectively analyse the success of your campaigns. This involves looking at the sources and volume of traffic to your site, as well as metrics like cost per click (the amount you are paying for each click on a PPC campaign), click-through rates (the number of clicks you are receiving as a fraction of the number of times the ad was viewed) and conversion rates.

PPC and affiliate marketing providers usually provide you with tools to help you track and understand these metrics. Similarly, software like Google Analytics or Mint helps you to keep track of natural search and other traffic sources.

The world of online marketing can be complex, particularly if this is your first foray into the field. But, if you are willing to spend some time getting to grips with the concepts, and deciding which elements might be of use to your business, you can derive massive benefits from these important techniques.