Small business marketing is a minefield. It’s one of the most misunderstood and under-estimated aspects of creating and running a small business, and if not done properly it can destroy a business before it even gets off the ground.
A lot of small businesses sink large sums of money into ineffective forms of advertising and only realize their mistake when it’s too late. In this guide we’ll look at two of the most ineffective and overused forms of online marketing, explaining why they don’t work for small businesses before looking at alternatives that are both cheaper and more effective.
Paid Impressions and Banner Ads
Online newspapers and big content sites run programs that charge for a set amount of impressions. They have packages that begin at around 50,000 impressions and go all of the way to several million. Some online newspapers also offer services known as “takeovers”, whereby the advertisements from a single company will be placed throughout the site.
On the surface, these impressions sound very promising. After all, if you assume that just 1/50th of those people click the link in the ad and that just 1/100th of those buy a product, that’s 1,000 clicks and 100 sales.
The problem is, an “impression” can be everything from a full page view whereby the user remains on the page for several minutes and browses through at their leisure, to a quick scroll-past, much like you do with countless articles on your Facebook timeline every day.
On average, 50,000 impressions on major online newspapers will generate just 20 to 100 clicks, which in turn could generate anywhere from 5 to 20 sales, a very small return when you consider that these services cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000.
The “takeovers” are even worse, as you pay for the pleasure of being listed everywhere on the site. One major newspaper offers a “homepage” takeover for $3,000 a day, even though they claim just 300,000 impressions a day.
Google Adwords is the gold standard of targeted advertising. Their ads are placed in the Google search engine and on the millions of websites that use Google Adsense. The irony here is that many of the newspapers that charge extortionate amounts for impressions also have Google Ads on their pages, and the websites in these ads are typically paying much less for that exposure.
Google Adwords lets you set the price that you pay for every click and they will only charge you when you actually get a click. This is also true for Google Shopping Ads, which tend to have a high return because they target people who are actively looking to buy.
You could pay $0.50 per click for these shopping ads, which means that a cost of just $50 will send 100 customers direct to your sales page, and not only are those customers ready to buy, but they got to your link by looking for the products that you sell.
It’s not unheard of for Adwords customers to get a positive return on their spend, generating $2 or more in sales for every $1 spend, but this is unheard of for the aforementioned impression programs.
Facebook has become the go-to advertising platform for many small businesses, and a large number of them only advertise through Facebook, assuming it’s the best way for them to get their ideas across and will earn them the highest ROI.
But this is rarely the case. Facebook can be very effective if you have an eye-catching product, or if your goal is to simply spread brand awareness, but if your goal is to get sales on a website, direct traffic to a website, or get video views, it’s one of the most expensive and least effective platforms around.
It’s not uncommon for small businesses to drop $100+ on a small advertising campaign and get only a handful of website clicks in return. Facebook does insist that it only charges you for actual engagements, which includes website clicks, but what it doesn’t tell you is that “engagements” also include shares, likes, and even clicks on the post picture, none of which will benefit an e-commerce store.
There are similar issues with other social media networks. Instagram can be effective, but all Instagram ads are run through Facebook and due to the restrictions on outbound links and limitations on how posts can be presented, it’s only beneficial to spread awareness and gain exposure.
As for Twitter, it can cost a business over 6 figures to get a “Sponsored Tweet”, which is effective but out of the question for small businesses, and the only other option is to pay per follower. These followers can cost anywhere from $0.50 to $4 and while they will be genuine for the most part (unlike other sites that offer “paid followers”) they can still include bot accounts and accounts that don’t fit the required demographic.
Better Alternatives: Youtube
We are living in the golden age of Youtube advertising right now. How many times have you heard successful Youtubers complain that they are not being paid as much as “offline” celebrities, even though they have a larger following and higher conversions? It’s bad news for them, but it’s good news for small businesses seeking cheap and effective advertising.
A small business can not afford the cost of getting someone like Kim Kardashian to endorse their product, but there are many Youtubers who also have a huge reach and because they engage more with their audience they tend to be more valuable to advertisers.
It’s much cheaper than many people realize to pay a Youtuber to feature a product. It can cost just a couple hundred dollars to get exposure on a channel that gets hundreds of thousands of subscribers and views.
You can also create your own Youtube videos and then promote these through the platform. If you’ve done this before you may have noticed that Youtube promoted videos get fewer views than Facebook promoted videos, even though the budget is the same. But this has more to do with how these two platforms record a “view”.
Facebook includes anyone that clicks onto the video or watches it for more than a couple seconds, even if that person is simply bypassing the video in their feed. Youtube, however, only counts actual views from people actually paying attention, and the way Youtube is setup means the user can’t accidentally load a video while they are scrolling through.
Conclusion: Never Assume
As a small business, you have to be very careful with regards to how and where you spend your money and this is as true of advertising as it is anything else. Don’t assume that Facebook/Twitter ads is the way to go because everyone else seems to be doing it and don’t give-up on the more traditional methods. Spread your money thin, find a platform that works for you, and then focus your efforts on that. By all means try some of the methods outlined above just so you can gain first-hand experience of how ineffective they can be when compared to other options, but don’t throw a lot of money at anything until you know it works and have proof of it working.
It seems like a no-brainer, a statement that we shouldn’t even need to make, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses ignore it, dive head-first into big budget flops, and then lose everything as a result.
Author: Nicky Sarandrea is a freelance writer, author, and marketing consultant. He can typically be found in the Deskhub Phoenix office working on his latest freelancing contract or book.